>Everyone in the world needs love. It is truth – without appropriate love, the youngest child with fail to thrive, and without someone to care for and about you, the wisest of us become jaded and alone. To be human is to need love, to give love and to hopefully be love for those in your life that surround you. Love is not only the greatest Christian ideal, but is echoed in every predominate religion of the world. Without love, all is for nothing. So if love is the greatest of all things, why is it so difficult to maintain? Why is love a challenge? Is it human nature to compound that which is elementally simple? For this, there is only one answer, and it is not simple. Love is the action of hope, which is borne of caring more for another than yourself – and yourself in equal measure. Confusing, isn’t it? After a few decades of worrying myself endlessly with the concept of love, here is all that I know in a few points. It’s subject to change with growth and experience, and may be totally out of context for you where you stand on the planet.
- Love is truth. When I consider the persons that I love in this world, I consider the truth of who they are and what they mean to me. I can only speak from my perspective. I see the beauty in each of them, the children, the spouse, even my former love (if there is such a thing.) There is not just beauty, but infinite worth and value assigned to them through their own grace filled life. Their value isn’t in me or mine to determine, but their own giftedness and humanity. I see them each individually and as unique. I do not own or possess them – they are not my husband, daughter or son. That is a role that they fulfill in this space and time, but their soul is so much more. I love the truth of their own journey. I have found this year in the midst of my own strife and turmoil that I’ve become very selective about how and why I say “I love you” and what that means. I’ve been fortunate to truly love both romantically and as a parent in my lifetime and to respect all that this means.
- Love is respect. I deeply appreciate my mentors and my friends, the people in my faith community and my intimate family. The respect within me grieves for the moments that my actions haven’t shown them the appropriate respect, because it is part of my love language. I highly value respect, and long to return it to others. Cultivating language of respect doesn’t have to be flowery or insubstantial with compliments, but concrete and real. One professor in my graduate program is infinitely hard on me in contrast with other students – and I respect him all the more for his selfless dedication to keeping me accountable. It is a form of respect that he requires from me that which I am most able to do. I’ve learned as part of love to stop and reflect on the unique gifts of others in art, music, writing, business…things I used to breeze past before I found out that my diagnosis from a medical standpoint is not “immortal.” I respect the choices that people have made, even those that cost me great pain and loss, even when I disagree. Choices are typically hard enough, without the support of those around you.
- Love lets go. Freedom is the truest form of love, freedom to grow and become all that an individual can be. Does your love for another as demonstrated over your time in relationship foster their growth or prevent it? Do you fear your spouse changing? Are the choices of your child your projection or their desire? In the Christian faith, choice to become and grow is the freedom given to those that are “followers of the Way.” It is not mandated that you do anything but chose…and more specifically, chose to love. There are times that love requires you to let go of someone or something from your life – perhaps for a season, perhaps forever. It is often not what we want to do, to say goodbye to a soul mate, a child, a parent, a friend…but these endings allow for new beginnings, new relationships to form as well. Love doesn’t hold on to what is familiar just because it is afraid, but allows that which it loves to build on it’s own wings and set forth on the individual quest of fulfilling destiny and dreams. I have to remind myself of this as my children set forth into the big world on their own. What could this mean for you? It may mean letting go of the person that you’re crazy about because they aren’t the right fit for you, even if that means that you give hope a chance to grow that they will return in some point o f life. The ideal is that you’re willing to engage with life as a whole person and continue on loving them in their own life choices, apart from you. As I have stated before, this isn’t a license to stalk someone emotionally, but to free them from your emotional ties and allow yourself to move on. Nothing is ever truly lost.
- Love communicates. If you’re blessed with real love in your life, even though it can be messy and hard to manage, remember that communication is the key. Treat everyone in your life as they deserve, being the unique and special creatures that they are. If you’ve slighted someone who loves you, acknowledge it in grace and truth, even if relationship is impossible to restore. How they respond (good or bad) has no impact on you; this is their choice, their path and their love. If you truly love, show it in how you communicate truthfully, with respect and with freedom. After a decade of marriage, my husband and I have had long talks about what love means to us, and it comes down to this: truth is always better, freedom is always better than being a slave to our own concepts and imagination. We may not see eye to eye on each point, but the friendship that underwrites all we do as a team really changes the dynamic. For Valentine’s Day, he and I took out daughter to the Indianapolis Art Museum and spent the day first at Brunch, and then with the paintings and works of Van Gough, Dega, Monet, Picasso, Rembrandt, and my personal favorite Camille Pissaro. It gave us time to walk and talk, way more valuable to me than flowers (which they gave me anyhow) or cards (which I gave to him along with a letter telling him how much I respect him!) The quality time that is my husbands love language merged with my respect and admiration of life to form a unique time of fellowship.
If you’re expressing love to another, consider the point to deepen and authenticate your bond. Remember that there is a choice in love – there are forever types that bond and deepen over years, and some that run their course and gently change over the years to friendship. Children migrate from youth to friend, and then into parent to the parent. Early marriages sometimes result in enduring friendships with no spark. Late marriages run the risk of lack of history and common interests when physical passion wears thin. Truth, respect, freedom and communication are the enduring hallmarks of a love that will allow those in it to grow, flourish and achieve all that they were destined to be.