There isn't a whole lot in life that hurts more than loving someone who doesn't love you back. That's just the worst.

It's not quite the worst, though. The absolute, hands-down worst is when you love someone who not only doesn't love you back, but who hates you. That's like every morning sprinkling honey-scented powdered bleach on your Corn Flakes, and eating away. It's just … gut-wrenching death—except it's the kind from which you never get the relief that actually expiring might bring.

This kind of self-immolating love doesn't happen often, thank goodness. In my life, it's happened with both of my parents and my sister. If you've been reading my recent posts, you know how much I love my father, and how much he really, really doesn't feel the same way about me. If you've been with me longer, you might also know of how my mother once abandoned my sister and me. (One day I'll also share with you the story of how my mother once tried her very best to, shall we say, permanently eradicate me. For now, you can trust that if anyone ever loves you the way my mother "loved" me, take out an excellent life insurance policy, ASAP. Yow. Zer. Bowzer.)

Sometimes we just love people who not only don't love us back, but who actively and constantly work against our well-being. These are the rare people in our lives who use our inexhaustible love for them as an extremely effective weapon against us. And even though we know that's all they've ever done or will do with our love for them, we continue to love them; we continue to supply them with all the ammo they need to yet again bring us to our knees.

Outside of falling victim to the Stockholm syndrome, the only kind of people for whom we usually experience this kind of self-immolating love are family members and spouses who've become abusive. That's about it, though. Someone needs to be that close to you if they're going to continue choking you to death.

And what renders this whole dynamic so profoundly crazy-making is that love is supposed to be so good—so healthy, wonderful, uplifting, life-affirming. But I know there's no Hallmark card about this kind of love -- that that on the outside says, "Won't You Be My Valentine?" and on the inside says, "Of course you won't, you toxic beast. What was I thinking? Sorry I interrupted your fang sharpening."

And we know that our love for the people who callously disregard it is pure. We're not tripping. We're not crazy. Our love for those people is good. We can feel its purity. It's as noble and true as any love can be—more so, if anything, since it's a love so pure it desires nothing in return. When you love someone despite how they treat you, you love them in the deepest way possible.

And still that love means squat to them.

Why? Why doesn't our love for them solve our relationship with these people? Why doesn't our love prove to be the healing, nurturing, positive thing we know that love is?

How does the fragrant rose we keep proffering them keep transmogrifying into something stinky and awful?

And what are we supposed to do about it? How does that get fixed? We can't stop loving these people. I am going to continue loving my parents and sister no matter how awfully they treat me. Doing so is wired into my DNA. I could no sooner turn off my love for those people than I could hold out my arms and stop the Mississippi River from flowing.

Yet they will use my love for them to hurt me. In that regard (and, usually, in every other) they're not about to change. They don't have a problem in the world with the way things are between us. They like hurting me.

Hence is my love rendered my enemy. It's that simple. I'm stuck aiding and abetting my own destruction. By my nature I am forced to participate in the poisoning of my own well.

What a puzzle!

What a terrible, perfectly constructed trap!

No way out!

Ah.

Aha!

Almost no way out!

Because guess what works here? Guess what is the model by which, finally, we can not only understand this continuously caustic conundrum, but can grow from it? Can embrace it? Can use it?

Guess the paradigm for properly understanding what we're really doing when we love those who hate us?

Guess why our loving in this seemingly terrible way is, of all things, good?

Because of Christ. Because it's exactly what Christ did. Because it perfectly and comprehensively captures what was happening to Christ when he was on the cross.

Christ gave nothing but love. And for that love he ended up getting the living flesh ripped off his bones. The people to whom he extended the very love of God repaid him by beating him to death.

On this earth we can have no experience that more closely approximates Christ on the cross than that of loving someone whose response to that love is to damage us.

And there it is. There's your model for appreciating what, as far as I know, can't be beneficially appreciated in any other way. That's how the worst pain we know transforms into a sublimely perfect experience.

So the next time someone you love hurts you, hold out your arms, like you're on a cross.

And there you are.

And there He is.

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See also my Unhappy? Reject Your Loser Parents.

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