I never understood the concept of self-love until very recently, even the verses in the Bible about loving your neighbor as yourself didn’t make sense if you don’t even know how to love yourself. The whole concept of love in itself is very confusing because there are so many ideas about what it is. Is it an emotion? Is it a choice? Is it an automatic response? How do you love someone else? Is it a verb or a noun? “I am in love,” is a noun. “I love you” is a verb. So, if it’s both then it’s a thing and an action. We have books, gurus, seminars, sermons, motivational speakers, movies and television shows all centered around love, but we still struggle with it. We still have such painful heartache and heartbreak even though we supposedly know so much about it. So what is it? And how do we show it to ourselves and to others? Is there really a difference between loving in different levels of relationships or is it something else that is different? Does love have tiers or is it constant and there is some other variable at work?
Let’s first look at what the world and culture say about love. What is the holiday most centered around love? What comes to mind?
Is it valentines day? What is it we are actually celebrating on that holiday? What about the people without a “valentine?” What happens to them? Are they brought in or left out? Who decides? It seems to be geared towards romantic love. We give gifts, we have dinners, and we make elaborate plans during the holiday.
What about Christmas? It seems to be geared towards familial love. We give gifts, have dinners and make elaborate plans, but is it love celebrated or love demonstrated? What is it we are doing? What about people without family? Are they brought in or left out? Who decides?
Let’s look at Easter. What does it celebrate? We give gifts, have dinners and make elaborate plans. It seems to be centered around familial love too, but geared towards children. The formula for how it’s celebrated remains the same.
How about New Years? What does it celebrate. We give gifts, have dinners and make elaborate plans. It seems to encompass everyone though. Significant others, family, children, friends and strangers are all celebrated and gather together. The formula still remains the same in its structure.
What about birthdays? What does it celebrate? This one is a bit different. On this one, we receive gifts, people make us dinner and people make elaborate plans for us. It’s all eyes on us. Sure, on the others we receive too, but on this one the focus is strictly on one person. The formula still remains the same, but they’re all different holidays. What is different?
For all of these holidays we see acts of love towards others and love received, by our understanding of love. Giving gifts, spending time together, sharing meals and conversations together. Investing in relationships. But is that love or is it just what we learned to do? Is it simply a response to love? Is it a Pavlovian response that we give to those we care for or are supposed to care for?
What if you get a bad gift? What if you don’t like what’s on the menu or don’t like the restaurant chosen? What if you don’t want to go along with the elaborate plans? What happens to the holiday? What happens to your mood? What does that say about what you are actually celebrating?
If what we are looking at is true. Then all holidays are is a steady rotating cast of characters that we can celebrate gifts, dinners and elaborate plans with. We can celebrate things, money, material worth. We are celebrating idols, or in another perspective…we are worshipping idols. Don’t believe me or sound far-fetched? Imagine that holiday without the gifts, without the dinner and without the elaborate plans. What’s left? Is it still a holiday? Does it even matter anymore?
How does that feel to say? Are there alarm bells ringing? Are you mad or upset? Do you feel attacked? While that’s not my goal, it is a side effect of my goal. I wanted to shake you up a bit, get through the exterior shell of comfort and shake some things loose.
Now that we are here, let’s look at what love actually is by a different standard. How about the one they give at most weddings found in the Bible? Does it only apply to married people? Let’s find out together.
1 Corinthians 13:4-7 “Love is patient, love is kind, it is not jealous; love does not brag, it is not arrogant. It does not act disgracefully, it does not seek its own benefit; it is not provoked, does not keep an account of a wrong suffered, it does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; it keeps every confidence, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
Does that only apply to married people? I don’t think so. Who else does it apply to? Family? Friends? Kids? Strangers? Coworkers? People at church? Neighbors? Bullies? People who hurt you? Exes? Where does it mention gifts? How about dinners? Making elaborate plans? Where are the warm fuzees? Where’s the list of people that you are supposed to love? At first glance it looks like a list of character traits and behaviors of a person not an emotion. So, what is love?
Well, it seems as though love is more like a lifestyle than an emotional reaction. Or, maybe even a series of choices when you face different situations in life. But if it’s a lifestyle it’s not relegated to holidays but everyday. If it’s a lifestyle it isn’t just lived out when things are good but also when they’re bad. If it’s a lifestyle it has nothing to do with “when” you give/receive gifts, have dinners and make elaborate plans but everything to do with “why” you give/receive gifts, have dinners and make elaborate plans.
Take a good long look at the list of what love is and see if you are loving to others by that standard. Then look at it again and see if you are loving to yourself. What have you learned today? Are you challenged to do things differently? I’m not saying don’t celebrate holidays and I’m not saying to quit giving gifts and all of that, but what I am saying is to start asking why. Examine why you do for some and not for others. Does something need to change? Where do you start? How do you start? What are you going to do today, in a small way, to start? What can be changed now?
For me, it always starts with perspective and then that allows me to see things differently so I can do things differently. But it takes time and reflection and the humility to look hard at yourself and be honest with what you see. Then address it with empathy and compassion. If you’re not kind, why? If you’re not patient, why? If you’re jealous, why? If you are arrogant or boastful, why? If you act disgracefully, or are known as the one that always takes things too far, why? If you’re only look out for yourself, why? If you’re easily angered, why? If you hold on to grudges, why? If you love gossip and rumors, why? If you have trust issues, why? If you are afraid of hope, why? If you give up easily, why?
Take a while and look in the mirror and ask yourself these questions and give honest answers. Don’t shy away when it gets hard, if memories resurface, or if you get overwhelmed as old hurts and pain resurfaces. These must be dealt with, processed, forgiven and healed, then you can make room for and understand love. Love for others and love for yourself. Not the holidays, not the cultural norm, but love as it is, not how it’s been represented.
When you see love as a series of choices instead of a series of feelings it changes things a lot. It makes love a choice instead of a reaction or feeling. While feelings can be associated with love they don’t define it, prove it or disprove it. Where fear was, hope can be. Where anger was, happiness can be. Where loneliness was relationships can grow. What are you going to do from here?
Now, will it change overnight? No. Will we be able to do them all? Probably not. Will it be hard? Yes. Will it be uncomfortable? Yes. Will it get easier? In time, through personal growth and a greater capacity for love. You see, love in action is giving mercy and grace to someone, regardless of if they deserve it, and this includes giving grace and mercy to yourself. It is driven by empathy and lived out through compassion. How well do you love? Who do you love? Does something need to change?
Written by: William Griffith