The Act of Love
If there were a theme for my experiences in 2017 the theme would be love.
I remember when I became a Christian and joined The Assembly of God in 1978, I learned about the three types of love mentioned in the bible; according to the Greek language they are: Eros (desire and longing), Philos (the love in friendship) and Agape (divine love or the pure love of Christ). According to the book Colours of Love, J.A. Lee 1973 there are seven types of love that are loosely based on classical readings, especially those of Plato and Aristotle.
The English language is much more limited, we have just one word to express the many 'types' of love we experience. When I look back on my life and think of the many people who have said "I love you' to me, I am often left wondering what they meant, what they felt and why they said 'I love you'. Of course the same is true for me, I have said 'I love you" to more people then I can remember. When I said 'I love you' what did I mean, what did I want, why did I say it?
There is no single simple answer, I have said I love you for many reason, some times I have said it to the same person for multiple reasons. So how am I to understand what someone means when they say I love you, how am I to know when I should say I love you?
I can recall many times in my life when I said I love you because I felt love for the person I was speaking too and I can recall times when I said it because I wanted to feel loved by them. I have said I love you not only to express what I felt, but in an effort to feel reassurance that the person I was speaking to felt love for me, that they valued me, that I was lovable, even if I did not feel that I was.
This is where I believe saying "I love you' starts to get complicated - when we define love solely based on an exchange of good feelings. What happens when the good feelings end? Does that mean that the love we felt only had value while the good feelings where there? Does that mean that when we are disappointed or hurt by someone we have said I love you to we walk away from them, rendering our statement of I love you to being conditional? Saying in fact I love you but only when I have good feelings toward you? Does love for another only exist while it feels good? Is love just a feeling that comes and goes - meaning that when I say I love you there is no permanence to the statement? For most, I think this is the case. I know it has been the way I lived love at times in the past.
But through my mission I am learning something new about love. I do not need to feel love for a person to genuinely love them. Actually, I can feel anger, hurt, disappointment and still love the person I have these difficult feelings for.
In scripture Charity (a pure love) is defined in this way: "Charity suffereth long, and is kind, charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is no puffed up, doth not behave itself unseemly, seekth not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil, rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things." 1 Corinthians 12 4-7
According to this description, charity, or pure love, requires a great deal of action, sacrifice and effort. It requires us to be focused more on the object of our love than ourselves. This description rings very true to me and challenges me to love others in action regardless of feelings.
I read a meme on Facebook today that spoke of the struggle felt when you love your child, they struggle and there is nothing you can do to help them: charity truly does 'suffereth long' and bearth many things! When I think of children I know that some of the children that need love the most will ask for it in the most unloving ways. I think we too often do the same, in many ways we are little more than children that got big.
Love is a commitment to act, to as often as possible put the needs of the object of love before my own and do so to the best of my ability, to make sacrifices for that person regardless of any feelings. Sacrifice is the essence of love, it is the physical substance of it.
I have a very long way to go before I have truly learned to love - but I do know that to love another is action regardless of any feeling I may or may not have. I am coming to an understanding of 'love they neighbor as they self' that has greatly helped me to learn how to better love others regardless of what I may feel about them in any given moment.
There is a writing (scripture?) that comes from The Gospel of Thomas (Nag Hammadi Library) which, by they way, may very well have been written before the canonical Gospels. It states:
"Jesus said, "If your leaders say to you 'Look the (Father's) kingdom is in the sky.' then the birds of the sky will precede you. If they say to you "It is in the sea,' then the fish will precede you. Rather, the (Father's) kingdom is within you and it is outside you. When you know yourselves ,then you will be known, and you will understand that you are children of the living Father. But if you do not know yourselves, then you live in poverty, and you are the poverty."
I am grateful for this year of reflection on how I experience and express love. For me, saying I love you is no causal thing. It is a verbal expression of a deep, real commitment that must have the substance of self sacrifice to endure - and the love and associated commitment must have the strength to endure beyond any pleasant or unpleasant feelings.