(A letter to Ron)
Love is more than receiving or giving to receive. But what does love look like? I like the idea of having a working definition. So I can know when I’m loving, or only fooling myself.
This is very important. We both want girlfriends. And eventually wives. So how do we love them? How do we love our friends? What about our siblings? Or our coworkers? Or our children (if we ever have them).
Is love just a fuzzy emotion? Or on the flip side, is love just a duty you carry out obediently, and without emotion? i.e. It’s obvious I must love you because I pay attention to your everyday needs. I feed you, I tutor you, I make sure you’re clean…
There’s got to be more to love than doing something unflaggingly, unremittingly and faithfully.
Love is more than a never ending chore. It’s more than making someone’s bed or dolloping out a plate of mash potatoes or helping a poor person with legal forms. Even a lawyer can do the latter! And you can be sure they do it all the time without loving you.
I don’t think you can love without emotion. But having emotion doesn’t mean you have love either, does it? If it did, there would be a lot fewer divorces.
Love has got to be more than a cloud of passion. More than a deep intense feeling that lasts for a while and then evaporates like the morning mist. Even teenagers and sociopaths have romance. But when the romance is gone, so is their love.
Real Love lingers. It’s got staying power. It’s not two ships that pass in the night. Real love involves a long term emotional commitment. And it’s more than loving yourself in disguise.
My definition of love:
It’s hard to define love though we know it when we see it. Throughout the Bible we’re given many examples. We’re shown how to love God, how to love our spouse and even how to love our neighbors and enemies. But few will read the entire Bible. And I’m looking for an over arching principle. Something which spells it out plain and simple. But if my definition doesn’t square with scripture, ignore it!
Love is a Steadfast Devotion to the Other Person’s Well Being.
Love Is Steadfast
A love that’s here today and gone tomorrow is not real love. Love has to be steadfast. It has to have permanency. But healthy love is more than a distant commitment. Even if it’s steadfast.
Does a scientist really love the rats they tube feed every day? Or a caseworker, the adopted child she never met? No. Real love is more than a steadfast commitment that’s detached and telegraphically administered.
Love Involves Devotion
For love to be real, the person must be emotionally committed. They’ve got to be devoted to what it is their loving. And this begs the next question: Where is this devotion going to? Devoted to what?
True love is about the other person’s well being. It cannot be loving yourself in disguise.
Imagine a son who only gets his dad’s approval if he likes the “right” sports. Or if he goes to the “right” college, or talks about the right things, or takes the right job… If the son plays football or goes fishing, dad beams with pleasure. But when the son does something else, his dad is distant and critical.
Does this father love his son? The sad part is he may think so. Sure the dad is steadfast. And no doubt he’s devoted. But what is the object of his love? Is it really his son?
In this case, the father is merely out to make himself happy. Whether he admits it or not, his son is just a prop. And the father uses this prop to love himself in disguise. The dad’s self love becomes obvious when the son stops acting like a mini clone of his. When the son does things the father disapproves of.
For example: how does the father respond when his son takes up knitting, or drops out of college? Is he suddenly less tolerant and more critical? Does he attempt to understand what’s driving his son to do these things? Is there compassion? Or are the son’s actions met with scorn and ridicule?
If the dad is hostile, chances are it’s all about self love. For by asserting himself, the son is now interfering with the father’s wishes. The prop is now a hindrance to what the father really wants. The father is looking after his own well being. And now the son is a threat to it!
True Love Looks After The Other Person’s Well Being
Real love looks after the other person, the object of the love. Even when that person is weak. Even when that person has different strengths and beliefs. Even when that person is WRONG, hurtful, damaged, gay or stupid…
And it’s being emotionally committed to their well being. Whether or not they do what you want them to do.
The Other Person’s Well Being May Differ From Your Plans For Them
But what does it mean to be committed to their well being? I think of my own parents. They wanted what’s right for me. But even into my thirties, they were convinced I was just getting in the way of being the lawyer, teacher and money maker they knew I should be.
To my dad, my wants, desires and personality were all hindrances. Things that needed to be torn down and rebuilt so I could live a full life. And so he would brutally shoot down my plans and try to crush my dreams. This would be followed by great suggestions of his own on how I could be a superstar.
I don’t think he was trying to be mean. He just knew in his heart what was best for me. All I needed was some brutal convincing. All I needed was to move out of his way and let him take over.
Sadly, there are many parents, bosses and friends that behave the same way. They convince themselves that the other person needs a brutal intervention. And so they break you down and try to rebuild you into their own image. And in the process of the break down and rebuilding, these people almost always destroy the good along with the bad.
In most cases, there’s no excuse for being brutal. Healthy love requires you understand the person you’re loving. And when you understand someone, you love them by helping them in the context of their strengths and weaknesses.
It means being careful to uplift them and not to crush them. Even when their own weaknesses seem to get in the way of what we’re so sure they need.
The Bible states it this way: Love is patient. Love is kind. It is not arrogant. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. And Love rejoices in the truth. (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
In most cases we are also to be humble and gentle with each other. We are to bear with one another’s faults and overlook offenses.
There may be exceptions. Sometimes a person’s behavior is destructive. Sometimes the person we love is acting immorally or is a danger to themselves and others.
But even then, action should be taken with the other person’s best interest at heart. (Even if it means calling the police, kicking them out of the house, or throwing them in jail).
If you love someone, you filter what and how you will say things. And you do this in the context of their limitations. Love is not an excuse to be brutal. To be humble and gentle means saying no more and no less than you need to. And always within a framework of what’s best for the other person.
It’s not telling the person everything you’ve always wanted to tell them or sandbagging them with all your frustrations. It’s treating them the way you would want to be treated. If your goal is to beat them down and win the argument, you’re not loving them.
It’s easy to love when the going is good. But what about when there’s conflict? I wish there were easy answers. For me, I ask Jesus almost daily to enlarge my heart. Love is a supernatural thing. It’s not something I can do on my own.
Practical Questions To Ask Yourself To Make Sure You’re Loving
- Is this something the other person needs to hear?
- Is this something they need to hear from me?
- If I could take my own anger and hurt out of the picture, what would be the best way for them to hear what the problem is?
- Given my/their limitations, are there things I should not say because it would overwhelm them, or needlessly hurt them?
- Given my/their limitations, what’s the best method to communicate with them (Phone? Email? Face to Face?)
How can I meet them where they’re currently at and show them love in a way they can understand? (Even if it’s not how I am accustomed to showing love?) For more see info on the 5 Love Languages.