Definitions of Love
I. Loving relationships involve giving and receiving love.
There are many kinds of relationships from business relationships to diplomatic relationships to friendships, but not all relationships are loving relationships. A business may be a person by law, but it does not have a heart. It cannot love. The same is true for a country. However, people do have hearts, so they can form relationships based on love. In a loving relationship, people take turns giving and receiving love towards each other. In giving love, one person gives something good to the other person. In receiving love, the other person accepts the good thing from the other person and has an opportunity to respond to the gift by giving love back in some form.
A human is a person and God the Holy Trinity is three Divine Persons (CCC 253), so humans are capable of giving and receiving love in a relationship with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Additionally, since each Divine Person is the entire Being, when a person loves one of the Divine Persons, they love the entire Being. In a similar way, when one of the Divine Persons loves a person, the entire Being loves that person.
For example, Jesus loved you by dying so that you might have eternal life. In that act, Jesus loved you but also the entire Being of God loved you because Jesus is also the entire Being. You can then say both “Jesus (the Person) loved you” and “God (the Being) loved you”. Likewise, when you love Jesus, for example by praying to him, you love both the Person of Jesus and the Being of God because Jesus also is the entire Being. You can then say “I love Jesus” and “I love God”. In short, when Jesus loves you, God loves you as well; when you love Jesus, you love God as well.
II. Loving relationships involve needs and wants for love, or a combination of the two.
Relationships where one person needs the love that another person provides are very strong. The person in need knows they cannot get by without the other person, so they will do their best to love the other person even if that person doesn’t treat them well. This is the case in relationships between parents and children. The children can’t survive without their parents, so even if they do misbehave at times, they eventually have to obey.
Relationships based on wants are much weaker. Usually, the people have common interests like a hobby, whether it be quilting or running. Relationships based on wants are the basis of most friendships. The love of a friend enriches the hobby for the person, but they have no actual need for the friend. This gives them the freedom to choose another hobby if the original one becomes boring, possibly losing the friend.
Most long-lasting relationships have a combination of needs and wants. Best friends are usually based on wants, but in difficult times they develop a need for love from each other from money to emotional support. Relationships with relatives can also have this dynamic. Marriage relationships usually start like best friends with mostly wants and the occasional need, with needs becoming a bigger part of the relationship over time as they make choices to depend on each other more.
Relationships with God are unique in that they combine elements of parent-child, friendship, and marriage relationships. As the Creator, God is each person’s divine parent. A person’s life itself is dependent on his constant grace, so they absolutely need him. Like a parent he is more knowledgeable, intelligent, and wise than they are. Just as a person’s parents taught them to how to be an adult, God teaches them how to elevate their adulthood into sainthood.
Relationships with God are also like a friendship. The person has things in common with God because they were made in his image. Their heart desires to love others just as God does. They seek order over chaos just as God does. Likewise, for justice and many other things. The person has common interests with God and they pursue those interests together.
Lastly, relationships with God are like a marriage because God calls each person to be faithful to him and not worship other gods. If a person chooses to get married (or is already married), they have to be faithful to their spouse and not love any other person romantically. In both cases, this faithfulness is for life.
Keeping these aspects of relationships with God in mind, it means you will love God different ways in each moment. In one moment, you are in desperate need and beg God for help just as you did as a child. Another moment, you are working with God as a friend to serve others or solve problems in the world. And then there are those moments when you rededicate your life to serving the one true God, much like a renewal of marriage vows. This is one reason why having a relationship with God is so important. By working on your relationship with God, you will learn about every kind of relationship, helping you love all people in your life no matter what sort of relationship it is.
III. Loving relationships begin when both people freely will to give and receive love.
If one person gives love to another person, but the other person doesn’t see it, there is no relationship. For example, a person says hello to another person while walking down the street, but the person is distracted by their cell phone and doesn’t hear it. The person was unable to receive that love because they did not know they were loved. This is the case for every person before they believe in God. They didn’t sense God’s love for them and didn’t have faith, so they had no relationship with him.
