It dawned on me the other day that I don’t actually know what love is. What does it mean to ‘love’ someone, what do you do when you ‘love’ someone? How would they know that you love them?
A baby latches onto the first source of food and comfort they find. They understand that the fragrant, warm, secure blobby thing above them from which milk is secreted can bring them happiness. A little child knows that this blobby thing is their mother, eventually their father too, and they build a relationship with their parents. They don’t fully realise that the reason why they burst into tears at the school gates, watching the red lights of the family car vanishing far into the distance, is because they love their parents and don’t want to see them go.
Love gets more complicated when you’re older. Suddenly, it’s not just your parents that you love, but your friends. Sometimes teachers, eventually you’ll grow in love with someone who isn’t related to you. All different feelings, manifestations, decisions and contexts, with one word to describe them all.
A word used too freely. I have members of my extended family that I am not close to; some I’ve only met a couple times. Sometimes I don’t get on well with them at all. But then, I’m expected to say that I ‘love’ them, immediately, on the first meeting. People generally say that they ‘love’ their siblings, but they don’t ‘like’ them. What does this mean? It’s a cliche that people use on the assumption that everyone knows what they’re talking about. Another one is ‘loving someone is not the same as being in love with someone’. Words and adages and riddles; they mean nothing to me.
I spoke to my dad about it yesterday. My dad and I talk a lot about these things. I’ve told him when I’ve fancied someone, or had relationship drama, and vented to him about the odd ways of men and women in the church. I asked him how he knew he had been in love with my mum. He was honest: “it’s indescribable”, he said “but there’s a difference when you love someone as a Christian. It’s no longer ‘I fancy him, I fancy her’; emotions can’t be the main part of it. You learn to love Christ first; you experience His love for you; then you learn to love other people”.
I think it’s the best explanation I’ve heard about ‘love’. It cannot be explained in a few words or actions. It’s a verb and a noun and an adjective; it’s a decision you make–you decide to love someone and stay with them and accept them for their faults and their good sides–and yet it’s a word that rouses emotion: anger, joy, arousal, desire. It can trigger hate; people kill others over their love for someone else; people kill themselves because they love someone else…
Christ killed Himself, didn’t he? He sacrificed himself, lived a life of persecution and completed his task on the cross out of love for people who to this day give him nothing in return. That’s why love is so hard to understand; because to love someone means to make sacrifices. It means you put yourself on the line: you give up your time, defer your personal happiness to make someone else happy and safe. You compromise and give without expecting anything else in return.
He that loveth not knoweth not God; for God is love.
1 John 4:8
I’ve been praying for God to teach me how to love truly and earnestly; to be willing to make sacrifices and care for people as I should, not just as a Christian, but as someone who has morals. I know from the text above that love comes from God first, and more importantly that ‘love’ is something I’ll never fully understand…
…because to understand ‘love’ is to understand ‘God’.