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How to love people for who they are … and not who you want them to be

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It's challenging, but there are ways to let go of expectations and love without reservation.

Recently, a dear friend whom I love and respect with all my heart — Ana Mary M. — sent me a wonderful video called “How to love people for who they are.” It got me thinking about its message, which was so full of wisdom and compassion.

It hit me hard because I saw myself somehow reflected in it … For years, I bought into the idea that I had to do things that others saw as good and acceptable. So I managed to “buy” love, particularly in my family. It’s very unfair to condition love in this way. I’m so grateful that I realized my serious mistake, because once I got out of it, I allowed myself to love and accept people in a compassionate and free way, without personal conditions. Today I can say that I don’t expect anything from anyone, and that I accept the love that people give me because I understand that we all give from whatever fills our hearts. That is, each person’s capacity to love is different — not better or worse, just different.

We are immersed in a world where we have to work not only to earn our daily bread, but also to make ourselves worthy of others’ love, often even the parents’ love — and they are the ones who were supposed to love us unconditionally. So, we have to do things to merit love.

But why do we feel that we have to earn human love? With these ideas, we often end up acting like someone we’re not, putting on a show, faking talents and virtues we don’t have, protecting ourselves behind masks because if they discover who we really are, we’ll run the risk that they will reject us, that they won’t accept us anymore, that they’ll repudiate us, not just in our social circle but also in our own family.

It’s really a challenge to love people for who they are today, at this moment, with their virtues and vices, qualities and defects, with all their areas of opportunity and not just for what we want them to be or what we think they could be.

Let’s not lose sight of the fact that we’re also included: you and I also need to learn to love ourselves for who we are, for what we really see reflected in the mirror, and for what our conscience tells us, and not for what others have told us we are.

We need to learn to embrace all that we are, with our falls, stumbles, weaknesses, strengths, and successes. Loving and accepting ourselves just as we are is our great task, because the first step to really accept others unconditionally is to accept ourselves the same way, completely and without conditions.

Love is not what gets disappointed; expectations are

It’s very difficult to love and accept everyone just as they are because — mistakenly — we have expectations of them, just as we have expectations of ourselves.

Never ask an apple to give you oranges. Each one of us are the result of our history and we will give what we have to give, no more and no less.

Tell me something: what is your attitude toward a person you live with and who has a really hard time smiling or being kind? Maybe you leave her thinking, “Crazy woman, let her mother-in-law put up with her!” Or you keep trying to get close to her with compassion because you somehow understand that she’s going through something difficult. Or how about that friend who is particularly combative and communicative? What do you do? Do you completely separate yourself from her and do everything you can to avoid her, or do you treat her with affection and compassion? Yes, you may have to prudently decide what you can and can’t talk about in front of her.

Parents and children

On this matter of expectations, we parents need to be very attentive and educate ourselves on it. How many lives have been frustrated because the children did not meet their parents’ expectations! So many empty and failed lives, many accompanied by suicide because of a demonstrated lack of love!

It’s absurd to think we have to follow in the family footsteps: if we were all doctors, supposedly the son has to be a doctor too, whether or not it’s his vocation. And the son doesn’t even think of saying no because they make him feel unworthy of being part of the family clan, they disinherit him, and even stop talking to him. That’s not love, parents — that’s pure selfishness!

Let’s love and let’s accept not only our children, but everyone, simply because of the gift they are in our life and let’s stop focusing in whether or not they meet our standards … As if we were perfect …

If the person changes, I accept him. If he were less grouchy and irritable, I would love him more. If he were more refined … If he believed what I believe … Always a conditional love, forgetting that we can learn something from everyone, rich or poor, educated or ignorant, atheists and believers.

We are foolish to believe people will change according to our preference, thinking that it “has to be” that way, because honestly it has worked for us. But we lose sight of the fact that we all have our times and rhythms to improve, to grow, depending on our virtues, capacities, and talents, among others. Surely there is a lot of good intention in our desire for them to change, to be better.

Let’s give a vote of confidence to all people, especially those we find difficult to love. Let’s push them to be the best version of themselves. When a person feels loved, accepted, valued for being who they are and not for who we expect them to be, a big weight is taken off their shoulders and they have an easier time getting to their goal.

This article was originally published in the Spanish edition of Aleteia and has been translated and/or adapted here for English speaking readers.

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