Sermon: Undoubted Love: A Matter of Trust


“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”

“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”

These words of Zen Buddhist Teacher Thich Nhat Hanh 

may well explain the mystery 

of how we can profess love for one another 

yet continue to experience pain. 

And where there is pain, there is distrust.

While love may be thought to be one of the most 

quintessential capacities of the human condition, 

indeed, much of our faith leads us to believe 

Love is the core of, and goal of, our existence, 

yet, Love is also very much 

a learned dynamic interaction that improves its quality 

with deliberate practice and focused attention. 

One song that has been echoing in my mind as I wrote this sermon

is Nat King Cole’s “Nature Boy” 

– in particular the last lyric that says:

“The greatest thing you’ll ever learn 

Is just to love and be loved in return”

When we learn to love and to love in return, 

we become trustworthy 

and build trusting relationships.

We have all most likely experienced 

many emotions we attribute as Love.

And, I would even go so far as to say that most, 

if not all of us, 

have sought to experience the wonderful sentiment 

of loving and being loved in return. 

Yet,that loving is not a given 

(not posit automatically when we feel affection for another), 

but rather, 

as Nat King Cole suggests: Loving is a Learning.


Let us agree for the moment and for the duration of today’s exploration, that Love is active,

it is a communion, 

a covenant. 

And to achieve it requires mutual understanding and trust.

Can we agree on that, for now?

Now let’s unpack this a bit.

Let’s start with trust.

Research professor Dr. Brené Brown has provided us with 

The Anatomy of Trust in which describes Seven Elements of Trust.  

Seven elements of being able to be Trusting and Trustworthy

She calls it by the acronym Braving.  And the words making up the acronym are:

  1. Boundaries
  2. Reliability
  3. Accountability
  4. Vault
  5. Integrity
  6. Non-judgment
  7. Generosity

Boundaries. Boundaries are crucial. 

And, spoiler-alert

this is where we go beyond 

many assumed definitions 

of the altruistic interpretations of  “unconditional love” 

and move towards mutually beneficial“undoubted love.” 

Lack of adequate boundaries can destroy relationships. 

Lack of clarifying conversations 

about what each partner’s boundaries are 

can compromise the foundation 

and set in motion for a relationship to fail. 

Boundaries are important. 

Clear understanding of, 

and agreements about, 

each others boundaries, 

are necessary in the blueprint of a healthy relationship. 


Because boundaries are the default touchstone 

to confirm or deny 

Trustworthiness in both positive and negative circumstances. 

For contained in our Boundaries are the things we want, 

and the things we don’t want. 

We know these things in our hearts and minds. 

We cannot assume our partners can read our hearts and minds, 

nor assume that their boundaries are the same as ours. 

Boundaries need disclosures and mutual agreements.

And, because we are not static creatures, 

but rather ever evolving in our values, philosophies and spiritualities, 

these are not one-time conversations

established at the beginning of a relationship 

or as a result of a crisis 

and never to be spoken of again.


They need to be updated over time 

to assure that our partners are aware of 

subtle and significant shifts in our perceptions, priorities and desires, 

and that we are aware of theirs. 

New awarenesses may lead to the need to update 

our agreements with each other.

Reliability.  To build trust in a relationship 

we need to be mutually reliable. 

We need to be able to count on each other 

to do what we say we will do. 


Accountability. Own your mistakes. We all make them. 

Apologize and make amends, 

for in making yourself vulnerable in this way 

creates avenues for trust. 

Lying, side-stepping, or blaming someone else for your mistakes 

creates distrust.

Vault. A vault is a place you can keep what is most valuable to you. 

So this element of trust equates that you 

keep the confidences 

that are told to you. 

They are placed with you for safe-keeping, 

not for sharing with anyone 

other than the person who gave them to you. 

Most especially is this important in your most personal relationship, 

your partner, your spouse. 

They need to be able to trust that you will not gossip about them.

Integrity. Similar to reliability, integrity means 

our actions align with our words. 

Practice what we claim are our values, 

not merely professing them. 

Non-judgment. Non-judgment in a trusting relationship 

allows room for each partner 

to be able express their feelings 

or to ask for help without feeling judged. 

Now, this can be a tricky one, 

because it is not an “out” for someone to breach a boundary 

or behave without accountability. 


A space of non-judgement in a relationship 

means to not place your values as sacrosanct over someone else’s. 

Non-judgement is accepting someone else’s truth 

even if it is not your own. 

And – not making them feel guilty about it.

Which leads us to the next word in the acronym:

Generosity. Generosity draws upon Rousseauian philosophies 

of believing in the best intentions of others. 

If, and more likely, when

our partner says or does something that hurts or upsets us, 

be generous with your interpretations of their possible intentions.  

Do not assume the worst. 

Do not assume nefarious intentions. 

Rather, be open to discovering their actual intentions.

