What is love exactly? Growing up I was taught that love was give-and-take. I’ll do something for you if you do something for me. I believed that love was weighed on a scale of good deeds, in other words, I believed and was taught that love is conditional – conditional based on behaviour, on compliance, on good deeds done. I was in my mid-twenties when I learned that this kind of love is no love at all.
Growing up, believing that love is conditional, really wore on me mentally, I could never seem to earn my mother’s love – and I tried everything I could think of over a period of years and years. As a teen I was very compliant. I wasn’t a party girl. I wasn’t a boy-crazy teen girl. I only went out with one guy on two dates in high school and made a decision to not have anything to do with guys until after high school. Anything she asked me to do, I did – often reluctantly, but I still did it. I was willing to do anything to win her approval and affection, but nothing worked. She never noticed.
That is when I rebelled for a bit (which for me wasn’t all that rebellious) – I figured that if she wasn’t going to notice me or love me, then why am I trying so hard? I gave up trying to earn her love and affection and kind of went my own way. I didn’t engage in trying to love her into loving me again until I became a Christian in my mid-twenties, when I finally found out what real love was.
1 Corinthians 13:4-6 says, “Charity suffereth long, [and] is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;”
The love I grew up with was not this, but very much the opposite. The only kindness shown to me was for show. The love I grew up with was selfish and self-serving on her part, it was cruel – not kind, and she rejoiced in my screw-ups and often announced them like banners for the world to know. When I became a Christian, the abuse got worse – much more intense. Her love eventually literally sucked the life out of me. She took and she took, giving nothing back. Whenever I experienced emotional pain – she would not console, but sit beside me with a sinister kind of grin on her face. It’s like she took joy in my pain.
The first time I read this Bible passage, I thought of my mother’s love and this is when I started to realize that she did not love me and I was also convinced that she didn’t have any idea what real love was. It was when I started having children of my own when God started to tear down the facade, the lies, and started to reveal to me the truth.
This is what I learned to be true about love:
Love is always kind, it doesn’t envy … it puts the other person first. Love endures and is not short-lived. It doesn’t hold your screw-ups over your head. Love isn’t arrogant or evil. It doesn’t think badly of someone. It never uses the silent treatment. To love is to love without expecting anything in return. It is not weighed on a scale – it is two (or more) people giving their all to another person without keeping tabs, without keeping score. You cannot buy love. You cannot manipulate someone into loving you. And no matter how hard you try, you cannot make someone love you, very rarely can you even love someone into loving you. Love is not mere feeling, above all else its a verb. Love is something you do even when you don’t feel like it.
Not being loved by one’s mother, and being emotionally and psychologically abused by her, is painful. You not only feel unloved, but unworthy, you feel discarded, hated even. Rejected. In my case, it was not only the withholding of love and affection, but the abuse on top of it all just made it excruciating to endure. Over time, she shredded my soul to the point where I was just a walking void. I was completely spent with no sense of self and nothing left to give – I had been sucked dry.
It took a long time for me to accept and believe that I actually was loveable, worthy, and valuable. Learning to love myself was very difficult when having a mother that didn’t model it for me to me.
It’s been well over a decade now since not having my mother in my life and I have finally accepted that not only did she not ever love me, but that its also not in her to love me. Learning that its not my fault, but hers, that she cannot love me, has freed me from the thinking that the abuse was my fault for many years.
I now know what love is … I live it the best I know how (and even then I often think I fall short.) Real love, God’s love, is the best and most real love I have ever experienced. Not only did I learn how you are to love others, but I also had to learn to love myself which was very difficult.
It’s an awful thing growing up feeling unloved, unwanted, discarded, rejected by one’s mother, and later family. But, God came along and He pulled me out of that pit – He told me He loved me, that He’d never leave me – He not only accepted me, He adopted me … His Son laid down His life for me … His love for me was everything my mother’s love and family’s love was not.
As it turns out, I wasn’t so unloveable after all. I have a husband and children who love me. Friends who love me. This is His love for me. I am blessed.
Real love, especially His love, endures forever. His love never fails.
~ Saoirse Quill