A Mother’s Day Reflection on Unconditional Love

A 100-year-old letter beautifully captures the power of a profoundly loving relationship.

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Posted in , May 9, 2019

Mother's Day

“Nothing you become will disappoint me; I have no preconception I’d like to see you be or do. I have no desire to foresee you, only to discover you. You can’t disappoint me.”

This stunning declaration of unconditional love was written by the philanthropist Mary Elizabeth Haskell to the Lebanese-American poet Kahlil Gibran in a 1912 letter. The two came to love each other romantically, but Haskell was also a patron of Gibran’s art, funding his work for many years. So her statement that she had no expectations that he deliver a return on her investment is both profound and generous.

What better time than Mother’s Day to think about this sort of deep and abiding love? After all, a mother’s love is often described as unconditional—inherent, inborn, part of the fabric of what it means to be connected to a child. As anyone who’s been either a mother or a child can attest, this often isn’t as easy as it looks on the fronts of greeting cards

But, as expressed by Haskell, it is a moving and meaningful goal for every mothering relationship—for that matter, for any relationship that asks us to nurture, encourage and support another person, and for the relationship each of us seeks to cultivate with ourselves

As I consider Haskell’s words, I realize that unconditional love asks us to do three things: 

1)  Let Go of Preconceptions
What would your relationships look like if you let go of all sentences that begin with, “You’re supposed to….”? Chances are, you would feel freed to notice and accept the other person (or yourself) just the way they are, rather than chasing an externally-imposed definition of success or accomplishment.

2)  Discover Another Person
Releasing expectations won’t help us grow unless we also have an open curiosity toward the person we love (and, again, ourselves). Just as Haskell seeks to “discover” Gibran, so can we look closely at the person we love, supporting them by reveling in the distinctive things that make them….them.

3)  Practice Positivity
Haskell’s notion that Gibran can’t “disappoint” her strikes me as more than a release from the hope or demand that he produce or achieve a certain artistic stature. To me, it positively reframes the entire notion of a supportive, loving relationship. If he falls short, struggles or questions himself, that won’t disappoint her—it will enable her to continue to encourage his growth, self-confidence and creativity. Without condition.

How do you define unconditional love?

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