The Basis for Love
I think many of us misunderstand love. I don’t think it’s a matter of defining it wrong so much as responding to it or seeking it in a way that doesn’t reflect how it actually works. When we’re first trying to make sense of the world, we make connections that create order in our heads, a pattern for understanding how it all works. Sometimes that pattern is quite accurate, and sometimes, for whatever reason, it isn’t.
Love is based on the lover, not the beloved.
I think many people, if not most, have it the other way around in their hearts. “In order to be loved, I must be lovable.” For many, it’s even, “In order to love someone, that person must be lovable.” To the extent, however, that one requires the beloved to attain a certain level or quality, it’s not love. It’s admiration or desire or lust or respect or something. But it isn’t love.
Think about a mother holding her infant son. If the son inadvertently yanks on Mom’s earring as he’s jerking about and reaching for whatever his still crazy limbs can get to, that will most certainly hurt! There are probably two main ways Mom can respond: she can let the pain go and lovingly turn back to him, or she can put him down and walk away in hurt or anger. Whichever she does, it doesn’t say so much about him as it says a whole lot about her. How she loves is not a factor of the beloved, but the lover.
We often just don’t see our relationships that way, though. We act as though we have to clean ourselves up and make ourselves look good for the people we want to love us, including God. But if God is love, and if people love us well, then there is nothing we can do that will tarnish or diminish that love, and there is nothing we can do to increase it. The love that God and others have for us depends on them, not on us.
We can, of course, make ourselves look good out of love for the other person, but if it is in the hopes of earning more love, then we still have missed what love is. The lover’s love is a factor of his character and personhood, not on our good qualities, appearance, or behavior.
I think this is particularly significant with sin or generally bad things we do. If we do something bad enough, we sometimes feel, we have lost love and have to undo it to get that love back. And some people, because our human love isn’t perfect, really do live this way and treat other people this way, which is a good chunk of where we learn it in the first place. The most mature and perfect lover, however, doesn’t work this way. God does not stop loving because His love depends on Him, not on us, not on our sin, not on our failures.
Love depends on the one who loves, not on the one being loved.
God, how much have I taken in the idea that how much You and other people love me depends on me? In what ways do I live like it’s all on my shoulders and that I have to be perfect to be loved?
Help me set aside any false notions about how love works and not try to make myself lovable, but to seek out people, like You, who love well and to, like You told us, remain in Your love.