If I were to ask you, what is love, what would you say? Would you quote Webster to me? Perhaps you would recite a line from your favorite rom-com. If you have been near a radio at all in the last 15 years, you could probably belt out a Taylor Swift lyric and use that as your definition of love. For me, growing up in Disney's golden era, love was a fairytale and I was a princess locked in a tower, waiting to be rescued and carried off into the sunset. Love was simple. If he was handsome and rich and took me away from a life of school, chores, and siblings, then it was true love. Then I got older, became a teen and love was no longer a Disney movie, but a Jane Feather romance novel. If he didn't consume my every waking thought, if he didn't send fire through my blood and make me weak in the knees with a look, then it wasn't love. Then, I had my first (and only) real romantic relationship with a man, and my views of love changed once again. It started off as a feeling, a quickening of the heart and shivers, but the longer we stayed together the more I realized that I still had no idea what love is, much less how to actually love someone! But, I knew what love wasn't. Love wasn't a fairytale and it wasn't a harlequin romance novel either, but beyond that, I was clueless.
One of the more popular verses in the bible about love can be found in 1 Corinthians 13:4- 7. We hear it at every wedding, Love is patient, love is kind, and so on. Reading through those verses is never fun for me. I see that paragraph of all the things love is and only see everything I am not. I see a measurement for love that I can never live up to. It is a bit discouraging to me. I am not Jesus, I can't be all those things, and I can't live up to that measure, how do I love my husband or anyone?
It's interesting how things are so simple as a child and somehow, as we get older, we find ways to make them immensely more complicated. Why do we do that? As a kid, when we want to tell someone something, we say it. Kids say the darndest things, right? As an adult, we wrap them in euphemisms and tangle our words up in knots, rarely ever entering a conversation straight on. We make things so complicated! Conversations, life, love. It's like, well, the math is getting more complicated, so I guess everything else needs to as well. Matthew 18:3 tells us "Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven." Unfortunately, we live in a messed-up world that strips you of your childhood innocence and fills you with cynicism, corruption, and confusion. We lose our ability to see the simplicity in life and the miracles of God all around us.
There are also the many definitions we have given to love. These days it seems like a word can mean just about anything you want it to mean. The most common one I see is "I love this (fill in the blank). I love this song! I love this movie! I love this dress! We say this about an object or an idea and then a month later we have moved on to the next thing we "love" which gives the impression that love is something that is constantly shifting from one subject to the next. Here today, gone tomorrow, needing ever newer and exciting aspects to keep it going.
In today's world, love is just another word for like. The word gets thrown around so carelessly that in many ways it has lost all meaning. Ask any teenage girl in a relationship and she will probably agree that having your boyfriend say he loves you is the holy grail of high school. I know I obsessively mapped out how and when I wanted all my high school crushes to tell me those 3 little words, and they didn't even know I existed! When you are in your first relationship, those words have power and meaning. You love this person and you will never love anyone else, not ever! You will totally die if they don't love you back, like totally! Then they break up and the next guy is your new love and so on and so on until the word means nothing more than infatuation that never lasts.
My parents were married on March 17, 1973. I always loved hearing the story of how they met. It is such a serendipitous story. The story of when they got engaged is a good one too! I always knew my parents loved each other. I didn't hear them say it often, and I rarely ever saw them kiss, but there was a connection between them that you could see in how they acted towards each other and how they talked to each other. My dad loved my mom and he showed it by going out after a snowstorm to get her a soda from Sonic, before all the roads were cleared. He showed it by stepping in when one of us kids was being disrespectful to her and ending it with his trademarked dad stare. He showed it by sitting on the back porch with her as she talked, always listening but not really listening. Married men know what I am talking about. My point is, there weren't often public displays of affection or star-crossed lover type of behavior, but you could tell they loved each other. Some of my favorite memories of them together include my mom calling my dad a jackass. It was never in a mean or disrespectful way, and she often said it while laughing and turning red. And if she snorted, everyone in the room would start laughing until they too were red in the face. Their love might not have made a great Hollywood blockbuster, but it laid the foundation for a great family.
That kind of love worked well for them, but when I tried to create that same system for my husband and me, it didn't work out. It should be obvious that different couples show their love differently, but the obvious often escapes me. It wasn't until recently, while planning out this post, that it occurred to me that love isn't one size fits all. A loving relationship looks different for different couples. The way of loving between my parents is going to be different for others. Therefore, the question "What is love" will never be just one answer.
A lot of people who don't know God think of him as a wrathful man in the sky just waiting for someone to fail so he can dish out punishment. Yes, there was a lot of punishment in the old testament, but that was always due to the sin someone participated in. God didn't cause those bad things to happen, they were the consequences of our actions. I see God as pure love. When a kid wants to ride a bike without a helmet, what do you do? You can say no until you are blue in the face, but unless you watch that kid at all times, eventually he will have an opportunity to ride his bike without a helmet. You can tell him it is a bad idea and that he will get hurt, but sometimes, the only way to learn a lesson is to suffer through the consequences. The boy falls off his bike and gets hurt. You didn't cause the bike accident or the pain to his head, he did. You love your kid, but sometimes you have to watch them make bad decisions, be there to kiss the boo boo, and hope that they learned what not to do. That is how I see God, he is just our heavenly father trying to tell us that we will get hurt, watching us fall, and praying we learned our lesson.
So, what does this have to do with loving our spouse or each other? Well, if God is love, then it makes sense we need only to look to Him for our answers. We need to start by dismissing the idea that love is a feeling. Many people think of love as the quickening of your heart or your knees going weak. That is infatuation. That is the excitement of something new and different. I get that when I hike to the top of a mountain and see the view, and trust me, I don't love hiking up a mountain, so it is definitely not an indicator of love. We also need to stop thinking that love is when someone does something for you or buys you something. There are plenty of domestic violence survivors who can tell you that. I recently asked people what their definition of love is. Only one got back to me with an answer (the rest of y'all are on lavender cross probation, FYI), but the answer she gave was a good one. She described love as a supernatural gift from God. I love that answer! It is so perfect! Supernatural is out of this world, unbelievable, mysterious, epic, and a bunch of other words! And let's face it, sometimes that fact that we manage to live with our loved ones without killing them is in itself, incredibly supernatural.
So what is love? How do you show it? Honestly, I am still working it out. To quote Edison, "I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work". But I do know what love isn't. It isn't a fairytale or a romance novel or a feeling. Infatuation, lust, desire, those are feelings. So far what I have learned about love, at least in my relationship, is that love is a choice. It is knowing all the bad, ugly, imperfect parts of someone and still choosing them anyway. It is waking up each day and making a conscious decision to put that person before yourself and to stay by them not only when life is good, but also when life is unbearable. Unfortunately, most people continue to build their ideas of love around pop culture, and it creates a society of people who never move past the teenage view of what love is. I don't know if we will ever really know what love is, especially in this world, but sometimes the process of elimination is the only way to get the answer.