Monday, February 15, 2010

Are there terms when we love?

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.


  1. How appropriate to touch on "Love" since Valentine's Day has just come & gone. However, who is the author of love ? ( pls read 1Jn4:19) - "we love,because God first loved us." Yes not Valentine but God. Next we ask " and how does He love us ? - blindly and foolishly -don't you think so ? He has to be 'blind' to love this human race over the centuries ( let's list down some of our human traits - dishonesty, unfaithfulness, greed, violence etc ). In the name of love, He 'foolishly' squandered his love & his life for us - giving us free will to willy-nilly indulge in our whims & fancies, to commit grievious sins but also to be able to freely love Him in return. This , I believe is very precious to Him and that's why He chose to love sans terms & sans conditons. Thks Fr. for giving food for thought :=)

  2. Dear Fr, your last sentence practically shouted at my face! I agree with you totally that loving without terms, we love truly for the other, while loving with terms terminates loving. So nicely put -- so so so difficult to accomplish, ain't it? Each time I "suffer" a broken relationship, good friends with all good intentions, would tell me that I should have been like this or like that...or I should have done this or that. And THAT, somehow IS loving on our terms, right? Good intentions but may not be the right ones. Thank you for your kind and gentle teaching to remove our terms and conditions towards love, so that we become more and more like God, who is all-giving and all-forgiving. Kamsiah!

  3. A beautiful piece. I especially love how you point out the contrasts between egocentric love and unconditional love and how it can be present in the sacrament of marriage.

    In this modern age, people are led too often to that love of self and lose site of true love (caritas/agape). It is when we learn to shed the worldly definition of love and follow its true meaning that we truly learn to imitate Christ.

    Pax tecum.



  5. Agape love is much easier said than done. We, failing humans do not have the capacity of love and compassion like God. After the heart of Jesus is an ideal yet to be realise. How sad indeed!