There is probably no topic which has captivated people throughout the centuries and from most every culture than the topic of love. We put a man on the moon, broke the speed of sound, and mapped the human genome, but love remains a complete mystery. Science has not been able to explain it. Mathematics cannot predict it. Poets still wrestle with adequate words to describe it.
It may have been more than two centuries ago, but Plato’s words have never sounded more true, “Every heart sings a song, incomplete.” We are all looking for love. At any given moment, we may be far from it but we never stop hoping the next opportunity is just over on the horizon. We are all looking for true love.
One of our frustrations with love is our complete inability to keep it. Like sand slipping between our fingers, the harder we grasp the faster it seems to fall through. It would be nice if love was as simple as baking a batch of cookies or building a bird house for the backyard; a simple set of ingredients, a logical list of steps to take. But we all know the truth; love cannot be manufactured. It cannot be bought or traded. It cannot be forced. It cannot be controlled. It cannot be plotted on a map or broken down into a checklist of to do’s.
But, it is possible to find true love; even unconditional love! Here are seven steps to finding true love.
1. Love Requires You to Reveal Your True Self to Another
The famous author, C. S. Lewis, puts it best, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact you must give it to no one.” Lewis is right. What makes love so hard, and sometimes painful, is the vulnerability that always seems to accompany it.
We use the word love to describe a lot of things. We love food. We love music. We love a good joke and we love having a good time. Using love to describe such simple things makes the word seem a little safer. It is safe because we are not exposed. A great cup of coffee cannot reject us. A song from our favorite band does not leave us feeling useless. But when we choose to share our life with another person, we inevitably make a choice to become vulnerable. Unfortunately, vulnerability leaves our defenses down and often we get hurt.
We all know the feeling: rejection, humiliation, desperation. Opening our heart to another person, only to be rejected, is one of the most painful experiences in life. It hurts the most because in love we are most vulnerable. It’s worse than physical pain because it shakes us at the core of our identity, our hopes, and our dreams. Love rushes us to the mountain-top, and when lost, sends us careening back to the valley below. We cannot help but feel empty. We cannot help but feel worthless. We cannot help but feel hopeless.
2. Finding True Love Can Be Difficult
The Bible has a remarkable story about a woman named Leah who discovered that finding true love was difficult. Leah was the daughter of a wealthy and manipulative man named Laban. Leah also had a sister named Rachel, one of the most beautiful women in the whole region. Leah, was described as, “weak in the eyes.” We do not know exactly what that phrase means, but it is not hard to guess. Even without the side-by-side comparison to her beautiful sister, Leah was not drawing much attention.
One day, Rachel was herding the sheep when a young man named Jacob came to the well. His journey's purpose was to find a wife, so it did not take him long to notice beautiful Rachel approaching. He rolled away the stone over the well, and watered the sheep for her. Learning he was her father's nephew, she ran home to tell Laban the news. Already head-over-heels in love, or call it love-at-first-sight if you wish, Jacob stayed on with Laban. When asked what his wages should be, he immediately asked to marry Rachel. Laban made Jacob an offer. “Work for me, seven years without pay, then I will give you my daughter.”
It is starting to sound like a romantic story for the ages! Jacob was so madly in love that he did not hesitate. Seven years he worked, everyday focused on his prize. One day he would finally be able to marry the woman of his dreams, Rachel. The Bible records the event with all of the poetry we would expect from a great love story. “Jacob served seven years for Rachel, and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.”
After seven years of labor, the wedding day finally arrived. The party must have been massive. When night came, Jacob and his new bride, probably wearing her wedding veil, went into their tent.
The next morning Jacob awoke, the Bible says, “and behold it was Leah!” Jacob had been tricked. Laban had switched his daughters on the wedding night and tricked Jacob into marrying his oldest, Leah. Why? Laban wanted another seven years of free labor before he would allow Jacob to actually marry Rachel. Still madly in love with Rachel, Jacob agrees and works another seven years to marry this younger daughter.
We like the image of Jacob! He was willing to submit himself to over a decade of manual labor as an act of love for Rachel whom he considered to be his soulmate. Like a great Shakespearian tragedy, we want desperately to find that kind of love, too. We want to know that someone would make such a sacrifice for us. This expression of love is the deepest craving of our heart. But allowing ourselves to be quickly carried off in the ecstasy of the moment misses the real heart of the story for Leah.
