How Do I Love Thee?

Have you ever noticed that we love people for their faults and not their achievements? We might be impressed when someone sets a new world record, but we don’t love him for it. We might admire someone’s new face lift or promotion or increased salary, but we don’t love her for it. We might respect a person for writing a book or getting a degree or making a million, but we don’t love them for it. We might admire their achievement and wish we could do it, but we don’t love them for having done it.

In fact, in the face of another’s achievement we very often don’t respect or admire them either. We are either jealous of their achievement, or we look down on them for showing off. We suspect their achievment was at someone else’s cost or think they might have made the grade simply to be better than other people, or to win their approval.

If we’re not that impressed with the achievements of other people, neither are we impressed with their achieved virtues. Do we really respect and admire others who have done great and wonderful things for others? Do you admire philanthropists and self righteous politicians and other sorts of do gooders? I don’t.

Do we even love people for their natural gifts, their abilities, their beauty or their talent? I don’t think so. We may admire them for their gifts, but we don’t love them, and even if we do think we love them for their gifts, we soon realize that, if we love them, its not actually because they play the piano or paint pictures or play golf or have a beautiful face. We love people for something else:

The simple and wonderfully upside down truth is that we love people, not for their strengths but for their faults. What endears a person to us most? Their humility, their vulnerability, their silly sad weaknesses–their humanity. What we love about a person is not their perfect face, but the goofy way their face wrinkles into a grin. We might love it when they cook a perfect meal, but we love them when they burn the supper again. When they do it’s maddening (because we were hungry and wanted a good meal) but it is also funny and hopeless and endearing because they are human and weak and it is their fallible humanity we love most. Who are you most able to love? The person who appears perfect and invulnerable or the poor fool who has failed and pulled the whole world over him with a smile? (excuse me ee)

And if we love one another most for our poor pitiful failures, think how much the Everlasting Father loves us. He looks on us with pity, not with blame. He knows our faults and looks on us with a sad, amused affection topped with mercy like Niagra.

"Catholicism has always defined the ideal but there are no limits on God's mercy and ..."

Tony Palmer: Is There Salvation Outside ..."
"With all due respect, Shaun, are you relegating the actual Faith to whatever the local ..."

Notes on Tony Palmer’s Funeral
"There are good parking valets and bad parking valets. There are good housesitters and bad ..."

The Case for Conversion to Catholicism
"did you vote for Bush Fr Longenecker? would you have?"

Understanding Iraq

Browse Our Archives

Follow Us!

What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • Anonymous

    Dear Mr. Longenecker,I pray you will not mind if I respectfully disagree. For I do not share your nearly cynical(!) view of love. In fact, from what I’ve gathered from other essays here, this piece seems rather out of place.How awed I am by my lover’s achievements! How thrilled I am by my son’s fine accomplishments! How proud I am of my best friend’s doctorate! And I can hardly tell you how vigorously I applaud when my neighbor builds a finer house than my own. I have long found joy, mirth, pleasure in the successes of others: love does that, don’t you think? Egads, I am at this site (and so is everyone else), in part, not because you’ve made a mistake about love, or because you have blemishes on your life’s resumé. I am here because you have accomplished a great deal with your life. You are a success story. And it is not just God’s story. It is your own. I grin with glee for you.Yes, yes, we do love people for their many gifts, their natural talents. What a dull world it would be if we didn’t. This is not to say that we don’t love people when they are bad, or foolish, or just plain wrong. It is to say that we love people despite their mortal sins and sundry peccadilloes. I am not loved by Christ because I fail; nor does my wife love me for that reason. Rather, He — and my dearest — love me for the many things I do not bury; I am loved when I do not hide my flame beneath a bushel or throw my pearls before swine. It was not my sin that won my wife’s heart, nor was it because of my sin Christ died on the cross: they both love me because there is something wondrous and good about me (as there is in all of us). My wife tells me, when I win some small accolade, “Well done, my beloved.” And my Lord, or so I am told, shall greet me with a very similar turn of phrase.Marital estrangements are rarely built around a spouse’s successes within or without the household; a husband considering separation is tired of his wife not because she is so intolerably good at everything. It is because of her faults — and his lack of grace to respond to those faults — that forces a husband’s love to grow too often cold, and, perhaps worst of all, weary.Of course, when I would grow petulant cleaning my house — again — after my child or even my wife left some sort of unsightliness, I managed to calm myself with a simple mantra: I love you because of the mess you make. But this self-pacification did not come by celebrating untidiness. It came as a result of knowing that someday distance or death would separate me from the ones I love who make such messes (or not). My love grew stronger when I knew that someday I would not even be able to clean up after someone.What I believe you mean to say is that envy has a hard time loving others’ successes. But love, pure love, delights — with much hand-clapping and jumping in the grass — in the successes of others. I believe, in fact, true love goes beyond merely weeping with the weepers and rejoicing with the rejoicers. True love often weeps at the joys and triumphs of others. And I would disagree that “faults” and “weaknesses” are synonyms (that’s my peeve, I admit), or that a person’s “humanity” is associated with either. I may be wrong for this, but it is when we move closer to perfection that we move closer to being human; when we are imperfect we are less than human. The good news is that Christ loved us despite this, not because of it: that when we were yet sinners, Christ came to make us human. But all of this might just be you turning things upside down so I may more fully see what I do not rightly see. If that is the case, then, I cannot fault you for that.Many blessings, much peace, all mirth,BGPS. You and I once shared a pint of bitter outside a Sussex pub. The setting sun filled our frothy pints. A little boy, covered in mud from face to foot, came running towards us, looking for his mother. You may not remember. I shall never forget. I bid you all the best.

  • Your comments have added precision to my piece. You’re absolutely right that we must celebrate the true achievements of others. We must also celebrate and wonder at their gifts. Conversely, we must correct faults and call our loved ones to be all they possibly can be by God’s grace.In noticing, however, that our loved one’s faults are what are endearing, I am trying to make the point that it is through the faults that their humanity shows most, and that in their weakness their is vulnerability, and in that humanity and vulnerabiltiy lies the spark of love we have for them.This is a complex topic, and a little morsel of a blog post cannot do it justic. Thank you for illuminating it further.