Monday, July 27, 2009

can't earn me love

I've never really doubted the wisdom of Paul McCartney on love: you just can't buy it. Buying love has always seemed a little ridiculous to me anyway, mainly because a) material things appeal to me less and less, and b) I have never exactly been rolling in any kind of dough. If love was a purchase deal, I'd be living off of discount fare for the rest of my life. Maybe even some food stamp kind of love. Thankfully, I know money has nothing to do with it.

Unfortunately, I seem to have adopted a version that isn't much better, no matter how noble it may sound sometimes. Apparently, I have settled for a barter system: I give you this, you offer me love. Sometimes I have even chosen downright hard labor, to earn my keep, I guess. Either way, whether I am scouring my closet for trade items, or sweating away in the fields of relational servitude, I often find myself doing my darndest to "earn me love". In fact, if I am honest with myself, that's pretty much what I'm doing all the time.

Recently I was talking with my friend, a fellow lover-earner, about that tendency. We comiserated about the effort that goes into garnering affection in our lives. In the midst of our talk, I suddenly felt compelled to ask her about the times in her life she has felt most loved (a question which she predictably turned back on me once she had answered it). We each shared stories from our lives of moments that had left us feeling overwhelmingly secure and loved: one totally unexpected apology from a distant Father, one moment of "dancing" with God in the midst of absolute brokeness, one friend who offered her company when I had absolutely nothing to offer her in return, and on and on. As we answered the question, one thing became
exceedingly clear: we felt the most loved in situations where we had not earned it, and perhaps felt that we least deserved it. Those were the moments when love was real, when love sank in and took root in our lives. All those other times, all the million times a day that we had been striving to earn love and maybe even thought we had acheived it, had apparently not felt like love in the end. They were a cheap substitute for the real thing, which must always be a gift, not a wage.

"Love is patient, love is keeps no record of wrongs. It always trusts, always never fails." The most explicit passage in the Bible concerning love sort of assumes that we will be unlovable at times. That we will require patience. That we will have wrongs that need to be scratched from the record. That it will take perseverance to truly love us. This kind of love, and this kind alone, never fails. It sinks deep into the heart and makes a home, no matter how small. It establishes itself in our memories, so that when we are asked when we most felt loved, it is the first to come to mind. Love that is not earned is the love that stays with us.

It follows, then, that the love we give without requiring others to earn it is the only love that will stick. To love others freely, without expectations or contingencies, is the only way to love in the name of Jesus. It is the only kind of love that can get to the brokeness of a person and bring healing. May God grant us the grace to live in a way that says to the world around us, "You don't have to earn my love."