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Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Sunflower Seeds

Celebrating Everyday Spirituality

Advent Reflection: Love as Free Self-giving

We use the word love frequently in our lives. We say we love our spouse, our children, and even God. But we also say we love our pets, pizza, Lady Gaga, and our favorite sports team. Obviously, the word love doesn’t always mean the same thing.

As we begin the Advent season, let us reflect on the true meaning of love, love as free self-giving. Some of the ideas here are from the book Radical Optimism by Dr. Beatrice Bruteau, a pioneer in the integrated study of science, mathematics, philosophy, and religion.

What does free self-giving love mean? It can mean to give our time, attention, or emotional response to another. It can mean to share our creative gifts or part of our material life to help someone else. Self-giving love can also mean to procreate, to nourish, to teach. Bruteau says that self-giving love means to give what we are, and not merely what we have. She writes, “in order to give it, you yourself have to go along and be present—you can’t send it by messenger.”

The universe is an expression of God’s self-giving love.


Self-giving love must be absolutely free. According to Bruteau, this kind of love is not the result of something else. It is not necessitated by anything nor is it done under compulsion. In addition, self-giving love “is not even done for some good and sufficient reason.” This is the way God loves us—not because we deserve God’s love or we are lovable. And not because we don’t deserve it and are not lovable. God’s love does not operate in terms of “deserving” at all. Jesus himself taught this and lived this.

(Photo from Pixabay)

Remember his parable about the workers in the vineyard? (Matthew 20) They came to work at different hours, but all received the same wage. We operate under the belief that rewards are proportionate to merit. But the owner of the vineyard brushes that notion aside and replaces it with the notion of generosity—pure generosity. In the Sermon on the Mount Jesus also says that God’s rain falls on both the just and the unjust. And he directs us to love as our Heavenly Father loves (Mt. 5:45-48).

Looking at God’s love in this way has several implications. First, we have no grounds for thinking that God does not love us because we are unworthy. If we could just accept the fact that God loves us independent of our worthiness, we would rid ourselves of a lot of our angst. Furthermore, if we want to love as God loves, then we must disconnect our loving from the idea of deserving. I recall what the humorist Erma Bombeck wrote: “Our children need our love the most when they deserve it the least.”     

What are some practical ways we can love as God loves, as Jesus loves? We can begin by not classifying people as deserving or not deserving of our love. We must also realize that our presence—and not things—is the greatest gift we can give to someone. (Hint: don’t just buy the game for your child; play the game with your child.) And finally, we must avoid turning our love into a quid pro quo contract: “I’ll help you out today, but I expect you to help me out tomorrow.”

(Photo from Pixabay)

Have you ever seen someone loving as God loves? I have. Every time I attend a wake or funeral, I see people loving in this way. Their simple presence in time of great sorrow is self-giving love. Similarly, when most young couples get married, they aren’t marrying because they have drawn up 10 rational reasons to do so. No. Their love for each other transcends logic. They are in love with each other. Period. Likewise, when a child is born, parental love gushes toward that child even though that child has done nothing to merit it. On the contrary, that baby will do some very unlovable things: cry in the middle of the night, poop on a regular basis, and cost a lot of money to raise. Still, good parents love their children in a free and self-giving way.

Free self-giving love is hard. Very hard. But it is possible. At the Last Supper Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” This Advent let us ask Jesus for the grace to love others in a free and self-giving way.

Is there anything in this reflection that stood out for you? What was it? And why?

Can you give any other examples of free self-giving love?

Our music today is an instrumental version (piano and cello) of “O Come, O Come, Emmanuel,” played by two of the Piano Guys. I hope you find it both soothing and moving…


What is your response to today’s reflection and/or music? Please respond below. We all would love to hear from you!

17 Responses

  1. Advent is such a wonderful time in the liturgical year. O Come. O Come Emmanuel seems to capture it perfectly. Rejoicing but in a minor key (I just read that phrase last night).

    Thanks for reminding us how wide, and deep, and amazing God’s love is for us.


  2. What stands out in the reflection, for me, is the importance of presence. Presence as self-giving. Presence as generosity. Presence as literal com-passion (to suffer with). A listening, patient, attentive presence.

