Friday, April 6, 2012

Do I know how to love?

Do I know how to love?


How do I know I'm loved? 

Lets stop for a second are think about these questions. Really think about what answers do we have?

Is it about what someone does for/to me? Gives me presents on my birthday, helps me out when I have problems with my car, or helps me move? Perhaps more substantially, do they help out financially or emotionally during times of trouble?

Is it someone who is family, and so blood and marriage unite?

Do I have to feel emotionally or physiologically attracted to the person? Is love how Hollywood portrays it, or even as we think of it during an era like the 1950s?

Is it about being there in sickness and in health? Someone who never leaves and remains dedicated and committed?

Is it about honesty and trust?

What makes me feel like I am loved?
What do I do that demonstrates that I know how to love?

Do I know how to give of myself in ways that others understand and appreciate?

What do I do that allows my wife to know that she is loved?

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Interestingly, I answer a lot of the above questions by noting love may demonstrate itself in those ways but is not any of those examples in and of themselves. Love definitely cannot be forced or coerced.

For instance, I may buy my wife gifts or take her out to dinner to express my love for her, but those acts are not love in and of themselves. I could be doing them with another intention in mind (and to clarify - I do those things because I DO love her, not because of other instances). Gary Chapman's book The 5 Love Languages does a good job of illuminating how we each are unique in the way that we perceive love in gifts, words, touch, and other ways. Yet, even the tools in his book can be embraced in two ways, for the sake of the other person, or for use toward my own selfish ends.

Can love be selfish or self-interested? 

In the romantic comedy  Crazy Stupid Love  the dating game is portrayed in an interesting contrast of a self-interested search with true love. Early on, the characters look for relationships based on what they get out of it. Ryan Gosling's character is a player, who is dating for selfish purposes, not for love. Yet, love ultimately is realized in his life and it changes his entire outlook at dating, relationships, and life. Similarly, Steve Carrell and Julian Moore and the other characters also struggle with love of others, and self, in the movie. It does seem love of others and self are often at odds, or at least conflicting in some manners in our lives.

Let me put it another way. Love is self-limiting. I do not love someone else because of what I get out of it. A loving relationship is not based on a transactions. I do not do something for you in order that you do something for me. This is not love, it is a business arrangement or social contract. I believe part of the reason divorce rates are so high is that individuals have already separated a mutual life together into two lives based on their perceived benefits. (Not all divorces, but definitely is a factor in many!) Nations are built on social contracts in which people give power over for security, peace, and trust. But are nations built on love? Love is so much more than simply these other aspects of life.

When attending a wedding, we often hear a portion of 1 Corinthians 13 read aloud.

"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 Cor 13:4-7)

There is something much deeper than a transactional model of love being spoken of in this passage. In a way, these ideals more character virtues than morals.

Is love an ethic, or something more?

Perhaps the above passage presents love as less about what is gained out of relationships, and more about simply being in relationship with another for their sake (or mutual sake). When I am patient, I realize that the other person perhaps does not yet realize my expectations (like being late to dinner with friends). In each and every one of the items in the list above, it is a placing of another person above myself without jeopardizing the uniqueness of either individual. The Bible elsewhere speaks of love covering a multitude of sins (1 Peter 4:8) and even Jesus speaks of Loving God and loving your neighbor as yourself as the greatest commandment of the Torah (Matt 22:37, Mark 12:30).

Love is what life is about, unless you are an ethical egoist.

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote, "Because Jesus Christ is the incarnate love of God for human beings, he is therefore not the announcer of abstract ethical ideologies but the concrete performer of God's love..." (p. 90, I want to Live These Days With You, Bonhoeffer)

This leads to all kinds of meaning in our lives. Many, many people of many different faiths (and of no faith) become so obsessed with an ethical ideal that they lose sight of the "concrete performer" of love. I truly believe this is not to be the case in life, but rather that we are to do what is loving. The church is splintered into many different denominations (and individual churches) that endlessly debate abstract, or universal, ethics while missing the driving point of love.

The question, in any situation, is whether the action is responsible and loving, and not whether it is right or wrong.

Many people cannot come to grips with this. We judge and attempt to control others actions through ideologies and systems. We fail to submit to each other in marriage and other relationships. We forget that the point is not success or achievement, but in living together. Not all will agree with such statements, and will in fact exploit those who do attempt to live lovingly. But if we love, such actions and times are to be persevered through;  it is a better way. Or, in response to accusations that love is not practical in a world of selfish people, "So what?" Do we compromise love at the expense of something else? Love is not at odds with justice nor mercy, but is the very substance binding them together.

How do I know I'm loved?

When I realize that others choose to be with me for who I am, not what I do, do not, believe or not believe.

When I am not judged and reduced into a transactional relationship.

When I trust God, and others, in what they say. Because they continue to be with me.

Do I know how to love? Do I love others and God?

I try. I many not have it all figured out, but I try.

I try to be present to others for their sake.

I try to let others be themselves and simply be with them; to not place an ethical ideal, worldview, doctrinal statement, or other criteria above relationship.

In this trying, what I really mean is I yield myself to the other person, giving up all pretenses of control or transaction.

This is possible (but a topic of another post) because of God and how God has already loved us.

We are loved! I am loved. I can love. We can love.




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