Footnote: Jean-Jacques Rousseau (1712 - 1778) was a French philosopher and writer of the Age of Enlightenment. His Political Philosophy, particularly his formulation of social contract theory (or Contractarianism), strongly influenced the French Revolution and the development of Liberal, Conservative and Socialist theory. Jean-Jacques Rousseau strongly believed in the innate goodness of man and in basic human rights founded upon universal natural law; in addition, he believed that both rulers and the citizens have natural human rights as well as obligations to each other which should be bound in a social contract.









Braving. For certainly Trusting requires vulnerability and learning the unknown.

Learning how to love and be loved in return, 

also means learning how to trust and be trusted in return.

For as long as we have had words to speak, 

we have used them to capture subjective definitions of love.

In Hebrew, two pertinent words for love are:

  • Ahav and Racham
  • Ahav (to mean: love), 
  • Racham (more specifically translated as:  tender mercies – a romantic love 
Footnote: During the Babylonian exile, Aramaic became the language spoken by the Jews, and Aramaic square script replaced the Paleo-Hebrew alphabet. After the Achaemenid Empire captured Babylon, Aramaic became the language of culture and learning. ((In Aramaic (the Aramaic Bible) is the word Chav ))

In Aramaic we find the word Chav 

which is similar to the Hebrew word Ahav 

to mean love.  

except, their definitions are unique in nuance.

The key difference is that: 

The Aramaic Chav is a love that is not necessarily returned. 

Chav is speaking of a love that flows from just one person 

and is not completed.

(akin to the oft spoken Unconditional Love) 

For love to be completed, it must be returned. 

Love can be lonely and painful if it is not returned. 

The Hebrew Racham is a completed love.  

This is true love, undoubted love.

The Ancient Greeks had six definitive kinds of love 

– and within some of them, even more discreet definitions….

….ranging from erotic to friendship, 

playful to self-sacrificial.

Today I want to lift up what the Ancient Greeks called Pragma Love.

Pragma meant longstanding love.  

This, the mature love – the deep understanding that develops 

between long-married couples, long-time partners.

Pragma was about making an effort to give love 

rather than just receive;

it is making compromises to help the relationship work over time, 

and showing patience and tolerance.

Humanist Philosopher Erich Fromm observed that 

we expend too much energy on “falling in love” 

and need to learn more how to “stand in love.” 

Pragma is the awareness and practice of standing in love.

In his book The Art of Loving, Fromm tells us:

Love is primarily giving, not receiving.

Love is a decision… it is a promise. 

If love were only a feeling, 

there would be no basis for the promise to love. 

A feeling comes and it may go. 

Mature love requires 





and the overcoming of narcissism. 

Love isn’t a feeling, it is a practice.” 

Love is active, not a passive affect

it is a “standing in,” not a “falling for.”  

Love is not a resting place, 

but moving, growing, working together; 

when there is harmony or conflict, 

joy or sadness

Mature love is union 

under the condition of preserving one’s integrity, 

love overcomes the sense of isolation and separateness.

Fromm continues to claim that:

“Infantile love follows the principle: “I love because I am loved.” 

Mature love follows the principle: “I am loved because I love.” 

Immature love says: “I love you because I need you.” 

Mature love says: “I need you because I love you.” 

What of the practice of loving?

A key is to understand 

the importance of knowing how the person you love 

wants to be loved, 

and having the person you love 

know how you want to be loved, 

and somehow, 


learning how to love each other 

so that you both feel loved

This takes commitment. 

It takes understanding. 

It takes practice. 

And when this is achieved:

Trust is fortified.

But how? 

How can we learn to love our partners 

in a way that they will feel our love? 

How can we teach our partners to love us 

so that we feel loved?

Gary Chapman in his book The Five Love Languages: How to Express Heartfelt Commitment to Your Mate

describes five ways humans express and experience love.

According to his theory, 

each person has primary and secondary love languages.  

These are our preferred ways of experiencing love.  

Of receiving love. 

The five love languages are:

  • Words of Affirmation
  • Acts of Service
  • Receiving Gifts
  • Quality Time
  • Physical Touch

Each of us assign priority ranking to these love languages. 

We are happiest, and feel most loved, 

when we experience love regularly 

by way of our primary love language preference. 

Our joy seeps away when we do not receive 

love in the way we need it most.

Most of us are familiar 

with the studies that point to babies who do not receive love 

do not thrive. Some of us know of the “silent nurseries” 

where babies born into war-torn and poverty-stricken locales 

living in orphanages without sufficient staff to care for them 

…they learn in infancy – there is no sense in crying 

because no one responds.  

All of them. 

What an eery sound of silence that must be, 

encompassing the absence of Loving attention.

In similar ways, as adults, when our needs for love go unanswered, 

we shut down.

