Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Unconditional Love

WARNING - HARRY POTTER SPOILER ALERT!!  If you have not read all 7 books, stop here!

I've been thinking about unconditional love.  We are called to love our neighbors as ourselves.  We are called to love our enemies as ourselves.  We are asked to love with the kind of love God has for us, which means that we love unconditionally, want the best for the other unconditionally, work for the good of the other unconditionally, would be willing, even, to give our lives, unconditionally, for the other.

But are we really capable of doing that for others?  Truthfully, who among us loves like this?  We put conditions on our love for others.  One of the top conditions seems to be that the other loves us back. When the object of our love (any kind of love) rejects us, most of us stop loving the other, or at least try to stop loving the other.  I would take it a step further.  We move from wanting what is best for the other to truly wanting, and in some cases even actively working, for the worst for the other. We've become a people that exercises revenge on a regular basis. We enact revenge and I would say we even celebrate revenge.  Movies, songs, all lift up those who seek revenge as the heroes of our day. Songs with lines such as "I dug my keys into the side of his pretty little souped-up four wheel drive, carved my name into his leather seats...maybe next time he'll think before he cheats." This does not reflect any real kind of love at all. This is a "love" that does not care about what is best for the other, it is a "love" that cares about what is best for me and me alone. According to this love, if you hurt me, I should and will hurt you back. There is no conversation here, no forgiveness here, no working through things. There really isn't any letting go either. There is anger, there is revenge, there is no longer a concern at all about the well being of the other, the good of the other, the needs or wholeness of the other. When we are hurt, we want the one who has hurt us to hurt too.  When we are rejected, we want the one who has rejected us to suffer too.  Just to be clear, that isn't love.  It just isn't.  That is about wanting gratification, wanting to be loved, wanting to be cared for.  It is not about loving the other, caring for the other, wanting what is best for the other.

In contrast to this, I've been thinking about the character of Snape from the Harry Potter series.  The woman he is in love with rejected him for another man, a man whom Snape hated and who was truly unkind to Snape.  The woman he loves had a child by this man whom Snape hates.  And yet, Snape still would do anything for this woman, including protecting the child she had with his enemy.  Even after she has died, and there is nothing he can possibly get or gain from loving her, absolutely no chance of any return, he loves her completely.  He still works to protect her child, a child he hates, simply out of his love for her.  He loves her with the kind of unconditional love that does not seek revenge, that does not act out in anger, that does not inflict damage on the one who has broken his heart.  Snape, this unlikable, unattractive man demonstrates and models the kind of pure, unconditional love that we are called to learn, to give, and to seek.

I think about the Harry Potter stories.  And Snape, again, the most unattractive, most unlikable man, is the hero of them for me.  Yes, he is brave.  Yes, he risks and loses everything.  But he is the hero for me not for any of these reasons.  He is deeply human, and even unkind, prejudiced, mean at times. But he, and he alone, loves unconditionally in a way that I don't really see demonstrated very often in real life.

The closest many of us get to this is the way we love our children.  Even when our kids are horrible to us, we love them.  Even when our kids choose things that we deeply disagree with, most of us still love and support them.  But even there, I see and hear about parents rejecting their kids for various reasons.  The numbers of homeless teenagers, pushed out by parents is truly incredible to me.

And beyond our kids?  Can we love others with that same love that says, "I care about you no matter what"?   Can we love the person who called us names?  Can we love the person who rejected us? Can we love the person who actively worked to harm our career, our relationships, our standing in the community?  Can we love, and care about, and serve, and work for the highest good, even for the person who has declared themself our enemy and is actively seeking to destroy us?

There have been a few saints throughout time who have managed to do just this.  From my faith tradition perspective, the example of Jesus saying on the cross, "Forgive them for they know not what they do" is one such example.  But again, it seems it is mostly a very extraordinary person who is able to accomplish this.

We all want to be loved this way.  My guess is that we would all like to know that someone out there loves us for exactly who we are, with our flaws, errors, mistakes, inconsistencies, hypocrisies - all of it, no matter what.

But I have come to believe at ever deeper levels that we create the world we live in.  If we want to be loved like this, we have to start by loving others like this.  If we want to experience unconditional love, we have to be willing to offer it even to those we "hate".  If we want the world to be a place where people care about each other, even when they are hurt, and can see and work towards the good of the other, even when the other hurts us, then we need to offer that kind of love and care to others.

I think I will continue to think of Snape and the kind of love he offered in the midst of his pain. While it did not appear to come back to him during his life time, Harry did get it eventually, as evidenced by the naming of his son after Snape.  Sometimes when we offer this kind of love it won't be rewarded right away or even during our lifetimes.  But we have to start somewhere.  I want to create a world of love for my kids.  That has to start by working harder to love, unconditionally, even the unlovable. And even those who would hate me.