“I love you,” he said.
“Oh no,” she said, “I don’t feel that way about you at all.”
Seventeen year of listening to college students and my own experience teaches me to dread the conversation that forever defines a relationship as “not going to happen.”
Whether it is a lover, a friend, a parent, or child, our broken world will often take our love and throw it back at us. We are rejected.
Sometimes that must happen, not because love is ever wrong in itself, but because what our love desires is wrong. We love well, but not wisely.
At other times, something that could have been simply will not be, because an affection is not returned. Free will is not a gentle teacher to souls as I choose and the beloved chooses as well.
I learn that I cannot command love in another soul created in God’s image. Just as He waits for our response, so I must wait. It is not evil that my love is not returned as I wish it, but a glorious affirmation of the worthiness of the beloved. She has a right to her feelings and I have no right to manipulate or command them.
This is true of parents, children, lovers, and friends. Any person worthy of love must also be counted worthy of autonomy. The pain can embitter and destroy, but it can also redeem. I can couunt the beloved as worthy by refusing to force my affections on him or her.
A parent does this when he lets a child go his or her way. A lover does it when he refuses to stalk the beloved. A child does it when she accepts the incapacity of he parents for holy love.
It is such a painful lesson, though a good one, that sin takes adantage to turn the lesson to our hurt. It takes the hard school and makes it torture. How? Sin intrudes and twists choice and turns rejection into hatred, choice into harshness, and growing pains into a cancer of bitterness.
Before I found my wife, Hope, I knew some of this wasting disease. She saved me from it, but only because her God, my God, had been there first.
Jesus knows unrequite love and has dealt with rejection from His beloved. Hanging on the Cross, God taught Himself pain by loving and feelig, not just knowing, rejection. Jesus loved His Father and for the first time received nothing in return. His heart was broken and God experienced pain.
Jesus had taken the pain of the world with no complaint, but now cried out: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me.”
Jesus understands and then He turned that pain into love, love for all broken humanity. He reconciled the pain of the Father with the physical pain He felt and the gap between God and man was healed.
God knew fully and we were saved.
And so it is possible for us to follow His example. We can turn from bitterness, but without denying ou pain. We love and are not loved in return, but now our love can be without complications or fear of selfishness. We may not ever speak to the beloved again, setting them free from any tyranny of our affections, but we can pray holy prayers for them.
We can heal a rift in our heart, by Jesus’ example, and when others see the scar let them know that love is capable even of that miracle.
Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.