And now for the post I meant to write on Valentine’s Day …. Not long ago, a friend of mine tossed one of those questions that makes for a fascinating discussion at me, and some of our mutual friends. “What is love?” People have been trying to define and describe love time out of mind. While I had to admit that I really don’t know what love is, attempting to answer her question gave me a better idea of what I think it is. Two quotations immediately came to mind.
“Love is not a feeling; it’s an act of your will.” For a while, I had forgotten the source of this line – but it came back to me just yesterday. It’s from a song by Christian folk singer Don Francisco. In the eighties, my parents had a tape by him – may even have had more than one – and this song stood out to me, even as a child. Here’s the song, with lyrics …. If you can get beyond the cheesy line about Jesus not dying for you because it was fun, you will find that the song has a deep meaning. As Christians (that is, Christ-followers), we are called to love as Jesus loved. Jesus didn’t just say “I love you”, he lived and died it. He bled it. He wrote it in the invisible but powerful ink of excruciating, dehumanizing pain, large and loud enough that we still hear the echoes more than two thousand years later. (Whether you believe that Jesus Christ was real and did what the Bible says he did, or you think it’s a myth, the beauty of the story is undeniable.)
Jesus’ version of love is doing, whether you feel it or not. This is a concept that helps me daily. No, I don’t always feel love. Sometimes, I feel nearly its opposite – even for the three people I believe I love dearly, and for whom I would take any number of bullets. Love, in hard times, becomes my choice. My choosing to respond with kindness when someone is being a jerk. My choosing to show patience when someone is leaning on my last nerve. My choosing to give hour number two of listening when I maxed out during hour number one and I’ve heard it before anyway. My choosing to sacrifice what I desire in order to help someone else, when what I’d really like to do is tell that person to go play in traffic, and sit on my ass with a glass of wine and a good book …. That, to me, is my love in action. Yes, I say all the right words, because I feel them and because I believe my family needs to hear them – but anyone can do that. It is in those rubber-meets-the-road moments, those times when the feeling of love is losing its glow – that’s when love ceases to be feelings and words, and solidifies.
The other quotation is this one: “You have had too much therapy. Or not enough. God knows how to love, Kiddo. The rest of us are only good actors.” This comes from a wonderful book I have read about a dozen times, “The Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood” by Rebecca Wells. When we say we love someone, and we do all the things we believe love requires, and we commit to that person for a lifetime …. We are still incapable of the perfect mercy, kindness, empathy – and endless forgiveness – of God. Because we are only human. We will say and do the wrong things – and sometimes we won’t even know what the right things are. Sometimes, our resolve to choose love will falter, and we will act in ways that are unkind, ungenerous and even cruel. If we understand that about ourselves and others, we will be more gentle with ourselves and others. We will offer forgiveness instead of resentment. And, in the absence of the bitterness that hardens us, love will be able to grow and mature.
So, I love Ryan, Fiona and Bridget – and many others – by choice. It is an act of my will to give these people the gift of my imperfect attention and service and care – and I have the best of intentions, I really do. But I will fail them again and again, because I’m so far from being God, the perfect lover. My friends and family, though they know this, return their imperfect love to me. And, somehow, it keeps the wheels turning in the vast and beautiful mill that is life ….
And then there’s the picture at the top of this post …. I went searching for images of love, and Google came up with this one (along with hundreds of others, of course).Two snowmen, so small that they would go unnoticed by most larger creatures, lumpy-headed and cock-eyed and wobbly-grinned, reaching out to each other with the gift of love …. They know, deep in their frozen little hearts, that they’re not getting out of this alive – because none of their kind does. They know that someday they’ll be nothing but a damp spot on the ground, and the little paper heart will be trampled or blown away or both. But they’re doing it anyway. And so are we.