I had an idea of a supernatural love. It was a love that would overcome differences in ambition, personality, experience, etc. I had imagined a spiritual bonding of two people united only in their faith, going against their natural preferences and depending fully on God.
My pursuit of this greater love came as a result of what I had considered a spiritual experience and my desire to do God’s will. I had a comfortable life and no real desire to disrupt my secure existence, but I sought to be uncomfortable and decided to step out in faith to pursue what was impossibility to me.
After a journey of a few years (and going against the flow of advice of people who claim to have faith yet live as if agnostic) I’ve realized something about love. First, love is not supernatural, there is nothing inexplicable about love, and my chasing after more was a waste of time. Second, we only love when we gain from it.
Not even Jesus loved selflessly…
Altruism, or selfless love, is an idea that doesn’t work in the real world and is not even a Christian ideal.
Jesus didn’t love altrustically. Jesus loved as an investment, in a hope that he could gain followers, and with the intent to build a kingdom where he would be Lord. He encouraged others to love as he did as a means of gaining his favor and inheriting eternal life. Eternal life is a really big incentive.
All sustainable love is either a repayment for something already done or delayed gratification in hopes of future gain. We love because we owe a debt or in anticipation of receiving a return on investment. Yes, in some love relationships there is no balance sheet kept (because it would be cumbersome and ruin the mood) and yet all love is, at some level, about self-gratification.
We cannot live separate from our own desires. Not even Jesus had an endless supply of unconditional love for those who went against his teachings, we see that expressed in his words of condemnation in Matthew 23, and his abiding love was only shown to those who continually submitted to his will.
Now, it can be argued that this demand of submissive love is only for our own good, as in a parent’s chastisement of their child in order to get the best from them, and yet ultimately the proposition was to love me or else you die. That isn’t altruism nor is it extraordinary or inexplicable.
What love is and is not…
Love is a feeling of pleasure we get. This feeling is a product of brain chemistry—the result of natural chemical substances, such as oxycotin, that underlie our emotional experiences and all human behavior. Love is something involuntary, a natural attachment we get towards something or someone attractive to us. Love requires no special spiritual explanation.
When a Mennonite woman told me she couldn’t love me as I wished to be loved it was true. What I was hoping for was a supernatural love, the kind that is impossible by human standards, and only possible with faith in God. I figured that two faithful people, equally in pursuit of God’s will, would be able to overcome their own differences and ambitions.
However, what I didn’t realize, despite my sincere feelings and delusion of faith, is that my love for her was nothing special or supernatural. Sure, I believed it was something of God and was deeply offended when people would suggest I was driven by sexual desire. Yet, at some subconscious level, it was all completely natural and my confirmations from God all hallucination.
What made it seem bigger was what it represented as far as acceptance in my birth culture. There are first and second tier Mennonites. The father and family that this young woman belonged to was squarely in the first tier. They are popular, connected and sought after because of the pleasant feelings they produce in other Mennonites.
In reality, other than my being a second tier Mennonite and therefore not as pleasurable to her senses, I’m no different from the young man who did finally meet her criteria. The only real difference is that he will be able to continue on in his delusion. He can go on seeing her love as something supernatural and proof of God’s perfect plan.
Perhaps some day he will be oblivious (like her dad) and share, to a crowd of those craving love, that his dear wife made him who he is?
Love and conservative Mennonite idealism…
All that sounds pretty negative and depressing considering the high ideals that I had for love.
I believe we prefer to frame our love as a divine mystery because it makes us feel better about ourselves. Who really wants to think of themselves as governed by their biological impulses and base desires?
And still, when we divorce ourselves from the reality of who and what we are, we do more harm than good. The religious culture I was born into created many unrealistic expectations in me and this idealism has played a large part in my recent disappointments.
It was actually the father (of the girl that rejected my love) who had advised me against a relationship with a faithful woman outside the Mennonite denomination citing our cultural differences. And, truth be told, it was advice that resonated only because I shared his ideals and was seeking after a perfect little Mennonite world like his.
Unfortunately that is the bad advice many Mennonite young people have taken and, in their uncompromising impractical pursuit of some kind of supernatural experience, they miss out on the best opportunities for love they may ever have.
One example is the attractive single woman who asked me to blog about how to fend off unwanted suitors. This same girl later publically expressed her deep longing for children, as if she had no opportunity to make that happen, and yet she will go on rejecting the possibilities that exist because she is unwilling to compromise her own ideals for love.
It is sad that unrealistic ideals prevent so many Mennonite young people from taking those first steps that allow love to grow and why so many are choosing singleness over sacrifice—which is a trend will continue so long as we reject what is suitable to chase after our own grandiose delusions.
We can’t develop feelings because we are too carefully “guarding our hearts” to truly love people who don’t meet our own personal standards. That is probably why we will never be very effective as missionaries.
The love I have found…
Over the past couple years, while in pursuit of a Mennonite ideal, I had opportunity to lower my barriers and be friends with people who didn’t meet Mennonite standards.
I have found true love in the crowd of misfits on the edge and outside of the Mennonite denomination. I loved those who, like me, were lonely and in need of a friend. As a result I feel I’ve gained more than I have in all my years amongst my spoiled and self-congratualtory religious peers.
The family of misfits I’ve gained might not know the right things to say and do to appear righteous, but they have a heart similar to my own. My new friends, unlike my pretty-on-the-outside religious peers, are like me in the ways that really matter and that is why I love them.
Most Mennonites, like other religious fundamentalists, will not make a lifetime commitment to those whom they consider less than themselves and are not at all like the Jesus they claim to follow after. They can’t love me because I am not like them and I’ve given up wasting my time with them because there are many others who do appreciate what I have to offer.
The irony is that I probably have more and deeper connections formed through social media than many who have had their face on a prayer card and spend thousands to fly around the world. In fact, I pick up the pieces for the fly-by missionaries who seem motivated by passion for adventure more than compassion for people. We could do more staying home using social media and MoneyGram.
We really only love ourselves. We love only the people who we can identify with and can only patronize those who we do not. This is why Mennonites are bad missionaries, their love (beyond their own clique) is often disingenuous or out of religious duty rather than true humility and real identity with the downtrodden, their love for the outsider is a fly-in-fly-out superficial kind.
I have found my twin, a special person who doesn’t meet a Mennonite standard and yet mirrors me in her simple devotion to love. It is not supernatural or mysterious, nor is it adorned with the typical triumphalism of those who always get everything they want, but it is genuine.