My time this summer has been consumed with camp, friendships, and reading. When I started Søren Kierkegaard’s Works of Love, I did not at all expect for it to take the entire summer to read, but I am thankful because I have learned such incredible things about what love is, how it works, and what it looks like. Most recently, I have finished a chapter on how Love Seeks Not Its Own.
The age in which we live constantly tells us to look out for Number One, and Christianity is no stranger to this idea. We know that serving others is of the utmost importance, and denying our own desires is essential to our faith. In Philippians 2:3-4, Paul writes, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.”
When a human being seeks the love of another human being, he seeks to become loved himself; this is not sacrifice; sacrifice would consist precisely in helping the other person to seek God . . . Therefore, if a man seeks to become the object of another person’s love, he deliberately and falsely seeks his own, for the only true object of a human being’s love is love, which is God, who therefore in a deeper sense is not an object at all, since he is himself love.
To seek to be the object of another person’s love is a futile effort – it has no sacrifice and no depth. One who seeks to become the object of another person’s love seeks his own interests, and not the interests of the other. It is futile because the only real object of love is God Himself, and not a person at all.
Is it wrong to be loved? Absolutely not. But it does nothing for either party involved to seek the love of another. Instead, it is best understood to seek God and know how He loves you. Only in this way can you then show love to another (because the greatest commandment, the summation of all the Law and the Prophets, is to love your neighbor as you love yourself, and you cannot love yourself if you do not understand how God loves you).
“The highest that one human being can do for another is to make him free, to help him stand alone,” says Kierkegaard. When one is free, and stands alone, he is capable of leaning on God himself – he does not need another to show him the way. He is independent. But Kierkegaard takes it a step further, outlining how helping one be free, to stand alone, requires anonymity – even secrecy. The full quote is this:
[He] had profoundly understood that the highest that one human being can do for another is to make him free, to help him stand alone – and he had also understood himself in understanding this, that is, he had understood that if this is to be accomplished, the helper must be able to conceal himself in magnanimously willing his own destruction. He was, as he himself called himself, a midwife in a spiritual sense, and with every sacrifice he worked disinterestedly in this service – for the disinterestedness consisted simply in keeping hidden from the one helped how and that he was helped.
Does this not resound with the words of Christ when He tells His disciples to make sure that their right hand does not know what their left hand is doing, and that the greatest love one can show is to lay down his life for his friends? The man Kierkegaard speaks of helps the other man in such a way so that he is not discovered – that the other man is able to stand alone without being indebted to anyone. “The art [of loving another and helping him to stand alone],” Kierkegaard says, “is precisely in having been able to do everything for a person and to appear to have done nothing at all.” Because love seeks not its own – instead it seeks the betterment of another.
The [true] lover has understood that in truth the greatest, the only benefaction one man can accomplish for another, is to help him stand alone, to become himself, to become his own; but he has also understood the danger and the suffering in the midst of the task and above all the terribleness of responsibility . . . He works without pay, for he makes himself nothing, and precisely at the moment when it could be said that he still could have the reward of proud self-consciousness, God enters in and he is again transformed into nothingness, which nevertheless for him is his blessedness . . . He truly seeks not his own, for he gives precisely in such a way that it appears as if the gift were the recipient’s own possession.
Truly loving another is seeking their best, not your own. It is hard, thankless, and full of responsibility. He works himself dry, and when he has the opportunity to take credit for his labor he redirects the praise toward God, because God is the one who made it all possible and God is truly the one who worked in and through the one who loves – and this encourages him all the more.
What is the use of living a life in which one seeks not his own? Does the one who does this not waste his life on other men? The answer Kierkegaard has comes in the form of a question: “Is not seeking one’s own the wasting of one’s own life?”
All of eternity hangs in the balance for each soul on Earth. In light of eternity, to refuse to seek one’s own, and instead to seek the best for others, is the greatest love.
Because love seeks not its own.