We’ve all had that “ah-ha” moment, right, men? The one where you’re baking a meringue, blaring J-Lo, and you suddenly ask yourself, “Does love really not cost a thing?”. Or, ladies, when you’re working out to The Beatles and, right as you reach your personal chin-up record, it hits you that indeed, money CAN’T buy you love. Alright, so maybe those specific moments are unique to me, but I’m sure we’ve all had instances that came out of the blue and caused us to spend some time at our own Roxbury, asking the deep, eternal question: “What is love?” (On a complete side-note, I once walked into a gym full of weight lifters and the radio was blaring “How Deep Is Your Love” by the Bee-Gees, and it was one of the most surreal moments in my entire life)
Anyway, with a large majority of media being centered on using (and mis-using) the word “love”, it would do us all a world of good to pause for a moment and take stock of how we, as followers and friends of the God Who IS love, define and use it. I’m not referring to things like “I LOVE corduroy” or “I absolutely LOVE Fabio’s performance in Zoolander “; I’m speaking more along the lines of how we use it in relationships and sexuality. (Though, I HAVE met a few extreme types with an unnatural devotion to noisy, grooved trousers.) Considering that Enrique Iglesias’ hit “Tonight (I’m loving you)” is only the edited title (swap “loving” for “f*@#ing”), and the same goes for Akon’s “I’m gonna love you” (swap “love” for….), it seems that we need to find a way to wade through the mire of contradictions and euphemisms and arrive at solid ground. Fortunately, we have just such a path.
In his encyclical entitled Humanae Vitae (Of Human Life), Pope Paul VI gives us what I call a litmus test for finding authentic love, a test comprised of 4 characteristics, generally referred to as the “Four Marks of God’s Love”. These four marks, or signs, are: Free, Total, Faithful, and Fruitful. (Yes, it drives me insane that the “T” ruins the alliteration). This post is the first of four in which I’ll take a stab at giving a brief, cursory explanation of God’s love–and therefore, perfect love–as defined by Humanae Vitae.
Because the very essence of real love is the act of giving (which is why “actions speak louder”), for love to be authentic it must entail a true gift of self on the part of the one who is professing love. However, though our intention might be to love, there are myriad ways in which our struggle with weakness, selfishness, and sin can taint our attempts and chip away at these four marks. As today’s title makes clear, we are first going to address the need for true freedom in love.
We’re all familiar with phrases like “After all I’ve done for you…” or “The least you could do in return is…” or “You owe me this…”. Statements such as these get right to the heart of one enemy of freedom in love, namely that of expectation. Whenever we put on the guise of giving, yet hold within us the expectation of ANY form of reciprocation, then we are not truly giving and, therefore, not truly loving, either.
If we clean the house expecting accolades and/or a foot massage, not only do we almost invariably set ourselves up for disappointment, but we also remove true giving from the equation, since the “recipient” is now expected to give something in return. Whenever someone says, “I work all day long to put food on the table, and all I ask is…..”, then all others involved are no longer free to simply receive the gift of food, since there is now, apparently, a contract of sorts in play.
This is even more poignant and relevant in regard to relationships and sex. How many women have felt obligated to “put out” as a result of some guy purchasing dinner and movie tickets? How many marriages are soured by the unwavering, incessant expectation of one spouse exacted upon the other? Conversely, though, I’ll wager we can all remember a moment in our lives when someone simply GAVE to us, and we could clearly tell that nothing was expected in return, be it a parent, a partner, or even a postman.
The other primary enemy of freedom in love can be summed up by saying, “If you can’t say no, your yes means nothing.” Whether you’re being pressured into something or you “just can’t say no” to your hormones in the moment, if you feel (or are) unable to say no in any given circumstance, then freedom is lacking and, therefore, so is true love. Regardless of how much someone professes their undying love for you, if you don’t feel free to say no, then they don’t love you, at least not completely; likewise, if you can’t say no to your sexual urges, called “the launch sequence” by Ray Romano, then what you’re feeling towards the other person is not love, it is the force of chemicals, instinct, and attraction. As powerful as desire can feel, if you can’t say no to it, it is merely a powerful slavery. Saying you’re free simply because you give in to desire is like saying a nation is free simply because its citizens don’t resist invading powers; in actuality, behavior of that nature signifies defeat.
So, in the muddle of whims, urges, misconceptions, lies, and pain that we see around us, possibly in our own lives, how in the world are we supposed to find good examples of this free love? Well, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, our perfect example of free love lies in God’s love for us. In God’s love for us we see complete freedom. We were created simply because He loves. Each of us was made “for our own sake”, as John Paul II put it. God made you with NO strings attached. He never says, “After all I’ve done for you….” You actually owe Him nothing. His love has already been 100% freely given, whether you accept it or not. Though He longs for intimacy with you, He is in no way disappointed in you, nor is His love diminished, when you don’t feel the same.
Likewise, when He became man in order to suffer and die for us, He showed us what true, free love looks like. Starting from His fervently human prayers in the Garden of Gethsemane (“let this cup pass”) to His miraculously divine prayers on Golgotha (“Father, forgive them”), he showed us what freedom looks like by saying no to the urge to run, the desire to flee. He was so free to love you that He could embrace every suffering necessary to gain intimacy with you. His only goal was redemption, not reciprocation.
So, brothers and sisters, let us begin to love freely, without expectation, pressure, or shackles. Let us feed people because they’re hungry, not because they do what we think is right. Let us give our time, treasure, and talent simply to be loving, because everyone is always worth it. Let us crush the bondage of passions we are told to give in to. Let us scrub, clean, and organize our houses simply for the glory of the Lover of our souls. Let us love freely. However, first, let us open our hearts wide to the free, unconditional, expectation-less love of God, for it is only by continually receiving His free gift of love that we learn how to truly and free love anyone else.