No ifs…

MP900438811My all-time favourite book on the topic of parenting is Alfie Kohn’s Unconditional Parenting. In it, the author observes that while a parent may indeed love his/her child unconditionally, if he/she focuses on his child’s performance, meting out rewards and punishments accordingly, the child can come to see his parents’ love as conditional – tied to his performance.  Without ever intending to, the message the parent can transmit and the child can receive is, I love you, if…

I love you if you obey/do what I say.

I love you if you perform/excel.

And as Kohn points out, to a child, it’s the message received that is heard, and that matters.

Think for a moment how it feels to a child to believe that his parents’ love for him is tied to his performance – that doing well along the way garners more love and acceptance, and that doing poorly means less love and acceptance. That she is not loved for herself so much as for her compliance and obedience. That parental love can be withdrawn at will.

Perhaps it’s not difficult to imagine, because perhaps this is how you felt, consciously or not, in relation to your own parents. And perhaps, like so many, this is how you have felt in relation to God for most of your life.

The book is a secular one, but on the topic of religion, Kohn notes:

While many religious people equate the idea of unconditionality with aspects of their faith, a case could be made, drawing on the holy books of Christianity and Judaism, that the deities in these religions offer the ultimate in conditional love. Both the Old and New Testaments repeatedly promise extravagant rewards for those who are properly reverent, and horrific punishments for those who aren’t. . . . Do what you’re told; you’ll become rich and get to watch your enemies die. Stray from the faith; you’ll suffer a range of consequences. . . . And for some believers, of course, even more significant blessings or curses await us after death. (102)

This is certainly not what we’re all about at Trinity and Humanity, but I believe that the observation is a fair one. It wasn’t until I encountered Trinitarian theology that I was able to stop seeing God as a distant but micro-managing deity sending blessings when I was “good” and cursings when I was “bad.” Only once I was freed to open my eyes to the fact that his love for me was not tied to my performance in any way – not even in a backhanded or double-edged way – did I truly, finally feel loved. I recognised that that was unconditional love – the only kind there is. Conditional love isn’t really love.

I believe that because God’s love is truly unconditional, I could be…you fill in the blank…and he’d still love me. It’s true he wouldn’t want me to keep hurting myself or others, but he wouldn’t love me more if I did, and less if I didn’t. It surely upsets him greatly to see the pain I cause myself and others. But rather than meting out rewards and punishments in an attempt to modify my behaviour, I believe he continues to work gently in me. Whether or not that work will be finished by the end of my physical life is unlikely, but I believe that it will be finished. The kind of healing we all need to become everything we could and were created to be is unlikely to occur in this life. We have only to look around us to see that this is true, and we only see a fraction of people’s private, hidden struggles. But our greatest hope and expectation is that this life is not all there is or that will be.

What a relief it is to see that there are no prerequisites to his love and acceptance. That because he exists outside of time, he has seen our completion. We may be liars, thieves, murderers and adulterers in this life – but he has seen our future healing and completion. He is the author and finisher of it. So, broken, damaged and imperfect as we are in this life, he sees beyond it to who we are becoming, thanks to him. I really believe he takes great joy in our journeys – our steps forward and even those backwards because it’s all part of the process.

I’m trying to put down my heavy burdens. I am trying to recognise the loud voices in my head that say I am only lovable and acceptable if I do certain things and not others as the divinely vanquished phantoms that they are.  Honestly, I hear them less and less every day.

I see life as an endurance race – not a sprint I need to win or a perilous trek to the summit of Mt Everest. I’m trying to be compassionate to my fellow journeymen with broken feet or legs and broken hearts. There are many and it is all of us to some degree. Jesus walks lovingly with us all at our pace. Someone’s behaviour may look “unChristian” to we who have been raised in the church, but the worst thing we can do, as Christians, is to take potshots at them along the way. Or to gang up on them, “take stands,” and tell them that they must change, if they are to be or feel included.

When we do, we make these people feel alone, unloved, unlovable and not included. But they are not alone, and they are loved and included. If God’s love is unconditional – and that’s the only kind of real love there is – then ours should, to the very best of our ability, be too. If we give someone the feeling that they are only included if, even if it’s not what we mean to do, then we’ve laid a burden at their feet that will only weigh them down in the journey. If God wishes to make them not this or not that, let’s let him do it. That is what it will take. Him, not us. His ways are so often not ours – his are never harsh words and judgement couched in love – not “tough love,” but pure love.

Within the all-encompassing love of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, there are no ifs. So may it be with us.

~ by Jeannine Buntrock

4 comments so far

  1. Nan Kuhlman on

    Jeannine, thanks for your post. It reminded me of a quote I heard from Jane Fonda: “We aren’t meant to be perfect. We are meant to be whole.” To me, this quote means that since perfection isn’t part of our human condition, we need not despair but instead, we should recognize that we are still loved and accepted DESPITE our flaws. This recognition brings healing and wholeness.

    • iamjean9 on

      Thank you, Nan! – great quote!

  2. billwinn on

    Jeannine, I love it! We cannot change the Triune God who is… we cannot increase or decrease the being of God- God is love and God does what God is… God does love. A friend once told me that Jesus says, “Come to me all you who are…. So if we find that our burden is not easy and yoke is not light then we are carrying something that does not belong to us.” His love is unflinching… great blog!

  3. Jerome on

    I find that it is difficult to relate to others as unconditionally loved and accepted children of God, and it hurts when I don’t. Oh, so glad the Lord doesn’t give up when I want to!

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