Do you freely give absolute love to the people in your life? Or is the love you give dependent on expectations and rules that you have created?
Do you freely receive absolute love from others? Or do you deflect it in some way?
I’ve been reflecting on these questions this week after reading Surrender to Love: Discovering the Heart of Christian Spirituality by David Benner.
Benner wrote, “Everything within us tells us that the universe must be organized according to a principle wherein we get what we deserve….I am willing to accept measured doses of love as long as it doesn’t upset [this] basic framework…..That’s what I really want. I want to earn what I get.” I interpret this to mean that I’ll accept love from you as long as I feel like I deserve it and know what I did to earn it. I’ll return love to you as long as I feel like you deserve it and you have done something to earn it.
As I’ve been considering the implications of Benner’s ideas, I’ve been reflecting on the exchange of love in my own life. Before giving unconditional love to another, I’ve been subconsciously asking myself, “Have you met the expectations (spoken or unspoken) that I have placed upon you?” And I see now that if the person has not met these (highly unrealistic) expectations that I have imposed upon them, then I’ve not been loving them freely. Ouch!
I also see that there’s a pattern of doing this when it comes to loving myself. When I do something that I view as “wrong,” I beat myself up about it. Maybe I said something that didn’t come out as I intended, or I acted in a way that’s not congruent with my values or doesn’t align to the me I want to be. I’ve not historically been good about forgiving myself and acknowledging that I’m human and bound to make mistakes. When I do something “wrong,” rather than loving myself, I tend to quickly fall into a spin cycle of self-punishment that brings negative self-talk, excessive rumination, or other unhelpful and unproductive behaviors.
So what am I doing about it?
I am focusing on what it looks like to *be* loving. I am cultivating connections and strengthening the relationships in my life by searching for the areas of common interest, shared values, or similar goals. I am learning how to operate with gratitude and joy. I remind myself every day of the person I want to be and I notice and then let go of those behaviors that do not align to that vision. I am getting better about apologizing when I hurt others and I’m learning to forgive myself.
I’m not perfect. I will never be perfect. I’m even on a mission to eliminate the word “perfect” from our household vocabulary (that’s another blog post). But this isn’t about perfection; it’s about progress. I’m learning what it means to love without condition and to give that love freely and joyfully to others and to myself. I’m learning how to receive the love that others share with me.
Learning to love unconditionally is a journey. Benner said it well: “We do not have to be victims of either our personality or our past.” Real change is indeed possible.
Questions for Self-Reflection
- What is your definition of unconditional love?
- In what ways are you already giving love unconditionally to others? In what ways are you unconditionally loving yourself?
- How could you strengthen your capacity to freely give love to yourself and others?