The following is an excerpt from Human Being and Becoming by Dr. David Benner.
Given the potency of love for healing, growth, and transformation, what could possibly be more important for the world than humans learning to give and receive love? The love we need to learn to give and receive, however, is not the soft, sentimental kind of love associated with Valentine’s Day but the hard, unflinching kind associated with loving those who will not or cannot return our love.
Love has become a transaction rather than a gift. But the only love that can ever be transformational is love that is given away, not exchanged. The only love that can ever truly make us and others whole is the love we give and receive as a surprise, even to ourselves.
But notice that I speak of giving and receiving love—not receiving and then giving. Love has not only become a commodity of transaction, but it has also become something we have come to believe we must store up and pass on only after our own supplies are at a high enough level to warrant the risk of depletion. We think that the love we have to give to others is the excess of what we have received and hoarded. But this misses the whole point of love.
Love is like a stream: it is meant to flow. Once you block the flow, it begins to go stagnant. Love that is hoarded is no longer life-enhancing. It quickly becomes toxic. Wounds don’t heal by soaking in love but by passing love on.
Hoarding love always means that at least two people lose. The person who hoards love loses it because it is in the giving of love, not simply the receiving of it, that life is nurtured. And the person who was deprived of love because someone else hoarded and didn’t pass it on to him or her is robbed of the chance to pass love on to others.
The world’s great spiritual teachers have always challenged us to do exactly this. Jesus taught by word and example to love one’s enemies, not just one’s friends. He was clear that love given in exchange—that is, given so it will be given back—is not love at all. Love that is not freely given is not love at all.