Another possibility is when the person rejects the relationship. Maybe the person on the street does hear the hello but chooses to ignore it. They have willed not to start a relationship with that person. With God this can happen when he blesses a person with the faith to believe, but they find his call to love too difficult (Mt 13:20-21) and choose to ignore it. God is all-powerful but no matter what, he will always respect a person’s free will. He will never force anyone into a relationship.
IV. Loving relationships take work to maintain.
For a relationship to last, both people must actively participate. A relationship can survive a short time with one or both people not giving and receiving love, but in time other relationships or interests can quickly fill the space the original relationship occupied.
Because we live in a changing world, all our relationships are either growing or shrinking. One of the big reasons is forgetfulness. When a person doesn’t actively give love to or receive love from another person, they quickly forget that person exists. They can’t love what they don’t know. Therefore, maintaining a relationship requires effort over time. Time and energy must be dedicated to it.
This is never an issue for God because he is not limited by time or space. He can love each person constantly all the time. People, on the other hand, stop loving God by not spending time with him in prayer or worship. The needs of each person will be different. Some people will need 2 hours of prayer or worship each day to maintain their relationship while others will need only 20 minutes. Overall, each person needs some daily time with God.
Beyond simple neglect, a great source of difficulty in relationships is sin. When one person sins against another, the other person will have a harder time loving them in return. They lose trust, fearing the person will respond to their love with more sin. Sin against another also affects the sinner themselves. It becomes easier for them to sin again and harder for them to love. Because of original sin people on earth will continually go back and forth between holiness and sinfulness (CCC 405). Every relationship struggles with times of sinfulness. Only if both people work together to improve can these trials be overcome.
In relationships with God, people never have to worry about sin from God because he is perfect and all-loving. However, people are not perfect, they sin. When that happens it becomes harder for them to love God and easier to sin more. Like human relationships, each person will have periods of sin where their relationship with God is a struggle and periods of holiness where it is easy.
V. Loving relationships end when one or both people stop giving and receiving love.
The ending of a relationship can be a deliberate act or through inaction. After a heated argument, one person might tell the other person it’s over. They have deliberately chosen to end the relationship. They will now no longer spend time with them. Much stress and uncertainty can result from sudden changes like this.
Sometimes a relationship can’t be totally ended, such as parents who separate that had children. The parents might want to end the relationship, but for the sake of their children they have to maintain some sort of relationship, at least until the children become independent.
Some relationships end through the inaction of one person slowly spending less and less time with the other person. It could be friends that have drifted apart into other interests. Even after losing interest, they might still spend time with each other out of habit for a short time, but sooner or later they stop accepting invitations to spend time together or don’t make an effort to make invitations.
Relationships with God can also be ended deliberately or through inaction. A person might get angry with God for not answering a prayer the way they wanted, saying they are done and won’t love him anymore. They deliberately ended the relationship. For inaction, they might just get distracted by something in life and forget about God, as Jesus said in the Parable of the Sower (Mt 13:22).
VI. Loving relationships are usually paused not ended.
Whatever the reason two people stop spending time with each other, there is still a history between them. The memories of what once was are still there. If there comes a time where they agree on things or have enough in common again, the relationship can be resumed. Resuming a relationship can be very difficult depending on the reasons it was paused, but relationships can almost always be resumed. For clarity, I will say still say “ended” anytime I refer to this in later reflections, but as long as they live on earth, people are in a state of change, which may lead to old relationships becoming new again.
While people live on earth, their relationship with God can only ever be paused because God continues to love them even if they stop loving him. However, at the time of death their relationship with God is finalized. If they have rejected God at that point, the relationship will have truly ended. This is why it is so important to keep loving God throughout life. You never know when your time on earth will end, so you can never guarantee you will have a chance to return to relationship with God if you end it. It is better to love God and work on this relationship all the time. Jesus gave good advice on this: The servants must always watch for the master of the house, never knowing when he will return (Mk 13:35).
The “house” is all God gives to a person. He, the “master” in this parable, expects those things to be used to love others. When people, the “servants”, don’t use them to love, they will receive their just punishment, possibly eternal death or hell if their sins are evil enough. In short, you don’t want God to catch you at a bad time when he decides your earthly life is at an end.