Sometime last month, there was an article that I came across in the local paper written by a columnist in which he spoke about his resolutions for the New Year. There was a line in his column that made me sit up with a great deal of interest. Among the things that he decided to do in the New Year, one of them was that he has decided, “to love on his own terms”. I sat on this phrase for a while, and I saw in that phrase, one of the major reasons why there seems to be so many problematic relationships. I daresay that it is likely that when we love on our own terms, that our relationships end up dysfunctional, injured, and broken.
When we love only on our own terms, aren’t we ultimately setting our relationships for failure, in about the same way that drawing up marriage pre-nups also set marriages up for ultimate failure. Especially in the Christian context, loving is completely misunderstood when the “I” becomes far more important than the ‘other’, or the ‘you’. When we love on our own terms, we will be far more concerned with protecting ourselves from getting hurt, than in the process of developing the relationship and growing it to its fullest potential.
Perhaps many people, including the columnist who wrote that article, have had their fingers ‘burnt’ in past relationships, and have reacted by adopting this defensive stance towards love. And I can understand how someone who has had his or heart rent apart may choose to love on one’s own terms, because the heart has a certain memory. But if self-preservation is the impetus that causes us to want to be self-protective in love, where is its recourse? Is there a blueprint for love?
The Christian who is a disciple of Christ has, thankfully, a blueprint for love in Jesus Christ, whose entire life ethic was to usher in the Kingdom of God. He not only tells us what love is (that utter self-giving and self-emptying love of the Father for the Son, and the Son for the Father, i.e. Trinitarian love), but he shows it concretely by his selfless loving act on display on Calvary. On Calvary, we see love writ large. The fact that Jesus died for sinners is testimony that love never has terms and conditions. Jesus didn’t wait to ensure that we creatures deserved God’s love. In fact, he died for us in love while we were still sinners. Simply put, there are no terms and conditions in love. And this was shown to us by the one who IS love.
From this, it is clear that anyone who only wants to love on his or her own terms is falling far short of his or her true potential, because we are all “made in the image of God”, capable in loving also, without terms and conditions. That we are all made in God’s image is not just a Christian belief. We are made in God’s image whether we are Buddhists, Hindus, Muslim, Atheists or Agnostics. That is just how great our God is. Ours is to respond to this image that we are made in.
While it may sound a tad simplistic, the world has known very few people who have reached that potential. But it doesn’t mean that we should not even try. I believe that each time we try to remove our terms and condition towards love, we become more and more like God, whose image we bear.
Every marriage is called to be a walking testimony of God’s love revealed to the world. And this holds especially true for sacramental marriages. What is the secret to a truly sacramental marriage? It is when two people love God, and not each other first of all. And when we let the love of God and God’s love for us mould and shape our character and we become well developed images of God individually, then the marriage partner who is also conscious of his God-image will love the other in a god-like way – without barriers and terms, beyond what makes one feel like loving, because love must never be reduced to mere feelings.
When two people are just as serious and intense in loving God as they love each other, there is a ‘blessed assurance’ existing in the marriage bond that lifts the relationship beyond just the couple themselves. It becomes truly a sacrament, a sign of God’s presence of unconditional love in the world.
Loving without terms, we love truly for the other, while loving with terms terminates loving.