Love is Not a Commodity

About a month ago, I went to Chicago on a business trip. It was just overnight and my schedule was such that I really only needed an extra shirt, a pair of panties, and toiletries. I usually check a bag when I fly but I was packing so light, why not carry on? So I abandoned my standard packing system.

Instead of packing the toiletry case I always take, I tucked my liquids into a clear, ziplock bag and the rest of my essentials into a Clinique pouch (free to customers who spend $30 or more as part of their Spring promotion 🙂 ). Everything went into a backpack.

That night at the Hilton as I was getting ready for bed, I couldn’t find my contact solution. This is what happens when you abandon your standard packing system.

I called the front desk and the manager informed me the gift shop was closed, however, there was a 7-Eleven just a block away. Sigh. I put my clothes back on, took the elevator to the lobby, trudged the block to the 7-Eleven, charged a travel size of saline solution, and exited the shop.

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As the glass door swung behind me, a homeless man standing on the curb called out, “Miss, can you spare a dollar?” I turned to face him and apologized.

“I’m sorry. I don’t have any cash. All I have is a credit card.”

He touched the brim of his baseball cap. I kid you not. “Well then, that’s all right. Don’t ye worry ’bout it. I thank ye. Ye looked me in the eye. Ye gave me respect. I thank ye.”

So here’s what I think about on Mother’s Day. Where was that man’s family? Why was he alone, living on the streets, begging for money? He didn’t seem any older than me. Where was his mother? When his mind slipped or he turned to drink, when he couldn’t hold down a job, when he failed to be the son she’d hoped he’d be, did she disown him? Did she refuse to take his calls or allow him into her home? Ok, maybe she’s no longer living. What about his siblings? What about children? Nieces? Nephews? Cousins? Where are they? Did they all just decide he wasn’t worth the trouble? That he didn’t fit into the picture of how they wanted their lives to be?

This morning at church, Steve talked about how when God told Moses who He was, the first word He used to describe Himself was compassionate. The Hebrew word translated as “compassionate” actually means “womb-like”. The safest, most loved you and I have ever felt was in the womb. Steve went on to say that God loves us not because we earned it but simply because we exist. Like a mother loves her unborn child before she even knows him or her. Steve said a mother’s love may be the closest model of God’s love that we see on this earth.

Sadly, that is not the case for all of us. We grew up in homes where love was a commodity. Something we had to earn. Some of us strived for decades in hopes of securing our mother’s love. Some of us are still striving. Some of us gave up a long, long time ago. Some of us thought we had attained it only to realize it was never permanent. Like a paycheck, we had to work for it day in and day out.

Some of us succeeded in life despite never having gained our mother’s love. Some of us were all but destroyed. Some of us lost our minds. Some of us tried to comfort ourselves with substances. Some of us ended up on the streets. Like that man in Chicago. Maybe it’s not his mother’s fault. But one thing I know for sure. If someone had chosen to love him, simply because he existed, he wouldn’t be homeless.

Some of us are handing down that same legacy to our kids, teaching them love has to be earned because that’s the way we experienced it.

I refuse to pass on that legacy to anyone. I dare you to join me.

Photo credit: Dustin Diaz / Foter / Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0)

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Conditional Love

I’ve been re-reading a book I read some time ago, about 6 or 7 years back, called Blue Like Jazz by Donald Miller. When it comes to nonfiction, I really like personal essays and memoirs best. I have a special shelf on a bookcase reserved for my favorites. I was adding another book by Don called A Million Miles in a Thousand Years to that shelf recently and discovered Blue Like Jazz was gone. I vaguely remember loaning it to someone, but who? No idea. So I ordered another copy from Amazon and when it arrived, I thought, “it’s been a while, let’s see if it’s still good.”

It is still good but it strikes me differently somehow. There are chapters and paragraphs that resonate as if I’m reading them for the first time. It’s funny how some books are like that.

What I like about Don is his ability to write about faith and Christianity in honest, human terms. His thoughts are not religious; they are real life observations.

This time around, the chapter on how to really love other people is a standout for me. Don makes the observation that many of us use love like money. We withhold affirmation from people who do not agree with us and we lavishly finance the ones who do. We withhold love in an effort to get someone to be what we want them to be. If someone does something we disapprove of, we roll our eyes, talk about them behind their back, give them the cold shoulder, exclude them from get-togethers, ostracize them, put them down, and ignore them. We withhold love to change them. And this rarely ever works. Because when we behave like this, people feel judged, mistreated, and abused. Rather than being drawn to us and wanting to change, they are totally turned off.

This is the way, Jerri and I grew up. Love, in our family, was conditional. If we behaved in a way that reflected positively on our parents, if we made good grades, were polite, didn’t cause trouble, minded our manners, believed what our mother told us, didn’t argue, didn’t talk back, then we were accepted. If, however, we chose to be ourselves which sometimes meant disagreeing with our parents or calling someone out who was using us or not politely backing down when we were wronged—love was withheld in sometimes inexplicably ways.

For example, when I was 16, I took a job at McDonald’s. My dad bought a little Toyota truck for me to use and I needed gas money to drive it to school. I hated riding the bus and for years I’d bummed rides with various other kids. Now I wanted control over my own schedule. I wanted to participate in some after-school activities and the constant effort of organizing transportation was exhausting.

My mom didn’t want me to work at McDonald’s. To this day, I’m not sure why. When I took the job despite her disapproval, she said, “since you’re making your own money now, you can use it to buy your necessities–shampoo, toothpaste, tampons, make-up–I’m not going to buy that stuff for you any more.” This was not a parental decision to help me learn how to handle my own money. The job barely paid $20 a week after taxes. This was my Mom’s way of withholding love in order to make me behave the way she wanted me to.

Don makes the observation:

God has never withheld love to teach me a lesson.

For me, that’s mind-boggling. It’s not what I’m used to. And it got me thinking. I don’t want to be in relationships where I have to work vigilantly to earn approval for my very existence. I mean, really, does anyone?

20120219-213942.jpgNo, I want to be embraced for my quirks, my talents, my eccentricities, my tempers, my moods, my insecurities, my dreams, my hopes, my heartbreaks, my me-ness. I want to be in relationships where the other person gets a kick out of who I am.

Likewise, I don’t want to be that person who loves with conditions. I don’t want to love Jerri only when she takes her medication or only when she pays her bills or only when she avoids negative influences or only when she is in her right mind. I want to love her because she is herself. Because she likes quirky second-hand coats and bright orange overalls. Because she’s a chocoholic. Because she gives her neighbor her last can of soup and is kind to the schizophrenic man at the bus stop. Because she can crochet snowflakes. Because she makes funny cards out of construction paper and colored pencils. Because after everything she has lived through, she still laughs.

Don said that after he repented from loving conditionally, he was set free to really love.

I didn’t have to discipline anybody, I didn’t have to judge anybody, I could treat everyone as though they were my best friend, as though they were rock stars or famous poets, as though they were amazing, and to me they became amazing . . .