Sadly, many of our relationships--even in our families--reflect conditional love. The unspoken messages that we hear loud and clear are:
- I will love you... if you're good.
- I will love you... if you meet my needs.
- I will love you... if you earn it.
It's not that others don't love us. It's that their love for us is dependent on our meeting certain standards. Their love for us has strings attached.
Having grown up in a home where criticism flowed as freely as alcohol, where love and acceptance were caught in the currents of blame and shame, I spent much of my life believing that I was simply not worthy of being loved.
Mine was a childhood where accusations abounded and affirmations were absent; where my bad behavior was magnified and my good behavior was not praised, but expected. The "naughty or nice" list with my name on it was flagrantly lopsided.
The message I received--particularly from my father--was that I didn't deserve love. That didn't stop me from trying to prove that I did. But no matter how good I was, I was never good enough.
To be completely honest, conditional love was so ingrained in me as a child that I still wrestle with thoughts that I don't quite measure up. I still fight the pervading sense that it's all about performance; that others' love for me is dependent on my being good; that it's not about who I am, but what I do.
This toxic mindset leaked into my spiritual life. For years, I saw my Heavenly Father the same way I experienced my dad—as someone I could never please; someone who looked and me and shook his head in disappointment; someone who was withholding his love for me until I "got it right."
Then, with help from a number of people who had similar experiences, God led to a wonderful, life-changing truth. I came to discover that the love my Heavenly Father has for me is not at all dependent on what I do. My Heavenly Father's love is unconditional.
I was familiar with the term. I had heard way back in Sunday School that God loved His children unconditionally. I had just never experienced that kind of love before.
Once I began to grasp the concept that my Heavenly Father's love for me was without condition my spiritual life was transformed. I finally came to the thrilling realization that my Father’s love for me comes with no expectations. That there are no strings attached. That His love cannot possibly be earned. My Father doesn’t love me for what I have done. My Father loves me for who I am. I’m His child.
I remember cradling my beautiful new grandson after his parents brought him home from the hospital. And as I held him close and looked at that sweet face the love I had for him was so overwhelming it could not be expressed by mere words. I realized at that moment that I would do anything for him. And what exactly did he do to earn that kind of love? Absolutely nothing. At that point in his life, pretty much all he did was eat, sleep, and poop. I loved him not because of anything he did. I loved him because of who he was. He was my grandson.
That is a picture of our Heavenly Father's loves for us. He loves us simply because we're His kids. He loves us freely, fully, fiercely, and without condition. He doesn’t withhold His love until our good deeds outweigh the bad. He loves us even when we smell and need to be changed. He loves us so much there is nothing He wouldn’t do for us.
That is the kind of love our Father gives us. That is the kind of love our Father wants us to give others.