“Love is Not Valentines Day / Candies Cards Kisses / things that when you’re not in love everyone misses / Love is not Anniversaries / Flowers, Reservations, Reminisces / Eh, celebrations of love / Sentimental traditions…”
These are the opening lines of a poem I penned many years ago entitled ” Love is Not”. It is, in my humble opinion, one of the best poems I’ve ever written, and the one of which I am most proud. I still know it by heart and recite it whenever an open mic is suddenly thrust upon me.
The poem invites us to question what love is… which is fun because we use the word ‘love’ for so many things.
I love America.
I love my wife.
I love my dog.
I love pizza.
I love this city.
I love that you think that’s okay.
These are all different emotions and feelings that are being discussed. For most people, saying “I love you” to a friend is very different from texting “ily” to them. This makes communication using the word love as colorful and nuanced and potentially dangerous as any other four letter word. What happens if my friend says they love me and I think they love me like a spouse, and they really just love me like pizza? What happens when someone says they love hanging out with me, and really they mean it like they love their hometown? What if I took it seriously every time someone sent a heart emoji?
Now, most of this can be sorted out through trial and error and learning context clues. Over time, you can master the many definitions and nuances of the word ‘love.’ Well, most of them. All except one.
Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. – 1 Corinthians 13
Sometimes I ask my class if they love their parents. Then I’ll read this verse. Then I ask the question again. Does their love look like this? Do they always bear with their parents? Endure whatever their parents through at them? Do they ever insist on their own way? Do they hold any resentment, or, as some translations put it, keep a record of wrongs? The room gets quiet. Really quiet. But let us not be so quick to judge the teenagers in my class. This is not a teen issue. Human beings don’t love, not really.
You don’t love anyone.
We have all these other definitions for love that give us leeway, a scape goat if you well. Love is not just deep regard, or caring. Love is not an intense ‘like’. All these words are noble feelings, but do not require a commitment of action. When someone says they love us and then cheats on or abuses us, we say they do not love us, even though they still have the same feelings and caring. They may hold us in high regard most, but we want more from love than just feelings. We want action.
When we look deep into the eyes of another person, whether it be a romantic partner, a child or a parent and they say they love us, we imagine this full divine love. We do not imagine that relationship including them being resentful of us when we are more successful than they are, them being impatient when we don’t meet their expectations or do things their way. We think of love as perfect… because we were designed to.
And when we stare into those same eyes and want to give that little person the world, we find ourselves failing to consistently deliver to them that kind of love. The love we believe they deserve. . And so we learn to compromise, to say ‘love’ and to really mean ‘try to love.’ Which leads to confusion and disappointment when we believe our own hype, and we discover that we do not love completely and we are not loved completely by our closest people. This kind of miscommunication is something that will be covered elsewhere on Enterpersonal, but there’s one relationship that is exempt from this phenomenon of compromising a definition and then forgetting you compromised it. That exempt relationship is the vertical one.
God loves you.
The reason this doesn’t blow our minds, get us hype, and start clearing up our breakouts is because we think God loves us like pizza, like America, like His dog. On our best days we think that maybe, because of his goodness, God loves us like our spouses or parents. He really, really likes us, and wants the best for us. But sometimes He just gets so frustrated with us and lashes out, or whatever the dysfunction is from your family structure. So we miss the opportunity to really bask in this incredible truth, so let me say it again.
God loves you.
God isn’t tired of you. Bored of you. God doesn’t love you less at mistake 99 then mistake 2 or 3. God never asks the question our parents do “When will they learn their lesson?” Because God actually loves you, not just comes close. His question is “When will they let me in?” Because He always believes in you. He’s always rooting for you. He is that thing you pretend to be for your significant other but expect from them in entirety. He is that thing you hope to be for your children, but never quite are. He is that thing you imagine your parents were before you learned of their humanity. He doesn’t count the years til you’re out of his house. He can’t wait until you’re in it. See, God actually loves you. No trying, no understandable failure, just…ACTUAL love. The real Mccoy, not substitutes or preservatives.
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins. – 1 John 4:10
When defining and qualifying love, we don’t fit into the Bible’s definition. So when God says he loves us, it has absolutely nothing to do with anything we are capable of!
So perhaps you are concerned because the Bible commands us to love. Love your neighbor as yourself, all that. So perhaps reminding you that you don’t love may make you feel hopeless, or perhaps that I’m contradicting the Bible. So let me wrap up with this:
Beloved, let us love one another because love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. – 1 John 4:7
Just like your righteousness is actually Christ’s Righteousness covering you, your love is actually Christ’s love through you. Only with Christ in you, loving, are you capable of love. A hose cannot shoot anything. It has no mechanism to do so. But if that hose is connected to a water spigot, then I can spray you with the hose, even though the hose itself cannot spray, and does nothing but provide a conduit designed for water to flow through it. Similarly, you cannot love, there is no love in you, you have no mechanism to summon or control love in any way. But you are designed to be a channel of God’s love, and when you are hooked up to Him, you have the chance to actually experience loving someone, and let me tell you, it’s insane.
To suddenly look up and realize you aren’t resentful. To not cut someone off, because you see them for who they really are, warts and all, and not just how they affect you. To have an impossible hope for another human despite your insecurities? To root for them despite theirs? To have no concern over if you’re getting ‘water’ back because you’re connected to the source of water? That kind of freedom, that kind of security, that direct result of actual, true Divine perfect love, well…
I “love” it.