What is unconditional love? The dictionary defines it as an intense feeling of tender affection and compassion, complete and guaranteed, with no conditions or limitations or provisions attached. Is it real? Yes.
I have heard the term “unconditional love” many times, but never really gave it much thought. The words “I love you” are thrown around so lightly and so often without any true purpose or real meaning, they begin to lose their effect in our lives. Too often we take our words for granted and speak them out of habit, without consideration of their true meanings.
As a writer, the words I put on paper are chosen carefully with much thought and intention. However the words that come out of my mouth are not always chosen carefully and the meanings are not always clear to the listener. This was brought to my attention one day a few years ago when my son asked me if I was going to marry our cat. I said no, of course not, to which he replied, “But you said you love him”. It occurred to me that it must be terribly confusing to a child trying to learn and understand all the different meanings that some words have. Especially when the child takes things so literally, as my son does. Trying to explain the concept and meaning of the word love proved to be very difficult. I tried to explain that sometimes we use the word love to simply express an emotion of affection, and he asked me “why can’t people just say what they mean?” I realized then that in order for him to truly understand the meaning, I would have to phrase it differently. So I began telling him “you hold my heart” instead of “I love you”. I explained to him that the spirit of the heart is fragile and must be treated gently and with great care. I also explained that it should only be given to those you trust not to break it. He understood this explanation, and since that time, I have seen through the emotion in his eyes that he feels it when he tells me “momma, you hold my heart”. What I didn’t realize at the time was that I didn’t understand the full meaning of love myself. I was only just beginning to learn.
A few months ago there was an incident when my son was scolded and sent to his room. A short time later he came to me and threw his arms around me and said he didn’t want for me to stop loving him. I asked him what made him think I would stop loving him and he replied, “because I did a bad thing”. I told him that I may feel disappointed or upset, or even angry with him at times, but I would never stop loving him. He asked me why and I said, “because you are my child, a precious gift from God for which I will always be thankful”! Since that conversation I have given much thought to the meaning of unconditional love.
Last month our Pastor gave a challenge to the congregation, to read the entire New Testament in a month. I am almost finished now, and I find my thoughts continuing to focus on the concept of unconditional love. When I read the chapter on the crucifixion, (Luke 23) I remembered watching Mel Gibson’s movie, “The Passion of Christ” and I thought about some of the feelings that movie provoked for me personally. Perhaps it is because I am a mother who has lost a child that I identified and felt a connection to Mary, the mother of Jesus, in that movie. She was shown in several scenes watching as the atrocities were being done, and she watched as He died. How strong her heart and faith must have been to endure such an agony! To witness the persecution and know it must be done, yet this was her son! To think about how she must have felt brought such a powerful and overwhelming emotion into my heart, I knew in an instant that I had just had a glimpse of understanding the true meaning of unconditional love.
Since that time I have had several memories of witnessing that kind of love, and each time it has been between a parent and their child. I believe that it can exist between spouses and siblings as well, though the intensity of love seems to waver somewhat in those relationships.
Recently I was with a friend while she was reading something written by one of her children. I didn’t know what it was about at the time, but I saw the tears in her eyes. Several days later I had the privilege of reading the beautiful words her son wrote and I remembered so clearly the look on her face. It was joy and sorrow, pain and hope, faith and disappointment, pride and contentment. It was unconditional love! As I thought about the look on her face, it occurred to me that it must be the same look on God’s face as He looks at us, as His children!
I still remember the feelings in my heart so clearly, when I held each of my children for the first time. The awe, and warmth and joy, the worries and concerns, and the hopes and dreams, all of these things and more, all wrapped up in one word…love! And I remember the feelings of disappointment as well as pride, watching them grow and learn, watching them experiencing life and love. I know what it feels like to be a parent. And I know what it is like to be someone’s child. When I was younger I didn’t understand or appreciate the things my parents did for me, or why they did them. Now I know they did these things because they loved me. Now I understand, and I am thankful for all that they did (and still continue to do) for me! I am no longer the stubborn and rebellious child that I once was. Now when my parents ask something of me, I try to the best of my ability to do it. I try, not out of obligation or because I am supposed to, but because they love me and I love them.
Through understanding the bonds between a parent and child, my perception and relationship with God changed when I began to think of Him as my parent. Now, as I read the Scriptures, I see them as instructions from a Father who loves me. And I try to follow those instructions because I love Him.
My eyes have been opened to a new life and my heart has been forever changed. The Bible tells us to love one another. And it tells us to love the Lord with all our heart. Now I truly understand what that means, though I cannot fully describe it with words. I know in my heart without any doubts, that just as I will always love my children, no matter how irritating they are or how many times they fall down and make the same mistakes, God will always love me too. I will be forever thankful to God, my Father, who art in Heaven, from whom all life and love comes!
“For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through Him might be saved.” (John 3:16, 17)