Oprah always says, “love looks like love.” I agree. Love is not possessiveness, jealousy, power-plays, attempts to control or abuse. Love looks like love. But what does that look like?
Well, we know it doesn’t look like those traits mentioned above, but we often think that it does look like sacrifice. We have passed around the globe an idea that the highest form of love is sacrifice. If a person goes so far as to sacrifice something, even his own life, for another, well, we say, that’s love.
But regardless of which religion, if any, we espouse, there is a commonly understood definition of love in the Christian Bible that is used by many around the world, again regardless of religion, to define love. And in that Chapter (Chapter 13 of 1st Corinthians), we see this verse:
And if I give all of my possessions to feed the poor, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but do not have love, it profits me nothing.
Think of it: NOTHING. If I make ultimate sacrifices—of my possessions, and even my body—if it doesn’t come from love, it means NOTHING. What this means is two things: 1) It is possible to sacrifice from something other than love; and 2) love and sacrifice are not the same thing.
You see if I give you something because I want to give it, because I want very badly for you to have it, for you to relish in it, for it to bless you, for it to give you something that delights your soul—then I have given it from love. Love gives from love. It doesn’t give from should, have to, ought to or because giving will somehow make the giver into a better person. Love gives because love gives.
Sacrifice, on the other hand, does not give this way. It gives for several other reasons. Often it gives because “if I give you this, then you will give me that.” A wife may say to her husband, for example, that she is willing to move to another state far away from her family so that he can take a transfer on his job. She may secretly hope that now that she has sacrificed her family for her husband, that he will then later make some similar sacrifice for her. This will then prove to her that he loves her. That’s not love, in fact, it’s not even really a sacrifice. It’s a trade.
Sacrifice is sometimes given in order to make one feel like a good person. I will sacrifice, because in so doing I see myself as more worthy. It boosts my self-esteem. Again, this is a trade—this for that.
Sacrifice is often made because one feels that one should do something for another, that to not do it is somehow wrong, and one will feel very guilty for not doing it. People who are pushed around by guilt often make many sacrifices throughout a given day—because it seems like the right thing to do. But as we can see above, if we give from this kind of inner push it means NOTHING.
One of the great master teachers, or bodhisattvas, was Jesus, and he repeated a statement made by the God of the Jewish faith, when he said, “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). Mercy is compassion. Compassion is one form of love. Sacrifice is not love. Sacrifice is a game we play, a trade we make, a bargain we make with our sense of self-worth. Sacrifice means NOTHING.
Indeed, I can give my life, my possessions, my time, my energy from love. Or I can give it from that false thing we call sacrifice. It’s what’s in my heart that counts. Often we give and give and give, and then we find ourselves resentful. Why? Because we have given from something other than love.
Love, on the other hand, is the deep, honest, intimate connection to our Oneness with another human being. It needs no shoulds, it needs no obligation, it needs no trades. All of those are but bridges we build where no bridge is needed. If we are actually One with everyone else why would we need a bridge between us? Love is Oneness. And it is, indeed, the greatest of all things.
Andrea Mathews is the author of four books, the latest of which is “Letting Go of Good: Dispel the Myth of Goodness to Find Your Genuine Self.” She is the host of the very popular Authentic Living Show and a therapist with over 30 years’ experience.