Fellow blogger Larry Drain of Hopeworks Community in Tennessee captured a very profound concept in just a few words posted online about a year ago.
Larry expressed that there are really only two kinds of love: Because Love and Despite Love. “Because Love cares because of what we do, what we say, the way we look,” according to Larry. “It is a love that says we matter because we stack up, we measure up.”
Despite Love, on the other hand, is the ideal form of love, unconditional. “Despite Love says there is nothing to prove,” Larry writes. “It is love that says you are a prize even when you don’t act like one.” Despite Love is given despite your flaws, your empty pockets, your sickness or your pains.
Because Love lasts only as long as it is convenient. Because Love is disposable. Despite Love requires commitment.
Feminist, cultural critic and theorist bell hooks tells us that genuine love does not provide instant gratification. Love doesn’t give us a quick high like a drug, which wears off and leaves us searching vainly for more. It is an investment.
bell hooks, in fact, would probably question the use of the word ‘love’ to describe the emotional and behavioral state that Larry Drain identified in his blog as Because Love.
hooks takes a strong, even controversial, stand on love, which she defines in her 2001 book All About Love: New Visions. Namely, hooks insists that love is not abusive but is centered on supporting a person to be the best that he or she can be. hooks argues that as soon as someone who says that he loves you abuses you, he has moved away from love. Someone who is abusive can care about you, but he cannot love you, hooks asserts.
hooks defines love as “a willful act to facilitate the growth of oneself or another person.” Somewhat ironically, hooks’ definition echoes the definition of love put forth by psychiatrist M. Scott Peck, whose own book, the famous and infamous The Road Less Traveled, was published some 20 years before hooks’. In his writing on the attributes of a fulfilled life, Peck defines love as “the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”
Peck describes love in fairly humanistic terms as the extension of one’s self in the pursuit of growth or progress.
While hooks and Peck make strange bedfellows, their writings on love are fused in my mind. I was reminded of them while reading the magazine article that inspired this blog series.
The idea for the topic of healing love originated with a piece entitled “Primal Reverence” by Kendyl Gibbons in the Summer 2012 issue of UU World. Gibbons advocates in that article for a lifestyle and spiritual practice that is grounded and connected to a world community and a recognition of the wonder and mystery of all life that she terms “reverence.”
One of the many examples of primal reverence that Gibbons cites is “the life of a radical Jewish peasant who called for a community of love and justice that took no account of Roman authority and [who] followed his scorn for oppressive power to the cross.”
As the story goes, Jesus embodied his Father’s love, the type of love spoken of in the well-known and oft-quoted passage John 3:16: “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him shall not perish but have eternal life.” God’s love is freely given to anyone willing to accept it.
I am a social worker and a therapist who treats people dealing with serious mental health and personal issues. I sometimes speak in my work of believing in people before they have believed in themselves, or loving people even when they consider themselves to be unlovable. You might say that I practice Despite Love on a regular basis. In my field, we sometimes call this unconditional positive regard.
The Judeo-Christian concept of God is like this. God loves creation not because it is worthy, not because it measures up, but because God is love.
Later in the book of John, John 15:12, the writer continues the theme of love begun in the “For God so loved” scripture. He writes, “Love one another as I have loved you.” In the words of a daily devotional entry from a website called “My Utmost for His Highest,” God is saying in this scripture, “I will bring a number of people around you whom you cannot respect, [who are disagreeable or difficult,] but you must exhibit my love to them, just as I have exhibited it to you.”
The crazy, strange thing about exhibiting love toward people who are disagreeable and not particularly deserving of our love – of practicing Despite Love instead of Because Love – is that we actually improve ourselves and grow in the process. When we put forth our love for the people around us and for the world of which we are a part, we demonstrate profound patience and grandness of character. We demonstrate that we are the bigger person.
Love is about growing ourself and giving to another by being the bigger person.