Google the definition for love and get ready to spend a long time reading. Everybody seems to have their own definition and I remember something from my childhood: Love hearts with the words “Love is”, followed by some quaint saying…like “bringing her coffee in bed” or something equally silly and meaningless, everywhere. The yellow heart dangling from my mother’s car’s rear view mirror is indelibly etched into my mind.
Even Mirriam Webster, usually concise in defining words, produced a whopper:
Definition of love (Merriam Webster online dictionary)
- a (1) : strong affection for another arising out of kinship or personal ties maternal love for a child (2) : attraction based on sexual desire : affection and tenderness felt by lovers (3) : affection based on admiration, benevolence, or common interests b : an assurance of affection
- warm attachment, enthusiasm, or devotion
- the object of attachment, devotion, or admiration b a beloved
- unselfish loyal and benevolent concern for the good of another: such as (1) : the fatherly concern of God for humankind (2) : brotherly concern for others b : a person’s adoration of God
- a god (such as Cupid or Eros) or personification of love
- an amorous episode
- the sexual embrace
- a score of zero (as in tennis)
- capitalized, Christian Science: God
The Greek scholars identified four different forms of love, which we are quite familiar with:
Agape: Considered the highest form of love, it’s an unconditional love that sees beyond the outer surface and accepts the recipient for whom he/she is, regardless of their flaws, shortcomings or faults, the way God loves us.
Storge: A kind of family and friendship love, a nurturing love relationship, as between parents and children, without which we don’t bond. Children who grew up without the nurturing love of their parents, for whatever reason, have a life-long struggle to form healthy, lasting relationships.
Eros: The passionate and intense love that arouses romantic feelings; the kind that often triggers “high” feelings in a new relationship, which is simply an emotional and sexual love and often mistaken for what is nothing but sheer lust.
Phileo: An affectionate, warm and tender platonic (brotherly) love, the kind we strive for as a body.
Then there’s the Bible. Depending on the version you read, you will encounter the word “love” between 310 (King James Version) and 551 (New International Version) times. We know and love the verses about God’s love, we exhort each other to love Him, ourselves and each other by quoting beautiful passages and we cling to these when our lives go pear-shaped – as we very well should.
There’s 1 Corinthians 13: 4,5: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” (NIV) often quoted at weddings and verses like Isaiah 49: 15, 16, a personal favourite of mine: “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast and have no compassion on the child she has borne? Though she may forget, I will not forget you! See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are ever before me.” (NIV) that brings healing and encouragement when you feel rejected or abandoned.
As someone with a huge mountain of family-of-origin issues, someone who has suffered rejection, abandonment, betrayal and emotional pain, I have never been comfortable with being loved. It has never been easy, or natural, for me to allow people close enough to love on me and thus I have struggled to love in return. Many have told me how much they loved me, just before, during or just after they have committed the gravest damage, injustice or betrayal against me. I have been accused of being loveless and cold and I have accepted my “inability” to love as fact. The problem was that I was (and is, and will be) dealing with people who have their own definition and expectation of what love is and who will be evaluating me against their own units of measurement. That I will be falling short, is a given. The only question is how far short I will fall. I bet you, dear reader, that you are in exactly the same boat. What are we to do?
A lie that we need to put to death, is the lie that we are not capable of loving…Love Himself resides in us, we are indeed new creations and we are created in the image of Love, after His kind. For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid, but gives us power, love and self-discipline. (2 Timothy 1:7 NIV)
So…how do we love and how can we tell that we are loving? I am going to borrow the answer from one of my favourite authors, Ann Voskamp. In her book, The Broken Way, she writes that love is sacrifice. How do you know you love? When you are prepared to sacrifice…it’s when you can say “I am what I love and I will love you like Jesus, because of Jesus, through the strength of Jesus. I will love when I’m not loved back. I will love when I’m hurt and disappointed and betrayed and inconvenienced and rejected. I simply will love, no expectations, no conditions, no demands. Love is not always agreement with someone, but it is always sacrifice for someone.”
So how will I love you? I will take that phone call when I’d rather be taking a nap. I will bake that cake, buy that gift, send that email. I will wash that car, take out that rubbish, make that cup of tea; when everything in me screams about the injustice done to me, I will sacrifice my ego, deny my aching heart, lay down my right to hold you accountable and surrender my will, my needs and my comfort. That is the sacrifice I will make and that is how I will love.
I will do it even when you don’t recognise that it’s costing me something, when you don’t applaud or thank me, when you never offer me a cup in return, when I never hear you say how well I’ve done and I will do it after you have betrayed me, hurt me, rejected me and disappointed me. I will do it because Jesus did it for me, long before I had any awareness of Him, because He is doing it for me daily and because He gives me what I need to keep doing it.
How will you love me?