What does that mean to you? When someone uses the word, ‘love’ what pops into your mind?
“Okay, wait a minute. You’ve been keeping me in suspenders since June, wondering where #7 is. Right? This IS the next in the series, “28 Ways To Absolutely NAIL ‘Tremendous’ “, right? You didn’t fall off a bridge, move to an isolated, unmapped island? Become a member of Congress?”
Whenever you’re through . . .
As I began thinking about love – what it is and isn’t – it quickly became apparent I needed to give the matter more prayer and more thought. You’ve heard someone respond to a question by saying, “Well, everybody knows that—-” In other words, the speaker is admitting he hasn’t thought it through and doesn’t know, either.
This isn’t exhaustive nor clinical. It’s a working person’s treatment of something deeply important in our lives we’ve mistreated with disastrous results. My first title was, “Surrender Your Heart”. The more I pondered and prayed, the more I could see that wasn’t a good fit. To love someone else means much more than simply unclenching my self-centered idea of me-ness and letting the other person in . . . “Well, okay–you come my way and fill up my idea of togetherness. I’m letting you in.”
Make sense? “Surrender” just didn’t hack it. Let’s get into it, shall we?
Google says love in noun form is ‘an intense feeling of deep affection.‘ The synonyms are ‘deep affection, fondness, tenderness, warmth, intimacy, attachment and endearment‘.” In verb form, to love is to ‘feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to (someone). The synonyms are ‘care very much for, feel deep affection for, hold very dear, adore, think the world of, be devoted to, dote on, idolize, worship’.”
Merriam-Webster defines love as ‘a feeling of strong or constant affection for a person : attraction that includes sexual desire : the strong affection felt by people who have a romantic relationship’.”
Psychology says love has three components.
- passion – physical desire, sexual behavior and arousal: the PHYSICAL side
- intimacy – closeness, connectedness, warmth of friendship: the EMOTIONAL side
- commitment – decision-making, involving the will: the RELATIONAL side
None of those three pieces stand on their own, nor can any two of the three exist together for long; it takes them all to maintain a healthy, growing relationship
The question was, “When you hear the word, ‘love’, what does that mean to you?”
Maybe it’s more helpful to ask it differently. How about, “When you hear the word, ‘love’, what does it mean to you?”
“I love you” is a living, growing process of expansion and retraction of emotion and relationship. It is no static display piece like your middle school 2nd place trophy for Most Likeable Teacher’s Aide. “Love” is not a fire-and-forget matter that, once established, is in perpetual free flight. Seeing it thus courts trouble.
There IS no such thing as cruise control where loving another person is concerned.
Choosing to love another human being is a matter of the will. A choice. Yet because it is attached to the emotional core of the human heart, it is far more than a mere choice like deciding on a particular brand of garbage bags or which taco chips you prefer.
You’re figuring out, aren’t you, that the word “INVEST” is more than a slick device to draw your attention?
What does love mean?
That depends on you. You are unique in all God’s expansive, exhaustive Creation. Your understanding of love is determined by your life experience. Your grasp of what is love is defined, colored and shaded by your own specific set of experiences with significant people in your life. If those experiences are largely favorable and mostly positive, so will be your idea of love. The reverse is also true.
If you’re older than your coffee cup you’ve felt the wonderful relief of the former and the unexpected sting of the latter.
“I love you” is shaded by voice inflection, facial expression, even volume. “I love you” can have myriad shades of meaning, depending on who says it, why they’re saying it and what your history is with them. Hard-edged glares and harsh words spat in rage have an impossibly-long shelf life. Many who in anger’s moment spoke what was really in their heart have realized too late: a thousand desperate repetitions of “I love you” will not erase the sting of that moment nor the venom so efficiently injected deep in the heart and spirit of another.
Love isn’t something to toy with.
“But can I love again after that? I’m not only willing to forgive that, but also to make what amends I can and move on. See, I’ve been guilty of letting stuff escape my mouth that I’d kept in my heart but had no business saying because I knew all it would do is hurt. But I wanted it to hurt. I wanted to lash out, to be teeth-gritting mad, to scream my fury at somebody. The problem was that somebody was permanently hurt. That somebody who’d been my somebody finally had enough and, suddenly, wasn’t my somebody any more. Though I tried to make up for what I’d left in my heart too long, I could sense it: something real had died and it wasn’t ever coming back.
“Am I damaged goods, here? Do I dare open my armored heart back up again after being hurt like that? And what about those I hurt? What do I do with that?”
The vows say, “for better or for worse”, but never for granted. There’s a reason why we’re told, “Never stop dating your wife and don’t ever stop flirting with your husband.” If you’re culpable in ignoring either part of that, what follows won’t be pretty. The one being ignored, rejected and taken for granted in either case will eventually figure it out. The love you knew, or thought you knew, will die from inattention. It will have starved to death.
Regardless of personality type, nobody likes being taken for granted, used and treated like a fixture. “Oh, he doesn’t mind” or “No, she’s okay with it” is never completely true. Whether soon or late, the realization that it’s been intentional creates lasting impressions and permanent hurt. Reason: don’t expect the user to volunteer to stop. We do not change until it creates more discomfort to stay as we are than to admit the need to change and have the courage to make it happen.
