Recently I was driving somewhere and Carly Simon’s ‘Coming Around Again’ – one of the anthems of my teenage heart-break years – was on the radio. Obviously I sang it at full volume, I know each and every word, although I don’t actually have a clue what she’s on about. Babies sneezing and fixing toasters – so bewildering? Definitely.
Almost as bewildering as a teenage girl’s love life when the object of my affection changed from one week to the next, depending on which young chappie happened to have caught my eye at Youth Group on a Friday night. If you are reading this now and you were a boy at a particular youth group in Johannesburg in the late 80’s, chances are I had a crush on you at some time or another. You see there’s so much room in a broken heart.
Oh boy am I glad I’m not a teenager anymore – life is so unpredictable, your heart is so fickle, from one month to the next you are practicing your latest future married signature.
Now almost thirty years later it’s clear to me that what I really believed in then was infatuation. Love feels a whole lot different now, I think I have a clearer picture although I’m still learning how to get it right. However, at least I’m pretty good at my signature at last as it has been the same for most of those thirty years.
One thing I do know for sure is that we humans love to talk about love – it’s the hottest topic in the music industry and on the bookshelves. There are as many different opinions on what love means as there are people in the world. So here’s the big question: what exactly is love?
First, here is an expression that sounds good from the outside:
‘It costs nothing to be kind’.
So NOT true! Very occasionally you can be kind without it costing you anything, like smiling at everyone on those days when you already feel happy. Or sharing your sandwich because you’re not all that hungry anyway. But being kind to the rude person who barged in front of me in the shopping queue costs my pride and my time. Being kind to the family who is short of food at Christmas costs my wallet. Being kind to the grumpy, poorly relative costs my patience and my willingness to be nice.
However, kindness is not the same as love. It is potentially possible to be kind and still not love, as unconditional love entails sacrifice. Loving well is often really difficult as there is always a cost. There is a risk your heart will be broken when your love is not reciprocated. If we choose only to love those who love us back then we have chosen a conditional love.
The more I have lived and loved, the more it seems that love is less about me and more about the other person as there is no doubt in my mind that the times I have felt most loved are when the other person has put me first.
Trying to define love can become a little tricky and complex, so the simplicity of this is a relief:
‘God is love’ – 1 John 4:8
And yet that’s not simple at all, God is infinitely complex! At the moment I am half way through reading ‘The Problem of Pain – why must we suffer?’ by C.S. Lewis. It’s a brilliant read and goes a long way in explaining in a much better way than I ever could why God is good and loves us and yet still allows suffering.
From what I can gather so far, it’s a bit like explaining the way when we love our children, we don’t allow them to do what ever they like but rather we step in for their own good, and in the process of taking pains to guide and discipline them we give pains too. While love is always good, not all pain is bad.
The opposite to love is indifference – the carelessness of not caring what happens to the other person at all, whether they get up to good or evil. In those cases, there is no relationship, no connection and no willingness to engage. The essence of love is relationship with another, and this is what is at the heart of the Trinity, a perfected love relationship. It’s easy to believe in but not so easy to practice.
However, the rewards of love are immeasurable, in direct contrast to the risks. We are constantly drawn towards love, even though we don’t succeed in loving perfectly, we eagerly desire perfect love. Loving relationships with one another are good for us as but can leave us unsatisfied when they go wrong.
In His wisdom God designed us to be in loving relationship not only with other people but with Him too as this is the only place where perfection in love can be attained. No surprise then that in His most loving act towards us, Jesus paid the ultimate sacrifice in his death for us.
I know I’m not the best at demonstrating love towards others all the time but these things I know for sure: I absolutely believe in true Love, not a wishy-washy notion of infatuated love, but the broken-hearted Love that is willing to be in relationship no matter what the sacrifice.
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