The late spiritual writer & guide Henri Nouwen says that we were created for perfect love. This is why we exist, and every human heart longs for this. So, we go looking for it in all kinds of places. Some seek to find that love in success, wealth, pleasure, recognition. Many of us try to find this in relationship — marriage, family, deep friendships, church. But, as Nouwen points out, others always fall short. No one can provide that perfect love we are seeking.
Relationships, then, are healthiest and most fruitful when we recognize that even with those closest to us, such as a spouse or a best friend, they simply cannot be all we want them to be. They just aren’t able to provide that perfect love we long for. It’s often those relationships that are most important to us where we find ourselves frustrated & bitter, OR we find ourselves being stretched to learn to forgive, to love & to show grace, even in our imperfections. Because, of course, if the ones you love only love you imperfectly and can’t provide everything you need — the same is true about you. You are only able to love imperfectly; you can’t be everything others need you to be. So, just as they need you to forgive and show them grace, to learn to love them in the midst of their imperfections — you need them to do the very same things for you.
As Nouwen says:
…Community is the place where we always have to forgive one another over and over and over and over again. And for what? For, what do I have to forgive you? I have to forgive you for not being God. For not being able to give me all I want.
But if this is true, then I think it’s also true that such a hunger we have for love, for acceptance, for wholeness — that hunger still longs to be filled. The only place such love can be found is in the One who created it, the One who has shown perfect love, and the only One who lived it fully & whole-heartedly. Looking to others to provide what only God can provide will always lead to disappointment, to hurt, and even to fracturing of relationships.
This isn’t a proof of God’s existence, but it sure seems like a strong suggestion. If love exists (as I think most would acknowledge), and if we long for “true love” (as every Hollywood romance movie would suggest), then it sure seems to be at the core of our being. This longing seems to be a clue to what must be out there. As C.S. Lewis has said, if we feel hunger, that’s a pretty good clue that such a thing as food exists. And if we have a hunger for love & acceptance, then that is also a pretty good clue that we were made for more than surface relationships and things that don’t last.
So, thanks to Henri Nouwen, I’m reminded of my deepest need for God. I’m also reminded that I need God’s love to be the source of my identity and my life, as I seek to live out that love as a broken person, with other broken people. This simple reminder is such a gift for me. I have such high expectations for myself — and for others. Nouwen’s simple insight reminds me that others will let me down, just as I do them. So, even on the most basic of levels: Why, then, am I so surprised when someone cuts me off in traffic? People do dumb stuff behind the wheel. So do I. On a more meaningful level: Why do I get so annoyed when those around me fail to meet my expectations? Why do I, on some deeper level, get so offended? Is it because I expect them to be God for me? Of course, I would never say this. I don’t even consciously consider this option. But when I expect others to meet some standard that I myself to do not meet — that’s exactly what I’m doing: I’m expecting them to be God for me.
So, thanks Henri for reminding me: there is a source of perfect love. And it isn’t found in others. It isn’t found in me or my strength. But when I, and others, allow the Perfect Love of Jesus to fill & transform us, it changes how I see myself, and how I see others. And it reminds me: I need grace — grace from God, grace for myself, grace for others, & grace from others. For while God is perfect in love, I’m not quite there yet. And I’m guessing, neither are you.