So if what and who you had has been seriously damaged by any or all the above, it can survive–but never again as it was. And the chances are great that it will not. Words, actions, thoughts, attitudes–all can be forgiven. But the breach of trust? Once betrayed, trust will not return as it was.
As adults we must own that our words, actions, thoughts and attitudes are intentional. We can change them. Yet if not changed in time, if harbored beyond the point of common sense, they’ll have caused irreparable damage.
Celebrate what you had, own what you could have done sooner but didn’t, restore as much as lies within you a love in Christ toward the other and walk on with God.
” ‘Kay. So if I’m hearing you right, you’re saying realize what’s happened, admit it, make things right where possible and let go of what isn’t there any longer. But what about from here on? Moving on with life isn’t as easy as it sounds. How do I risk loving or being loved again?”
Excellent. Now you see why this one took a little longer to write. Why I tossed “Surrender” and chose “Invest”.
God says while personal faith and untiring hope rate right up there, love is the absolute greatest commodity in this life (1 Corinthians 13:13).
Paul wrote in Ephesians about the limitless spatial expansion of God’s love (3:17-18); in fact he said the ONLY thing that rates about faith is it being expressed in love (Galatians 5:6), and that the fruit (singular) of God’s Spirit is love (v. 22). In fact, he says to wear love, which makes all the other strong attributes of a winning, winsome life hold together (Colossians 3:14). Yeah–all that other stuff? Compassion, discipline, being quick to forgive–like that? Go ahead and read that passage. It’s informative.
And you remember old John, right? If anybody in this life had a good handle on what God’s like, it’s grizzled ol’ brother John. And he says God IS love (1 John 4:16).
“All right. I hear you saying that, to God, ‘love’ is a seamless thing stretching over every aspect of human life. Right? Not just ‘churchy’ or spiritually-aware people–but all of us?”
Mm-hmmph. God has to do with ALL of life. This whole deal is His. He created it and runs it. A grad school mentor used to often say, “We don’t break God’s laws; we break ourselves on them.”
Love was invented by God. It’s an outpouring of Who He is, of His very nature. There is nothing – not one blessed or unblessed thing – about love God does not get. The few verses of the Bible I gave you ought to give a good sense of how important God sees our understanding and use of love.
To quote a treasured friend, “It’s only EVERYTHING.“
“So you’re saying God’s somehow involved in my relationships? In my bedroom?”
No. He’s not just involved, like some bystander sipping lukewarm Starbucks House Blend and watching you while waiting on the 2:39 bus out to Continental Mall.
He INVENTED love.
God’s very much involved in your relationships. And He’s keenly interested in how you live out love, and how you use it with those in your personal orbit. Listen to His own words: “Love the Lord God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence and energy . . .’ and ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ There IS no other commandment that ranks with these.’ (Mark 12:30-31).
“So-o-o—- So whether I’m religious or not doesn’t matter? God’s always paying attention to how I live and how I’m loving those in my life? Is that what you’re saying?”
That’s what He’s saying. Love in all the dizzying forms we humans give it is first and last a God thing. So, yeah, He’s intensely watchful how we address that in this life.
Much has been made of military vets’ wartime experiences. Makes sense. We’re at war. Jesus said it: “Greater love has no man . . .” (John 15).
“Wait. You can’t be including those snake-eaters, those hard-playing, hard-training, hard-fighting military guys and gals who come back from war tours with their minds all messed up in what Jesus said there?”
He does. Jesus excluded nobody. Naturally, He was talking first to those who were actively following Him. But He knew what He said would be written and there would be no restrictions on who read it. All through the New Testament, the most-often used word we define as ‘love’ is the one that means GOD’S love. Lesson? None of us would have a clue about love, let alone how to live it out, had God not first bathed us all in His.
“But you said all love is God’s love.” Yes, it is. You’re getting it. No matter what we do with it, how we misuse, deform or misapply it, in its original form love comes straight from Him. No one having seen a battle-scarred, dirty, bloody vet kneeling and sobbing before an empty pair of boots and a silent weapon need have any doubt: that’s a depth of connection and love that could only derive from God’s own heart.
To your question again: is it possible to love again in a way that honors God, opening your guarded, mistrusting arms and spirit to anyone again?
Have you ever lost money in an investment?
Were you able to later make other investments?
Of course. Were the later investments made with the same person?
Of course not. You forgave but recognize the importance of ‘counting the cost’ and laying that other person open to the temptation to make the same choices again.
C. S. Lewis wrote, “To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you.” Corrie Ten Boom added, ” Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart.”
We forgive by choice. We are not foolish but wise, learning from our mistakes, also by choice. What you allow is what will remain.
“Then, as part of this list of ways to be TREMENDOUS in this life, what–I don’t know, how does this fit?”
Love by choice. Wisely choose to invest your heart and your affections again, with God’s help learning from past experiences to do it better.
After all, to not love is not an option. People working toward their ‘Tremendous’ merit badge know: it takes a lot of love learning to be Tremendous!
And no matter what your experiences have been, I wouldn’t take a chance on trying to reach where God is without honestly loving others.
© D. Dean Boone, August 2014