"I don't encourage you to take Saturday's off because I want something back. I'm not offering you that time so that I can take an equal amount. There are no strings attached," I said. "I just love you."
The air hung tense and awkward. Arguments seem to produce that kind of air. My wife and I wrangled on and on about something we couldn't quite put our collective finger on. There were all kinds of miscommunication swirling around. Sometimes arguments take on a life of their own and, when passions rise, we forget the reason for the argument.
So, I had to back up and clear the air. When I did, and spoke those words, "There are no strings attached," the epiphany alighted upon my slow mind. Yeah, I actually do this for you not expecting anything in return. It was good to hear myself say that, and it was true.
But there are plenty of times I do something to show my love to her all the while expecting reciprocation. Is that what love does? It expects? I don't think so.
Sure, love thrives in reciprocation. But that's because love begets love. When I offer something to my wife with no strings attached, it begets the same action in her. There is reciprocation, but not expectation of the reciprocation, for reciprocation blooms in the soil of love. When I plant my seeds of love throughout my family life and in my work engagements it's amazing what happens.
When I wake and make the tea and the coffee for my wife and I. When I get the girls their cereal and bananas, and then say to my wife, "Ok, off you go, into town. Get going and have fun," I am planting seeds.
Upon her return, when I continue on with the day and continue in the giving, not expecting a reciprocation of time, love abounds. It blooms like the sweet smelling flox cascading down the stone walls in the village, rich and vibrant.
The same attitude can affect the work environment. Imagine the leader who serves with no strings attached; who pours energy into employees simply because he or she can? What would happen to a team who understand love in terms of giving with no strings attached. What level of trust would such action engender? How deep would the roots of dedication and loyalty reach?
Does God expect things from us?
I don't think so. He himself is love and so he loves because he cannot help himself. And we love because he first loved us. His compassions are new every morning. His faithfulness extends past and through any kind of shortfall. Love, no doubt, carries a significant morality with it. For it stems from God, and God is good, he is the righteous one. His love, therefore, carries the moral weight of rightness, of obligatory virtue.
But God is also our Father. And, how does a Father treat his children? My love extends and smothers my pixie-daughters because, from some deep magical storehouse of love within me, it is the way. They were born and I loved them simply because they were alive and breathing. I don't expect anything from them. Rather, I love them for who they are to me.
And here we see the relational beauty and mystery of love. It goes forth from you and I in its purest form, when we are abiding in Christ, with nothing but the desire to love and to give and give and give.
How sweet is the love I found myself weeping in when I realize the extent to which my love runs for my wife. I cannot help but love her. Love becomes part of me, because I am part of God; I cling to him, I wrap myself in him, I fall into him and he clothes me in his righteousness, his goodness, his moral beauty.
I extend my love because I must. Because it eases out of me like the breath God has put in my lungs. Christ makes possible love like breathing, love of giving, love free of expecting. The quiet love of my prayers urge me toward God and when I sit long enough, when I listen and am still enough His love overwhelms me so that nothing else in this world can.
And so I pray and beseech the Lord to pour out himself, to cover me in a love that defies explanation, that transcends expectation, that blossoms in others as reciprocation, that orders my moral obligations, that comforts my spiritual desolation.
Go ahead, God. Take my time, my money, my resources. No strings attached.
To read more on the importance of deep loving relationships, pick up my new book, Home Behind The Sun.
"A brilliant exposé of what really matters in life, just when it seemed we were about to forget.”
—Gabe Lyons, founder of Q and author of The Next Christians
Timothy Willard is the author of five books, including Longing For More: Daily Reflections on Finding God in the Rhythms of Life and the forthcoming The Life-Giving Adventure of Chasing Beauty (Eerdmans, 2019). He has collaborated on over 20 books and has written, consulted and served as spiritual director for organizations such as Chick-fil-A, Catalyst, Q Ideas and Praxis Labs. When he’s not riding the trails in the Appalachian mountains you can find him by the fire with his three daughters and his wife making up stories about Tom the back yard badger. He lives somewhere in the south Charlotte woods.