What Is Love?
There is a thing that happens when we begin to speak about the concept of love that not many people are aware of, and most of us never stop to consider.
Simply put, when you talk about love with someone, your definition of what you are talking about might have a slight similarity with the other person's, but in the end, it is not the same.
Each of us comes to the idea of love with our own empirically shaped notions of it, which means our ideas, our definitions, and the ways we choose to live into our notions of love are unique.
Our ideas about love have been both formed and informed by the joys of loving connection, and the sadness of heartbreak.
Most of us have had our ideas of love shaped through the kind, gracious and sacrificial acts of others. But we have also had people pledge their love to us, and then mistreat us, betray us, and leave us.
These experiences are part of what philosophers and sociologists might refer to as our "ontology" of love---our own unique system of making sense of what we've experienced.
And all of this makes any conversation about the love of God toward us a complicated exercise at best.
Think about it... If we're all coming at the idea of love from our own perspectives, it becomes all the more challenging to try to speak of it with any kind of certainty---especially when we're talking about God, and how God loves.
The other day I stumbled across one of the best explanations of love that I have ever seen: a wonderful quote from Valarie Kaur.
It is what I would call a "transcendent" kind of definition---the kind that doesn't brush aside differences per se, but instead transcends and includes them in a way that just makes sense.
You could argue that it's not really a definition at all, it's more of a description of what it is that we are all experiencing from the various ways that we come to understand love. Here it is:
Love is more than a feeling. Love is a form of sweet labor: fierce, bloody, imperfect, and life-giving--a choice we make over and over again. If love is sweet labor, love can be taught, modeled, and practiced. This labor engages all our emotions: Joy is the gift of love. Grief is the price of love. Anger is the force that protects that which is loved. And when we think we have reached our limit, wonder is the act that returns us to love.
I don't know about you, but this description/definition is just beautiful. It turns the idea of love into action, plucking it out of the thin air of mere notions, and bringing it down to the nitty-gritty, rough-and-tumble, earthiness of everyday life.
For those of us familiar with Christian theology, this should make perfect sense because it describes exactly what God did through Jesus the Christ.
The doctrine I'm describing is known as the Incarnation---the moment when God became one of us to rescue all of us. Through Jesus, God entered into history "in the flesh" to show us what love as action is all about.
So when you speak of love, give yourself the grace to speak of it in your own unique way. Know that your own experiences have tempered your understanding of it. But also know that there is more to it than you know.
Know that the love of God is bigger than you ever dreamed, more present than you may feel, wider than the expanse of your experience, and centered directly on you, right here, right now where you are.
May it be so for you. And may the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you now and always. Amen.