Saturday, July 4, 2009

What's Love Got to Do with It? Part 2

I'm going to attempt to describe several attributes of love in this post. First, let me list a few things that Love is Not:
  • Unconditional Approval of what a person does or thinks
  • Being inseparable from the other to the point of losing one's self
  • Mushy, gushy sentiment (OK, mush is good sometimes, but not without substance along with it.)
  • Appreciation of what another does for you (It's loving to do so, but it's not Love.)
  • Trying to mold another, or the relationship with another, into something you want.
I can probably go further, but I think you get the picture.

So...what IS Love?

Love IS...
Unconditional Acceptance of a person as beloved of God. When we look at others as God's beloved children, we look beyond anything that they do or believe and love that which belongs to God. Do we approve, like or ignore that which is wrong or evil in some persons? No. It would not be loving to do so. I'll expand on that a little later.

The lesson in this for me is to accept people as they are. To accept what they are able to give at a given time. To accept changes in people as neither good nor bad, in most cases. I will see even the annoying and hurtful people in my life as beloved of God, and accept that they are doing the best they can in a given circumstance. This is so, so hard sometimes, especially when there are people who hurt not only me, but members of my family.

Now to expand that previous point about not allowing wrong or evil to go unnoticed. Love means sometimes allowing people to experience the consequences of their actions, for good or ill. For example, if someone breaks the law, it would be unloving to allow that person to get a free pass and continue breaking the law. To deal with the consequences sooner rather than later, allows the law-breaker the opportunity to repent and lead a more Godly, productive life. It reduces the number of people victimized by that particular person's actions. Pursuing justice (not revenge) is a loving act.

Love sometimes is telling the beloved something he or she would rather not hear. I call it getting a "reality check". Some reality checks confirm what I think, some challenge those thoughts. I trust certain people in my life to tell me the truth as they see it, because sometimes clarity is achieved by seeing something from another angle. I believe that telling the truth -- gently, and with great care -- is one of the most loving things a person can do.

Love is -- sometimes -- the mushy, romantic stuff. Depends on the relationship, of course, but I treasure those times when my husband surprises me with remembering our first date, or says he loves me with all his heart. When I express my love for him in words and actions, spiritually, physically -- this too, is Love.

Love is reaching out to meet the needs of the beloved, and placing my own needs lower on the list. That's kind of countercultural nowdays, as conventional wisdom urges us all to fight, argue, and stand up for our own needs first and foremost.

Love is what St. Paul described to the Corinthians in the popular Bible passage, 1 Corinthians 13:1-13.
If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.
Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never ends. But as for prophecies, they will come to an end; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will come to an end. For we know only in part, and we prophesy only in part; but when the complete comes, the partial will come to an end. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became an adult, I put an end to childish ways. For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then we will see face to face.
Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known. And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.
Be aware that Paul was writing to a church in discord. Members were arguing about practices, whom to follow, and these conflicts were threatening to tear the church apart. I see this around me not only in some of my personal relationships, but within my beloved Episcopal Church. It pains me to see such division in the Church, with each side believing it is in the right. But I when I read what I wrote above about love, how can I fault either side when each claims to be working in the name of justice and God's will? I see troubling beliefs and practices on both sides, and I wish both would somehow merge what is good and right and allow the rest to fall away. Good Lord, deliver us.

Love is forgiving the beloved when they hurt you. I found a wonderful blog comment that describes what I believe:
"But simply because you might get angry or annoyed with someone, even if you don't like them for a time, that does not mean that you do not love them. Love and like are two different animals...If you want proof of God, or more particularly, of the Holy Spirit, here it is, because that is something that we could never do on our own all by ourselves. It is the Holy Spirit, not us, that allows us to do that. The Holy Spirit gives us the grace to do the impossible, to love even those we do not particularly like, to forgive those who have injured us to the core, to be patient with those who annoy us to no end. Such things are impossible for something that is merely the accidental product of evolution, but because there is God, the impossible is made possible."
"Bender" Blog Comment, "Conversion Diary"
There's also this from the Book of Common Prayer, the Rite of Reconciliation, p. 451:
Priest: "Do you forgive those who have sinned against you?" Penitent: "I forgive them."

Love also includes myself. Jesus said, “'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’" (Matthew 22:37-39). My take on this is in the form of a poem I wrote in my college days:

Can I love you
As I love myself?

Would you want a love
Based on conditions,
And impossible demands?
Would you want to feel
The guilt of always falling short?

Then I’m afraid I can’t love you
As I love myself.
I must change the love I have
So that it becomes a fitting gift to you.

Because I must first love myself
As I want to love you
Before I love you.

1985, revised 2008

I know greater minds than mine have written about this, but hey, what's a blog if you don't write what you think? It's far, far, from complete, but I hope I've given you, Gentle Reader, a little food for thought.

My continuing challenge -- to live as I profess to believe. God help me.


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