Leah had never been able to draw much attention. She had always been the hopeless romantic. But now things were much worse. Leah was married to a man who never for a moment loved her, and manipulated by a father as payment for help around the farm. Leah was not loved by her husband, nor even her father. She was used and discarded. When she was most vulnerable she was rejected.
What happened next is subtle, but important for us to understand our own struggle with love and rejection. In Leah’s first century world, women cared deeply about building a family, especially having sons, to which they could pass on their family name. A father’s proudest moment was the birth of his first son. Soon after being married, Jacob wanted a son. Leah saw an opportunity! If she could be the first to give Jacob a son, surely then he would love and appreciate her. Leah must have been excited to find out she was pregnant, and even more excited when she gave birth to the family’s first son, Reuben.
Leah believed in her heart that God had blessed her with this son so that now her husband would finally love her. But nothing changed. Leah gave birth to a second son, she named him Simeon.
Again she believed God had seen her rejection. Now, surely her husband would love her. But nothing changed. Leah had a third son, who she named Levi. She honestly hoped that now her husband would care for her and love her. But again, nothing changed.
Leah’s story teaches us that finding true love is difficult. True love goes beyond the passion of romance and even finding a partner for the sake of being married. While romance and having our needs met for provision and security are important, there is more that we must discover.
3. Your Need for True Love Reveals Your Need to Be Loved Unconditionally
Leah’s life was controlled by the hope that she could somehow make herself lovable. She was desperate to find a way to earn her husband’s attention. Her broken heart and desperation to be loved teaches us a deeply personal truth about our own search for true love. We inevitably all feel the crushing weight of trying to earn it.
Marketers sell us the idea that if we were just a little bit more attractive, a little thinner, and a little better dressed, then someone would finally take notice and we would feel loved. But we do not. Culture pressures us to set aside our prudish reluctance and instead give-away our bodies; it promises us intimacy leads to love. But it does not.
The harder we try, the more desperate we become to find the magic potion. We believe that with the poison-tipped arrow of Cupid in our hand, we need only hit our target and watch as love and intimacy explodes into a vibrant life of confidence, fulfillment, and passion. But, that is not real life. So, we end up settling for watching it play out in movies and dreaming about it in novels. Our own experience feels more like crawling our way through the dunes of the Sahara Desert, desperate to find an oasis with water. Just when we think we have finally found true love, we are crushed with the reality that it was just a mirage and we have nothing to show for it.
Leah helps us realize that most of what we call love and our search for it, is really a desperate expedition for evidence that we are valuable enough to be loved in the first place. We want to feel like our life is worth something to someone. We are desperate to be known, not just as a body, but as a soul. We want to be vulnerable and in that vulnerability to be accepted. We want to be loved unconditionally.
This is where we find the great struggle of looking for true love. As one author puts it, “To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear.” Each of us wants to find a way to open up our hearts and lives and know that in that moment of honesty we will be accepted and not rejected.
We all know the risks, so we tend toward pretending. Too nervous to share the truth, we morph into whatever seems most desirable. But that is empty. We know it and we just do not know what else to do. We feel like we have to keep the show going. After all, what is the alternative? If we open up with the whole truth, we face the risk of being ridiculed, rejected and thrown away.
Honestly, true love has never really been about romance or passion at all. It is about truth and value. It is about vulnerability and acceptance. It is about wholeness and finding peace. It is about discovering a foundation on which we can build our lives and on which we can place our hope and confidence. It is about feeling like we are worth something. It is about sharing vulnerability and in the midst of it, feeling loved unconditionally.
4. True Love is Complicated by Our Self-Interest
Let me tell you a secret that you probably know already but are not willing to admit. Unconditional love, the kind that pours meaning and significance into your life, is hard to find in another human being because we are all too self-interested and too self-motivated. Our hearts are bent toward protecting and promoting ourselves. It is not hard to see! We live in a culture that constantly measures every relationship by what we get out of it. We stay married only as long as it is benefiting us. We commit to a relationship only until something better comes along. The success of our relationships is measured by our need for love being met, instead of seeking to meet the need for true love in others.
