It’s Valentine’s Day again, that yearly Hallmarked holiday that somehow embodies Love with red construction-paper hearts, and couples scrambling for romantic gestures whilst buying out candy and flowers. Or in my case it’s a day filled with two little boys, chocolate frosting, heart-shaped sprinkles, and conversations centered on what love really is, and how we know it.
Despite the fact that we have a holiday supposedly dedicated to “love”, I’m not sure we really understand it. Valentine’s Day is perhaps a prime example of how much it eludes us, considering how centered it is on only romantic love, and often merely our sexuality.
So, what is Love? Is it merely a word that we use to describe a chemical reaction in our brain? Is it something we just fall in and out of completely outside of our control? Is it an emotion–a feeling we can’t quite pin down nor be responsible for? Is it tied only to our sexuality?
Does it exist at all? And if it does, how do we know what it is?
I asked my two and four-year-old boys this question, and my four-year-old answered quite simply (out of his frosting covered mouth): “Jesus”
By this we know love, that he [Jesus] laid down his life for us, and we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.
1 John 3:16
The answer to “what is Love?”, isn’t a concept, or feeling, it’s a person. The person who revealed himself as the very embodiment of Love and who proved it through his death for our sakes. It is by Jesus that we know Love, and it is only through him that we can in turn extend it to others; not as a mere feeling that enraptures or fades, but as a splendid choice, and miraculous action. That kind of Love spans more than mere romance, it isn’t found just in marriage, but also in friendship and parenthood, and it is even capable of touching our enemies.
Paul, in his letter to the Corinthian church gives us a beautiful (and admittedly difficult to execute) list of what Love is:
Rejoicing in truth
and as Dietrich Bonhoeffer says in paraphrasing Paul, “Christian love knows no limits”.
Often we reduce love to a feeling, we even use it as an excuse not to go on loving someone else. We often describe it as though it is something completely outside of our control, as though we are under it’s whim, helpless to do its bidding. But real love is a choice.
Love is the choice to give ourselves to our spouses every day, even when warm feelings may be absent.
Love is the choice to take ardent action and sacrifice our selves (our money, time, comfort, and lives) not just to those whom we have a fondness toward or who reciprocate, but even to those who may hate us.
Love is the choice to be patient with our children, as our God is patient with us.
Love is the choice to bear the burdens of our friends, to sacrifice our time and energy for people while asking nothing in return.
Love is the choice to rejoice in truth, even when it stings.
Love is the choice to give of ourselves, again and again, until the last day we draw breath.
We can’t make that self-sacrificing, life-altering kind of choice that Love demands on our own, because as Bonhoeffer says, “apart from Christ all love is self-love”–and self-love is really no love at all. To really love, to get to the very core of what love is and to put it into action, we have to look to the One who is Love.
I suppose we do have an idea of love from the color red, but not from sparkly red Hallmark cards, no, we know Love from the red that dripped from a Roman cross. And it isn’t construction paper hearts that show us Love, it is the heart of God that ceased beating for the sake of his creation that betrayed him. We can choose to truly love with each new day no matter how much it may cost us, because he first chose to love us to the point of death.
God chose to love us through death, into life. Love, the only thing worth living, and dying, for. Love the only thing for which there is no regret, and for which nothing is wasted.
So, by the grace of God, let’s go love like that, not just on a day that Hallmark tells us to, but every single day, until we see Love Himself, face-to-face.