What is love?

Such a lazy title, I know.

So anyway… I had breakfast with him recently. He was in town for some meeting or other, and since it had been a while, we decided to catch up. It was also his way of apologizing for something he’d done a few days earlier.

He’s an amazing man, physically, spiritually, socially. One of those tall men who carry their height well. All 6’4″ of him, and not a hint of a slouch. He occupies a room as soon as he walks in – and I’m not just talking about his cologne. He has an amazing fashion sense… he was rocking ankara jackets and loafers in the mid-2000s, way before the rest of us Africans knew what those were. Charisma for days, this dude has. He’s also extremely loyal, so we’ve been friends for years.

It took us four hours to catch up. We had to switch locations when the restaurant got a little crowded. We decided to take a walk. I was determined to keep it light and superficial, but there’s something about park benches… they’re just so conducive for relationship talk.

We laughed about the dating (okay, courtship) scene and all the drama Christians have to go through just to settle down. He mentioned how interesting it was that every time one of us was single, the other was taken. He tried to bring up the fact that we should “maybe try this thing out.” I deftly steered the conversation toward other things.  I had promised myself that that would not be discussed But that bench! We began to talk about love and what we’ve learned about *that* kind of love and how we’re applying it. I let him answer the question, and was getting ready to change the subject again when he directed the question at me. I’m not used to being in the question-answering position, so I began to fumble. But I was determined to come up with something. And every time I trailed off and said, “um…so, yeah,” he would say, “Don’t back out. Keep going.”

Here’s what I told him… and what I didn’t… about what *that* kind of love is to me.

1) Love is a choice. It’s said that you can’t choose who you fall in love with. I don’t think that’s true. It can be difficult to choose the object of your attraction and possibly even your infatuation, because we’re human and we have preferences. But I’ve come to learn that it’s very possible for you to be attracted to, infatuated by someone and not love the person. Love comes after all of that mess. It’s like that little right sneaker that a little boy is hunting for… only to find it under a pile of dirty shirts and socks somewhere in the corner of his room. No matter how amazing a person is, after a while, the fluttering butterflies begin to slow their roll and the rose-colored glasses are replaced by a magnifying glass. And that’s when you decide if you’re going to stick around and stick it through. That’s when you choose to love the person or walk.

Love is glaring at this person because you are so irritated, yet finding yourself unable to do anything about the fact that they manage to tug at your heartstrings even while they’re getting on your last nerve. It’s realizing that the intensity of your frustration is only proportional to the level of your love. Understanding that even though you are upset, you value this person too much to disrespect him or her in any way. Giving your wife the MetroCard and avoiding her searching eyes as she hands it back to you because no matter how upset you are, there’s no question you’re going home together. It’s cooking that meal and setting the table, fork and knife neatly in place, even though you might bang the plate a little and you probably won’t join your husband for the meal this time.

2) Love can be irresistible. It’s a little bit like what the Bible says about God’s irresistible grace. Because this world is crazy, the love of many people has waxed cold. People are so tired of being hurt that they hold back. They build all sorts of walls, and walk around with invisible signs that say “This far and no further.” When you love a person with no covert – or overt – agenda, love creeps up on and sometimes surprises the person. They know they have walls up, and they’re expecting you to break them down and clamorously fight your way into their hearts, because many times, they’ve convinced themselves nobody is ever going to have that access again. But she finds herself making room for him in that ball of wool that connects every single treasured thought. It hits him one day that while God still has his whole heart and being, she softly made her way to the very center of it with his full cooperation.

It’s that soft answer that turns away wrath, those apples of gold in pictures of silver.

3) Love is way more than a feeling, but it’s an amazing feeling when it’s reciprocated. In my view, the most beautiful thing about being in love is knowing that you’re loved with the same intensity. You have this person that’s not related to you in any way, is not obligated to love you, but loves you all the same, and you love him or her too, and it’s a different kind of love from the love you feel for your parents, siblings, or friends. It’s something between just the two of you. The mystery, the mischief, the moments, the mushiness! I love me some love.

4) Love is time. “Love” can come with self-delusion. This is simply because human love is selfish. When we’re in love, we want a person for ourselves. In that period between the rose-colored glasses and the Lasik of life, we become overprotective and we are often all about what’s in it for us. And it’s at this stage that deceitfulness of the heart is possibly at its most dangerous level. The power of self-delusion is limitless when it comes to this kind of love. If you allow it, you will justify and tolerate all sorts of things and find scriptures to back you up. You will probably even “hear God” and have dreams and visions that line up with what you have decided. May God help us to trust in Him with even that part of our hearts that has to do with loving in this way (Prov 3:5-8). Those who know their God will do exploits (Dan 11:32). I say those who don’t will probably be exploited.

