I may not have ever been officially crowned Queen, but I am an expert on unrequited love. Ask me anything about it. I will have an answer. I could not begin to count the number of times in my life that he just wasn’t that into me. Or even knew I was alive for that matter. There were a couple of times I thought he felt the same way. I was afraid to feel it. At the time I thought I was afraid that when all was said and done it would turn out not to be true. But now I realize there was an equally good chance that I was just as afraid that it would be true; that he was also in love with me.
Love leaves us vulnerable – wide open for all kinds of hurts, intentional or not. Yesterday a friend of mine posted a poem with the line “Love but don’t allow your heart to be broken.” I responded that I don’t think that’s possible. I’ll stand by that. I do not think it is possible to love someone and be sure that you will not have your heart broken.
It is certainly a good idea to make wise choices about in whom we choose to invest our secrets, our hopes, and our dreams. But wisdom is not a free gift. Wisdom is learned over time, and it is learned by making mistakes and resolving not to make the same mistakes again. Some of us take a long time learning those things. For years I fell in love with the same guy over and over again. Then one day I met someone who was completely different from the guys who had attracted me before. It was just like in the V-8 commercial. I wanted to slap myself on the forehead and say, “Oh! THIS is what I want!” It was quite a revelation.
But no matter how wise we are and no matter how wonderful the person that we love is, they can still break our heart. Even when they do love us back. Especially when they do love us back. Sometimes they do or say something on purpose. Sometimes it isn’t intentional at all. It hurts because when we love someone we leave ourselves wide open. And wide open leaves all kinds of room to get hurt. When we hold back, when we refuse to open up and share ourselves completely, we are missing out.
Nazareth had it right way back in 1976: “Love hurts. Love scars. Love wounds.” But Nazareth was wrong when they sang “love is a lie.” Love isn’t a lie, but there are no guarantees that those we love will love us back or that they will never hurt us. When we love we will wind up with scars, but scars are proof that we tried and we survived to love again.
This post is really about many different kinds of love: infatuation, mutual romantic love, selfish love, selfless love, love for family, love for friends. But our reading today (Matthew 5: 43-48) is about the toughest kind of love there is – love for enemies. Jesus taught, “You have heard it said to love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I’ll bet he lost some followers that day.
When we experience unrequited love; love that is not returned, we usually have at least the hope that someday that person will come to their senses and love us back. But is there any love more unrequited than love we have for an enemy. There is usually little chance it could ever be returned. Or is there?
Whether they are our personal enemies or national enemies or political enemies or some other kinds of enemies, maybe what they need is for us to love them. Maybe if we treated them as if they were in fact lovable there could be a whole different kind of dialogue possible between us. And even if they seem unphased by our love or go so far as to openly reject it, our love is not in vain. Acting in love changes our perspective and even our motives. It might not change that person or group now seen as our enemy, but it might get the attention of another person or group. The more people, the more groups, who are living out love, the better the world will be.
I know, that sounds terribly sentimental, not to mention completely unrealistic, but let’s keep in mind that love does not mean allowing bad behavior to go unaddressed. It does not mean you’re allowed to walk all over me with no consequences. It does not even mean that I like you. It means that I treat you with respect. It means that I care that your needs as well as mine are met. It means that I recognize your humanity.
Jesus said that if we only love the people who love us, we are no better than those we consider really bad, the worst even, because even they love the people who love them. Jesus wants us to love the people who seriously do not love us. That’s hard, but it can also work miracles and change the relationship from one based on hate and distrust to one based on, well, love. Which relationship is worth working toward?