HOW do we love even those who have hurt and betrayed us unconditionally?
This is important to understand and is often taught wrong, even in our churches. (Sometimes especially in churches)
Unconditional love is expressed by an ability to forgive, to choose love when we don’t “feel” it, and to treat others kindly, no matter if they return it or deserve it.
❤️ Unconditional Love Always Forgives
Always? But what if….?
Yes, always! Forgiveness is the foundational step in loving unconditionally. Here’s the struggle we have with this. Forgiveness for so many of us has been taught as saying “it’s ok” when someone apologizes or even that if we forgive, then we must treat them as if the hurt never occurred. This is not what God meant when he commanded forgiveness of others from us. Forgiveness is a choice we make to let go of our rights to be repaid in some way for the wrong done to us. This has nothing to do with the relationship status between us and the one we are forgiving. That is dealt with in the reconciliation process.
When my boys were little, I always taught them to say “I forgive you” rather than “It’s ok” whenever someone apologized. I never wanted them to think that just because someone said the words “I’m sorry,” it made everything ok. Nor did I want “it’s ok” to be in their thoughts when someone hurt them. It’s not okay to hurt others; it’s not okay to let others hurt you. And there is nothing wrong with admitting that you were hurt! We do not declare by forgiving that we weren’t hurt, nor do we declare that the hurt is healed.
What we are saying when we forgive is that I am not going to keep running this through my head and holding on to the anger indefinitely. I am not going to bring it up in unrelated situations just to hurt you back or to prove a point. I CHOOSE to let it go.
❤Unconditional love is a choice
Because Unconditional love must include forgiveness, and forgiveness is a choice, it follows that this kind of love is based on choice - not feelings. Love itself is not a feeling anyway; it is a choice. Think about it, if we look only at the grammar of it, love is a verb. It is most often used as an imperative command, especially in scripture -” Love one another,” “Love the Lord your God,” and “Love your enemies.”
Speaking of which - there is another proof that it is a choice to love unconditionally - who has ever FELT like loving their enemy!? It must be a choice. And we choose to do it despite the circumstances or behaviors of the one being loved.
God chose to love us “even while we were yet sinners.” And is “kind to the ungrateful and evil.” God shows us this unconditional love and calls us to share what we have received with those around us - everyone around us.
❤Unconditional love is always kind
And here, we have another common error in understanding. I often talk about the difference between “nice” and “kind.” It is so important to understand that these are not interchangeable words. We, as women especially, have often been conditioned always to be nice.
This often translates into “Don’t be direct.” or “Don’t make others uncomfortable.” I have seen so many videos of women in social situations being approached by a man she has never met before and not knowing how to simply and directly say, “I’m not interested in having a conversation with you.” As well as men being taught that if a woman does stand up and say a simple no, she’s being rude and has no right to do that.
This is not what being Kind means.
Being nice is when we do whatever is necessary to keep the other person happy and comfortable, even if we feel unsafe. But being kind is doing what is right and best for others, putting their true needs before our wants. Being kind includes doing nice things sometimes; it also includes having to say some things that might hurt their feelings or cause some discomfort.
A small example of this is quietly telling someone they have their shirt on backward in public - it may embarrass them a bit and make them uncomfortable, but it is much kinder to give them the opportunity to fix it than to let them walk around all day like that only to discover it when they get home!
Another way we understand this better is by thinking about our kids or loved ones. Would it really be kind to let them just do what they want, even if that puts them in danger? Of course not, but we often feel like we can’t tell other people the truth about situations they are in or headed for because it might hurt their feelings or rock the comfort boat. Remembering what is actually good for them is the key - don’t neglect to tell them there is a snake in the grass because you don’t want them to think you’re judging them for wanting to walk in the yard!
❤Unconditional love Sets Healthy Boundaries
We can love from a distance!
Unconditional love does not require unlimited access to our personal space and life. We can forgive, choose on the daily to actively love, and be kind to others, all without giving unsafe people access to our inner circle stuff.
This is where boundaries come in. Boundaries are our “safety valve” to a healthy life. Like a safety valve, good boundaries seal up to keep in the good and out the bad. They also open quickly to release the pressure that can build up on the inside. They are never meant to seal everything in completely.
Having a safety valve in place keeps everyone safer - those inside the circle and those outside. Without a way to protect the inner workings from contamination, we get sick. Without a way to release the build-up of pressure created in the process of life, there will be an explosion that affects those on the outside as well.
Loving others unconditionally requires boundaries! Even when those we love don’t see the boundary that way, that doesn’t change the facts.
Our boundaries do not depend on others’ acceptance of them - we have control over what access we allow. It is a mistake to think that setting boundaries is the same thing as “enacting consequences” or making someone else do something. A better way to think of it is manning your gate. Requiring certain criteria to be met before someone is able to access the intimate parts of your life is wise and loving.