Spanish educator Miguel de Unamuno said, “It is sad not to be loved. It is much sadder not to be able to love.” With those words, written a century ago, Unamuno properly diagnosed the sickness of our age: The lack of love.
Love is not a scarce commodity, for there is love enough to heal the world. It’s not a problem of availability; it is love’s delivery that has gone awry. Jaded by cynicism, polarization, and self-centeredness, we have lost the ability to give ourselves to others.
Unamuno illustrated the destructive outcome of this inability with a book entitled, “Abel Sanchez.” Sanchez is an artist. His rival, Joaquin, is a doctor. Growing up together, everything was a competition, especially for Joaquin. He went to university only because Abel went. He chose medicine as a career only because he wanted to make a name for himself in a career different than Abel’s.
And as these classical stories go, full of passion and intrigue, the two men fell in love with the same woman. She married Abel over Joaquin, and the young physician never recovered from the blow. He tried. He married a beautiful, kind woman named Antonia, but he married her only because she was from a well-connected family, the perfect partner to help him with this rivalry. He did not love her.
As the years go by, each man became a father – their children marry each another! – and they have grandchildren they must share. Finally, as in the Bible’s story about a certain Abel, Joaquin secretly causes his rival’s death. Only on his own deathbed does Joaquin confess his crime. The confession is followed by an even more personal admission:
“Why have I been so envious?” he asks. “What did I do to be like this? Why was I born in a land of hatred? Why have I lived hating myself?” And turning to his wife he says, “Antonia, you could not heal me. You could not make me good, because I did not love you. If I had only loved you, it would have healed me. Love could…should…would…have been my salvation.”
We all play the part of Joaquin in Unamuno’s masterful story. We are torn apart by envy, jealousy – what René Girard called the “mad ambition of rivalry” – making us unable to love others. Thus, we render ourselves incapable of receiving love from others. Is there a solution; a way to break the selfish heart within us?
Certainly, here is a place to begin, with words more ancient that Unamuno’s: “We surely ought to love each other, for God is love. We love each other because God loved us first” (1 John 4). So, if you are waiting for someone to break the ice, wait no longer. You have all the love you need to heal, to change, to open your arms to the world – and most importantly – to love yourself and others. God has made the first move. The next one is yours.