Love Unlimited

As a child, I always knew I wanted to get married, and I always knew I wanted to be a father someday. I thought I knew what it would feel like to love a wife and to love my own kids, but I wanted to have the experience itself, rather than just rely on my intuition. I have accomplished my desire to marry and to have kids, but the process has also taught me something about the limits of my own imagination.

You see, what I learned is that the love I actually feel far surpasses the love I had merely imagined. Those of you who are parents will not in agreement when I say that the only way to know what it feels like to be a parent is to be a parent. There are no words to describe the fierce depths of passion that one’s child can evoke. More strongly than we love ourselves, our connection to our children is among the most visceral and consuming emotions we could feel. So too with a spouse: when you enjoy the blessing of being married to your beshert, your destined one, there is a sense of having found your missing half. Completion, wholeness, and peace are the joyous fruits of such a marriage — providing the emotional room to explore one’s identity and to grow as a couple.

I mention this, obvious though it is, because I’ve been thinking a lot about how little we really know ourselves, how we still retain the capacity to surprise ourselves, by our responses, our feelings, and our thoughts. As much as we think we know ourselves, life hands us an unexpected challenge or opportunity, and we watch our own reactions almost as though we were watching someone else. Those of you who are grandparents will probably confirm that this surprising response doesn’t stop with children alone. Grandparents I’ve spoken with talk to me about how they feel much greater love for their grandchildren than they had expected to when they were younger. Our ability to feel love exceeds our ability to imagine it; certainly it is greater than our ability to predict it.
And that fact has, I think, religious significance.

Love is always greater than our limited ability to anticipate, because it is part and parcel of something vastly greater than we can comprehend. In our petty presumption, we think we have mastered ourselves and our feelings, but we are made in God’s image, and our ability to love is our reflection of God’s great love.

Out of God’s boundless love, God created a world of beauty and marvel. And God fashioned a creature in that world who could share the excitement and responsibility of creative love. We love each other as an expression of God’s love. God loves through us, and we love God, in part, by loving each other.

Rather than seeing our ability to love creation and other people as somehow competing with our ability to love God, I’d rather see our love with God as the base upon which our other loves thrive. A child grows to be a good spouse by learning to love mother and father first, so that all loves are re-enactments and new permutations of that earliest love. We recycle and refashion that same old love throughout our lives.
That recycling means that all of our loves are connected one to another, and all are mutually reinforcing. Knowing that we can love and trust a spouse strengthens our love and trust of God, and vice-versa. Learning to value and to cherish ourselves can permit us to recognize God’s unconditional love for us as we are.

Let us each learn to love more freely. By loving ourselves, our spouse, our children, our parents, our community, our people, our planet, we can surprise ourselves by experiencing the transforming power of love beyond our fondest hopes. And by connecting with all that love within and without, we can connect to the wondrous and surprising love of the One who gave us life, God.

 

Rabbi Bradley Shavit Artson (http://www.bradartson.com) is the Dean of the Ziegler School of Rabbinic Studies at American Jewish University where he is Vice President. He is the author of The Bedside Torah: Wisdom, Dreams, & Visions (McGraw Hill) and Jewish Answers to Real-Life Questions (Alef Design).