Friday, February 15, 2013

Love is… like, a feeling. Or something.

Now that Valentine’s Day is over and we can breathe a sigh of relief that we’ve gotten through it unscathed, what with all the pressure of showing love and buying love and complaining that shouldn’t we love every day of the year and WHY DO VALENTINE’S DAY CARDS COST TWICE AS MUCH AS ALL OTHER CARDS, let’s talk about Love.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the love scriptures recited at a wedding (1 Corinthians 13, NLT):

If I could speak all the languages of earth and of angels, but didn’t love others, I would only be a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.   If I had the gift of prophecy, and if I understood all of God’s secret plans and possessed all knowledge, and if I had such faith that I could move mountains, but didn’t love others, I would be nothing. If I gave everything I have to the poor and even sacrificed my body, I could boast about it; but if I didn’t love others, I would have gained nothing.

Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proud or rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out. Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.

Prophecy and speaking in unknown languages and special knowledge will become useless. But love will last forever! Now our knowledge is partial and incomplete, and even the gift of prophecy reveals only part of the whole picture! But when the time of perfection comes, these partial things will become useless.

When I was a child, I spoke and thought and reasoned as a child. But when I grew up, I put away childish things. Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity.  All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.

Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.

I remember thinking, jeez.  Love is all that?  I thought it was, you know, how you felt about someone.  Like  bringing them flowers and saying I love you and kissing and hugging and all that crap.

I was a kid at the time, okay?  Okay, technically I was almost an adult.  Okay.  I was like, 18.  Okay.  19.

Anyway, what is love?  What does it look like?  Merriam-Webster online dictionary says that it is “strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties,” and “attraction based on sexual desire: affection and tenderness felt by lovers” (lovers emphasized, which makes me giggle – it’s just one of those words that brings out the 12-year-old in me) and “affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests.”  That last one is thrilling.

A fabric-covered American College Dictionary that I've got (published in 1951, it’s like an old friend who sits nearby and defines superdreadnought but not chillax) says that love is “a strong or passionate affection for a person of the opposite sex.”  Whoa.  Settle down there, American College Dictionary.  Don’t hurt yourself.

In the movie Love Story, Ali MacGraw and Ryan O’Neal famously said that “Love means never having to say you’re sorry,” which is stupid.  It kind of makes me want to scream a little.  I feel like love is most definitely not “never having to say you’re sorry,” because never having to say you’re sorry is selfish and frankly, just rude.  And rudeness does not equal love.  It says so right there in the Bible.

On Valentine’s Day, love looks like this in my house:

Every other day, it looks like this:

And this:

But these are just approximations of love.  The only pure love out there is God.  He made for us the universe, created us, and even gave us earthly love in the form of Jesus, his teachings, and his eventual sacrifice.  He even left us his Word, which tells us everything that we ever want to know about life.  He is patiently waiting for us to spend eternity with him, in total love.

When we love others, God gives us a taste of what love really is, what it's meant to be.  His unending supply of love flows through us at the height of our kindness and feelings of affection for others, but this is just a tiny portion of the love that he has for all of us, every day, all the time.

When we love, we put away our own desires, even if just for a minute.  When we love, we make sacrifices.  We feel joy for another person.  We are happy when they are happy, and share sadness when they are sad.  We lift them up with words and actions, and pray for them even if we don’t tell them we’re praying.  We suspend our own judgments and differences, and affirm them with our words and behaviors. 

I admit that I am not always loving.  I do not always affirm the ones I love.  I fall short of expressing love in favor of judging and complaining.  Pretty often. 

But God is love.  His love covers the parts I leave bare.  I trust that his love will heal the wounds I have made inadvertently, in ignorance, and due to my own sin.  His love is complete, and it conquers everything.