A few months ago, my sister playfully reminded me of a note I wrote her as a teen. This well-meaning, heartfelt note expressed my fears about her behavior and what it would mean for us in the next life. 20 years later, I am ashamed of these words and the conditions I placed on my love.
If I could go back in time and talk to teenage me, I would tell her to tear up the letter. I would tell her to let go of her fears, her “I love you buts,” her tolerance-mixed-with-love and to just allow herself to love.
Tolerance as Love
A lovely woman I’ll call Sammy Smith attends a Christian denomination. She began attending years ago as Samuel and has gracefully transitioned to Sammy over the last year or so. In her faith tradition, Sammy can not fully participate, but she attends each week anyway. I recently witnessed a conversation with men in the congregation who insisted on pointedly calling her “Samuel” and “Mr. Smith,” despite her clear presentation as Sammy.
I’m sure these men viewed themselves as very tolerant and even loving of Sammy. I mean, they don’t comment on her changed physical appearance or bar her from coming altogether. They probably even pray that “he” will see what’s right. Their actions assure their place in the next life, but they add little beauty to this one.
No I Love You, But…
My heart still does flip-flops when I think about my husband. I look forward to spending time together; talking, cooking, parenting, working, traveling, you name it. My love for him deepens, expands, and matures the longer we are together.
I want my children to experience this kind of love. I hope they find partners who give them butterflies in their bellies, challenge, inspire, and excite them. When I think about each one of them experiencing this type of love, I can no longer do so with conditions. I don’t want them to find love only if it fits into a certain ideal and I want to accept their partners fully, without fears about the next life tainting that love.
I used to see unconditional love as loving people in spite of flaws, disagreements, disappointments, and differences. I now see unconditional love as loving people in these things.
I learned this because I have been loved in piousness, depression, selfishness, faith crisis, courage, growing, changing, learning, and cowardice. This is unconditional love.
This kind of love doesn’t fret about perception. It does not need to make a statement of right and wrong. This love embraces, celebrates, mourns, and hopes without fears for the next life. This love doesn’t need to be right or fix others or make a point.
Loving in this Life
I’m weary of worrying if I will be “guilty by association” of someone else’s sin. I’m tired of wondering how to let my neighbor know “where I stand,” while befriending them. I don’t want to prepare my mansion above at the expense of an incredible home here on earth.
I want to love fully in this life without restriction. I believe that this kind of love heals, brings peace, and comforts. This kind of love helps people feel a God in ways tolerance and piety never can.
John Pavlovitz said, “There is a difference between being tolerated and being celebrated. In the place where you are the latter, your heart blooms.”
I Want My Love to Be a Celebration.
- I will rejoice over babies born “out of wedlock” with all my enthusiasm, unconcerned if the parents know my stance on premarital relations. They will know my stance on love.
- I will celebrate spiritual awakenings, even when they take people to unfamiliar territory, without constantly wishing they would “return to the fold.” I will enfold them with my love instead.
- I will welcome my neighbor, without stressing if their lifestyle matches my values. They will feel valued by my love.
The Next Life
I believe this kind of love is the best preparation for any heaven I want to live in. If in the next life, I stand in judgment, I will say I stood with love.