    Erma Bombeck’s quotation is so true. Not being a parent myself (but having once been a child, of course!), I can still see the incontrovertible verity of the sentiment.

    I’m listening to the music now. It’s quite beautiful. Let’s all have a good Advent; let’s try not to truncate this season of fertile expectation!

  3. The music made my spirit soar! The cellist seemed to be at one with his music and that is love as in union with God.
    Love means something different to each one and I find it important as a spiritual director to find out what it means to that individual. And I think it takes us a lifetime to develop all the intricacies of genuine love.
    I love Advent , especially the readings from Isaiah and it is a time to be patient and wait for that which is to be birthed.
    Advent blessings to all

      1. This message really hit the spot sister. Especially the quotes from Erma Bombeck and Mt 5: 45-48. I needed this reminder on how to self-give. I look forward to these Monday blogs!

  4. Beautiful thoughts to begin Advent. I, too, have experienced this total love with people I have ministered to and with, sisters that I have lived with, and friends who love me and others “anyway.” Listening to “O Come O Come Emmanuel” with my eyes closed took me to another plane. Thank you!

  5. This reflection is the most wonderful one to hear and believe. God’s love does not operate in terms of “deserving” . Jesus taught this and lived this. As you say God loves us, not because we are deserving or lovable or not deserving or lovable. I think the whole world needs to hear this and believe this. Thank you

  6. When I read the reflection today I was reminded of my volunteer ministry in the NICU at the medical center in town. I am reminded of the deep love that the parents of physically disabled children have for their newborns. One particularly hit me. A newborn with several physical challenges was read to every day by her parents. Her father was an opera singer and every day he sang to her. Those parents spent many hours everyday at the bedside of their newborn. Self-giving love personified for a child who did nothing to deserve it but was loved deeply. Despite all odds that little girl began to thrive beyond what doctors thought possible. They were for me a wonderful example of God’s love for me and all people and creation.

  7. Hello Sister, thank you so much for this. I always enjoy reading your blog, but found this one to be particularly helpful and beautiful. Knowing that God’s love is not contingent on my worthiness helps me to believe in God’s love for me. In turn, this helps me to love the “unworthy” people in my life, from family to strangers. It really is hard to love other people if you do not really love yourself.

  8. On Friday I was having lunch when I noticed at a table to my right were a mother and dad with their son who was being fed by his pop mom was smiling with a true LOVE as was dad. I thought of JESUS saying “I was hungry and you fed me”. But this was more than food, this was LOVE present caring, loving for all to see. Oh the young man was about in his twenties and had to have his food spooned to him. It was truly unselfish and unconditional love. A great ADVENT beginnng for me. As always you have a way of pointing out the GOD who is LOVE!

  9. Thank you so much, Sr. Melanie, for your musical selection today. Being a pianist myself, I have always loved (that word again) The Piano Guys. Their music truly lets me to “just be”. My husband just pulled their Family Christmas album up on You Tube and it begins with this soulful Jazz rendition of “Oh Come, Oh Come Emmanuel”. I think we will just let it play this morning. What a wonderful beginning to Advent…..

  10. Two thoughts:

    1) When I was younger, I remember hearing that “God’s love is based on nothing.” What? That just didn’t sound right to me. I couldn’t understand it! Until I did.

    2) The parable of the workers in the vineyard: again, every time heard it, my inner voice would go off: “That’s just not fair!” It took me a long time, but finally I realized that is the entire point Jesus is making: no, it’s not fair! God’s love isn’t fair at all. It is just poured out, endlessly, irrationally, illogically, irrespective of worthiness or unworthiness.

    Took me a while, but lessons learned!

  11. Thank you Sister. I just had to pass this one forward to my family. The music inspired me to breath deeply and appreciate more fully the spirit of Advent. Thanks for sharing.

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Hi and welcome to my blog! I’m Sister Melannie, a Sister of Notre Dame residing in Chardon, Ohio, USA. I’ve been very lucky! I was raised in a loving family on a small farm in northeast Ohio. I also entered the SNDs right after high school. Over the years, my ministries have included high school and college teaching, novice director, congregational leadership, spiritual direction, retreat facilitating, and writing. I hope you enjoy “Sunflower Seeds” and will consider subscribing below. I’d love to have you in our “sunflower community.” Thank you!

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