Wednesday, July 20, 2011

God's Unconditional Love and the Family

The family is meant to be the school in which human beings learn about God's unconditional love.  When we live according to God's plan, that's exactly what it is and it benefits everyone who comes in contact with it.  When we try to rewrite that plan according to our own designs, the family loses its purpose and meaning.  When the family loses sight of its purpose and meaning, everyone loses out and God's love becomes harder to find.

A child's first experience with unconditional love is through its parents, and it is unconditional love received. It is a love given to the child, not because of anything the child has done or will do, but simply because the child is.  The parents then introduce this child to its siblings, who are taught to love the child regardless of differences in personality, shortcomings in appearance, or defects in character.  The family bonds through shared experiences and shared traditions.  The child born into this family did not choose the parents or the siblings and must learn to accept them all as they are, love them despite the differences, and resolve conflicts in a way that benefits both parties.  Ideally, as the child matures into an adult he or she has also learned to find his or her unique talents and gifts and to find ways to share those with others.

As an adult, the second phase of instruction in unconditional love begins: this time, the love of the chosen.  The child had no control over which family he or she was born into but as an adult is given the freedom to choose his or her own mate.  This choice is to be until death, and must be made not once but daily, through every heartbreak and every heartache and despite every kind of disappointment.  To keep this union going, the individual must be willing to forgive no matter how deep the wounds, to share every part of themselves, and to sacrifice much of their own desires and dreams.  It is an exercise in self-sacrificial love which closely mirrors the self-sacrificial love Christ has for His Church.

As part of the union between the individual and his or her spouse comes the third stage of instruction in unconditional love, the unconditional love given to another not of your choice.  We do not choose our children, they come into our lives with their own personalities and appearances which we have very little influence over. We must accept them as they are, learn to accept the differences between us and to find joy in them. It is a hard stage of instruction, and it is the stage in which we learn the most about God's love for us. We give this love to our child whether or not the child returns it, bravely loving them in the face of their anger and resentment.  We set rules and guidelines to help protect them, but often the child doesn't see anything but an effort to control them in the rules and guidelines and they rebel. We love them even when they are too embarrassed to acknowledge us before their friends, and love them even when they are screaming at us for our perceived failures.

If we can navigate successfully all three stages of learning to love, we grow ever more like Christ in our ability to give and receive love.  This is why the family matters; why it matters how we define it, and how we treat it. If our children do not learn, by observing how we model it, unconditional love between their parents they will not know how to give it to another.  If we, as parents, fail to provide unconditional love to our children they will not know how to give that unconditional love to their children.  Deprived of unconditional love, man becomes unable to find the courage to overcome his natural self-centeredness and to become self-sacrificial in his love.

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