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No Agendas, Just Love

You all probably already knew this and were just waiting to see how long it would take me to figure it out. I’m a slow learner; don’t hold it against me. Here’s what took me forever to figure out: Life is so much easier with lower expectations and better boundaries.

Wild and exciting discovery, I know. Most of you good people already know how to do this, but I’ve been the girl with expectations higher than Mt. Everest and boundaries as nonexistent as my love life. And over the last few weeks, I’ve been letting go of bitterness, erecting healthy boundaries, and expecting everyone to act like a regular human and not a saint. You know, it’s been pretty darn phenomenal.

I’m learning to love unconditionally.

In a long overdue letter to someone I love dearly, I wrote, “I am certain that I will always love you. And you don’t have to love me back.” It wasn’t just a nice sentiment; for the first time in my life, I actually meant that. It doesn’t matter if it’s ever reciprocated this side of heaven, and it doesn’t matter if my love is trampled underfoot in unappreciative gestures. All that won’t change what I know to be true – real, Godly, selfless love never ends.

The beautiful thing about loving people without expecting to be loved in return is that it isn’t synonymous with being a doormat. I’m learning that I can love with my whole heart yet make it absolutely clear what I won’t accept. I love you but you can’t talk to me like that. I love you but until you learn to treat me better, I won’t be hanging out with you. Unconditional love isn’t synonymous with being a doormat. I always thought it was.

My expectations aren’t nonexistent now, they’re just more realistic. I’m not expecting everyone I meet to become a great friend in the near future. I’m not expecting everyone to desire quality time like I do, or initiate in the timeline I would prefer. And I’m not going to mete out my affection based on how they respond to me. I expect common courtesy and respect, but I no longer expect sainthood. I’ve loosened my grip; I can’t control who people are and how they behave. I, however, can control how I respond. I’m responsible for myself, my attitude, my heart. I’m focusing on that instead of them. I’m focusing on grace, honesty, and love instead of resentment, games, and selfishness. It feels like the sun rising inside my chest.

I’ll love you, hug you, bake you cookies, ask how your week has been, and speak highly of you. And you don’t have to love me back. I’ll forgive you when you’re a jerk, and then I’ll draw a new boundary line until you prove yourself trustworthy again. But I won’t withhold my love as a way to punish you or protect myself. I’ll love you while being honest about how you hurt me. And you don’t have to love me back.

I’m starting to sound more and more like my Father.

And my favorite part is, it gets increasingly difficult to resist unconditional love. So eventually, you’ll cave and love me back too. Win-win.

Get It Wrong, Get It Right

I do this thing quite regularly where I place the blame for almost everything on myself. Maybe I’m not the only one, or maybe I am. But it is second nature to me, and has been since my prepubescent days. Why didn’t we have a good time that night? I probably did something wrong. Why doesn’t she ever call me? I probably said something to offend her. Why am I a 23-year-old who’s awesome (as expressed by biased allies) and yet has never been on a real date? I’m most definitely doing something wrong.

Now, I’m just as skilled as you are in pointing fingers and making charges. But by the time I feel bold enough to blame someone else for an issue, I would have already stood trial before my highly accusatory heart and waited for my exoneration. There are lots of reasons for it – reasons that would probably end up being rants about growing up in a conservative, Nigerian household.

Nevertheless, like a well-worn shirt, I daily put on the belief that if only I were doing something better, I would have the results I want. That, somehow, if life doesn’t work out the way I want it to, it’s because there’s something I need to improve on. This doctrine is ever-present in Christian culture. If it doesn’t work out, then God wants to teach you something through it. Oh, you’re still in this situation because God is waiting for you to change your attitude, THEN He’ll give you what you’re asking for.

We start seeking change, improvement, betterment as a means to an end. We seek to develop, not for the beauty of growth itself, but for the things that will be afforded to us because of the growth. It’s a game – when you reach a new level, you get a thousand points. We take on burdens that aren’t ours to bear, forgetting that we live in an evil world filled with imperfect people and their imperfect responses. We chase after maturity not simply because it is what God desires of us, but because if we’re mature enough, we’ll finally be delivered from this situation/given our significant other/get into grad school/get that dream job/whatever it is. If I figure out what You want me to learn quickly enough, I can skip the rest of this pain and move on to what I really want. Because if I don’t have _____ yet, it’s because I’m doing something wrong.

For this to be true, I must be operating under the assumption that if I do everything right, things will inevitably fall into place. In reality, I could do everything right a thousand times, and things could still fall apart. Just because you speak the truth with grace doesn’t mean it will be received well. Just because you are fiscally responsible doesn’t mean that you won’t one day end up broke because of circumstances out of your control. And just because you’re finally content with being single doesn’t mean your husband is on the way. (And can we, for the love of all things good, stop spreading that little fable around?)

