Love Is and Why it Matters

What is Love?

A warm, exhilarating, passionate feeling? Make no mistake, love can sometimes be experienced with these emotions. But as anyone who has truly experienced love can tell you, it can also be experienced as sorrow, grief, fear, and pain. Sometimes, love is the hardest in the mundane of seasons - when the thrills of fiery passions subside and the lull of the day-to-day drones on. Love feels very different in this season - it looks like fidelity (faithfulness) with lots of grace. The experience of love includes a spectrum of emotions, but love is not, in and of itself, an emotion.

When people of faith talk about love, they might go to 1 Corinthians 13:4-8

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud.  It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.  Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.  It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. “

Some may quote John 3:16: ”God so loved the world that s/he gave...”

Or  John 15:13 “No greater love than this, a person who lays down their life for their friends.”

Each of these is rich and wonderful, but each describes what love does, not what love is.

I think the distinction is important.

The way we define what ‘love is’ informs and shapes what love does.   

Sometimes, what we generally accept as the loving thing to do (with the best of intentions) can, in fact, be unloving. When we start with what love is, it helps shape the ways we choose to love.  It helps us avoid counterfeit kinds of love, behaviours and ideas that aren’t loving at all.

Examples of counterfeit love might include “I hurt/beat her for her own good.” “Spare the rod, spoil the child.”  Caustic judgment and condemnation under the cover of “Speaking the truth in love.”

For many of us, these are pretty easy to identify, but some are a little more tricky.

Justice can be a form of love ... until the advocacy/expression of that Justice takes the form of anti-love - (retributive) violence (in its many forms). When we act unjust (retributively) in our pursuit of Justice, we are not loving. This is a clue that the value (Justice) has become unanchored from love.   In the Love Milieu, the end never justifies the means.  In the Divine Milieu, Love is both the means and the end.

Life is messy. Loving well is hard.  Sometimes, even our best examples of what love does aren’t enough to inform and shape our love in every moment/situation.

  • Is there ever a time when being patient isn’t loving? 
  • Is there ever a time when fighting for the good might be better served by surrender?
  • Is there ever a time when saying No, as hard as it might be, might be the most loving?
  • Is there ever a time when protecting another may not be loving?
  • Is there ever a time when self-love may be a priority for loving well?

One expression of love may not be the appropriate expression of love in all circumstances. My point is love can be expressed in various contextually appropriate ways. A robust definition can help keep us out of the ditches.

Here is Thomas Jay Oord’s definition of love (yes, again ?)

“To love is to act intentionally, in sympathetic response to others (including God), to promote overall well-being."

Love acts. Love has feet.

Love is intentional, on purpose, a choice.

Love is sympathetic/empathetic in response to others.

Love promotes overall well-being.*

- promotes: works to .., champions, contend for 

- Overall: the most possible well-being of all involved, both directly and indirectly. 

- Well-being:  to make beautiful, make whole, harmony, Shalom.  

[* we live and love within contexts.  We don’t control every aspect of the context, we inherit it from past moments (our actions, others' actions and the impact of time itself, law-like regularities, etc.).  To love is to act to maximize the most well-being possible in any given context.]

Learning to love well is really important to me.  I understand this as a journey of Becoming. This definition continues to be invaluable not only in my academic studies but as I navigate the day-to-day of life - with the good, the bad, and the mundane.

Sola Caritas.


Image by Rosy - The world is worth thousands of pictures from Pixabay

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