I’ve loved the idea of love for as long as I can remember. An eternal idealist. A hopeless romantic. An-all-about-true-love-kind-of-girl. Before you’re tempted to blame Disney or our typical pre-teen American culture, just know that I was never allowed to watch Beauty and the Beast or Cinderella and I grew up in rural Delaware near horse farms, entirely homeschooled. All I had to work with was the American Girl Felicity book where there was a hint of attraction between her and the horseman Ben on page 28 and a Little House on the Prairie episode (recorded from my grandparents who had cable) where Laura falls in love with Almanzo. But I was hooked on love. By the time I was 12 I was hiding in the aisles of the library to read adult memoirs on Princess Diana’s love life. So enamored with the idea of finding true love myself that I couldn’t even go to the Wal Mart parking lot in our small town without scouting out boys from the window of our red van and wondering, “Will he be my future husband?”
I think this is what you call “boy crazy” or “homeschooled”. Either way, everything ended the same in my mind: marriage. Plain and simple.
As a grown woman, I see love differently, more complicated than boy meets girl. Marriage and babies and moving all over has me tempted to think experience gives me the license to know exactly what it is (and isn’t) when I see it. It’s everywhere, displayed in subtle messages on bumper stickers, text messages, commercials, and conversations. We, as a society, are mesmerized by love.
Follow your heart.
You are all that matters.
One Saturday afternoon on an ice skating rink I see love in an innocent, hormonal teenager’s grasp of hands and I am tempted, like my parents, to break in and say, “You can’t know what true love is. But I do, you see.” with a puff of know-it-all-pride. I’m pushing my 2-year-old around the rink in his tiny skates while my ankles are burning, now that’s true love.
Her commercialization is riddled through Target, written all over cards and candies with glitter letters and $4.99 price tags, a desperate attempt to capitalize on this need to be known and loved by someone. The words hint at passion, promise, sex, and flirtation and we try to pick the one that puts into words what we can’t.
True love, I want to say smugly to anyone who is younger or in an earlier season than me, I know what this means. And you should listen up!
I’ve inspected all of her edges. I’ve celebrated in revelry with her during my wedding day by a lake in 105 degrees on August 10th, 7pm. My makeup dripped and I was sweating through my ivory dress, but my husband in what can only be described as love said, “You look beautiful”. I’ve limped with that same man, as best I know how, through the rejection of love through suicide. I’ve cried with love as each of my children have been born and as one of my children died. I’ve radiated love in service and missed out on love because of selfishness. I’ve watched love written over caskets and hurt with love at the mother’s faces. I’ve seen love on piano keys and park swings and soup pots and Tylenol syringes. I’ve witnessed love evaporate from faces, replaced with the distortion of bitterness and hate. I’ve wrestled with my own capacity for love as I tried to forgive those who were supposed to love me, but didn’t.
Just when I think I’ve seen every facet of love’s complicated edges and just when I think I know, I find that I actually don’t. There is always another experience, another realization, another invitation to see love differently. More complex. More hard. It always happens when I am least prepared. I have a sore throat or it’s my time of the month or my feelings are hurt or I’m tired or I’m right. It could be as simple as finding someone drank the last chilled La Croix. My La Croix. Or, it could be as complicated as realizing someone is hurting our family and I need to put up some boundaries. Both stretch my understanding of what love actually is.
Ugh. Back to the drawing board again. Of not knowing it all. And needing to know.
“Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” the pharisees asked Jesus.
“Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22:36-40
I want to sit at his feet and ask about the exceptions, you know the ones. The mother who acted annoyed that my 2-year-old spilled sand on her play table in her brand new house. HE’S TWO, OKAY? The person who illegally cut into the turn lane in the middle of the intersection while I not-so-patiently waited through the two rounds of lights. I AM A LAW-ABIDING CITIZEN. The time I was excluded. I SHOULD BE INCLUDED. The time I was lied to. I AM WORTHY OF THE TRUTH. The time someone never asked how I was. MY LIFE IS MORE IMPORTANT THAN YOURS. The time someone never cared. I DESERVE TO HAVE YOUR SYMPATHY.
Love the Lord your God. And love your neighbor as yourself.
In one sense, He reduced the meaning of life and love to such simple terms, but inspected in the light, quite possibly the hardest of terms. This is a daily opportunity to see love for what it really is: death. A death to self and a life for someone else. This is the complete opposite of messages of “You, Yourself, and I” being tossed around today, and probably since the beginning of time, just not all cute in a square with a Pinnable button, cloaked in the false wisdom of self-rights.
Here’s the hard truth: we die to ourselves in order to really love in the purest of forms. This means we get out of bed to administer medicine to the sick. This means we extend out a welcome to our neighbor when their dogs bark late into the night. This means we cover the gaps in politics with grace. This means we offer a hand to the homeless rolling up his tent. This means we adopt the fatherless and make dinner for the widower. This means we fight for truth in dark, sin-filled lies. This means we forgive when we’ve been treated unfairly. This means we hold our tongues when we are tempted to use someone else’s failures as fodder for our conversation material. This means love can, and should, spill out into tangible, self-sacrificing acts in the life of a Christian. This means love should cost something.
Because, this is our mark.
But, we will struggle with following our hearts, because our hearts are our flesh and we love us some good-old-fashioned-temporary-feel-good here on earth until glory washes away our physical bones leaving only a heavenly soul with the capacity for heavenly love.
Loved. This is a much better way to live than the self-consumption that Roe v. Wade blasphemes and Netflix touts with A Girlfriend’s Guide To Divorce and Lena Dunham’s Not That Kind of Girl feminism and Whoopi Goldberg’s self-seeking messages on The View that “you and your happiness are all that matters”. We think it stops there, a great divide between the world and the church. But sadly, it creeps in through even seemingly harmless Christian rhetoric while permeating our lattes and J.Crew ballet flats and protests and pedicures and gym memberships. Me, Myself, and I. More, and more, and more.
Jesus warned that hiding our true loves would be the collective besetting sin of many in the verses that follow the famous John 3:16 passage.
“Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed. But whoever lives by the truth comes into the light, so that it may be seen plainly that what they have done has been done in the sight of God.”
Examine your loves in the light, fellow sons and daughters of God. Twist about the many facets of control, rightness, position, pride, and reputation in the glow of truth and weigh it in the belly of the scriptures. Do not rest on your intellect, your country’s constitution, your news stations, even your devotionals. Rest on infallible, timeless truth, that teaches a message not taught by any other religion: we love because He first loved us.
What protest signs will never do for you; what Whoopi Goldberg will never say to you on The View; what our federal government will never fulfill for you; what those sweet cards in Target will never, ever put into words are the longing of our hearts to be truly loved with an unbreakable love. Truly known with an ever-reaching knowledge. And truly rescued by a lovesick Savior.
And this love is free.
Today. February 16, 2017 at 29 years old I am guilty of thinking I know everything there is to know about love. But the more I know, the more I know that I will never ever comprehend the height, the breadth, the depth of His love for me until heaven. Which means I will spend a lifetime trying to love to the height, the breadth, and the depth of the love He’s shown me.