If, for instance, our primary love language is Physical Touch 

and we go days, or weeks or more without a hug, 

or holding hands, or a caress, or physical intimacy,

our heart wilts.

If, our primary love language is Words of Affirmation

and we rarely if ever receive affectionate words, 

and are not told,  

“You are important to me,”

“I adore you” and “I love you,” 

our heart carries aching wounds.

If Quality Time is our primary love language, 

and the person we love is too busy with work and other distractions 

to honor our need for dedicated time together, 

our hearts become sorrow-filled.

When our needs are not met 

we experience feelings of rejection, 



and loneliness.  

We feel unloved. 

And, even unlovable. 

It erodes our trust we have for those we love.

And, the reality is that many times this is not an accurate reflection, 

for our perception of their failure 

to love us in the ways we wish to be loved 

does not mean they do not love us.  

Rather, it is that we collectively 

do not understand the need to understand each other.  

And the importance of acting according 

to what we discover about each other 

in order to create trust. 

We need to trust each other 

to be able to love each other.

We build trust in each other 

by how we choose to love each other.

This is not a paradox.

Trust is built in large and small moments, 

large and small actions.

So too are feelings of betrayal built in both large and small ways 

if loving is not attended to thoughtfully.

An obstacle for us 

is that our default way of loving our partners,

is by loving them

the way we want to be loved. 

By giving the kinds of attention to them 

that if we were to receive it, 

we would feel loved.

For instance,

If we feel most loved with words of affirmation,

we may find ourselves writing little sticky notes 

with “I Love You” on them 

and placing them in locations where our mate can find them. 

Or placing proclamations on our social media pages 

about how proud we are of our spouse, 

or how beautiful or handsome they are.  

Alternately, if our partner’s primary love language is Acts of Service 

they often are doing things for us

large and small 

to ease the tasks of our day 

such as taking care of the dishes, doing laundry, yard-work, 

errands, fixing things,

or any of the many things that need attending to in any given day.

In each of these scenarios, we and our partners 

recognize love in a certain way 

and act upon love in ways that resonate with us as individuals. 

Which works well if we have the same love language as our partner. 

And not so well if we have different love language preferences.

Unless we engage in a discovery process 

about how our partner wants to receive love, 

we can begin to assume our thoughtful demonstrations of love 

are valued by our spouse in the same way we value them, 

when in fact they are not. 

This can lead to us feeling disappointed 

if our spouse does not respond in gratitude, 

or in like-kind, 

to our displays of affection.

More than that, 

we can begin to feel like we are doing all we can 

to demonstrate our love to our partner 

and come to the false conclusion 

that they are not doing all they can 

to show their love for us.

When, most likely, the opposite could be true.

When we take time to discover 

what the love language is of someone we love, 

and respond to this knowledge 

by consistently loving them in the way they want to be loved, 

this builds Trust. 

And it erases doubts.

But – we may wonder – 

What if the primary love language of the person we love 

is difficult for us to express?  

Perhaps we are not good with words, 

but our partner craves words of affirmation?

Or what if we have residue from past experiences 

where we felt taken for granted, 

perhaps we did the lion’s share of the work,

and now the idea of doing even small tasks for our partner 

is not something we wish to do 

for reminds us of echoes of the past,

yet Acts of Service is our partner’s preferred Love Language?

We need to remember that 

Love is not merely a feeling, 

Love is an action. 

And loving is not only an ideal, 

Loving is a covenant.

As Unitarian Universalists, we are a people of covenant.

To be in covenant 

is to be in mutual respect and mutual promise.

To be in covenant 

is to hold to our promises 

even if we have to stretch beyond our comfort zones.

Love is beautiful.

And, loving takes work.  


Sustained effort for a purpose to produce a desired result.

To be in covenant 

also means to forgive each other when we fail,

even if we fail a thousand times….

…and we will.


even in the wake of failure, 

in the face of discomfort, 

unwavering faith can be achieved 

when partners commit to one another.

I encourage you to find ways to stretch into Love and Loving. 

To take time to become familiar with each other’s love languages, 

and recognize the love your partner is extending to you, 

even if it is not your primary love language. 

I encourage you to be tenacious in your efforts 

to demonstrate your love for each other.

One final note about the aspects of love and trust

is given to us again, by Thich Nhat Hanh 

and it is one of the 96 words for love 

in the Sanskrit language of ancient India


related to the word karma, is translated as “compassion”

Karuna is described as the “quivering of the heart” 

we experience when we are open and able 

to truly see suffering and are moved to do something about it.

Knowledge and understanding are always at the root of the practice.

Thich Nhat Hanh tells us

Deep looking is needed, 

“directed toward the person you love. 

Because if you do not understand this person, 

you cannot love properly.” And trust cannot exist.

“To love without knowing how to love wounds the person we love.”

May we learn how to love and be loved in return.

Undoubted Love, It’s a Matter of Trust.