|Photo by Tim Hamilton|
On this Valentine’s Day, a holiday fraught with angst for both the coupled and the hitch-less, everyone’s talking about, thinking about, longing for love. “What a person desires is unfailing love…” (Proverbs 19:22a, NIV). And according to a dear, wise friend of mine, who usually expresses it while ruffling up the facial fur of some small animal, “Everything needs to be loved!”
That reminded me of certain popular song lyrics, which got me thinking about modern music, which I figured (by reflecting on my own listening experience) is by and large about love. I like quoting statistics—I think it makes me look savvy and scholarly—so I Googled the question, “What percentage of pop music is about love?” Here’s what I learned:
“A study by SUNY Albany psychology professor Dawn R. Hobbs found that ‘approximately 92 percent of the 174 songs that made it into the [Billboard] top 10 in 2009 contained reproductive messages’.” (blog.syracuse.com)
Love songs aren’t actually about love! They’re mostly about sex.
I think the majority of people reading this are canny enough to recognize that sex and love are not the same thing. In a perfect world they’re symbiotic, but not synonymous.
So if we live in a culture that’s couching (“couching”—get it? See what I did there? Bwah-ha-ha!) sexual gratification as the ultimate expression of love, it probably behooves us to give some thought to what love actually is, as opposed to what Brittany, Beyonce, and Bieber say it is.
One thing real love is NOT is a noun.
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7)
Love is a verb. Love is an adjective. Love is a behavior. And it applies equally to any relationship, be it with a spouse, a parent, a child, a sibling, a friend, or an acquaintance.
Love is patient and kind.
One morning on his way out the door my friend’s husband asked her a stupid question. I don’t know what the question was, but she declared to me the full, flagrant, raging idiocy of its content. Maybe she’d just answered it two minutes before, but he wasn’t listening. Maybe any third-grader could’ve sorted out the solution if she gave it the briefest amount of thought. Maybe it was the same thing he’d asked her six times in the last week.
Whatever his query, the first response that tried to spring from her tongue like Michael Phelps off a diving board was snarky, sarcastic, and just plain mean. The second answer that came to her was only marginally nicer. So she turned to the wall, clenched her jaw, and breathed until her brain could come up with a gentle and kind response.
Love is not jealous or boastful.
In Humility, one of the best books ever published (IMHO), Andrew Murray writes, “The humble person feels no jealousy or envy. He can praise God when others are preferred and blessed before him. He can hear others praised and himself forgotten, because in God’s presence he has learned to say with Paul, ‘I am nothing’ … The soul that has done this, and can say, ‘I have lost myself in finding you,’ no longer compares itself with others.’”
Competition used to be an elephantine presence in my marriage. Friends refused to play board games with us, because they feared for the emotional and psychological safety of all involved. Recently Hubby and I also had to stop playing Scrabble before bed, because one or the other of us would win, which meant the other would lose, and there was no love crossing over the pillowcases after that. Ever.
Love applauds another’s victories, and puts aside the egotism that says, “Me first. Me tops. Me at the expense of all and everyone else.”
Love is not arrogant or rude.
A wise woman I know often says to me, “We are given discernment not to criticize, but to pray”. (You have, perhaps, rightly discerned that I tend toward being a smidge critical.) Discernment is the ability to make accurate judgments. In the spiritual sense, it suggests a supernatural element to the ways a person might know something that in any natural, logical sense they shouldn’t be able to know. But even in the practical, physical world, we all discern things, good and bad, about other people:
“She’s selfish to the core.”
“He wouldn’t tell a lie to save his life.”
“Pretty sure he’s got a mental disorder.”
“She has no self-confidence at all.”
|Photo by i k o|
Love uses such wisdom and knowledge to uplift, protect, and encourage others. Arrogance and incivility use what we know to tear people down. It’s as simple as that.
Love does not insist on its own way.
This is where love gets down in the dirt. It abandons its rights.
Love chooses to care more about the relationship than about the wrecked car or the broken window or the forgotten birthday or the perceived offense.
Love chooses to care more about the person than the mess they made or the quality of their work or their bad decisions or their character flaws.
Love chooses to care more about the future than about the past; about perseverance than about pleasure; about intimacy than about expedience.
