If love is a sublime and sought after emotion, then it follows that unconditional love is even more lofty and desired. We seek love because it is enjoyable, affirming, exhilarating. We usually love others for their positive traits – their outlook on life, their ethics and sense of purpose, their enthusiasm and dedication, their honesty and courage, their sensitivity and passion. A lover will compliment their beauty, appreciate their virtues, affirm their worth, and enjoy making them happy. But there is much more to love. As Viktor Frankl so eloquently said,
Love is the only way to grasp another human being in the innermost core of his personality. No one can become fully aware of the very essence of another human being unless he loves him. By his love, he is enabled to see the essential traits and features in the beloved person; and even more, he sees that which is potential in him, which is not yet actualized but yet ought to be actualized. Furthermore, by his love, the loving person enables the beloved person to actualize these potentialities. By making him aware of what he can be and of what he should become, he makes these potentialities come true.
Unconditional love begins when we see others in their totality, the good and the bad. It delights in the good but, although it forgives the bad, it cannot accept complacency. Unconditional love manifests in the presence of vulnerability and imperfection, and is both tested and proven in episodes of confrontation, opposition or rejection. The unconditional lover will risk honesty, which will inevitably hurt you. He wants to make you see, to dare you to new experiences, to open you to change, to push you to the limit of your growth. He wants to uncover what is meaningful and important for your life, what will make you a better person, what will lead you to your ultimate potential. This expression of unconditional love is risky, because not all of us are ready to accept true love. We will often feel hurt, betrayed, painfully unloved. In fact, we may avoid unconditional love because it portends discomfort, change, hard work. It challenges us and tires us.
Love, particularly unconditional love, are gifts to lovers in earthly life, celestial gifts that must have an origin in God. His love for us is evident, and revealed in the gifts of life itself, the physical, mental and emotional capacities we enjoy, the beauty within and around us, and the mystical and spiritual aspirations that lead us to greater awareness of Him. We are naturally inclined to sense God’s love and respond to it with gratitude and yearning. We seek God’s love and acknowledge it, especially when we are satisfied, pleased. And we yearn for unconditional love, yet we don’t understand what it means.
Yes, God is Kind, God is Love. He is Grand, Good, Eternal. He describes Himself as Holy, Compassionate, Merciful. We implore his Gentleness, Generosity and Forgiveness. We claim to love God. Yes, loving this God is easy, and we are willing to love at this level. But God is also Truthful, a Guide who allows distress to afflict His creation, the Lover who sees our potential, who is not satisfied with mediocrity. Are we ready for the Truthful to assess our soul? For the Guide to lead us to and through our vulnerabilities? For the growth envisioned by unconditional Love?
When we are subjected to childhood traumas over which we have no control, when we experience failure and privation despite our best efforts, when we suffer physical pain and material loss in our fight against injustice, when we are afflicted with natural disasters or life-threatening illness that turn our lives upside down, we blame God, doubting His love. We want love but not unconditional love. We forget that the unconditional lover is not satisfied with the outcome of a pampered life, that which stunts our growth and cripples us. He sees our potential and propels us toward its realization. Or perhaps he sees our contradictions and tries to purge our hearts of insincerity. The unconditional lover will forever challenge our status quo, will prompt our growth, will provide us with the means to flourish.
To perceive and accept unconditional love – that which transforms and elevates you – necessitates a degree of patience and trust. Prophet Muhammad said, “When God loves a people He subjects them to trials, so whoever is content, then for him is pleasure…” The Quran confirms it: “And We will surely test you with something of fear and hunger and a loss of wealth and lives and fruits, but give good tidings to the patient, who, when disaster strikes them, say, ‘Indeed we belong to Allah, and indeed to Him we will return.’ Those are the ones upon whom are blessings from their Lord and mercy. And it is those who are the [rightly] guided” (2:155-157). If you accept God’s unconditional love, you will be vulnerable to Him and accept His will, even that which hurts, that which perplexes you. Loving unconditionally will make you putty in His Hand, the mighty Hand that shapes you in turn with tenderness and force, with abundance and privation, with that which makes you whole and that which breaks you. He will periodically knock on your heart to crack its fragile shell and give it space to grow. Then, if you meet the tapping with indifference or avoidance, He will insist with greater and greater intensity, until He breaks your hardness and a new heart emerges, trembling in the Hand of its Maker. Are you ready for the unconditional, nurturing love of God in this moment? When He heats you in fire then forges your shape like a blacksmith, will you yield to Him or will you rebuke Him, question His wisdom, rebel against His will?
To love God conditionally is to accept His gifts and thank Him when life goes according to plan, but to ignore Him when called, question Him when dismayed, rebuke Him when disappointed, rebel against Him when challenged. To reject God’s love is to turn away from and avoid what is good for your soul, what expands and elevates it. To distance yourself from the varying expressions of His love is to become stagnant, numb and lifeless.
To love God unconditionally means to follow Him. It means to love all that is from Him, to seek it, embrace it, and submit to it with total acceptance, without blame. Although loving God will challenge you, and may cause some discomfort from time to time, you won’t retreat. You will look beyond any inconvenience, even before the trial of true love begins, and fix your sight on the face of the Beloved. The lover will trust the Beloved with a trust due to none other than Him, saying, “Ask what You will. I am yours.”
Our primordial selves are open to the delights of love. Our mature selves are open to the challenges of unconditional love. With insight, we recognize it when we experience growth after painful or traumatic episodes, and may even be grateful for the truths it revealed or the personal strengths it nurtured. But if we are to move beyond our selfishness on the receiving end of love, and become a lover as well, we must accept the implications of unconditional loving — appreciation of how God manifests His unconditional love for us, and then loving Him, unconditionally, in return.
We are called to believe in God, to reflect on life, and to comply with His will. The Quran says, “Whoever believes, it is for his own good and whoever is blind, it is to his own harm” (96:104) and that the heedless are those who “have hearts with which they do not understand, and they have eyes with which they do not see, and they have ears with which they do not hear” (7:179). “If Allah touches you with hurt, there is none who can remove it but He. If He designs some benefit for you, there is none who can keep back His favor… Truth has reached you from your Lord. Those who receive guidance do so for the good of their own souls and those who stray do so to their own loss… Follow (the Quran that) is revealed to you and be patient and constant…” (10:107-109).
With our limited knowledge and experience, we can’t fully understand God’s will, but with complete trust in our Creator, we can accept it, embrace it. When we love God unconditionally, we will seek His guidance and then consciously and faithfully follow it. We will fulfill His prescriptions and avoid His prohibitions. We will be pleased with the Word of God that guides us to our greatest potential and the Hand of God that shapes us into our best selves. We will be able to accept the mysteries of our lives –the unavoidable trauma, pain and want – as being part of the process that makes us who we are, who we were meant to be. We will become resilient to mental, spiritual and physical challenges, resourceful and strong in the face of adversity, perceptive to others’ suffering, compassionate and responsive to their needs, daring against injustice, trusting in ultimate good.
With total submission to a loving and beloved Lord, we can find a place of peace and stability, a place where trauma, pain and want no longer prevail. We can find a place of love, exquisite in breadth and depth and, if we surrender to it – to the unconditional Love of our Maker, we will be blessed with His pleasure, abundance and infinite mercy. In our search for this place of love, both in this life and the next, we can only ask God to help us respond to His love with total submission – to offer to our Beloved our own unconditional love.