The Lie Behind Transactional Love

Photo by Hernan Pauccara on

Lately, I’ve really had to depend on the Lord to know how to handle my brother. My instincts are always to encourage him to get a job, help him get his own place, and push him right out of my nest. However, all I seem to hear from God is to wait. He isn’t ready for a job. He isn’t ready for a place of his own. Simply put, he’s not ready.

I remember back when my life fell apart and it looks eerily similar to what my brother is going through. I did whatever I could to avoid dealing with the cold hard light of reality. I drank, did drugs, hooked up with Simon. I became a workaholic, a blog writer, and a social media marketing expert, via YouTube. When the truth brushed up too close to me, I’d drink myself to sleep. It was a hard learned lesson, being able to sit still, face the unfamiliar, frightening future, and just breathe through the pain. Time did make it easier, and as my life took on a different form, and my hopes and dreams adjusted to other things, the real healing actually began.

For my brother, he’s learning that real love isn’t transactional. Even as an adorable little boy, he always tried to “pay” you to play with him, or to be his ally, or to just be a friend. He based too much of his own confidence on the reactions of people he was “buying”. When the ATM that was my brother dried up, these supposed friends scattered, leaving him with nothing. I don’t think Christians focus enough on the fact that we can’t earn the love of God. There is simply no way for us to be transactional with Him; and because He gave us this love without getting anything of worth in return, we need to learn to love other people the same way.

So, for my brother, this is a spiritual bone that has been broken, so God can reset it correctly. And because of that, I need to be patient. Rome wasn’t built in a day. He’ll get through this, one day at a time.

The first step is to not downplay the seemingly innocuous maliciousness of the lie that is transactional love. By its design, it simply cannot help but let you down. On the surface, it looks generous, kind, an answer to someone’s prayers. But beneath the surface, it requires a return. It is a relationship based on actions, and when one or both parties can no longer “earn” the love, it quickly falls apart. And it tends to damage people in excruciatingly simple ways – erodes trust, causes suspicion and paranoia, and can cause people to isolate and harden their hearts. It completely destroys empathy, and without that, we are less inclined to even try to help someone else.

One of the hardest lessons to learn in life is to not reward evil for evil, and even harder, give a blessing instead. But if you change your perspective just a tiny degree, you’ll see that this is the relationship you have with Jesus. He’s the giver, and no matter how hard you try, you are always the taker. So, knowing that, it gets easier to draw back and see people in that same light and know that you owe them the same kind of love Jesus shows you.

We can’t teach other people about love if we don’t understand it ourselves.


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