Some time ago a mother shared her overwhelming experience in a Reader's Digest article. At the time she was involved in a church program when she was called to the telephone by her daughter, Katie, who was gasping for breath. "Mother, it's Katie. Come quickly. I've taken sleeping ... sleep ...."
There was a crash. Then silence.
The parents called for an ambulance and rushed Katie to the hospital. In torment they grappled with the question, "Why did she do it? She was always loving, popular, and intelligent She was 'perfect' in every way," they said.
Fortunately Katie’s parents got her to the hospital in time. But when she revived, she screamed out curses and vulgarity. In her anger she lashed out and punched an intern in the nose and bit a nurse on the wrist.
The doctor tried to explain to the confused parents: "Katie is a very upset young woman. She doesn't think much of herself. That's why she took the sleeping pills."
"But she's always been a wonderful girl," the distraught mother declared. "Surely she knows this."
The doctor remained calm. "She knows you thought so. She tried to be and felt she had to be what you thought she was. She didn't want to disappoint you and didn't want anyone to think she wasn't as nice as they all thought she was. We all want to be loved, you know. Katie thought acting nice is what made people love her – even her parents. She doesn't think she is a person, so dying doesn't matter."
Katie was afraid that if people knew her as she really was – human with imperfections – she wouldn't be liked or loved. So in order to gain the love and approval she so desperately needed, she pretended to be somebody that she wasn't. As a result her deeper needs weren't being met and she almost destroyed herself.
We are all creatures of need. That's the way we were made. Our basic needs aren't excessive but if they aren't met, we are in trouble. We need food, water, air, clothing, and shelter. We need something worthwhile to live for and, above all, we need to love and feel loved.
Without giving and receiving love we limp along in the shadows of life and can become physically and mentally ill, or die before our time.
Time magazine reported that "health studies have long shown that single, widowed and divorced people [who are lonely] are far likelier prey of disease than married folk. Some examples: the coronary death rate among widows between 25 and 34 is five times that of married women in the same age group. At all ages, the divorced are twice as likely as the married to develop lung cancer or suffer a stroke."
In other words, we simply cannot live without love and loving relationships.
One of the dilemmas with human love is that it is often conditional. That is, "If you do what I want you to do or be what I want you to be, I will love you. If not, I will withdraw my love from you."
Like the woman Dr. Cecil Osborne wrote about in The Art of Understanding Yourself who said: "I would like to have married a man who is very strong, and yet very gentle. He would be strong enough to put me in my place when I get out of line, but understanding and sensitive enough to know when I need to have my own way in certain areas. He would be tolerant of my occasional outbursts and emotional tantrums, and wise enough to see that I need a good cry. He would just pat me and console me without bothering to argue with me."
She went on at considerable length describing this paragon of virtue while her husband sat listening intently. When she finished he said with a trace of bitterness, "There was someone like that once, but they crucified him between two thieves."
Men, of course are just as guilty in having unreal expectations of their spouses and giving conditional love.
Conditional love is not love at all. It is a means of controlling another person. Whether that control is achieved with a high and mighty hand or in a quiet manipulative manner makes no difference. The end result is the same. It is damaging to the person being controlled.
In his book Unconditional Love, John Powell explains that unconditional love never asks another person to be a "doormat, a compulsive pleaser, or a peace-at-any-price person." It has no strings attached.
The greatest force in the world is love. Misguided or conditional, it is psychologically and spiritually damaging. Unconditional, it is the only power that can save mankind from self-destruction.
Dr. Powell believes that "Unconditional love is a life-wager, a permanent gift of the heart. It is the only way we can love one another. This gift says simply: 'I want to share with you whatever I have that is good. Somewhere in the world there may be someone who is better for you or for me. That is not the point. The point is that I have chosen to give you my gift of love and you have chosen to love me. That is the only soil in which love can grow. We're going to make it together!'
"Unconditional love means that I cannot always predict my reaction or guarantee my strength, but one thing is certain: I am committed to your growth and happiness. I will always accept you. I will always love you."
That is exactly the way God loves us. He says to each of us: "I know who you are. From the moment you were conceived in your mother's womb, I knew you by name. I know everything about you – good and bad – and I will always accept you, always love you."
God is totally committed to us. That is why he gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, to die on the cross 2,000 years ago to save us from our self-destructive sin which causes eternal death. And his love reaches out to all the world regardless of age, color, race or background.
You cannot earn God's love, forgiveness, or gift of eternal life. They're already yours. All you need to do is respond to God's call to accept them.
You can do that right now by a simple prayer asking God to forgive your sins, thanking Jesus for dying on the cross for you, and acknowledging and accepting him as Lord and Savior of your life. To assist you to do this, click here.
A closing prayer by John Powell: "O God, don't let me die without having fully lived and fully loved."
By Dick Innes