Here’s an important part of the wonder of our humanity: Forced love is no love at all.
Our Christian theology hasn’t always been great at recognizing this. In fact, it’s been a little detrimental to it. We have this idea of a God who forces us to love Him, or requires love from us.
That’s a philosophy we may have been fed, but in our hearts, we know better. Just think about your relationships with the people you love and trust. In all of those, you have the ability to say “no,” and so do they. Love is, for each of us, a choice. Choice is essential to the existence of love. It’s no different with our relationship with God.
But the ability to say no is profound and necessary. It applies to everything—from how we relate to God, to each other, and even to ourselves. God has gone to great lengths to protect our ability to say no, because without it, love simply cannot exist. It would be programming.
I’m saying all this so you’ll understand what I mean when I say love is unconditional, but relationships aren’t. It’s important to distinguish between love and relationships, because they’re not the same thing. Love is something offered to someone else, relationship is something two people share. And while we should always offer unconditional love, that love must always allow others to say “no.” It must always be conditional to each individual person.
In my relationship with my children, there is never a question about my love for them. It’s unconditional. That love is not conditional upon their performance.
We understand that. We can feel that. We know that. But just because I love them all equally and unconditionally doesn’t mean I treat them all the same way. That’s essential. It’s one thing to say I love my children, but how I relate to them relates to who they are.
To use a radical example, let’s say I had a son who was abusing drugs. I would do everything in my power to stop him and help him. But if he, after all that, decided he did not want to have relationship with me, our relationship with necessarily flex, because of my respect for the fact that he can do beautiful and terrible things.
The flow of our relationship is conditioned out of respect for the other. In this example, my son is a person—not just an object who has to accept everything I offer. My love is unconditional, but the way I relate is conditional. That opens up a tapestry of possibilities that cannot be coerced with formulas and plans. You have to see each relationship as unique and important, and respond accordingly.
Our oldest son, Chad, has three young children. A few days ago, he received a phone call from a friend looking for advice about raising his own kids. Chad heard this friend out and then said, “I have some things to say—but two-thirds of everything I tell you won’t be true for you.”
I love that, because he’s saying there’s a beauty to each individual child that changes the rules—and as I’ve said many times on here, love always changes the rules.
How about you? Do you see times where God has given you the ability to say “no”?
How can you start loving the people in your life more unconditionally and relating to them more conditionally?
I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below. (And be sure to give your email at the bottom of this page, if you haven’t already, so we can keep you up to date on our unfolding conversation.)