Love sacrifices in ways that cause it real discomfort, inconvenience, pain, sorrow, and hardship. It concerns itself with the good of the other, and the good of the relationship, and for the hope of what could be, and for the integrity of keeping its promises.
It says, "I’m sorry,” even when it thinks the other person should be sorrier. It says, “I forgive you,” when the offense feels unforgiveable. It says, “I will not abandon you.”
Love is not irritable or resentful.
If you read Grumpy, Growly Grizzly Bears, you know that it took Hubby and me a long, long time to learn to work with, rather than against, each other’s nocturnal/diurnal tendencies. Believe me, I resented him PLENTY for sleeping in when the kids were teeny-tiny and they got their busy, needy little days started by 5:00 a.m.
|Photo by Marcus Rahm|
I couldn’t believe that didn’t elicit a response from Rip Van Winkle.
Later that day we made up, and both apologized for our part in the contretemps.
“I’m sorry for what I called you,” I told him.
“When did you call me something?” he asked.
“When I left the bedroom this morning.”
He started laughing.
“What’s so funny?” I asked him.
“I didn’t hear you because I yelled something at you at the exact same time.”
He never would tell me what he called me, but I bet it wasn’t, “Darling.”
All that irritation and resentment above? That’s NOT love. Just so we’re clear.
Love does not rejoice about wrongdoing, but about the truth.
|Original Photo by Angela Mabray|
“Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.”
That’s a huge, wild, unparalleled lie. There’s no justification for celebration if we think we’ve won a battle by decimating the person we say we love.
“You’re an idiot.”
“Why can’t you be more like Tom (or Jane or Bill or Sarah…)?”
“Can’t you do anything right?”
If you’ve ever heard words like these from someone important to you—a parent, friend, spouse—I bet that same stab of heartbreak shot through your stomach when you read it above.
Words are potent. “The tongue has the power of life and death, and those who love it will eat its fruit” (Proverbs 18:21).
We must speak truth over our relationships, and seek truth in our relationships, even if it’s painful truth:
“I don’t like what happened.”
“This hurts me.”
Argument is not a Biblical concept. Debate and rhetoric are not scriptural mandates for resolving conflict. Anger is intended to flag injustice, not serve as a defensible lifestyle. If you don’t believe me, do your own concordance research. I’ll recant if I’m wrong on this.
|Original Photo by Angela Mabray|
Love edifies with its words and rejoices when both parties win.
Another version of this passage reads, “If you love someone you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost” (1 Corinthians 13:7a TLB). In other words, you defend her when others dishonor her. You look out for her best interests, emotionally, physically, psychologically, and financially. And this loyalty is also reflected by the “in sickness and in health” piece in the marriage vows.
I once overheard someone say that she and her husband had agreed that if either of them developed a chronic, debilitating illness, the other was sanctioned to get a divorce and continue his or her life unencumbered.
That sounds so… selfless. So freeing. So fair-minded.
But it’s so, so wrong.
What good is love if it only operates on sunny days? How “free” can one feel in a relationship, if it’s clear that other person is only obligated to stay as long as it’s easy and pleasant to do so? “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:3 NIV). You may think you’d take a bullet for someone you love, but would you abandon your dearest life dream in his best interest? Would you sacrifice a financial gain? Would you accept a lifestyle or situation that is less than you think you deserve?
Love trusts, hopes, and perseveres.
Has anyone not heard the story of Hachi? Every day this dog met his person at the Shibuya train station in Japan. When the man died at work of a heart attack, and never got off the train again, Hachi posted himself at the station and waited there for nine years, until his own death. (If you can read this book or watch this movie without crying, you are an ice-hearted, soulless, cardboard-cutout of a human being.)
Was Hachi foolish for wasting his life that way?
Should he have cut his losses and gone home with some other person who did get off the train?
Did he prove nothing except that dogs are loyal to the point of stupidity?
If so, why do we love Hachi so? Why does his story make us want to go back in time and feed him and take him into our homes and give him the love he lost?
I think it’s because we all want that kind of love. Love that never quits, that hangs onto hope and faith and honor. Love that remembers.
I hope you have that kind of love in your life today. But even more, I hope we all learn how to be that kind of love to the people in our lives.
What better Valentine’s Day gift could we ever give?
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