We, all people I believe, have a deep desire to be loved completely and unconditionally for exactly who we are. The mirror of this is loving another with complete abandon and dedication as well. From a faith perspective, we know and can count on that love coming from God. But as Richard Rohr says, "We can't seem to know the good news that we are God's beloveds on our own. It has to be mirrored to us." For people who did not have secure childhood attachments (or "normal" attachments to a primary parent that babies in healthy families experience), that feeling of being loved unconditionally is especially hard to find, maintain or trust. I think the fairy tale is seductive in those cases - that there is someone out there whom fate will throw our way who will be the one to love us and be loved by us in this way. We hope and believe that if only we find the right person, we will experience what it is to truly love another unconditionally and to be loved unconditionally. We have the fall back myth, that only one per generation actually find their "soul mate" but we pray and hope that it will be us.
There are so many obvious problems with this, however. First of all, if it is so rare, what are the rest of us to do? Secondly if we are counting on another human to save us with their love, we will be disappointed.
But there is one other problem with this that I would like to focus on for this post. When we went to the Storytelling Festival, one of the keynoters was a married pair who acted out the story of an engaged couple. The man said he loved her so much that he would do anything for her. And then the woman put that to the test...she asked him to do more and more outrageous things. When he hesitated, she broke down in tears, saying it was obvious he did not really love her. So he did what she asked, not only hurting himself, but hurting other people around him (since the requests involved injury to other people). In the end, the woman had her "proof" of the man's love, but the obtaining of that proof damaged their relationship. The man discovered that to be tested is an act of selfishness on the part of the tester, it is a failure to love with full depth in itself. Frederick Buechner put it this way, "If I tried to put his friendship to the test somehow, the test itself would queer the friendship I was testing." (Wishful Thinking, New York, Harper and Row, 1969. p 26).
But the reality is that tests in every relationship do come because none of us are perfect. In every friendship, in every marriage, in every intimacy, the challenges come. What are we willing to put up with? Where is that limit to what we will tolerate? What can we live with? What can't we live with? This isn't about forgiveness, which we are called to always offer. It is about the nature of how you will move forward after damage has been done (and even after damage has been forgiven). Sometimes you can continue as you were. For happily married couples, for long term friendships, for many families those tests are small and don't really challenge the commitment. But sometimes something comes that simply can't be overlooked, can't be "accepted", can't be incorporated into the relationship as it is.
From a personal perspective I've come to realize that when we decide we can't live with something, when we realize that our commitment to someone else is NOT unconditional, when we come to a point of "this is not acceptable" and we make the decision to leave, that can be as devastating to our belief in unconditional human love as would be the experience of being left. What does it mean that we choose to go our separate ways? What does it mean that we cannot maintain the "I will love you no matter what" illusion? Does it mean that our love was not deep? Was somehow not real? Was not as full or committed or strong as we had believed it to be? How do we accept in ourselves that we have limits and are not capable of that kind of unconditional love that we all dream of? How do we accept then the love of anyone else, knowing that humans are imperfect and that all of us have conditions on our care to varying degrees?
If I am honest, I have to admit that it is at least in small part these thoughts and beliefs that keep me taking "care of" my ex despite the change in our relationship. I could not stay married to him, and many have said that I have not gone far enough. I have been encouraged, even by people of faith, who follow the God who commands us to love our enemies, to reject him completely. I cannot do that. I know that all of us have fallen short, that there isn't some scale that says, "well, your sins are so much worse than the rest of us that you no longer qualify as a human being worthy of care." I see and experience repentance from him, I have forgiven him, but beyond all of that, I see that he is more than the issues which have led him to where he is. All of us are more than our worst selves. And he is no exception. So I continue to offer care, even while the relationship cannot stay the same. I made a commitment to care, and that commitment continues.
Still, the relationship is different. I have not been able to keep my commitment of marriage to him. More to the point, I am incapable of loving him in the way that I did before. I care for him now more as a person like any person who has needs, not as a partner or even a friend. And while some would say that the care I offer him is a form of unconditional love, it is not what I would hope for - from myself, or for myself.
These realities have called me to face once again the truth that the unconditional and completely committed love we seek we can only find from something beyond us, beyond human, beyond our finite abilities and lives. But if it is true that we need that acceptance and love mirrored for us in our human relationships, perhaps that explains why so many of us are still hurting, still hunting, still seeking for that which can not be found. I'm reminded of U2's lyrics, "But I still haven't found what I'm looking for."
The answer? On this one, I think I am still called to live in the question. I don't have an answer for this yet. I do know that the more I learn to love with fullness, the more whole I feel. The more I learn to forgive and to care, the more love I experience from others that is also forgiving and caring. I haven't gotten it right yet. I'm on the journey. And while I still find myself searching to have that unconditional love mirrored to me from humans, I know that ultimately it will not be found here. So I work harder to surrender and live in the love of the Divine that surrounds me.