Valentine’s Day. That time of year when the PDA force comes out in full strength. When roses are suddenly cost a million dollars each and every restaurant is booked right up. Red and pink and white and sugar coat every surface in every retail location and my Facebook feed is full of people hating on the commercialism of it all.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I like Valentine’s Day, and I always have. When I was in high school, I would buy flowers for some of my single female friends and hide them in their lockers. It was a small way to show them that they are appreciated. Nowadays, my wife and I still celebrate, we just do it on a different day that week (when reservations are easier to make and the specials are less expensive). I love love, and I hope that never changes.
What has changed for me over the years is my understanding of what love is.
I grew up, like most people my age, with a highly idealized and incredibly narrow view of love. Disney movies showcase that moment of initial attraction, the blossoming infatuation, and the euphoric moment of wedding bells and towering cakes. I feel like 90% of our stories deal with a boy (or sometimes a girl) putting their life and soul into winning the heart of his (or her) beloved.
And then, as soon as they do, the story ends.
Unfortunately, life isn’t like that. Bri and I did not suddenly cease to be as soon as our plane took off for our honeymoon. We’ve had to live through the waxing and waning of romantic infatuation with each other. We’ve had to deal with heartache, victory,betrayal, celebrations, misunderstandings, pain, and joy. And in each of those moments, we’ve had to love each other.
Most of what our culture calls love is really just the intense infatuation that comes at the onset of a new relationship. It’s the uncertain, flirty, intoxicating feeling of “being in love,” where that person overtakes the rest of your life. And this feeling is important! It draws us together and helps us to bond with each other. But is only one kind of love, and a rather shallow, transient one at that.
Real, lasting love is not pretty. It doesn’t always feel good. It is, in a word, sacrifice. It is about always putting someone else above yourself. It can be incredibly easy and romantic, and it can be the hardest, most unsatisfying thing you do.
Love, in the end, isn’t about feelings and emotions. It’s about action. We are called to love God and love each other. This would be impossible if God was asking us to feel something all the time. Instead, He is asking us to always put ourselves second to Him and to others.
This is where English lets us down horribly. We don’t have (or at least, don’t use) the plethora of words that we need to describe love properly. If I say I love pasta, how am I supposed to use that word for the deep bond, emotions, and sacrifice I make for my wife? They aren’t related at all.
My challenge for you this week is to think about love. What do you really mean when you say the word? Do you mean the self-annihilating sacrifice of true love? Or do you mean concern for, infatuation with, enjoyment of, deep attachment to, or preference for something or someone?
If we can start to make these distinctions, maybe we can start making a difference in this world. With the Christian divorce rate nearly the same as the secular, I think we need to better understand what God means when He tells us to love. You can detest someone and still choose to love them. Yet, if we do, perhaps our feelings will change as we treat that person with respect, honour, and real, true love.
Greater love has no one than this: that they lay down their life for their friends.
That is the love that God loves us with.
How do you love your significant other? How do you love your friends? How do you love your God? Is it sacrificial? Or is it shallow?