O Lord, you have searched me and known me.
You know when I sit down and when I rise up; you discern my thoughts from far away.
You search out my path and my lying down, and are acquainted with all my ways.
Even before a word is on my tongue, O Lord, you know it completely.
You hem me in, behind and before, and lay your hand upon me.
Such knowledge is too wonderful for me; it is so high that I cannot attain it.
Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?
If I ascend to heaven, you are there; if I make my bed in Sheol, you are there.
If I take the wings of the morning and settle at the farthest limits of the sea,
even there your hand shall lead me, and your right hand shall hold me fast.
If I say, “Surely the darkness shall cover me, and the light around me become night,”
even the darkness is not dark to you; the night is as bright as the day, for darkness is as light to you.
For it was you who formed my inward parts; you knit me together in my mother’s womb.
I praise you, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made.
Wonderful are your works; that I know very well.
My frame was not hidden from you, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth.
Your eyes beheld my unformed substance. In your book were written all the days that were formed for me, when none of them as yet existed.
How weighty to me are your thoughts, O God! How vast is the sum of them!
I try to count them—they are more than the sand; I come to the end—I am still with you.
Society puts forth such a significant misleading story in the myth of “happily ever after” and “unconditional human love.” It’s not possible. And year after year, I see people yearn for relationships that simply can not be what we are taught, in the media, and romantic comedies, and literature, and hollywood scenes. Year after year, I see folks heartbroken because their partner or child or parent cannot fulfill everything that is expected of them, every single time.
We are at a significant disadvantage in love, because we live with this necessary condition of human. Further, Love, real love, is not a feeling. Real Love is a verb, an action of doing something for another, or for oneself. Love is extending past our own comforts and boundaries in a way that simultaneously uplifts another and expands self. M. Scott Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled that once the puppy romantic love ends and fades, once partners realize once again that they are two separate individuals with annoyances, preferences, needs, wants, goals, and life paths that may not necessarily line up in the exact same way, THEN is when the real work of loving can begin. And Loving—the action of loving—is certainly work.
Parents, family, friends, partners, ....people choosing to be in full relationship with one another must work at it in order for relationships to deepen beyond a surface level. We must overcome the inertia of laziness and the fear of genuine connection to go any deeper. Peck notes that falling in “love” as our society deems it, is not real love. “Falling in love,” he writes,
is not an extension of one’s limits or boundaries; it is a partial and temporary collapse of them. The extension of one’s limits requires effort; falling in love is effortless. Lazy and undisciplined individuals are as likely to fall in love as energetic and dedicated ones. Once the precious moment of falling in love has passed and the boundaries have snapped back into place, the individual may be disillusioned, but is usually none the larger for the experience. When limits are extended or stretched, however, they tend to stay stretched. Real love is a permanently self-enlarging experience. Falling in love is not.
Boundaries are stretched, and as a result of real love, we learn, grow, and are transformed. Ursula K. LeGuin wrote, “Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone; it has to be made, like bread, remade all the time, made new.” Consistent effort is required to maintain a loving relationship.
And because we are humans, it is so difficult for us to continue to work at love. We think that at some distant point, we will have “arrived” and that work is no longer necessary to love. We are, inherently, continuously working against the inertia of laziness. We push against our limited condition of human, telling stories and myths of “unconditional love.”
But we: Lovers, Parents, Siblings, Friends,— are not able to Love Unconditionally. Even when we cannot see them, the conditions are there. For some, the conditions become painfully apparent. Parents who realize that there is only so much they can do for their child. Partners who are brave and strong enough to step away from an abusive situation. Siblings who realize the best way to remain in relationship is from a great distance and at a surface level. Adult Children who see the patterns of anger in their own parents, and choose a different way. For others, they love blissfully unaware of the conditions in the distance. Yet, we are not able to love truly unconditionally.
However, God is.
God is Love.
Christ is Love incarnate.
The Spirit is Love in action.
And God… Love… searches us and knows us, in our messy conditions of human… and calls us God’s own. God’s overflowing love sees our inmost parts and calls us Very Good.
Even in our darkness, our depression, anxiety… where we are afraid, where we choose to turn away from the very best versions of ourselves… even that darkness is Light to the One Most High. Despite our own interpretations of how we must behave and our own assumptions of how others should… God showers love and grace upon us.
We cannot imagine or truly understand the unconditional love of God. We speak it, but even in speaking and preaching this truth, we limit it to words. The love of God is beyond and before words— even before the words are on my tongue, God knows them completely. Once uttered, God demonstrates God’s ability to be beyond the words we’ve said.
We can’t comprehend the unconditional love of God for all people: even those we have oppressed, ostracized, demonized. Even those who have hurt us or those we love. Even terrorists and atheists and those we’ve put on death row.
And when we believe, even beyond our comprehension that God loves everyone, then we must, too, believe that the redeeming radical transformative love of God is surrounding us, too. The awareness of our worthiness to be loved changes lives and the world.
God’s love is unconditional.
For the new first-time grandmother watching her parenting tactics repeated upon her grandson,
God is love.
For the inmate of a petty drug crime stuck in a cell for 10 more years, and wondering if his life matters.
For the divorced woman searching for a place to find affirmation and love, and finding a radical space of love and renewal,
God is love.
For the elderly in assisted living who’s memory brings him between decades and faces that blur together,
For the trans kid who lives on the street corner, clinging to the love of God and help of a stranger, after she was kicked out of her home for being herself,
God is love.
For the exhausted work-o-holic upon the realization that he’s missed years of his family,
God’s love. God is love. God’s love. God is love. I think sometimes we, who cannot comprehend the words of love, and limited by our own human condition, and experiencing human love (and loss…)…. forget the expansiveness of the love of God. We forget that God loves the person we hate most. We forget that the grace of God, who loves us: fearfully and wonderfully made into these bodies and brains and hearts and complications.
We know the great Commandment to be ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind and strength,’ and the second, ‘love your neighbor as yourself.’ There are three Love commandments in there. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love yourself. All three of those come with compassionate action, and are related: loving yourself as the only tool you have to love the world and those in it and God who created it.
And in that love is work.
That’s the catch: We’re not made to be aimless. We are not created to stay still and bask in this love. We’re called to love in action, to be compassionate and stretch beyond what we thought was possible. We’re called to love recklessly and intentionally: our selves. our neighbors. our God.
We cannot love unconditionally because we are limited by this necessary condition of human. We are messy and broken and lonely and wanting. We can choose to enter into and leave relationships for our own self care and community. And in the midst of our human frailty is God, who has searched us and knows us, where we sit, where we rise; and knows our inmost thoughts. God who is acquainted with all our ways. God who Is Love. Who’s love is truly unconditional, never ceasing, never waning, never leaving.
So in closing, I leave you with these excepts from 1st John, the early Christians reminding each other:
Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. ..… Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.…… God is love, and those who abide in love abide in God, and God abides in them …..