Yesterday, as I stepped into the West Middle School gymnasium for the first time in five years, a wave of forgotten memories surfaced within me. Coaches yelling, whistles blowing, my heart beating with anxious uncertainty for a middle school basketball game. The hundreds of hours spent running up and down that wooden floor marked some of the least enjoyable moments of my childhood; I was always too nervous to relax and just play.
Sometimes it feels that the timid-and-insecure basketball, lacrosse, you name it – player still lives within me. To this day, I have nightmares about being back in a game and feeling unprepared to play.
When I reflect upon why I chose to play sports through childhood, I often remark that I did not give myself a true choice. I never saw the option of staying home to read, or going outside to play instead of going to practice. Perhaps that is why I never loved the experience – because I felt I had to play in order to fit in or be accepted by others. I selfishly played to protect my own image and ended up losing my own self-worth.
Yet, as I have learned, true love is never selfish or an obligation. Love is a freely made choice: a choice to surrender myself to something beyond my control, something greater than my own being. This act of surrender presents a great challenge to mankind. To choose love requires a great depth of inner freedom and fearlessness.
“Love is reckless; not reason.
Reason seeks a profit.
Having died of self-interest,
Love risks everything and asks for nothing.”
In the past few weeks, I have been contemplating the relationship between freedom and love. As human beings, we are bounded by laws of gravity, laws of society, and laws of inner conscience; yet we are also the most evolved species to make conscious decisions. We have the freedom to commit acts of violence or acts of service, acts of war and destruction or acts of liberation.
To survive in this world, we often choose to live for our own self-interest and protection, thus limiting our capability to love selflessly. We are fallible creatures who, since birth, have been cultured to fear. We build walls that prevent us from sharing ourselves intimately with others or supporting another in a true relationship. How do we truly and freely love if we are simply fallible human beings?
“Your task is not to seek for love, but merely to seek and find all the barriers within yourself that you have built against it.”
Ultimately, we need something greater to sustain us; we need faith in greater Guidance that takes down our walls of our selfish fears. We need assistance in our quest for connection so that we may give and receive fully with others. For me, only Divine love brings this sense of freedom, as “Perfect love casts out all fear” (1 John 4:18).
An empty heart, a tormented mind,
Unkindness, jealousy and fear
Are always the testimony
You have been completely fooled!
Turn your back on those
Who would imprison your wondrous spirit
With deceit and lies.
Come, join the honest company
Of the King’s beggars –
Those gamblers, scoundrels and divine clowns
And those astonishing fair courtesans
Who need Divine Love every night.
Come, join the courageous
Who have no choice
But to bet their entire world
Indeed, God is Real.” – Hafiz
This week, as I prepared for my upcoming journey to El Salvador, I have begun to understand the meaning of “perfect love” embodied in the Christian faith. I never understood before why God would choose to give human beings free will, given our limited capabilities, or how we could ever trust in the myth of unconditional love. It seems too immense for my heart to grasp.
Yet as I learned from basketball, love requires free will; it cannot be forced or grounded in fear. God desires a relationship with us that is neither obligatory nor coercive; thus we have been given free will to seek love, to invite God into our lives. It is our choice to live as a fish out of water, or to surrender ourselves into the great Ocean of Grace. In this ocean, we experience unconditional love for ourselves and can freely share it with others.
How can we know that this unconditional love exists? The paradox beyond our own comprehension is this: In a radical act of free love, God chose to become weak and vulnerable to express solidarity with us. As Richard Rohr describes, “In Jesus, God achieved the perfect synthesis of the divine and the human. The incarnation of Jesus demonstrates that God meets us where we are as humans. God freely and fully overcomes the gap from God’s side.”
From his humble birth to his ministry to the most marginalized populations, Jesus embodies ultimate respect and love for human beings. Even when our free will led us to murder him, he spoke, “Father, forgive them; for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:24). This forgiveness allows us to overcome all false insecurities and freely love.
“Dance, when you’re broken open. Dance, if you’ve torn the bandage off. Dance in the middle of the fighting. Dance in your blood. Dance when you’re perfectly free.” – Rumi
This year, my resolution has become to live from the mind of Christ that gives the freedom of true love. From Christ’s perspective, love becomes less of a romanticized utopia and more of a commitment to forgiveness, patience, mutual freedom. If we choose to live in discipleship, we are able to love without fear; our minds and hearts are renewed by a Loving Spirit beyond our control. We are also free from seeking wholeness from another human because we know we are loved unconditionally. We are made whole by the Light within.
At the same time, we also are free to nurture the Light within others, as we can see the face of God in everyone. We no longer need to complete or “fix” another in order to love them. Rather, God’s love empowers us to nurture others in their full autonomy and freedom, even when it requires bearing another’s pain and suffering. True love is an act of mutual support and solidarity – love “always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:8).
If there is one lesson I learned from childhood sports, it is my own insecurity that prevented me from fully loving the experience. I was too preoccupied with telling my defender where to stand to find my own place on the court (this is a true fact). While I still recognize the paralyzing fear of failure within me at times, I now know that love does not depend upon performance, or winning the game. It is how we approach the play that makes all the difference. It is all about learning to dance.
Every child has known God,
Not the God of names,
Not the God of don’ts,
Not the God who ever does Anything weird,
But the God who knows only 4 words.
And keeps repeating them, saying:
“Come Dance with Me, come dance.”