If you could change something about your spouse, what would you change? That’s a dangerous question, isn’t it? Often in the early days of romance with the rose petals and butterflies we believe that our partner is perfect, or at least we believe that the imperfect parts will eventually iron out. But what if they never change? What if your criticism cannot ‘fix’ them?
This is the risk and reward of love. When we offer love to someone, we may risk that they never change in the ways we hope they would. Love thrives in a relationship, never as a transaction. Love accepts the strangeness of the other person. The quirky stories, the neurotic fidgets, the silly way they eat oranges; all of these are part of the love we extend, and receive in turn. Loving relationships, especially those that nurture healthy and mutual love, give without strings attached allowing for the other person to be themselves.
As a gardener I’m learning that I cannot make any plant change according to my will. A small sprout may be the start of a rose or an apple tree, I cannot change that. My work will always be frustrated when I try to make one plant into another. Rather, I work to help that plant be a beautiful and healthy rose or apple tree. I create an environment for flourishing and along the way I participate in something special: I get to be on the front lines of enjoying something that is growing. I get to taste the apple and smell the flower.
Michael Quoist wrote, “Someone who loves a neighbor allows him to be as he is, as he was, and as he will be.” It is a gift of love to allow a spouse, neighbour, or friend to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be.
Loving another without strings attached may sound like a recipe for disaster. Don’t we want people we love to grow and change? Yet here is the good news: allowing someone to be themselves in your presence, even with all their strangeness, and without the pressure to change, is a very rare and powerfully transformative place to find yourself. It is a gift to be loved just as you are, and it has the potential to inspire the greatest change of all.
I’ve been given this gift. There are people close to me in my life who allow me to be Preston, just as I am. No pressure to be better, smarter, more productive, wiser, or funnier – just welcome as I am. The amazing twist is that I actually do find that in this place, in these loving relationships, I learn from my mistakes, I develop new courage, and new hope. I grow and change.
May you discover the joy of allowing your neighbour to be as they are, as they were, and as they will be. The way we love each other may make all the difference in how someone grows or hides, flourishes or fails. May we allow each other the gift of grace.