“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8)
Lately I’ve been increasingly convinced that all of life is just a series of lessons in a never-ending course on how to love other humans. A course in which I am constantly being tested, and possibly failing.
Love is a difficult subject. Oh, it’s pleasant to think about, wonderful to be the recipient of, but nearly impossible in practice.
Love pushes against all of our natural instincts. Love is always giving of itself and never expecting anything in return. Love thrives when it spends itself. Love never complains, never holds back affection, never holds a grudge. Love takes all our abuses and returns them with kindness and compassion. Love is never destructive, but always mending what has been broken.
Unfortunately, we are not made up entirely of love. We are an incomprehensible fusion of love and lust, envy and imagination, optimism and dread, virtue and vice. This is the nature of humanity, these hybrid creatures with immortal souls inside deteriorating bodies.
But God, who is Love, created us in His image. So if there is anything in us that loves, truly loves, that is our Creator making Himself known. A spark of divine love buried underneath all the layers of humanness. An enchanting hint of something better, that we are often inclined to keep buried. Maybe because we’re afraid. Afraid that we will share that spark with someone who won’t appreciate it or will waste it. So instead of embracing it like we were meant to, we hide it and guard it and push it back. So love collects dust like a book on the shelf, and we hand out cheap imitations. We are nice. We flatter and flirt and say lovely things. But you can do a lot of nice things and never really love. Something of yourself, your real self, needs to be on the line, otherwise it’s just a game.
I think the reason we humans are so magnificently bad at loving is because we have accepted too many poor definitions of the word. We think “I need you” means the same thing as “I love you.”
God can only truly love us because He doesn’t need us. Nothing we can do will ever add to or improve God’s quality of life. And yet He loves. He loves marvelously and unconditionally and perfectly. If we knew, really knew, how completely we are loved, I wonder if we might be a little braver in our love for each other.
When we know how we are already loved, no amount of rejection or indifference or unanswered texts or “it’s not you it’s me” or disappointment from other people will completely tear us down. When we know how much we are loved, then every day is a chance to love more, to love better, to love without expectations or conditions.
That is how we learn to love. Not by studying it, but by choosing to live it. We can start by seeing our love as a gift to share, not an antique to preserve.