Those who are exploited realize that they’re caught in a trap they somehow set for themselves, in a complex maze they drew with their own hands. Years go by, and suddenly she realizes that she knew that every single thing she now so passionately hates was always there, right under her nose. Because she deluded herself, she cannot say “This is not the man I married.” He knows that would be a lie to say he was taken by surprise.

Love is about taking the time to get to know a person. It’s also about giving time. Making time. Having time. Being able to just kick it and pop bubble wrap and talk about everything and nothing, yet say more than any deep conversation would reveal. Discerning times and seasons. Love is about a lifetime.

5) Love will never, ever abuse. I’ve noticed that when someone has been abused, many people are tempted to wonder what this person did to make the abuser so angry. I’ve caught myself wondering the same. But that’s not the question to ask, because no matter how angry he gets, it is wrong for him to smash her head against a wall. No level of anger makes it okay for her to set fire to his property or pour bleach on his clothes. No matter what a person does, it is never right to retaliate with abuse. And when I say abuse, I’m talking physical, verbal, psychological, emotional, sexual, spiritual. It is never right to abuse another person. Any anger or frustration that life and people may cause one to feel should ultimately be taken to God, because He is the only one who can change situations. The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, goodness, kindness, gentleness, humility, and self-control. Any person who has the Spirit of God will not be controlled by his or her anger. No badmouthing, backbiting, backstabbing, blabbering. Love is respect.

6) Love is always evident/expressed. Love therefore also means never having to jump to conclusions about anything, including taking for granted that the person knows how you feel. Where there is any doubt, love clears the air by asking or revealing. That tremor in her voice as tears well up in her eyes and she looks down at her hands and asks, “Do you still love me?” is simply her trying to dispel her assumptions and doubts. That exasperated bellow: “It just feels like nothing I ever do is good enough for you!” is simply because he needs to know that you appreciate not just that the mortgage is paid, but also the fact that he got the door and hauled in the groceries.

People always know if they’re loved with this kind of love. If she’s Googling “How to tell if he loves me” every week, then she might need to either adjust her perspective or evaluate the relationship. If he’s still constipated by yesterday’s dose of head-to-toe stares, yet now also has to figure out what the reason is behind today’s healthy helping of The Silent Treatment… no bueno!

7) Love is not about looks. It’s about asking the tough questions. You know how it is. I’m sure you’ve met that guy who really needs to invest in an iron and drives that loud jalopy with the busted muffler but turns out to be the kindest, most interesting, most hilarious character on the planet once you get to know him. And he challenges you to grow in your faith. That’s a good guy. Besides, if he’s hot, everyone else can see it, too… and that could cause issues down the road, especially if you haven’t taken the time to really get to know him. Of course if he’s hot and he loves you, hey. Go for it. But I put it to you that the seemingly boring jalopy guy just might be better for you. All I’m saying is don’t dismiss him.

But love is about so much more than that. Love is about asking the tough questions. Do you see him/her in your future? Do you want your children to turn out like him/her? Do you love him just the way he is? Would you forgo the opportunity to change even the minor, harmless details about her if you had the opportunity? That’s what love is about.

8) Love is not sex. That’s all I’m going to say about that.

9) Love involves sacrifice. That often includes change, which means that love can be quite uncomfortable. It involves becoming more considerate, being sensitive about times and seasons, putting the other person before ourselves in our thoughts, words and actions. Your relationship changes as you go from milestone to milestone (see #4). It’s not going to be the same after the first child as it was after your first date. The tenth year of knowing a person is markedly different from the fifth and from the twentieth. The way you deal with your parents and friends has to change once you leave and cleave. But there are also sacrifices like having to create boundaries even though you know you’d rather not. Having to make time to do all the little things that keep the love growing, even though you just want to run for the hills and pair up with the next hot cross bun on the platter. Having to pray when you’d rather just catch up on your favorite show.

10) Only God can give us that love that we truly need. Understanding this will help us get rid of any frustration over who is attracted or not attracted to us and who dumped or didn’t dump us. As soon as we understand how valuable we are to Him – and once we allow that to be enough and more than enough for us – we will be able to not only function like He desires us to; we can also take from the love He has placed in us and share it with others. If you know how much God loves you, and you know that you’re not more loved than that person you look down on or less loved than that person who walked out and now seems to be doing alright after hurting the daylights out of your heart, then you’re able to cease from punishing people for the mistakes of others. You can take responsibility for your role, if any, in your hurt, and you can begin to see that worth and beauty in others that transcends the superficial.

Really, Paul covered this in more depth – and with more brevity – than I have done in this post. 1 Corinthians 13 is the best definition of love that there is.

So what is love to you?

Love (not *that* kind!),


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