I bet the majority of the relationships in your life are pretty balanced. And if they’re not balanced, you’re probably searching for equality more than you realize. I know I do.
You text them to check in, they call to say hi. They surprise you with a gift or a kind gesture for no reason, you take them out for dinner on their birthday. Friendship in it’s purist form is like an unspoken tennis match where love travels back and forth across the net evenly.
And just like tennis, each person enters the court of friendship with their own set of wounds, past experiences, and their own ideas for what they are looking to gain from it all. Not everyone has the same desire or even capacity to be the kind of friend we want them to be. Love in friendship means different things to different people. But while the shape of love may be different, the desire for reciprocation in some way is not.
Love is so easy to give back when you receive it first, isn’t it? But what about when you serve over the net and it doesn’t come back to you? And you serve another… And another….And another. Keep serving? How do you play with the score is so uneven?
While you can’t control how many times you extend love and that love is or isn’t returned to you, you can control the expectations in which you give love away.
We give a gift and we expect gratitude. We extend a kind gesture and know that when we need something, that person would do the same for us. We invest in someone assuming that we’re building something, something that will someday invest in us. And while all of these aren’t crazy to think or want, it’s the tiny, almost invisible strings attached that can making relationships so tangled.
Often we don’t realize we do it. We don’t realize that the good deeds and kind words we offer do come with strings of expectancy attached in how the gifts are received, managed, or even returned.
Jesus is simply the best example of a friendship with no strings attached that I can think of. So few people gave anything back to him, but he kept on loving them. He didn’t expect it either. He came to give and love and bless and serve regardless of what people could do for him.
His closest friends offered him love and companionship, but also at times hurt, betrayal, and doubt. Jesus loved without conditions or fine print. He loved with his time, talents, words, and the very core of His being. And I think He did that to show us that it can be done.
We don’t need a guaranteed “I forgive you” to say “I’m sorry”. We don’t need a promise that we will hear “I love you, too” after extending it first. We just need to courage to give and love and serve even if nothing ever comes back to us.
Keeping score is what makes us a little crazy in relationships, right? We unknowingly keep a list in our head of all the things we’ve done for someone, and eventually if we feel they’re not investing “their fair share,” we hurl that list back at them, proving once and for all that we’re a better friend then they are. Take that!
But what if we loved without any expectation of what was owed to us in return?
What if the gifts we gave actually were gifts and didn’t come tangled with strings of expectancy for gratitude and reciprocation?
When we walk off the court because we’re not being matched serve for serve, I think we’re missing out. I think there are rich blessings that lie beneath the surface of humility and unconditional love. I think we learn more about ourselves when we’re pushed to our limits, when we love until it hurts.
There have been seasons in my life when I was 95% needy and 5% giving. I just didn’t have anything to offer. My wounds ran deep and they took everything I had, leaving me with not much to give away. And do you know what happened? People loved me anyways.
They sent texts and cards and just sat with me, not asking for anything in return. And I was so thankful, because I knew if they came in expecting to be matched 50-50, they would leave disappointed. My friends came knowing they would serve over and over and over again and nothing would be returned. It was a rare, beautiful kind of love that came just to be given away.
But I’m not really talking about the person on the other side of the net–whether they can’t give love back or just have gotten used to receiving and won’t love back is not the focus today. Can’t and won’t are very different and require different responses on our part. People who fall under the category of “won’t” and it’s doing damage in your life means you may need to re-position yourself to a place where you can unconditionally love them and hurt less.
Drastically uneven, damaging or even unhealthy friendships take some wisdom in navigating, and that’s another conversation entirely. What I’m talking about is that we love with the desires of being loved equally in return. And I think all of our relationships would drastically change if this weren’t so.
What would happen if we set aside our entitlement and what we feel is owed to us and just loved anyways?
What would it be like if we kept picking up tennis ball after tennis ball of kind words, deeds, care and compassion and just kept serving them over the net towards the people we want to love better? If we can do that just for the joy of it–for the wholeness found in giving ourselves away–the response won’t matter so much.
Jesus said when you give your life away, that’s when you’ll find it.
Love without keeping score and until it hurts.
Then love some more.