What is Real Love? By Cate Russell-Cole
"Love that is chosen freely is an unbreakable tie."
The family climate I grew up in was one of control, demands and manipulation. I was loved if I did the right thing. Condemned, accused of selfishness and screamed at if I did the wrong thing. I had no social skills, and was a very quiet, wounded child. Thankfully, in my early teens I came to know the love of God. I became involved in a wonderful church youth group, and God started to heal and change me. It took many years before I was able to form healthy relationships, and I still have to work hard at it. I have so many false impressions of what love is in my head, its hard to know what is genuine, and how to act the right way.
God spoke to me one day when I was very depressed about my family, and gently showed me that what I had experienced wasn't His definition of love. I was shocked. What I had received as love was normal for our family. They were convinced it was real love. But when I put it in context of what God teaches love is in the Bible, it fell short. It was based on unmet needs, fear, control, insecurity, and misconceptions of what love really is. It looked like love, but underneath, was shallow and could not survive the pressures placed on it. It was based on self, not any value I had as a human being.
These days we see many relationships, marriages and families fall apart. Initially they were based on love, so we think, so why do they fail? Communication? Money pressures? Or could part of it be a societal misunderstanding of what love really is? Do people enter relationships to get needs met or feel secure and connected? Do they have a genuine interest in their partner for them not what they can get out of them? Is crying out for love so strong, that any promise of connection and that love hunger being met will propel them into commitment, rather than objectively looking at what kind of person is and isn't compatible and healthy? Is there real respect and admiration? Is there a solid base of friendship, common ideals and worldview?
If not based on respect, honour, admiration, affection, friendship and compatibility any relationship will fail. If we go into relationships focussed on what we want, when our needs are not met we will cry foul, and hurt each other. In this situation, often people resort to manipulation and control to try and forcefully get their needs met out of desperation, or destroy their partner by words and actions in revenge. An affair may start to see if the needs can better be met elsewhere. This is not the way of love, not only in Christianity, but every philosophy.
Love is willing to work hard because they see the other person as worth the investment. Needs are recognised. It isn't about sex, companionship, money, social status or just fitting in with the picture of what a family / relationship should be, it is much deeper. The reasons for being there are greater. There is a bond which holds two people together that isn't built on dysfunctionality. When that kind of love is present, you can push through the challenges and problems, and at times they will seem insurmountably tough! Love, at the end of the day, can still look at the other with respect, and a desire to see good come their way.
Hollywood and television does not teach us this kind of love. Some therapists don't teach us this, especially ones who deal with abusive families and advocate getting out of relationships as soon as signs of trouble come up. They see so much of the bad, many have not learnt how to foster the good and make it grow and get better. Their belief in the capacity of people to heal and improve is limited. So where do we learn to do this? The best guide I have found is in the way God teaches us to act towards each other. Without His clear direction, I would be confused by all the images and examples I see. The conflicting self help books, the various words of advice about which way works. I know my mind needs re-programming out of the garbage I have learnt which clearly only wounds.
My list of the attributes of love includes these. True love is not conceited, full of hatred, contentious, jealous, ambitious, angry, envious, proud, bitter or self seeking. It is forgiving, merciful, giving, generous, sharing, joyful when others are blessed, peace seeking, truthful, encouraging, and it brings freedom and release. Naturally it is also faithful, kind, humble, and does not tolerate lying. It is genuine, rather than hypocritical, compassionate, shares joy and grief and is hopeful. It shows fairness, is never judgemental or quick to blame. Neither is it offensive, easily provoked to anger or vengeful. It builds up the weak, endures all things, shows self control, and is tender hearted.
All these attributes create safety, peace, security, confidence and healing. They unify people, not divide, and they bring great strength. What a world we would have if these attributes were the goals we were all striving to achieve in our relationships. Of course, in trying to do all this, our human tendencies break through and cause us to fail, but God is merciful, and He gives us the strength and power to reach towards this ideal when we don't have the ability. We can only achieve love and peace in our homes in fellowship with Him.
As for my family, I pray God will bless them. Some days I do so with a heart heavy with grief, and still deal with the damage and memories that are painful. I pray God will bless them as He has me, by setting them free in His love to be the best they can be.
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