"Do you love me?" I asked my husband.
"No," came the instant reply.
A marriage in deep trouble? Definitely not! This little repartee is just a silly game that ends in a hug. But it wasn't always a game.
For years I asked that question because I needed constant reassurance that I was loved and cared for. But all the reassurance in the world never helped. Neither hearing words of love nor reasoning that I was loved ever made me feel loved, and I simply couldn't understand why this was.
I'm certain that my spiritual journey on the road to feeling loved really began the day I recognized my deep need to turn from all mortal conceptions of affection and seek love's true spiritual nature and source. And I remember that the first important milestone on my journey was my redemption from the long-held belief that love was something to be earned, something to be fought for and won on a daily basis. I actually thought that the quality of my performance as a daughter, career woman, wife, church member, friend, determined how much —and if —I would be loved.
What a fragile sense of love this was—love always subject to change based on human worthiness or unworthiness, never predictable or dependable! It wasn't evident to me at first, but this mistaken concept was the result of a very mortal sense of identity. In Science and Health with Key to the Scriptures Mary Baker Eddy, the Discoverer and Founder of Christian Science, writes, "Identity is the reflection of Spirit, the reflection in multifarious forms of the living Principle, Love." Science and Health, p. 477.
A testimony by a musician, given in one of the Christian Science periodicals, awakened me to see that I had been using human roles to identify myself, particularly the role of artist. Literally from the age of four I had perceived and identified myself this way, yet suddenly I saw that my identity was not artist— or wife, daughter, church member, or friend. It was to be found in the Christ, the full, divine idea of true manhood— the reflection of Spirit. And my individuality—my art, in fact—I saw to be the unduplicated way in which I expressed God. I saw that just as no two (or two thousand) artists would ever paint the same subject in exactly the same way, so no two ideas of God anywhere in His universe would ever "paint," or express, divine qualities exactly the same way.
So what next? I saw these truths, but could I live them? I had acquired the habit of identifying myself to people as quickly as possible with my career and accomplishments so that I would feel worthy of their interest and affection. I knew I had to stop doing this. But would anybody love me just for me? In order to find out, I needed to take some radical steps. When meeting people, I needed to silently, faithfully, identify my true self as the divine idea, spiritual man— loved and secure, dependent on God and needing no human crutch for support. I also temporarily withdrew from certain activities to gain some perspective on the fact that true identity is the self-complete expression of God, and not dependent upon human roles. Then, like someone who has just wakened from a long sleep, I realized that there were many human evidences of the fact that genuine caring is based not on what we do, but on what we are. A mother's love is usually untouched by the human successes or failures her child may have. And people's love for animals is obviously not dependent on an animal's special accomplishments.
I began to see that I was precious simply because I existed, and that, in fact, spiritual reflection is both what we are and what we do. During this time lovely God-given opportunities arose for me to understand and prove that our spiritual identity shines forth as we bring our original expression of spiritual qualities to whatever we are doing.
I guess you'd like to know if I found out that I was still loved by one and all even though I'd stopped trying to convince everybody that I was worthy of love! Actually, I discovered three things that completely transcended that first limited goal. First and most important, I found that it doesn't make any difference whether people appear to love us or not. I realized I don't exist to make myself lovable or loved, because in reality I am already both lovable and beloved as a member of God's precious spiritual family. Any apparent absence of love in relationships is really an illusion of the carnal mind, which we can overcome through the Christian practice of loving one another. To try to earn love is to deny the fact that love is ours to accept as God's free gift to His idea, man, and that man is unconditionally loving and lovable already.
Second, I realized that it is animal magnetism—the illusion that claims identity to be life, substance, and intelligence in matter—that spawns the belief that worth must be (or can be) acquired rather than expressed. Identity is God-derived and so is spiritual and complete: it has no need to acquire anything.
Third, I realized that the belief that we acquire identity and worth rather than express it wasn't my personal belief. It was a general belief associated with mortality, and I wasn't the only one having to deal with it. Because of that, I might very well find people trying to evaluate me, or others, on the basis of fame, achievements, wealth, background, or appearance; but I could reject and correct this error of belief in my own consciousness. I didn't have to fall into the trap of believing that material standards were real for anybody (including myself), nor could I be affected negatively or positively if others believed they could judge me on the basis of such standards. Seeing these facts freed me from the compulsive drive to please human beings, and from the fear of rejection. But I still didn't feel loved.
Finally realizing, however, that my object in life wasn't to seek and earn the affection of persons undoubtedly set me on the trail of understanding why it was impossible and disobedient to look to persons for love in the first place: love only and always originates in God, never in man. I began to really learn and understand that Love, God, is the sole cause of all evidences of love; that man is the outcome, offspring, emanation, the very light, of Love, but never the source itself. Through the prism of divine Science, Love radiates through human consciousness in expressions we call sympathy, compassion, generosity, care, tenderness, encouragement—according to the human need. But the originating point of this love never ceases to be God, Love.
