Tuesday, May 9, 2017

On loving relationships

Have you ever had a friend or lover who simply understands and accepts you for who you are, and you understand and accept them for who they are?  No judgment, not trying to please one another, no expectations whatsoever, just simply the ability to relate and find peace one with another.

From my personal experience, this is rare, and somewhat momentary.  Maybe I'm wrong on this, but I see how most relationships have a sense of conditionality to them: expectations of behavior of the other, a sense of one-sidedness, a sense of who is "superior" versus "inferior", and of course judgment.  Most relationships seem to be evaluative -- constantly conditional on measuring up.

When I think of my relationship with the Christian God, it's more of the ultimately superior (god) - inferior (me) relationship, very one-sided, something in which I simply do not measure up.

I remember distinctly years ago, actually two times in the past, when I was "up" for leadership callings in my church, and I failed some major test I was under.  In like manner, in the work environment, whenever I've been at point of promotion or whatever, I simply rebel whenever I come to the point of evaluation.  Maybe there is something wrong with me -- I was so conflicted inside: wanting to be in some big position to confirm that I was OK with god, but knowing I wasn't "worthy", a part of me would veto getting put into the limelight.

The bottom line is when I am in an evaluative relationship, I develop a sense of unworthiness and self-loathing that torpedoes the relationship.

Am I alone in this?   I honestly don't know.  It seems so, because I see so many others in the journey of life are able to act without this sense of self-doubt that plagues me.

Yet something changed recently.  Over the past few years, my wife has been in the midst of some very deep health issues.  About two months ago, however, her doctors had a breakthrough, and things have steadily improved to the point that she really has found new peace and energy.  Over the weekend, she purchased my ticket to the annual Sunstone Symposium in Utah -- something in the past she disliked me doing, and yet this year, she is encouraging me to spend an entire week doing what I enjoy.

This is really significant. She is very "true believing" and struggles with my faith journey, yet in this simple gesture, she demonstrated that she no longer judges me inferior in faith because of my journey.  We have rekindled mutual respect and love -- something that was missing when our relationship had become very unequal during her extended illness.

And as this new reality sets in, I begin to realize that inequality in relationships does not ultimately feed the soul, but that only the equal, unconditionally loving relationships is true love.

And I realize, that every human being not only yearns for this kind of relationship, but indeed, it is essential for life.  I was listening to a Krista Tippett's podcast recently where it was mentioned that baby elephants require interaction and connection in order to live.  Are we so different?

So I think about it a bit.

If our relationship with god is conditional, then can we really love god, and does god really love us?

If the only form of intimacy allowed is between man and woman in marriage -- what about those who cannot be fulfilled in that kind of relationship?  Is it loving to demand that those who are only attracted to the same sex be alone for all their lives?  Is this really loving?

If we work together and serve one another in our communities and church settings, are we motivated by reward and eventual judgment, or do we serve because we love?

Does asking for help require us to submit to rules and be subordinated in order to be helped?  Is this loving?

If someone asks us for help, is it loving to expect something in return?

I don't know.  It seems like we have zero training on how to unconditionally love in our religions. Every model we get is hierarchical and patriarchal.  Even some of our leaders speak about how god's love is conditional -- so is it any surprise that we cultivate evaluative, unequal relationships and call them loving?

In order for love to be real, in my impression, it needs to be unconditional and equal.  Not every relationship will fit this criteria, but that doesn't absolve me of the responsibility to be loving. If I have any expectation of reward or behavior on the part of the person I love, then my love is not unconditional and equal.  I am basing my love on their behavior, and on my ability to transform their behavior in to what I want them to be.

Certainly this doesn't mean that I am willing to allow them to abuse and exploit me, nor should I be happy with their own self-destructive behaviors. There are boundaries to love.  But these boundaries are distinct from conditions.

I realize, in exploring "how" to love, that I have no easy answers, no deep insight into what makes a truly loving relationship.  I only know this, that I seem to do best when I am loved without judgment and conditions, and I find that others respond in kind, when I accept them for who they are, without judgment or conditions.

When I was at the depths of my crisis nearly thirty years ago, I reached out to the god who I thought was to be my judge, who inspired the teachings of my church and required my exact obedience, for no unclean thing could enter His presence.

I reached out when I was as "unclean" and "unworthy" as I could possibly imagine, driven by guilt and shame into an ever-deepening cycle of addiction and self-destruction. I loathed myself.

And yet, instead of judgment or conditions, when I reached out I felt this sense of love wash over me, a Presence that told me that I was fully accepted by god, and that god loved me without any conditions.  This Presence has let me know that to me, this is what it means to see the face of God, to know that God is, and that this Presence is real.

And I return to this Presence when I contemplate his words:
Jesus said, "Love one another, as I have loved you."

And I realize, in these moments, that the gift of God's love becomes real, when I learn to love others without judgment or conditions.

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