Not much in life hurts more than loving someone who not only does not return your love, but who barely if at all likes you. That’s just the worst. It’s like every morning sprinkling powdered bleach on your Corn Flakes, and gobbling away. It’s just … gut-wrenching death. Except it doesn’t bring the relief of actual death.
Life being what it is, sometimes we simply love people who not only don’t love us back, but who actively and constantly work against what’s best for us—who, in fact, use our inexhaustible love for them as a weapon against us. And even though we know that’s all they’re ever going to do with our love for them, we continue to love them. And in so doing we continue to supply them with everything they need to yet again bring us to our knees.
Outside of falling victim to the Stockholm syndrome, the only kind of people for whom we usually experience this kind of self-immolating love are family members and spouses. Someone needs to be that close to hurt us in that very special way.
And what renders this entire dynamic so profoundly crazy-making is that love is supposed to be so good—so healthy, so uplifting, so wonderful, positive, and affirming. And so when we love someone in the essentially self-destructive ways we sometimes do, we feel … well, crazy. Because we know how out-of-the-norm that weird, toxic love of ours put us. We know there’s no Valentine’s Day card from Hallmark that on the outside says, “Won’t You Be My Valentine?” and on the inside says, “Of course you won’t, you cruel beast. What was I thinking? Sorry I interrupted your fang sharpening. I lovingly await your degradation of my soul.”
And we know that our love for the people who callously disregard that love is as pure as pure gets. We’re not tripping about our love. We know we’re not crazy. We know that our love is good—that it’s real, honest, and honorable. We know it’s all about appreciating and celebrating what’s best in our beloved. It’s as noble and true as any love can be—more so, if anything, since it’s a love so honest it desires nothing in return.
When you love someone despite how they treat you, you love them in the deepest possible way.
We know that. We know that’s exactly the self-sacrificing, perfectly pure way in which we are loving.
And sometimes, alas, we are also forced to know an awful corollary to that love of ours: that sometimes the person we love regards that love as having a value equal to diddly-squat.
They just don’t care that we love them. It doesn’t mean anything to them. If anything, they’d rather we didn’t love them.
They’d rather we didn’t love them!
And of course that only adds to our crazy. Because it makes zero sense.
How can our beloved actually not care how much we love them? How can a love as pure as the one we feel for them mean nothing whatsoever to them?
Why doesn’t our love for them heal our relationship with them?
To put it in pirate talk: arrrrrrggggghhh.
But that’s what happens.
And that’s how our love for others becomes, impossibly enough, our own worst enemy. That’s how we end up stuck aiding and abetting our own personal destruction, how we end up willingly poisoning our own well.
That’s how our love turns into what destroys us.
What a sad conundrum! What a terrible puzzle. What a dark and deep hole for us to fall down forever.
So we need help.
And guess what? I know that help.
Guess what works here? Guess the paradigm for properly understanding what we’re really doing when we continue, inevitably and forever love those who have no such love for us?
It’s Jesus Christ. That is exactly what happened to him.
Jesus Christ, no matter what, and very often despite himself, kept on loving people who kept on treating him like garbage.
Christ gave nothing but love. And what he got in exchange for that love was the living flesh ripped off his bones. The people to whom he extended the very love of God repaid him for that love by doing nothing more imaginative than mercilessly beating him to death.
On this earth we can have no experience that more closely approximates Christ on the cross than loving someone who doesn’t love us back.
So the next time someone whom you love unconditionally purposefully and willfully hurts you, get yourself alone, close your eyes, and hold out your arms like you’re Jesus on the cross.
Feel the pain of what has happened to you.
Feel it as deeply as you can. Let it sink all the way in.
And then there you are.
And then there He is.