Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return: Real Life
How do we do this in real life? How do we love someone without expecting them to love us back or at least expecting some kind of good return on our investment?
For starters, love is a choice. We are conditioned from an early age to associate love with good feelings, of warmth, hearts and red roses. When we understand love in this way, the focus is inward – it’s all about me and how I feel loved. We will never be satisfied with this kind of love.
The love that does not need anything in return is a much deeper, harder and more profound love. Rather than a love of self, this kind of love stretches beyond us and reaches to the other person. This selfless love seeks first the comfort, health, nourishment and safety of the other person, setting their needs above your own. A loving choice places someone else in the center of your focus, rather than yourself.
Think of someone who has shown you this kind of love, a love that put your own needs before their own. Reach out to them if you are able and thank them.
Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return: In Church Tradition
Very simply, love is choosing to put another’s needs before our own. The First Letter of John says,
If someone who has worldly means sees a brother in need and refuses him compassion, how can the love of God remain in him? – 1 John 3:17
Everyone knows the iconic man, who is merry, jolly and bright, and the joy he brings to children across the world. There is a story about St. Nicholas, aka Santa Claus, that beautifully demonstrates this kind of love.
Nicholas lived in the 300s (fun fact: he attended the Council of Nicea in 325 C.E. which is when the Church formalized our understanding of Jesus’ relationship with the God the Father and officially formulated the first part of the Nicene Creed – the statement of faith we still say to this day at Mass). In those days, a father had to produce a dowry, money or some other possession of value, that would go with his daughter when she married. No dowry = little chance of a husband. The father in our story was poor and had 3 daughters. Nicholas heard of this situation and had the means to fix it. On three separate nights, he tossed a bag of gold coins (some legends say a ball of gold) into an open window, allowing the girls to have enough money for a respectable marriage.
Nicholas had two options. He could have called the father to his home and graciously bestowed the money. He could have made a public spectacle of the event, showing off to everyone what a kind and generous person he is. But, Nicholas heard well the admonishment of Jesus:
“[But] take care not to perform righteous deeds in order that people may see them;otherwise, you will have no recompense from your heavenly Father. – Matthew 6:1
Is it easier to do acts of love when others are watching? How can I more freely act in love without looking for praise or recognition in return?
Able to Love without Requiring Love in Return: Mary in Scripture
A reality of motherhood is loving someone without receiving any love back from them. This happens in more than just pregnancy. There are times when we all act out of love for a child, a spouse, a family member, a friend, a co-worker, a stranger, and do not expect to receive anything, any love in return. Our motivations are not selfish – I’ll scratch your back if you scratch mine. Instead, we act simply because we love them.
We see this quality in Mary. At the Wedding Feast in Cana, Mary comes to Jesus because the couple has run out of wine. Perhaps Mary was a friend of the couple and was helping coordinate the serving. She may have overheard the servers commenting that the wine barrels were running dry. Maybe she went to refill her own glass and was told there wasn’t any wine left. We don’t know the circumstances, and they don’t really matter.
What we do know is that to run out of wine, especially at a celebration like a wedding, was a major social faux pas. Mary, out of love for the couple, brings the issue to her Son. She does not seek attention, she does not even involve herself with the solution. She simply tells the servers to “Do whatever he tells you.” She acts as a mother would, motivated to act from a place of love.
What is something Jesus is asking you to do? Ask Mary our Mother for the strength and support to “Do whatever he tells you.”