Has anyone every told you they love you more? Have you ever professed the same to anyone? I love you more. Some may even complete the expression, waxing poetic – more than the stars in the sky, more than the sun and the moon, more than the depths of the ocean.
But the shorthand version – I love you more – is pretty powerful on its own, I think. No modifiers needed when expressed with a smile and no expectation of reciprocation. No conditions, attached.
But there’s another kind of, I love you more, expression. It is the soft-ball pitch that seeks affirmation or reciprocation, seeks denial, even. No smile accompanies this kind of loving more than statement. A condition looms in the background of this kind of loving more expression: You love your work more than you love me; Mommy loves the baby more than us; Her quiet time means more to her than anything.
Dan Piraro’s illustration to the right sort of sums up what happens to that love expression when it has gone through life. Comes out on the other side looking a little trashed.
The first psalm of today’s Daily Office Lectionary readings asserts God loves Jerusalem more than the land of Jacob. The people of God have gone through a sort of tunnel of love with the Lord, God, and now the psalmist writes:
God’s love doesn’t operate this way. I don’t think there’s any trace of a quantifiable attribute – more than, less than – in God’s love. God is love. Perfect love. It is infinite. Timeless. Without boundary. No conditions attached to how we are loved by our Lord, God.
But we humans, though loved more by God, have no capacity to love Him or any other person or created thing of the natural world in the same way. There are conditions to the way we love and the way we feel loved.
The conditions emerge out of our humanity, our particularity – where we were born, to whom, in what age, in what place. Conditional love is not an aspect of God’s love, but an aspect of human love.
I believe we are each given moments, people, experiences, epiphanies – to love as God loves us – unconditionally, perfectly – to be able to grasp the enormity of the truth of God.
As a parent with the birth of my second child, I glimpsed that eternal truth. As my second baby’s due date neared I found myself more and more anxious about how I would be able to love this yet unborn child as much as my first. How could I love anything ever again so completely as I had loved my first born?
I had glimpsed the ‘unconditional’ aspect of God’s love when she had been born. I had never know anything like it. My head and heart filled with modifiers as I held my first born, I love you more than the stars in the sky, more than the sun and moon, more than chocolate, more than the depths of the ocean.
But as the psalmist contends, how could God love any people more than those of His Holy Hill, those of Jerusalem? How was I to love my second in the same way and not love my first, more than?
But I was not to wonder, how. Just as I had not known unconditional love before the birth of my first, I knew not the way love grows – the heart grows. I was graced with more love to give, not dividing up the limited quantity of love I thought I had. God is love. There’s an infinite supply. To give.
But what about to receive? How do I know I am, in my limitations, in my humanity, in my flawed, broken self, able to receive love from God – to really know what it feels like to be loved as God loves me – as God loves you? To know I am loved, more.
This is a struggle for many of us. A big one for me. Years ago at the beginning of my faith journey a spiritual director pointed me to Jesus for the answer to the question of loving and being loved. The kind of love I was seeking – unconditional, all-knowing – was not to be found in another person, but in the Lord, God. Dive into an intimate relationship with Jesus and loneliness would abate, God’s love would fill, animate, enliven the broken me.
This is certainly the message of the gospel – the good news.
I have struggled my life-long to ‘feel’ God’s love for me in the way I have felt in loving others as God has graced me to do. As much as I know Jesus loves me – as we teach our children – it has been hard to believe, to really know throughout every cell of my being that I am loved.
I want to feel it – more than anything. I think this yearning explains, in part, my hearing in music – especially love songs – the Lord, my God. Music – hymns, old school, country, instrumental – music moves me, transcends, connects me with the Holy and helps me feel. And when I imagine the singer singing to the Lord, God, I get a whisper of what it must feel like to be so loved.
Here is one such song, from Van Morrison.