I used to think that unconditional love meant a sort of blissful unawareness of the faults of the one you're loving. Meaning, we just don't see the problems.
Now, I would define unconditional love as: continuing to love a person even when you don't see anything to like about him or her.
The only way I can do that at all is by knowing what Love is. Love is defined in the Bible as God Himself. "God is love," says I John, "and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him."
But the writer doesn't just leave us there. He includes a test that reveals whether we understand this lesson: "If a man say, I love God, and hateth his brother, he is a liar: for he that loveth not his brother whom he hath seen, how can he love God whom he hath not seen? And this commandment have we from him, That he who loveth God love his brother also" (I John 4:16, 20, 21).
We're actually required to love each other, then, if we're claiming to love God or if we want to feel God's love for us. There's no getting around it.
The question becomes, How do we love when people are being decidedly unlovable?
For me, it helps to remember that Love is divine Spirit, wholly perfect and omnipresent, and that Love is indeed the Creator of the universe, including each one of us.
When I'm thinking along these lines, it becomes clearer that those whom I would love are, in fact, emanations of that Love. This means that whatever unlovable traits the person is showing externally aren't the final word on who they truly are as an expression of Love.
Sometimes I'll come face to face with a moment when I realize I should be loving unconditionally right then. It's like time stands still, and I have a choice to make. And no matter what's happening, I can choose to love with understanding rather than react with anger or impatience.
A few weeks ago, my middle-school son did this for me. I was upset and being pretty verbal about it. He kept quiet as I complained. He told me later, though, that he'd realized there was nothing else he could do but love me. He said that no matter what I said, he was thinking, "I love you, Mom." We're learning together, he and I.
I love the poetry of this passage from "Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures" by Mary Baker Eddy: "Human affection is not poured forth vainly, even though it meet no return. Love enriches the nature, enlarging, purifying, and elevating it. The wintry blasts of earth may uproot the flowers of affection, and scatter them to the winds; but this severance of fleshly ties serves to unite thought more closely to God, for Love supports the struggling heart until it ceases to sigh over the world and begins to unfold its wings for heaven" (p. 57).
It seems as if I've been learning about Love my whole life, but there's always more to learn and explore and demonstrate. My mission now? To put unconditional love into practice every day.
The Lord hath appeared
of old unto me, saying,
Yea, I have loved thee
with an everlasting love: therefore with lovingkindness have I drawn thee.