Love As a Joyful Experience of Letting Go

On this Ash Wednesday, which falls on Valentine’s Day, a reflection on love seems fitting. Love is a universal emotion, quality, and virtue deeply embedded in our hearts and lives, and its broad definition is commonly understood. Yet, let’s delve deeper into one of its aspects we seldom consider—love as a joyful experience of letting go.

This fresh idea of the concept was vividly portrayed in the life of Saint Theresa of the Child Jesus, to whom I credit the inspiration for this perspective on love. In her autobiography, Story of a Soul, Saint Theresa shared a story revealing a unique love quality.

She loved a fellow nun who preferred to spend time with another sister. The sorrow and the pain of rejection made her want to retaliate by responding to that nun with less or no affectionate consideration. However, as she allowed God into her heart and reflected on her feelings, the initial pain was replaced by a beautiful realization of the joyful acceptance of love. If she truly loved this nun, she should be happy for her friend’s joy, even if it meant she was spending time with someone else.

A quality of pure love is seeing the subject of our love happy and being joyful in seeing them happy. There are examples of such love gestures in our daily lives. Parents’ examples are legendary. Parents experience this when they see their children forming stronger bonds with other people, such as their friends or suitors. Although it may sting, parents understand that their child’s happiness flourishes in their love for others even if it means less attention to their parents.

Sacrifices for Love

On this Ash Wednesday and Valentine’s Day, let us pause and reflect on our love for one another. Visualize the sacrifices we make for love, for those sacrifices involve letting go not just of food and drink but legitimate pleasures, including attachment to people or values. Can we happily accept that the ones we love are content with being with others instead of with us? How about we rejoice that others may value different things than we do? Can we truly let go and remain joyful for them, no matter what?

The prophecy of Joel 2:12-18 highlights our sacrifices for God and each other. Almsgiving and fasting are acts we instantly recognize. But consider the more challenging sacrifice of joyful acceptance, even if it appears we are at the losing end.

Fr. Maurice Emelu

What about the situation of showing the joyful experience of loving the unlovable? You want to love them and show them how much you care, but they show indifference or rejection that makes you feel like trash. Can you live with the joy of seeing them be what they want and feel joyful and okay about it?

The Blessed Lord models the way for this love quality. Saint Paul writes of him, showing to what extent he took on the fall and pains so we can enjoy the righteousness of freedom in love. “For our sake, he made him be sin who did not know sin so that we might become the righteousness of God in him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).

The Heart of it All

The Gospel of Matthew 6:1-6, 16-18 speaks to what constitutes the heart of this understanding about sacrificing gestures of love. It is making those sacrifices not for praise or to be seen, instead, for the glory of God (ad majorem dei gloriam) who sees in secret. And our loving God who sees in secret rewards our hearts with the joy of divine love. 

It implies getting along no matter what. Not just getting along but also being happy, knowing that love is a joyful experience of letting go of things that hold me back from seeing God in any situation.

The above, my friends, is a different kind of fasting. If we learn to love this way, we are genuinely prepared to give away a part of ourselves for the happiness of those we cherish. True love, therefore, is about the paradox of acceptance as well as letting go. Release. In this release, we find ultimate joy.

For this Lent, I propose a consideration that can make us love in the manner of letting go. Start with your roommate who doesn’t seem to understand that they are causing you so much pain. How about your friend who has broken up with you and your colleague who has views that you can’t stand? Consider also administrators who seem to disregard your opinions, or your parents who keep intruding into your life. Your children, who don’t seem to recognize how much you care about them? Name it.

Can we see the liberating joy of letting go of the pain these situations trigger? Such is growth in love.

A Daily Commitment

Let’s make a list starting today: Go daily or week by week. On day one or week one, list all the triggers that cause us much pain and unhappiness. Starting tomorrow, find ways to let go and walk through the 40 days of Lent. Practicing this exercise will bring us closer to Christ, our ultimate love, and inspire healthier relationships during the journey of Lent.

God bless you as you consider this proposal.

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Fr. Maurice Emelu

The Reverend Dr. Maurice Emelu is the Chair of a number of non-profit boards and a professor of digital media and communication at John Carroll University, United States. His research and practices focus on digital storytelling and design, media aesthetics and theological aesthetics, and church communication. Dr. Emelu lives where digital media technology meets culture, communication, philosophy, theology, religion, and society. He is the founder of Gratia Vobis Ministries, Inc. To know more about his professional background, visit

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