God has an interesting way of getting through to me. When I am supposed to be getting a particular message God delivers it through a myriad of methods. That is probably because I am so hard-headed. It takes repeated assaults on my soul before I actually start hearing what God is saying. That is what has been happening with the concept of authentic love.
My counselor, the smartest woman I have ever met, says I have a problem understanding love. I just don’t get it. Especially authentic, unconditional love is a difficult concept for me. I have spent my entire life trying to earn and deserve love, as such I have a hard time receiving love that comes without conditions. I thought I was alone in this until I picked up Donald Millers’ book Blue Like Jazz and realized that it is a pretty common situation.
Authentic love is completely counter-cultural. As a matter of fact, in our “you get what you deserve” culture, it seems almost impossible. When I read Romans 12:9-16 I begin to see God’s model for real, authentic love.
Authentic love is essentially three things:
Unconditional: there are no strings put upon authentic love. It is love that loves despite strife and struggle. It is Hosea who demonstrated God’s love by loving his wife who had become a prostitute and then brought her back into his home and restored her fully. It is love that dies to self so that God can be glorified. It is love without expectation of repayment.
Unceasing: “Love never fails.” It doesn’t stop. It has to be expressed. It beats in your chest with every heartbeat. God demonstrates this by allowing the Holy Spirit to be with us continually. We are called to love and continue to love despite doubt, fear, tribulation or “feeling.” By “feeling” I mean that we love when we don’t feel like loving and when we don’t feel lovable. Authentic love never stops.
Unfathomable: authentic love is not measurable by human scale. It is God-sized because it is God-given. The authentic love we are called to live comes as a response our reception of God’s love. We do not have the ability to earn it and we do not deserve it we just have to receive it.
So what keeps us from receiving and living authentic love? One thing I struggle with is faults, my own and others. My own faults convince me, in the dark nights of my soul, that I am unlovable. They become barriers to vulnerability and intimacy. I hold back. Those faults lead me to see faults in others which are used to act as excuses to avoid intimacy. I have a lot of acquaintances but few real close friends. I am learning to let more and more people in and it is risky business. The risk of rejection hangs out there. Face it, most people prefer the façade to the real thing. I am learning that those who stay by you, no matter what your faults, really demonstrate authentic love to you and allow you to “get it.”
There are three ingredients that I see in authentic love:
- Truth: being real, authentic, unguarded is essential. Truth is a hard concept because it means we have to be real with ourselves first and then let others in.
- Openness: being known is a key ingredient. It is easy to pretend to love if you don’t let anyone in. Sometimes when you let them they see too much and draw back. Don’t ask me how to handle that? I don’t know except that you keep being open and know that authentic love is worth any price.
- GRACE: accepting undeserved love of God and others is the primary ingredient upon which all others hinge. Love is not a debt to pay but a gift to receive. It is something we crave, will do anything to get and don’t have a clue what to do with it once we have it.
Lastly, about authentic love it is intentional, requires vulnerability and demands humility. Three words our culture really does not embrace. It is intentional meaning it is done on purpose. It is a conscious, continuous act of the will. It is the decision to love in spite of circumstance. It is vulnerable because it puts your heart out to be broken. It is humble because it requires a “others” mindset. Realizing that, as Miller states, we are not the star of our own movie with others as supporting characters. Rather, we are players in God’s great passion and living according to God’s purpose.
I have experienced authentic love. I doubted it. I struggled with it. God give me the ability to recognize it and receive it again. Then, like Paul exhorts in Romans, I will be able to “live in harmony.” Thanks be to God that I remain:
Lost in Grace,
Gracious God, grant me peace. Grant me the ability to give authentic love. Love without condition, expecting nothing, dying to self and thereby fully living in the purpose you have for me. Amen