Have you ever experienced the unique pain of unrequited love? Was there ever a point in a relationship where it became clear you were far more invested than the other party? You want to chat more than they do; try to initiate interactions and meet ups far more often, or with more enthusiasm, than they seem to. You are quicker to forgive, laugh at their jokes or give away compliments than them. If this sounds familiar, chances are, the relationship is a little unrequited.
There have been times in friendships, with my children and also with those I meet and serve in our local community when I have felt the unique type of grief that comes with unequal affection.
I notice it when I’ve met my children in the playground ready for a hug and a kiss, but instead was greeted with armfuls of newsletters, reading books and uniform gone awry. Or in the moments I long to hold hands with my sons as they get older but realise I’m beginning to cramp their style. When I get involved with families in our area, trapped in cycles of deprivation and violence but they refuse help. Each time a FaceTime catch up with a long distance friend is postponed or I find myself pining for a once close friendship that seems no longer sustainable, I think about the value of my love.
Should I be giving it away this freely? Why doesn’t it mean more? Should I require more of those I am gifting it to? Maybe I’m being taken for a fool?
The easiest response would be to close down my affections for the oblivious other. But of course towards my children this is impossible. They are just so darn cheeky and cute. Friendships and community connections would be easier, except that’s not really my style. It turns out I’m rather akin to the golden retriever. Apparently, I love to ‘return the ball’ no matter how many times I’ve been disappointed in the past. I can’t help myself, I just love people a lot!
I will never match the love of the Father for me. It is impossible. Rather than withdraw His love or equally match my paltry offering, He invests a measure that is unashamedly out of kilter.
You might think me naive but rather than withdraw my affections or label them ‘misplaced’, I have come to find solace in this type of grief. Leaning into the discomfort of loving in the face of rejection has revealed a truth about God I had not appreciated before now:
God’s love towards me is unrequited. And always will be.
Being human, I will never match the love of the Father for me. It is impossible. Rather than withdraw His love or equally match my paltry offering, He invests a measure that is unashamedly out of kilter.
We hear God’s requited love for his people in a number of places in the bible. He longs for relationship more than we do (Matt 23:37); He thinks about us more often than we think about Him (Ps 139:17); He pursues us and provides for us even when we are preoccupied with other things that hurt Him (Hosea); the list could go on indefinitely.
Undoubtedly, He longs for me in a far greater way than I long for my unequal relationships. On occasion I find myself thinking “If only they knew my genuine care for them, if they could feel how I felt, they would discover a faithful and loving friend.” And God, having felt that way towards us, revealed to us His love, so that it would have the same effect to draw us into Himself.
His [Jesus’] expectation for those that followed Him was to demonstrate love without measure, to those that didn’t deserve it; all without expectation of repayment.
By sending His son Jesus to die in my place to set me free of my wrong doing, He has loved me without regard for Himself. His love for me cost Him everything and He calls me to aim for this same kind of costly love towards others.
Jesus taught me to go the extra mile; turn the other cheek and love those who mistreat and dishonour me. His expectation for those that followed Him was to demonstrate love without measure, to those that didn’t deserve it; all without expectation of repayment. This is an especially important truth about God to grasp when serving the most deprived in society. The poor cannot repay us and they shouldn’t be expected to.
This is radical, costly and painful! It requires me to run back to him daily as the source of all I need. When I begin to grasp how deep, wide and high the depths of Gods love are for me (Eph 3:18), the ‘fear or the Lord’ grows and the ‘fear of people’ diminishes. I find all my ‘needs’ are met in His love towards me, meaning I am free to give away love to others and require nothing back.
Profoundly, by being allowed to experience an unrequited love towards people, I have discovered the unrequited love of God towards me.
Within me this has caused a radical shift. If it’s possible I want to spend my life diminishing the ache in Gods heart towards me. The character David was described in the bible as a man after Gods own heart. I wonder if this is because he reflected a large measure of God’s love back towards Him. David sought to close the gap between God’s fierce love towards him and his own hearts response in return. This shows that humans are capable of this kind of devotion and intimacy with God. I want that! May this be the highest goal of my life.
Far from hiding my heart away and quenching the love I have; may love abound! Instead, I will turn it towards the one I can never out give. When my heart is filled with Him, I have more than enough to give away. Out of the overflow of this delightful and satisfying relationship comes all that I need to love others no matter their thoughts of me. I’ll keep hoping for school playground hugs, keep giving away encouragement, laughing at jokes and tidying up bedrooms. I’ll keep putting dates in the diary, buying flowers and giving lifts. I’ll keep fighting in prayer and weeping over the pain of others. I’ll keep putting miles on the car. I’ll keep showing up. I’ll keep forgiving. I’ll keep my heart open.
My love is free. Because my Father’s love was free and still is towards me.
I’ve never been so thankful to discover unrequited love.
This post was partly inspired by an amazing book I read recently called ‘When People are Big and God is Small’ by Edward T. Welch. I highly recommend it!