Yesterday I was sent by a friend of mine a lovely and deeply melancholy cover version of a relatively obscure song called “Wasted Love,” by one of the successful contestants from the 2014 season of The Voice, a fellow by the name of Matt McAndrew. The song poignantly asks the audience if they can see all of the wasted love that the singer has given in broken and failed relationships, in the hope that the love may be found and recovered, and presumably given to someone more deserving. To be sure, many of us  are all too familiar with the grief that results from loving when that love is rejected or misunderstood, or not returned in the same way it is given, and when relationships with friends, family, and lovers are broken. In listening to the song I was painfully aware of how appropriate the song was in my own life.
Yet in a very powerful sense the question asked by the singer, and those who cover the song, is not the fundamental question. The song assumes that love that is not returned by the person loved in the way that the person has been loved is wasted love. And this is a mistaken assumption, or, to put it most charitably, it is an unexamined assumption that is worthy of being examined itself. The question we should ask others is whether our love is wasted  when it happens in relationships of any kind that go badly, and if not, then how should we measure or evaluate the love that we give to others. Do we think that others are obligated by the love that we give to them, and that by our intensity of love that we can obligate them to love us, to control their actions by appealing to our feelings? Parents often try this with teenagers and adult offspring, and it usually does not go so well—even the obligation of having given birth and protected and worked for the benefit of children does not give parents authority over those children when they become adults and make their own decisions about where and how to live. And if that level of action cannot lead to a legitimate claim of authority, then there is nothing we can do to have a legitimate claim to authority over friends or romantic partners.
In a larger sense, though, this desire to control itself is deeply inappropriate. Genuine love of any kind does not spring from our needs, but rather from our abundance. For example, once I had the opportunity to visit a refugee camp in Thailand, and while I was there I enjoyed the fellowship of a very friendly elderly gentleman who had been somewhat disabled as a result of a train accident in Burma, and he happened to give me a Karen shirt in blue and red, two of my favorite colors, and a shirt I keep in my closet even today. This was not a gentleman looking for a handout from a supposedly rich white Westerner like myself, but someone who gave out of what he had, the clothing of his culture, and it was very appreciated, as the shirt was quite a comfortable one for Thailand’s usually hot and humid climate. The same can be said of any sort of genuine love that we give. We give out of what we have, of our time, of our concern, of our affection, of our resources. We do not give to entrap others, as that is not love at all, but rather manipulation, and it tends to end badly for all parties involved, but rather out of our enjoyment of others and their company.
This is not in any way to deny that we are relational beings, created for families, friendships, and love of all kinds. We were created out of God’s love to love and be loved, but love is a deeply tricky matter. For one, the love we receive requires the generous free gift from another being . Love cannot be demanded or earned, and that means that there is always the risk of deep sorrow and anguish in being creatures of love such as we are. Yet, ultimately, love is not about those whom we love, but about we ourselves. Love, like any behavior, for love is an action and not merely an emotion, speaks about the heart of the person who loves. However we treat others, in whatever way we behave, we are showing what is inside of our hearts. If we love, it means there is love in our hearts. If we act with bitterness and fear, there is bitterness and fear in our hearts. And so it goes. When God commanded the prophet Hosea to marry an unfaithful woman, He was condemning that godly man to years, or even decades, or torment in loving a woman who simply would not love him back, even to the point of having to buy her from slavery and taking her home again, and yet God was doing so as a dramatic way of showing Israel how He loved a nation that simply could not be faithful and devoted to Him. When we suffer from having our love slandered, maligned, rejected, and mocked, we are being placed in the position of God and Jesus Christ, who have sacrificed so much for stubbornly rebellious man, who has rejected every overture of God, every letter sent by the hand of an apostle, every object lesson from a prophet, every gentle and patient entreaty, every opportunity for reconciliation and restoration. As mankind responds to the love of God, so mankind respond to the love of others.
Does that make God’s love wasted? In sports stadiums one sees people quote John 3:16 on a continual basis, but do these people love God and His ways? Do they love their enemies, those who say all kinds of evil about them falsely? Do they obey God’s laws? Probably not. Yet if we celebrate the fact that God loves sinners, desiring that all men be saved, yet recognizing the fact that salvation cannot come without the free assent of fallen, sinful mankind to accept that gift of salvation and to change one’s ways, even if it is something that cannot possibly be earned or obtained by our own unaided efforts, then we cannot consider the love of humanity to be wasted even where it is not returned. For if we love others, in a genuine sense, whether as friends or family members, as brothers or sisters in Christ, or as lovers or spouses bound by covenant, then we are acting as God acts, from a heart of love, and that heart of love ennobles us regardless of how that love is recognized, understood, or returned. For we are not commanded to be loved by others, but rather we are commanded to love others as we love ourselves, to recognize the fact that we are loved by God, despite our foibles, and that out of the abundance of love that is in our hearts, we give generously to those around us, whether they engage us in conversation, or whether they huddle nearby, afraid to enter into interaction with us, or even if they hate us and despise us, envy and ridicule us. For in so doing, we show ourselves to be loving children of a loving God, whether or not we are loved back by those whom we promiscuously and honorably love. And that is not a waste at all, no matter how disastrously it goes.
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 This is something that some us ponder about from time to time: