The following is an excerpt from the book Unconditional Love from B&H Publishing Group.

Love seems to hang in the balance of fairy tales and tragedies. It is one of the most misunderstood and misapplied words in our vocabulary. Love is so fluid that it can apply to your favorite ice cream flavor or in the next sentence refer to the feelings we have for another human being. It's easy to understand how so many find themselves confused when it comes to the subject of love.

This word rarely is received in its purest form. Instead, it comes with a tremendous amount of conditions, baggage, and confusion. Psychology tells us that the act of receiving, or not receiving, love can make or break a person emotionally and spiritually. It can propel us toward greatness or limit us in our capacity to find fulfillment, satisfaction, and purpose.

Unconditional Love

A church may be the only place you have ever heard the two words unconditional and love used together in the same sentence. We hear it most often talked about when we remember and reflect on the voluntary sacrifice of God's Son on the cross to pay the penalty of our sin. In turn, everyone has the ability to reconnect and have an ongoing, dynamic relationship with God. This is the ultimate expression of love without condition.

The idea that love might be unconditional is perplexing. Is that even possible? And who actually has the capacity to act in that way toward another human being? Most people have never experienced unconditional love. Too often, the affection of others comes at too high a price to even consider the possibility that love might be unconditional.

This notion of unconditional love dissipates in our attempt to act in this way toward others. We try with the best of intentions but end up projecting our expectations on others, only showing them favor and love when they satisfy our needs and follow through with our requests. We don't mean to act like this or behave in this way. It is just so part of our nature that we can't help ourselves.

Most of our life experiences, if we are honest with ourselves and others, teach us that we must do something to earn the love of others. We must do what our parents tell us to do. We must meet society's expectations for our level of education, personal achievement, financial success, etc. We must be the ideal spouse. We must be the prettiest, drive the fastest cars, work from corner offices in high-rise buildings, and be someone no one can live without. If we can achieve the right things and avoid the fatal pitfalls, then we have a shot at truly experiencing love, right?

The problem with this approach to love is that it sets us up for defeat. Sooner or later, because of something we have or have not done, we lose the love of someone or something and our world unravels. We disappoint our parents, our spouse, or our children. We experience financial difficulty or fail to get the promotion. Who is left to show us love? Sometimes, it is no one.

Worse, what if we are born into the wrong neighborhood? What if we never get access to quality health care and have to live with a disability or maligned body that might easily have been prevented, cured, or fixed? And what if our education is minimal at best? If we apply society's standards, who will love these people, not to mention what can they possibly do to receive the type of love that comes without condition?

The good news is that unconditional love is available to everyone. If God lives within us, then we have the capacity to show unconditional love toward others, even to the least of these. We know the pain of letting other people down, and we are aware of the pressure of constantly trying to earn the affection of others by doing things they will admire, acknowledge, and affirm. What if we decided to live life differently?

The way to receive unconditional love is to give it away. Unconditional love doesn't come with any expectations or strings attached. It is present whether or not we succeed or fail and isn't attached to what we do but to who we are.

That kind of love is unconditional. When we see it, experience it, or give it away, people take notice. And we have the capacity to show this love toward others because God has loved us in the same way.

Unconditional love is uncommon. Uncommon doesn't mean impossible; it just means uncommon. But God's plan has been uncommon from the beginning, so this isn't exactly new. When we break ranks with our culture and embrace an uncommon approach to love, we invite the opportunities into our everyday lives where we can extend unconditional love to others.

You don't have to start an international relief organization or have billions of dollars to give away to change the world. The reality is you can do that right where you are. You don't change cultures by influencing groups of people in masses. You change the world one person at a time.

It could be as simple as a handshake and a smile or as complex as raising funds to accomplish something specific. Whatever it is, we must recognize that we have the capacity to show unconditional love to others. And in doing so, we are transformed into agents of change.

Jesus could have fought an earthly battle and waged war on Rome. There were plenty of people, even some of His disciples, who would have preferred He take that approach. But when Jesus talked about the kingdom of God, He was clear that God's way of living is different from our way of living. Our clearest picture of this uncommon, unconditional love comes when Jesus is willing to die on our behalf, for our sins, that we might have life forever.

If you think carefully about those closest to you, there is likely at least one person in your life that understands and practices what it means to show unconditional love toward others. These are not loud and noisy people clamoring for attention. Rather, you'll find them quietly serving others right where they are. They aren't waiting for sometime in the future to make a difference; they are making a difference today.

What happens when unconditional love is introduced into the equation? Everything changes. Nothing stays the same. And no one can go back after they have experienced it, even just once.

Unconditional love heals the broken, empowers the timid, affirms the hesitant, and elevates those who have been overlooked, forgotten, and silenced. There is a power that comes to those who show and to those who receive unconditional love. Those who show this love are released from being consumed with themselves. Those who receive this love are released from limitations others have placed on them.

Unconditional love sets us free so that we might live according to God's plan for our lives. Further, it sets in motion the steps necessary to bring about the kingdom of God on earth while we wait for the coming of a new world where unconditional love will exist in its original form, without human manipulation or corruption. Too often we excuse ourselves from opportunities to embody unconditional love because we are convinced we aren't smart enough, mature enough, experienced enough, or rich enough to make a significant impact. That simply isn't true. You have everything you need right now to show unconditional love toward someone else. This book is about ordinary people, just like you, who did extraordinary things when they released unconditional love in and through their lives.

God blessed what they were doing for others and enlarged their influence and impact. You can be part of that blessing, too. Unconditional Love is not a challenge for the future but now. It is not something we can wait to do but is something we must initiate right now.

You can be an agent of change. It will look different than what you might think. But there is great power in letting go of that which is holding us back. Choosing to recklessly share unconditional love with others in the same way God has done for us will change you and the people you reach.

Ben Stroup is a writer, blogger, and consultant. His previous books include Church Giving Matters. He and his wife have two sons and live in Nashville, Tennessee.