“Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does. Love is a battle; love is a war; love is a growing up.” – James Baldwin
I think we need more love educators in our culture. I think our understanding of what love is has been so watered down and corrupted over the years that what we need is a total overhaul of the way we are teaching the curriculum. I mean what is the curriculum any way? You think about how kids learn about love and their own experiences with people who say they love them, and you begin to realize that there is no small wonder that anyone has any healthy relationships at all.
So by the time we reach our 20s and are making big decisions about love, relationships, marriage, friendships, etc., we are operating on false premises and completely untrustworthy data. We have been inundated with TV and movies that give mixed messages – not that we can entirely blame media and entertainment like we tend to do, because anyone with half a brain should be able to reason that these things are FICTIONAL and limited in their ability to relate complex concepts and relationships.
We have also been disappointed by the people who claim to love us. At best, our parents try to be models of love and commitment and give us environments that are supportive and caring. But sooner or later they will let us down. Whether intentionally or not, whether justifiable or not, it will happen. Depending on how we process this seemingly catastrophic event in our lives, we may have to wrestle out what this “love” thing means any way. You keep using this word. I do not think it means what you think it means.
And then we get our hearts muddled over and outright broken in two at various stages in life, our first boyfriend, our first break up, our first unrequited crush. Again, depending on how we handle it all, our hearts and minds begin to make very conscious decisions about how we go about the love concept.
Love isn’t all it’s cracked up to be, is it? Well… yes and no. Maybe the word love isn’t big enough, isn’t strong enough of a word, for what it really is. We try to pack so much into the word, like it’s the largest suitcase ever made but still not enough to fit it all in. We try to cover a lot of ground with that little word. But it leaves us lacking and grasping for more.
And I’m not even totally happy with the lists we make about love, though they are helpful in their own way. Not to sound sacrilegious or anything, but even 1 Cor. 13 makes me itchy. It’s another checklist to make me feel inadequate with my own efforts to love or disappointed with my spouse’s efforts to love me, like the countless blog posts that appear this time of year on HuffPost or wherever. Truthfully, we get them all year round, trying to exhort us on how to communicate better, how to keep the spark alive, how to wow your partner in bed or what to make for dinner. It’s all expressions of love. And they are popular because we all want to do this well. We all want perfect, beautiful, glorious love. Like the very touching quote from the very vulnerable Carrie Bradshaw (yes, I got all choked up when she said it) “I’m looking for love. Real love. Ridiculous, inconvenient, consuming, can’t-live-without-each-other love.” We want it. We have some vague sense of what it should look like and we just know we haven’t found it yet.
Or have we? It’s this kind of wanderlust that gets us in trouble. It’s the childish definition of love that we haven’t gotten beyond yet. It’s my 16-month-old who really loves me when I feed her and play with her and blow raspberries on her stomach. She can’t verbalize it, but she is filled with love for me and she feels my love for her in tangible ways. I dread the day I fail her. I dread the day she realizes I am not the perfect angel I appear to be. I’m actually not. And I pray that I will have the humility to see quickly what I’ve done and show her the repentance part of love. I pray I will be able to articulate in a way she understands that my love is imperfect and that I’m learning just as she is how to love better and better. I pray that she will come to know that disappointment is inevitable and that human love will fail her and that’s all part of life.
Because you know what I want most for her and for all the loves of my life? I want them to grow up. I want to grow up. Because real love doesn’t become stagnant, or grow cold, and it definitely doesn’t fall away. Real love learns and grows and adapts to the day. Real love doesn’t demand its way or maliciously tries to manipulate and block everyone else who seems to be in the way. Real love accepts things as they are but still has enough hope to see past it to a possible future. Real love gets it. Real love can hold opposing opinions in the same basket with respect and living peaceably. Real love can stand disappointment and meet it with honor and dignity. Real love holds on until the best course of action presents itself, not the immediate most destructive action or the most convenient one. Real love isn’t easy. It isn’t fun all the time. It isn’t just made up of dreams and wishes. It’s made of steel and iron. It cherishes wisdom and clings to hope. Real love grows up. It matures and is capable of more than you may believe.
So we’re back to lists. We’re back to ways of measuring our growth, like a kid who stands next to a wall with a pencil on his head. We want to know we’re getting taller, better, understanding more, learning how to do new things and perfecting the ability to do things we already know how to do. And somehow in love we stop measuring and we give up, as if we think we’ve arrived. Like I’m pretty sure 5’0” is where I pinnacled. But I do check every now and then. (Sadly, of course, I fully expect some day it’s going to be less. You can also expect a blog post at such a time.)
Let’s not stop measuring our own capacity and ability to love. We have the deepest, highest, widest growth chart ever to compare ourselves to. Don’t get me wrong. We aren’t comparing our spouse to the chart!! I compare only ME to what I know of pure and perfect Love, because it’s never been about how well others love me. I am only responsible for how well I love others. And I willingly face the areas where I am falling short, submitting those parts of me that are stubborn and raw to the better way. I don’t want to be the same person I was last year, ten years ago, twenty years ago. Good LORD, no. I want to see that I have learned to love more richly and intentionally. I want to be stronger and not as lame as I once was. I want to hold love up as its own highest achievement and award. I want to be known as a great lover. Mostly because that makes me giggle, but you know what I mean. I pray this day and every day that my love will only grow and deepen and strengthen with time, and that, like with the Great Love I have been shown, I will find that nothing will ever pluck me from its hands.
Here’s a list I’ve found helpful…
And here’s a Shakespearean sonnet because it’s all lovey and it is, after all, Valentine’s day…