How we learn about love
Happy Mother’s Day to all mothers.
I wonder what images and feelings come to mind when you think about your mother? I wonder what role your mother played in shaping who you are and how you engage with the world today?
A few years ago while I was studying Human Development I was introduced to John Bowlby’s Attachment Theory. This theory as currently formulated stresses that “children between 6 and about 30 months are very likely to form emotional attachments to familiar caregivers, especially if the adults are sensitive and responsive to child communications”.  Initially Bowlby thought that mothers were the sole person such attachments were made with, but now this has been modified. None the less, his work shows the importance of the bond between mothers and their children. Further, his work shows that, “(t)he formation of emotional attachments contributes to the foundation of later emotional and personality development, and the type of behaviour toward familiar adults shown by toddlers has some continuity with the social behaviours they will show later in life.” These relationships we form in with people like our mothers play an important role in shaping how we relate to others, including future partners, future children, and work colleagues, in late life. So on this Mother’s Day we remember the importance of our own mothers in our lives, and we pray for mothers around the world, that their relationships with their children may be strong and life giving. May we find ways of supporting mothers and helping them offer this kind of love to their children.
This morning’s readings from both John’s letter and gospel are all about love. As I said last week, love is a tricky thing. Love can mean so many different things, and often is simply a word to describe how I feel about something or someone. Our understanding of love is in many ways shaped by our experience of love in our early years. Our relationship with our primary caregivers, particularly our mothers, is what we use to understand God’s love. I suspect that Bowlby’s theory even applies to how we read scripture and how we understand God. And for too many people this is very “me” focussed, always conditional on what is offered in return. God’s love is seen as conditional on my response, and too often our love is conditional on what I get in return.
The passage we are reading from Johns gospel is part of Jesus final all important speech. And it comes straight after Jesus has put aside all social rules and expectations and washed his disciple’s feet. It comes just before Jesus is arrested and lays down his life (as John describes it) in the crucifixion, and takes it up again in the resurrection. This love is outward. God’s passionate love is poured out with no hope of reward. It is unconditional. It is in no way “me centred”. John is suggesting that rather than our experience of love from other people being our foundation for understanding love, it is Jesus who offers us the true image of God’s love. And it is life changing.
So what shapes our understanding of love? Our mothers? Our life experiences? Or Jesus? What might we need to let go of to live into this hard love?