The Bible speaks clearly to this fact. It calls our bent toward self-interest sin, and it was neither the way humanity, nor the world was created originally. Adam and Eve were the first to experience love and it was much deeper than what we call love today. Adam and Eve’s relationship was perfectly woven together with one another, with God, and with the enjoyment of creation around them. There was no self-interest. Instead, their whole lives were shaped by caring for each other, caring for the world around them, and thanking God for the experience. Neither Adam nor Eve ever felt a moment of fear, rejection, or failure.
If you are familiar with the Bible’s story of the first sin, you will remember it involved a simple proposition. Adam and Eve were forbidden to eat from one tree in the Garden of Eden. As Eve passed by, a serpent whispered a temptation. “Eve, if you eat of this fruit you will be like God.” It is strange that the serpent did not tempt Eve with how delicious the fruit looked. The real temptation had nothing to do with appearance. Instead, the Serpent did something more subversive. He offered Eve a thought about herself. Eve asked herself a question she had never wondered before, “What’s in it for me?”
This moment of self-discovery came with massive consequences. Eve ate the fruit and passed it on to her husband who ate it as well. This act of disobeying God led Adam and Eve to the startling realization they had been naked this whole time. It is as if they had been so enjoying one another, and the world around them so much, that they never thought to look down at themselves. For the first time they felt vulnerable and ashamed. They made clothes to cover and protect themselves.
God discussed their disobedience with them, because He knew that all of their relationships were falling apart as a result of their self-interest. Eve blamed the serpent for tempting her. Adam blamed Eve for giving him the fruit and then even went so far as to blame God for giving him Eve in the first place! Neither one wanted to take the blame but was concerned only for their self-interest. It is starting to look more like the world with which we are familiar!
The consequences for disobeying God were the loss of relationships. Adam and Eve would never be allowed back into the perfect garden world. They lost everything. We know their new world of self-interest and self-protection, because we carry with us the same sin-bent reality. We long for real love, because we were created to love and be loved unconditionally. This is probably the most important point in this entire article. You will never find or experience the true love you are looking for in this world alone. Each of us and the world around us is too soaked in sin. The great news is that there is One who is the very definition of Love and you can be in relationship with Him!
5. There is Only One Source of True Love
Let us return to Leah’s story for a moment. Leah was caught up in the struggle to earn her husband’s love. Three sons later, she was still clinging to the hope that one day he would wake up and start to appreciate her. She kept waiting and waiting. Eventually, Leah gave birth to another son, her fourth. Leah named him Judah and announced, “Now I will praise God.” Judah’s name means something special. It means to praise, or be thankful to God. But, how could she praise God when her outward circumstances had not changed? Jacob did not rush home with a bouquet of roses and an apology card. Leah was no more loved now than she had ever been. But somehow, she was now worshiping and thanking God.
With the birth of her fourth son, Leah had a life altering realization. She realized that while her husband refused to love her, God was present in her life! God had noticed every pain, every sorrow, every moment of rejection she had ever experienced and he was pouring blessing into her life. God loved her unconditionally!
You need to realize something important, as well. You may feel completely neglected and empty, but God is paying attention to you. You would not be reading this if that was not true. Right now, the God of the whole universe is trying to show you, there is a greater love and acceptance being offered to you, than you ever thought existed. That love is God’s love. He loves you unconditionally.
Leah did not realize it at the time, but Leah, and her son Judah, were ancestors of a man named Jesus. This is the Jesus, whom Christians worship and who the entire Bible anticipated. It is a fitting end to the story, because no one would ever offer greater hope and love than Jesus. He would offer exactly what Leah was trying desperately to find.
The Bible tells that Jesus was not merely a man, but the son of God Himself, who came to earth.
He did so because God was not content to leave us in hopeless despair and rejection, stumbling our way through life trying to manufacture the love that had been lost all the way back in the Garden of Eden. Even though our own selfish hearts had blinded us from God’s love, God was determined to lead us back to it.
