Unconditional love: the often-elusive holy grail of relationships. But what is it? And how do you know if you’ve found it? God has been asking me that question lately, ”are you ready for it?”

You love me you say. Why? You can’t genuinely love what you don’t know. Imagine someone knowing all about you. Everything. Even the small things. The things you are embarrassed about and don’t want anyone to know. Imagine messing up, and even letting that person down. They forgive you. They are wise enough to read between the lines of the situation, and they don’t judge you for it. They love you. They love your heart. Your passion. They know you. That’s love. It’s being FULLY known and accepted.

That’s like being love by God.

I had always thought that it would be amazingly freeing to be loved in spite of my shortcomings. In my mind, it was a beautiful picture of the unmerited love God lavished upon me in Christ (Romans 5:8). 

But in my heart, though, it felt like acid. My pride preferred to earn affection rather than to receive it. It was so hard to be loved in the midst of my brokenness because I wanted to be loved for my togetherness.  It’s like asking Jesus not to come in my heart because my heart it isn’t clean enough for Him (Revelations 3:20)

That statement of Jesus’s mission, to serve those He came to seek and save (Luke 19:10), was exactly what Larissa was following. If Jesus was willing to do the dirtiest of jobs for His followers—like scrubbing His followers’ no doubt filthy feet (John 13:1–17)— Larissa would do it because of this promise: I am among you as one who serves (Luke 22:27).

Her requests to serve Ian wasn’t merely an obligation, but an opportunity to reflect Jesus’s servant heart and His love to both of them. When requests are made of us, they are chances to become more like the One who served His followers by laying down His life for us.

Larissa and Ian’s story is not unique. There are others who followed serving Jesus this way. Ken and Joni Erickson Tada would come to mind.

John Piper writes, “What makes true Christian marriage unique is marriage is not mainly about being or staying in love. It’s mainly about telling the truth with our lives. It’s about portraying something true about Jesus Christ and the way he relates to his people. It is about showing in real life the glory of the gospel. Marriage is meant by God to put that gospel reality on display in the world.

Marriage is not mainly about prospering economically; it is mainly about displaying the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church. Knowing Christ is more important than making a living. Treasuring Christ is more important than bearing children. If we make secondary things primary, they cease to be secondary and become idolatrous. They have their place. But they are not first, and they are not guaranteed.

Marriage is a momentary gift. It may last a lifetime, or it may be snatched away on the honeymoon. Either way, it is short. It may have many bright days, or it may be covered with clouds. If we make secondary things primary, we will be embittered at the sorrows we must face. But if we set our face to make of marriage mainly what God designed it to be, no sorrows and no calamities can stand in our way. Every one of them will be, not an obstacle to success, but a way to succeed. The beauty of the covenant-keeping love between Christ and his church shines brightest when nothing but Christ can sustain it.”

I’m looking at the bracelet my sister gave me. The word ”unconditional” is written on it. I think about the word surrender with ”unconditional.” It convicts me when I ask myself, ”Have I given my mind and body and my will to Christ?” Jesus wants me to surrender everything and follow Him in order for me to love unconditionally. By surrendering to God, we let go of whatever has kept us from wanting God’s ways first. And how do I surrender my life to Christ? By doing small acts of obedience.

When we experience love, we usually respond by seeking to express our love in return. Our obedience to God is an expression of our love for Him (John 14:15, 21), which comes from an understanding of what Christ has accomplished for us on the cross (2 Cor. 5:14–15).

When someone loves you, they love all of you. They see where you are weak, and they understand. They don’t judge it. They may not like it, but they are patient with you. They trust you. They trust in the better side of you and believe in who you are.

You have found unconditional love:

1. When you admit your failings, your partner doesn’t shame or judge you.

2. When you get vulnerable, your partner responds with empathy and encouragement and tries to allay your fears.

3. You can tell each other the truth — even when it’s uncomfortable.

4. When you wrong each other, you actively pursue restitution and the rebuilding of trust.

5. You can forgive each other freely.

6. You don’t pick fights about petty things or hold grudges. Even when arguing, you respect each other and aim for a healthy resolution.

7. You don’t feel like you have to prove yourself (or your love) to your partner.

8. Your partner genuinely puts your needs first without the expectation of getting anything in return.

9. Your partner’s selflessness inspires your own — and vice versa.

10. You can let down your guard and be completely yourself in front of your partner.

11. Your partner can let down his guard in front of you (He might not cry or admit embarrassment in front of anyone else).

12. Your partner encourages and inspires you to be the best version of yourself.

13. You both see each other’s full potential — and are each other’s greatest cheerleaders.

14. You celebrate each other’s successes and get through hard times as a team.

15. You feel deep empathy for your partner.

16. Even on bad days, you trust that your partner loves and accepts you for who you are.

17. You sense that your partner wants you to pursue the things you’re passionate about. You can take risks and know they’re in your corner.

18. You feel safe. You feel “at home” when you’re with your partner.

19. Your partner doesn’t just listen when you talk about your anxieties, he encourages you to do so.

20. You are both fully yourselves when you’re together.

21. You bring out the best in each other.

22. You are not codependent. Neither depends on the other for their sense of self-esteem nor do you enable unhealthy habits or thought patterns.

23. You respect each other — especially when you disagree or let each other down.

24. You both value communication and consider the relationship’s health a priority.

25. When you make compromises in the relationship, you’re still respecting your own values and boundaries.

26. Neither of you plays games. You don’t withhold love or affection to get what you want.

27. You want to demonstrate your love for your partner with both words and actions throughout the day (Even on a bad day, you might still buy them a coffee or text them a word of encouragement before their big meeting).

28. You extend patience and compassion to your partner when they’re going through a rough time — and know not to take their temporary bad mood personally.

29. You find satisfaction in the act of loving her, no strings attached.

30. You don’t try to shield your partner from pain. Instead, you support him and share in it with him.

31. You’re proud of each other. When you’re not together, you only speak kindly of each other.

32. You know you’re both in it for the long haul. You want to grow old with your partner and are ready to do life together — no matter what the future holds.

So that person you are dating or in a relationship with. Ask yourself. Do they really know you? Would they have to scratch their head if someone asked them why they love you?

Unrequited love is painful. Wait to love someone who loves you back. Someone who can appreciate and understand all of you.

I have asked God to bring someone into my life a person who loves God more than anything else. A person who is not afraid of vulnerability and has the same passion for serving: To go to dark places and proclaim that God’s favor is here now.

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