What is Love?
My parents are moving out of my childhood home. They've lived there since I was 13. It's been a very bittersweet process in helping them prepare for the move as I'm both excited for the next chapter of their lives and sad that they will no longer be a quick 30 minute drive away. In the last days before the house closing, I went over to help clean the house a final time. In doing this my step mom pointed out that I wrote my name (and more) quite a bit underneath my built in vanity. I crawled underneath it to discover things my friends and I wrote in 1996 about allllll the boys we "hearted" or "loved". Childish infatuations obviously, but I was amused at how many times I felt I "loved" someone when I was that young. Clearly I was misusing the word "love", but did I even realize the seriousness of the emotion or why I was so desperately seeking it? I'd wager that the answer is no.
Love. What is love? Where do we learn about love? When do we first feel love? Love can be a lot of things to any one person, so who gets to decide what love is and classify when you actually love someone or something? I found myself pondering these things this morning when I came across a quote/image recently that really touched me in what I would consider to be a darker moment. 'Love is not "if" or "because". Love is "anyway" and "even though" and "in spite of"'. Simply put, it lightened my dark moment and morphed it into one of gratitude and humility.
The bible says in 1 John 4:8 that God is love. He is love. His love is what first created us. Without knowing it as infants, we received God's love. When we accept Jesus as our Lord & Savior, we also accept Christ's love into our hearts. 1 John 4:19 goes on to say, "We love because he first loved us." I believe that His love is demonstrated to us through our parents and family as we first grow to learn what unconditional love is. Hermann Hesse said, “If I know what love is, it is because of you.” I've always loved that quote. Many people throughout our lives influence and shape how we learn to love. Though, safe to say, there is no true unconditional love that compares to the love of the Lord.
So, with a slight understanding of unconditional love, I took some major leaps into one long relationship after another still seeking to fill that piece of my heart that yearned for love. I wanted someone to love me unconditionally because that's what love is, yet I don't know that I could have articulated it during my younger years. A 3 year teenage relationship here, another 3 year relationship after, a 7 year relationship leading into marriage yet ending with divorce, and so on. It's easiest to reflect on oneself, our decisions, and life when looking in the rear view mirror. Then it all makes perfect sense, right?
Divorce humbles people. It's admission to failure. It's admitting defeat. It's not something to be taken lightly nor a decision that is encouraged in the bible. Under certain circumstances though, it can be the best decision especially if the marriage is dangerous or damaging. In my case it definitely humbled my pride, hurt my ego and self confidence, and showed me in the harshest of ways what unconditional love is not. That's me just being real. Excuse the bluntness. However, the bright side of it was that I did learn a lot. I learned a lot during it and even more after it. I rediscovered my relationship with the Lord, who was always present and waiting for me. He was answering my prayers in ways that didn't even make sense at the time. I've learned that God's perfect love is truly all I need and without his love, I cannot truly love others. I learned that love takes a lot of work, a lot of time, and a lot of intentional effort and sacrifice. I was missing some of that myself and didn't realize that it's not the other person's job to make me happy.
As my new life post divorce began, I dove deep into reading and studying books about relationships & marriage. I was passionate and inspired by every word I read, soaking in the advice and information. Why had I never picked up a book about marriage before? Why had I not sought resources to prepare me for such a MAJOR commitment when I would certainly spend the time to study for an exam that I wanted a perfect score on. Was it pride that I could get things right on my own or just shear ignorance on the topic? Probably a little of both!
The things I read seem simple enough and sometimes should be common sense (note I said *should* be). The information spoke to me and filled my heart. It makes me feel good, positive, alive, hopeful, rejoicing in faith and love itself when I read these types of books. I felt determined to get it right if and when I ever get married again. But, the power of it all is that I learned to apply it to my life and relationships that I have now. Over the last four years I've managed to fit in reading over 20 books about marriage, how to love and treat a spouse, how submission is a biblical idea and honored in marriage, how we are to serve each other. These were things I was missing before. These were things my pride would not allow me to do...until I was broken and picking up the pieces. I'm not throwing out the number of books to demonstrate that I've perfected myself or brag that I've got it all figured out. I don't. I am human and I make mistakes. I have great days of loving generously and intentionally. I have not so great days where I feel selfish and prideful because my feelings get hurt somehow. I'm just a normal person trying to get it right and start over each day hoping it will be a better day than the day before. One foot in front of the other, no matter how small of a step, is still a step in the right direction.
The power in studying the Word of God is that It repetitively tells us what love is and how to love others. The power of studying any one topic is that you become an expert in that topic, the message begins to stick with you and you can remember to apply it. In this case for me, it's about love, respect, and marriage. Do I get it right each time? Nope. Do I remember immediately how to apply this knowledge? Not always. However, there have been countless times that I do remember what to do and thus not react by instinct to what feels right to protect my pride & selfishness, but to serve and show love to the other person. I am grateful for this. Sometimes I even remember AFTER the fact and AFTER I have spouted off with some negative and hurtful remark or AFTER I have shut down emotionally and walled a person out. That's when humility kicks in, I remember what I should* have done, and have to admit wrong doing and apologize. Apologizing isn't easy for anyone, but the truth is that if you "win" an argument with your loved one then no one is truly "winning" and apologizing is the quickest way to repair damage.
All of the books I've read have had a significant impact on me, and I'll touch on varying topics from those books in later posts I'm sure. For now I would like to make a note that the book that really cued in my "ah ha!" moment was Sacred Marriage by Gary Thomas. He posed the question, "What if God designed marriage to make us holy more than to make us happy?" The book took me on a journey that shared some similar points on how to love in marriage, but also made the point that a covenant marriage is reflective of God's covenant love for us. The more we study and strive to become Christlike (loving, patient, kind, forgiving, holy, prayerful, etc.), the more we act lovingly to our spouse and serve them as Christ does. Powerful revelation to me.
The things I learned about love from my many readings are not all inclusive, nor ranked in any particular order of importance, nor from any one source...just summarized briefly below:
- Love is selfless, putting others before your own happiness and to think - "What can I do to make them happy today?"
- Love is a choice, every single day. Choose to love as soon as you wake up.
- Love is intentional. Seek out ways to make your loved one feel good, secure, and fulfilled.
- Love is a partnership. You are on the same team working on united goals. If you're not, realign your goals together.
- Love is a covenant. It is a promise to work at loving the other person how they need to be loved.
- Love is patient. Patience can be hard in certain moments for anyone, but if you can remember that the other person is good-willed and they are not intentionally trying to offend or hurt you, then it is easier to remain patient.
- Love is sacrificing. In a good way! We are made to serve others and that's why it can feel so good in our hearts when we do things to help others.
- Love is a safe haven to be yourself and trust your person will keep your faults private while building you up to others as your #1 cheerleader.
- Love is forgiving. Forgive people. Always forgive. Holding on to hurt will only damage yourself and the relationship more. Christ forgives us daily, so we are to forgive others.
- Love is affectionate. I believe relationships will wither without touch and affection. Hug each other, kiss each other, hold hands.
- Love is always wonderful and sometimes hurtful. It just happens that way. The ones we love the most often hurt us the most. (So forgive!)
'Love is not "if" or "because". Love is "anyway" and "even though" and "in spite of". Bingo!
Knowing I'll likely reference the books I've read in future posts, I'm going to create page dedicated to the books I've read. For now if you're interested in reading the one I mentioned above you can click on it below.