Jesus knew all too well this pain of rejection. He was rejected at times by His best friends, His own family, and in the end, by the world around him. Jesus lived a perfect life, never out of self-interest but always doing the will of the God the Father, and offering Himself to serve and help those around Him. But no one recognized what He was doing.
They saw it as weakness and sentenced Jesus to death, and crucified Him. Jesus satisfied God's justice, but was not rejected by God–or there would have been no resurrection!
Our rebellion and self-preference is disobedience to God, and that keeps us for a relationship with Him. We are not interested in His plan, we want our dreams to come true. So we reject Him and chart our own course. We ignore His instructions and believe whatever feels right to us. We turn down His love and try to replace it with romance and passion because it makes us feel good temporarily. This is the most remarkable part of the Gospel. God did not wait for us to call out to Him for help or love.
He blessed Leah even when she was caught up in trying to earn love for herself. God does not wait for you either. He chose to act on your behalf while you were still lost in your sinful and selfish ambitions. God took all of the punishment, that your disinterest and rebellion deserved, and He poured it out on Jesus, His only son. Jesus stepped into your place and accepted the punishment, because He loves you.
The real struggle for love, is our desire to be fully known, and yet fully accepted. When you hear the phase, “Jesus loves you,” this is not a Christian cliché, but rather the truth of unconditional love. Jesus knows better than anyone who you are; the good and the bad. He knows every secret, every pain, every sin, and every wrong. He knows you better than you know yourself. He knows, because He took your place. He has already paid the price for your sins, and He did it before you ever paid a moment of attention to Him.
Do you realize what that means? In Jesus, you are fully known and still fully accepted. Jesus is under no allusions. He knows exactly who you are. His love is not something you earned or deserved, yet here He is offering it to you. No one knows you better, and no one could possibly love you more. He gave his life for you. And now, He is willing to take the journey with you, from where you are, to where you need to be in Him; so that you can experience true love.
6. Accepting Jesus’ Love Opens the Door to a New Life
The good news of what Jesus has done for you is not just salvation from a coming apocalyptic destruction but accepting Jesus’ love, will begin to transform and fill your life with purpose, strength, and value. Like Leah, you will be amazed at the realization that you have discovered true love! You can thrive in the amazing joy of worshipping Him with a thankful and pure heart regardless of what is going on around you.
Your value and your identity is secured for all eternity with Jesus, who loves you so passionately that He gave His own life. When you understand that truth, it transforms the way you think about love. No longer is love solely a romantic relationship that meets your desperate need to find significance and value. You are able to approach every new relationship, already possessing a full grasp of your significance. Living in God’s love and following Him places you in a position of strength for you know, to whom you belong and who you are. You do not need love to prove your self-worth or value. God is yours and you are His.
Understanding God’s love fills you with the stability and confidence to face any rejection or loss, and to know, no matter how much it hurts, your identity and value can never be shaken. You are secure in God! Without the need to use another’s love, to salvage your self-worth, you can finally start to enjoy and appreciate all of the people and experiences that surround you every day. You can enjoy your life and your relationships the way God that intended.
Learning to live and grow in the love of God can be a process, as you throw off the old nature and ways of thinking, and put on God’s love and right way of living. The world around us is constantly trying to challenge you, and to pull you back. But, every single day, Jesus continues to express His love as an alternative. All that is left is for you to make a choice.
Are you ready to make a life-changing decision to follow true love and to be loved unconditionally? God is the source of our value and our hope. Nothing you face in this life will shake loose the love of God.
With God on our side like this, how can we lose? If God didn’t hesitate to put everything on the line for us, embracing our condition and exposing himself to the worst by sending his own Son, is there anything else he wouldn’t gladly and freely do for us? . . . Do you think anyone is going to be able to drive a wedge between us and Christ’s love for us? There is no way! Not trouble, not hard times, not hatred, not hunger, not homelessness, not bullying threats, not backstabbing, not even the worst sins listed in Scripture. . . . None of this fazes us because Jesus loves us. I’m absolutely convinced that nothing—nothing living or dead, angelic or demonic, today or tomorrow, high or low, thinkable or unthinkable—absolutely nothing can get between us and God’s love because of the way that Jesus our Master has embraced us. (Romans 8:31-32, 35, 37-39, The Message)