Sacrificial Love vs. Cooperative Love

So my brother got married last weekend.
And, like at many weddings, including mine and J’s, the ceremony featured scripture from the Christian Bible, from Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians. It’s even been included in several movies about weddings. Most people, whether they are Christian or not, have heard it. You know…

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

I’ve always personally liked this passage, but as I sat at my brother’s wedding and heard the short speech about love that followed it, I began thinking about how love is often portrayed as sacrificial, and how many people, including me, honestly, hold up sacrificial love as the ‘best’ kind.

I think most people when they hear or read that passage up there, want to be on the receiving end of that kind of love. Sacrificial love…love that has no limits and never fails and never counts itself and never gets angry or keeps a record of wrongs. Most people see themselves as the cup filled up with that kind of love.


But growing up as a Christian, and in the house I was raised in, I was taught giving is better than receiving. Giving is honorable and good, while receiving is selfish and greedy. So I never saw myself as a cup; I saw myself as a pitcher…the one who pours out that kind of love to other people. And when I felt wronged or angry or like I wanted credit for something I did, I felt guilty, because I wasn’t loving that person enough. I wasn’t being a good enough pitcher to fill their cup with the right kind of pure, sacrificial love. Because I wanted to matter too sometimes.


But not only are those cliche self-care adages really true…if you don’t take care of yourself, you can’t take care of someone else; you have to put your own oxygen mask on before you can help your seat mate with theirs; you can’t pour from an empty pitcher…you know…
But also? Sometimes you won’t be able to provide the care you need for yourself. Sometimes you’ll be the person who needs help getting on your oxygen mask because you can’t do it. Sometimes you can’t fill your own pitcher. In fact, often, you can’t. At least I can’t.

The truth about me is, I can’t survive very long in a truly ‘sacrificial love’ situation.
Part of that is because that while I have reasonably healthy self-worth that I really am constantly working to improve upon, I just don’t love myself enough to be able to fill my own pitcher adequately enough to give the amount I feel I want and need to give to other people.
And the other part of that is, I don’t want anyone to really be my pitcher either. I’ve never been particularly good at receiving love. I’m not a very good cup, because I always feel undeserving of anyone giving their pitcher’s contents to me. I’ve never really seen myself as someone who could receive and receive without giving back, particularly love as it’s described in that passage from First Corinthians. I think that some things I do SHOULD make J angry. He SHOULD care if I’ve wronged him or hurt him or made him feel bad and he SHOULD tell me about that or ‘keep a record,’ so I can do a better job of loving him the way he needs. He SHOULD get credit and be appreciated for the things he does for me. And all of that should be vice versa. And not only with J. With The Boy. With my friends. With humanity as a whole.
Yes, love is patient and kind. Yes, we all hope that love never fails. At least that it doesn’t rest permanently in failure, anyway. But I think most people take that passage and imagine themselves on the receiving end of that love with expectation that their partner, or friends, or children, or parents, or families love THEM with that kind of purely sacrificial love, and usually don’t consider that THEY are also expected to love people back that way. They’re looking at what they want to get or what they can get instead of what they have to give or what they can give. I almost always think/thought of that passage in the opposite way. I think about what I have to give and discount the fact that I should also be receiving that kind of love from other people who claim to believe in that passage.
I no longer think sacrificial love is the ‘best’ kind. In fact…I’m not even sure sacrificial love in regular practice IS love. Sure…the love Christ had for mankind in Christianity was real and great sacrificial love, and the love I have for J and The Boy could easily become sacrificial if called for. Of course I would care for them if they were sick or hurt or in need and they couldn’t give back to me. Of course I’d put their oxygen masks on for them. Of course I’d want to fill their cups from my pitcher. But when I am (or anyone is) doing all the pouring without a refill, pretty soon, there’s nothing left to pour. It’s unfair to expect a person to fill your cup constantly without refilling theirs.

With J, it’s different. We had that passage read at our wedding, just like my brother did…just like thousands of other weddings have had and will have read in the future. But what we really have is not sacrificial love (at least…I sure hope J doesn’t see it that way). I hope…and think…we have cooperative love. We’re both pitchers and we’re both cups.




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