Do you love me?


29 Mar 2016
‘Do you love me?’  Jesus asked Peter three times, to Peter’s annoyance (John 21: 15- 17).
Why did Jesus ask Peter the question three times?  Was it because he denied him three times?  Why did he have to ask the question at all? Jesus’ response to Peter’s reply was not ‘I love you too’ or ‘look after me’ but ‘look after my sheep and my lambs’.
When my children were little, we asked each other the question in a song we made up.  We even made up a word, ‘bure’.  One sings, ‘Do you love me?’ The other replied, ‘Of course, I do.’  ‘Are you sure, bure?’ ‘Of course, I am.’
When Tessa was under 10 years old, the answer invariably came back lovingly and reassuringly, ‘Of course, I do.’
She made up another love-song.  ‘I love you, I love you, I want to go home, I love you, koala-lou.’ We were out shopping when this song was composed, and she wanted to go home, and we had just read a book about koala-lou, which rhymes with you.
(She is not only a composer/ singer but a writer as well when she learnt to write. I found these words in one of the many little notebooks I bought for them.  ‘I love mummy, she is nice to me and Gerard.  Mummy loves to cuddy and kiss me and Gerard.  I love to cuddy and kiss mummy.  Mummy, I love you for ever and ever, amem, which was cancelled out and replaced with amen’.)
Gerard, perhaps being a boy and taking after his father, has always been more reserved and less effusive with his emotional expression.
Now they are teenagers, I have stopped asking the question as it is just met with silence or a grunt.  I am keenly aware that some mothers have a lot more to contend with than this, so I am very thankful for the affection and love I got from Tessa when she was little.
Had I not had her young love, I would not know what I am missing.  How I miss that sweet little girl who is nowhere to be seen, occasionally there are the briefest of moments.
Thank God for memories, how I hold on to memories of their childhood to help me through this period of (desolation at times and) growth for us all, which I understand will pass when they become more mature.
These experiences reflect the changing patterns of the landscape of life and growth in love.
As a story goes, a 15-year-old boy thought his father knew very little and was surprised when he was 25, at how much his father had learnt in 10 years.
It helped watching ‘My Big, Fat Greek Wedding 2’ recently, a comedy which actually produced a few tears in me as I related to the mother whose daughter is about to go off to college, who now calls her ‘Mother!’ disapprovingly instead of ‘Mummy’.
I have a vivid memory of a moment when I was fifteen, feeling alienated from my mother, and feeling guilty for having that feeling.
Soon after Gerard was born, in the talk on Mother’s day that I gave at St Bridget’s Church, I was already alluding to this inevitable, painful but healthy separation, to letting the arrow go where it wills, which I had read about but now it is real.
Kahlil Gibran writes:
Your children are not your children.
They are the sons and daughters of Life’s longing for itself.
They come through you but not from you,
And though they are with you yet they belong not to you.
You may give them your love but not your thoughts, 
For they have their own thoughts.
You may house their bodies but not their souls,
For their souls dwell in the house of tomorrow, 
which you cannot visit, not even in your dreams.
You may strive to be like them, 
but seek not to make them like you.
For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday.
You are the bows from which your children
as living arrows are sent forth.
The archer sees the mark upon the path of the infinite, 
and He bends you with His might 
that His arrows may go swift and far.
Let your bending in the archer’s hand be for gladness;
For even as He loves the arrow that flies, 
so He loves also the bow that is stable.
So often these days, we hear about God’s unconditional love. (It is the title of a pop love-song Unconditionally by Katy Perry, whose parents are Christian ministers.)
The words used to put me off because I did not believe we humans are capable of unconditional love.
There are always conditions, strings attached.
When doing the First Spiritual Exercises in 2013, we were asked to recall a past experience of being loved, which I found really difficult, because of an experience that left me very hurt.
Love hurts, and love heals.  Our guide, Trish, wisely said that we may feel that we have not been loved the way we want to be loved but we have been loved.
Then during Holy Week, in March 2016, it came to me that I have loved God, my family and others, through thick and thin, no matter what, and they too have loved me no matter what.  It is not a matter of passionate, romantic love, but of staying together ‘for better or worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health till death do us part’, not only with our spouses but with our parents, siblings and children.  When the going gets rough and tough, we do not just get up and go away, but are there caring for, looking after, one another regardless of whether the feeling of love is there.  So now I see unconditional love not as perfect love but as love no matter what (which does not mean putting up with abuse and other intolerable circumstances).
I am/we are capable of unconditional love imperfect though it be!  I have been loved unconditionally by God, my family and others.  I have been faithful, even though I have not always been full of faith or full of love.
Susie Hii is a writer and author of Happy, Healthy, Holy.
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