In fact, I realized that my job was simply to love—to be Love's very witness. And unless I wanted to accept the incompleteness included in the mortal conception of being, it was not my job to worry about or outline the human love that might or might not be coming my way. Whereas previously I had been obsessed with the thought of being personally loved, now this heavy burden dropped away (on spiritual journeys one tends to discard baggage!). I was at peace to the degree that I was occupied with learning and practicing the art of giving love unconditionally. This is a perpetual part of spiritual journeying for anyone, but commitment to unconditional love at this point was a wonderful, progressive development for me. And it not only represented my freedom but also offered freedom for others in my life. I was ready to love enough to stop manipulating, forcing, and rushing into relationships; ready to let relationships root, grow, and bloom in their own good time; ready to leave others room to express love in their own special ways and to enjoy these different styles of expressing Love.
I suppose you would be surprised to know that even though I had progressed in this way—had come to think primarily of loving, rather than of being loved—I still did not feel loved. Here I was, freed from the exhausting burden of trying to earn love through achievements and by identifying myself to others in terms of these achievements; freed from an obsession with looking to people as love's origin; freed from the constant fear of rejection that I'd had all my life—but I didn't feel love filling the space that these errors had vacated. Why not? What I hadn't yet seen was the most important idea of all.
That year it happened that my husband and I decided to attend the Annual Meeting of The First Church of Christ, Scientist, in Boston, Massachusetts, and we thought we would include a short vacation before the meeting. It was only to be one day, a Saturday, and this day was important to us. We rented a car and drove into the nearby states of New Hampshire and Maine. And as we drove I was praying to see that this day could be only a blessing for us, could include only joy and harmony. After all, wouldn't it be right for everything to work out beautifully for us? For us?
Suddenly I realized that lots of people were hoping for a happy day, not just the two of us. God was providing joy for us because He was providing it to His entire creation simultaneously. It was not so much a matter of insisting that we be included as it was a matter of seeing that we couldn't be left out.
Have you already guessed what happened next? My thoughts, in one unforgettable leap, took me to the revelation that I was loved simply because God loved everything in creation and I couldn't possibly be left out. In a single instant I went from being on a journey, to realizing that I had not only arrived, but that I had never left.
Now, for the first time in my life I felt loved. And it only happened when I stepped out to join the infinitude of ideas all being embraced by divine Love. In that moment love was so real to me, so substantial, that I could feel with absolute conviction that nothing had ever been outside of Love, that loneliness, emptiness, anguish, could never have been real for anyone. I felt the omnipotence and all-inclusiveness of the divine embrace. Tears poured from my eyes—tears that felt as though they were cleansing from my heart the last vestiges of believing I could be unloved. The glow of that moment comes back to me every time I think of it.
What had I seen that was more powerful than anything I had previously seen about love? I saw its scientific nature. It is the scientific aspect of love that explains its universality, impartiality, inevitability. It also reveals what is undoubtedly a primal fact about prayer: prayer that includes only oneself is self centered and so can barely touch the great heart of infinite Love. Christ Jesus knew this. When teaching the disciples to pray, he began, "Our Father which art in heaven." Matt. 6:9. The entire prayer that follows is collective and inclusive. In the chapter "Prayer" in Science and Health, we read: "In divine Science, where prayers are mental, all may avail themselves of God as 'a very present help in trouble.' Love is impartial and universal in its adaptation and bestowals. It is the open fount which cries, 'Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters.'" Science and Health, pp. 12-13.
To some, the idea of love as scientific, as derived from the Love that is also Principle, might seem impersonal and cold. But this perception is only the product of finite thought that would suggest that love must be concentrated in one place to be powerful and flaming with warmth; or that love can't be worth much if everyone has it. In fact, we cannot deeply, lastingly know or feel divine Love and its radiant expression in our lives until we understand the truth of what Love is—that it is Love's very nature and individuality to be everywhere, embracing its creation in warmth and power. I see now that we really only begin to transcend and dissolve the black hole of mortal self, and find our radiant being as spiritual reflection, when we find ourselves praying inclusively as Jesus taught. Because only impartial, outpouring, and spiritually based love can fulfill the definition of divine reflection.
And Love-reflecting prayer that includes all deprives us of nothing. We see that because Life sustains and preserves all its creation eternally, our identity cannot help being sustained and preserved; because Mind gives and maintains the place and purpose of all, we have a place and purpose; because Soul creates all special and original, we must naturally be special and original.
Understanding these things, I saw how selfish my own prayers had been. I realized with repentance that although I anguished over the suffering of human beings and creatures, I had been praying primarily for my own freedom, giving little prayer to the freedom from hunger, sickness, sin, cruelty, oppression, needed by millions all over the world. But when I began to pray inclusively (knowing that each specific truth I saw for myself was true for all, and what was true about all was true about me), I noticed that such prayer was more effortless, more satisfying, more comforting, and more effective.
I also noticed an interesting change in my feelings. I began to realize that I wouldn't even want to be loved if I couldn't know that everything else in creation was loved too. In fact, I saw that most of the anguish I had been feeling about the suffering of others came from a perception of creation as unloved. I began to see with joy that evil simply is not a possibility in a loved universe, and that it is the destiny of every creature to feel the love that God is perpetually bestowing. No one can ever be forgotten, harmed, or abandoned in God's eternal plan. Because we are all everlastingly, deeply beloved.