If I do the right thing, it should solely be for the sake of doing the right thing. And it should be done with the expectation that the world could still fall apart and she could still hate me and he might still not be interested and I might still end up broke. Doing the right thing doesn’t guarantee happiness.

So, Universe, this is my official declaration to you and your inhabitants: I refuse to carry your burden along with mine. I will choose to be responsible for myself and act accordingly when I’m wrong, but I will not continue to blame myself for the things you’re responsible for. Sometimes I let myself think that I’m inherently flawed – never enough. Lies. I am enough, it is not [always] my fault, and I refuse to be responsible for you. It’s not my problem, and I’m keeping it that way.

***The idea of being responsible to people and not for them has significantly changed my life. I highly recommend beg you to read Boundaries by Cloud/Townsend for further expansion on that topic, and for your general emotional well-being!***

I and Love and You

A certain question has been haunting my contemplations of late. It’s one I wouldn’t have asked a year ago – I was too much of a hopeless romantic for such “depressing” thoughts. But these days, I wonder, is love enough? Can love alone sustain a relationship, or are we asking too much of it?

I subscribe to the notion that love isn’t merely a feeling as much as it is choice and a commitment. I’m a big believer in the necessity of logical thought as a complement to emotions. I believe that finding love is an adventure rather than a search for a predetermined road you mustn’t miss.

But loving a person well doesn’t always mean staying with them. Sometimes it means leaving; sometimes it means establishing firm boundaries; sometimes it means making the difficult decision to not be their go-to person. I don’t think that loving someone with your whole heart guarantees the success of your relationship. You can love someone with your whole heart and still wound them terribly. You can love someone with your whole heart and choose not to be a part of their day-to-day life. You can love someone with your whole heart and not like the person they choose to be.

And then there’s the phenomenon known as the arranged marriage. Love is an afterthought, and choice is nonexistent. But somehow, these relationships tend to last a lot longer than the ones where choice is a key factor. Maybe it’s because divorce is still taboo in the cultures where arranged marriages exist, or maybe it’s something else that we haven’t quite figured out. All I know is that I’m doubtful of the ability of this thing called love to hold two people together through the worst and best.

Even within the church, where our model of love is one of selflessness and purity, divorce rates are just as high as in the unchurched demographic. If our so-called godly love can’t keep us together, then what on earth does? Is it forgiveness coupled with a short-term memory? Is it respect? Brutal honesty? Sheer determination to stick with it regardless of the situation? A willingness to set aside your own preferences? Being friends and not just lovers? Humility?

I think I hear the beginnings of a brief interview series with older couples who’ve lived more years together than I’ve been alive. Well, maybe not that old. Also, while I’m fully aware that I’m in no way near the ranks of those super awesome bloggers who get actual responses to their questions, I’d really love to hear your thoughts on this. So leave a comment if you’re so inclined!

Half-Cakes & Entitlement

“I feel like I’ve worked through my relationship with God pretty well. I don’t doubt the things I used to, and I’m now 100% confident in his affection for me. My problem is humans. They’re fickle and unreliable and unsafe.”

He just laughed at me, probably for a whole minute. It wasn’t the reaction I was expecting – I was being completely serious. But he chuckled and said, “Well, that’s a funny thing to say.” And then he said something else that I’ve been carrying around in my heart for the last few weeks; something that keeps coming up when my [unreasonable] expectations of other people aren’t met.

“You’re thinking of this the wrong way. If this is a cake, you’ve cut it in half making one side ‘God’s side’ and the other side ‘everyone else’s side’. You say, ‘I’ve got the God side figured out, now I just need the other side to complete my cake.’ God’s love and acceptance isn’t half of the cake – it’s the whole cake. If you’re expecting to find the right group of friends or the right guy to complete the other side of the cake, you’ll never find it. Everything else other than who He is is icing on the cake – a blessing to be thankful for, not something you’re entitled to.”

I still heave a loud sigh every time I go back and read that portion of my rapidly scribbled journal entry after our session. I didn’t think that one of the first things my therapist would tell me was that I needed to lower my expectations. But here I am, two weeks later, still processing that one thought. Still unsure how to adapt to that method of thinking.

In relationships, I expect authenticity, grace, genuine concern, maturity, consistency. In reality, I’m bathed daily in His authenticity, grace, genuine concern, maturity, consistency. Any other expressions of these qualities should be considered a surplus, not a source of sustenance. I get frustrated with people quickly because the expectations I have of them are less about healthy relationships and more about looking for sustenance where it can’t be found.

Somehow, I believe this way of thinking makes you a more grateful person. If I don’t think I’m entitled to certain things, and if I live with the awareness that I already possess the things I so desperately crave, then everything else becomes a gift and the absence of certain things doesn’t leave me with an emotional deficit.

At least that sounds nice in theory. I’m still struggling to see the whole cake instead of the unsatisfactory half-cake mirage I’ve been looking at for years.

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