I spent 50 years trying to earn love. As a young elementary school girl, grades were important. Since neither of my parents attended college they revered an education and high marks. I enjoyed learning, but even more, I coveted the praise and gifts I received when I came in at the top of my class. I played golf, but that wasn’t enough - I needed to excel at golf, competing at a collegiate level. The more tournaments I won, the more praise and gifts I received. When I turned 16 and began dating, I wanted to be the perfect girlfriend. Later, I tried to be the perfect wife, stepmother and employee. I thought if I tried just a little harder, I would be loved a little more. Yet when I failed in my quest for perfection, affection and compliments were withheld.
I first felt unearned love in the summer of 2006. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and was devastated. I felt that I would never be able to earn anyone’s love again. But, for the first time, in my life, perfect strangers - people I have never known before, showed me love that I hadn’t earned; the kind with no-strings attached. One example came when I met a lady at a weekend prayer retreat. We struck up a casual conversation over coffee. The next week she brought dinner to my house. Not because I needed it or had earned it, but because she wanted to ease my pain. I visited a church a few times, but when I missed a service, four new friends called a few days later asking how I was and did I need anything? What they didn’t know was I had just endured the first of four reconstructive surgeries that very morning following a mastectomy. I was incapable of returning or earning their love, but to my amazement, they gave it anyway.
C.S. Lewis in The Four Loves describes this love as “Charity”. He challenged the root of my insecurities, “How difficult it is to receive, and to go on receiving, from others a love that does not depend on our own attraction.” Before, I had relied on my own cleverness, intelligence, generosity, fairness, and usefulness to earn love. Another friend gave me a great definition of grace as well. “Grace is what love looks like when faced with imperfection.” Yes, that certainly applied to me at this point in my life. But wait, who else other than God knows I’m not perfect and still loves me anyway? Isn’t that how we are commanded to love others, the same way as we love ourselves?
The transformation is never total; the fallen man has never come within sight of giving it perfectly and without fail. But the act of experiencing unearned love invites us to turn our natural Neediness for love into charity for others. The invitation to transform us happens over and over again.
It took a serious health event for me to experience God’s grace and unearned love through others. Have you experienced unearned love in your life? Have you become a “jolly beggar”, delighting in total dependence on the Grace of God? Is it necessary that we must first experience unearned love from another human in order to understand it? Share your experiences with me through your comments here on this blog.
I pray that you have experienced unearned love in your life and it has transformed you into a beacon of Charity.