It’s Valentine’s Day, that wacky holiday that in America comes out to a mixture of the color red, endless candy. flowers, and sometimes depression (or guilt). Love is great, but Valentine’s Day? For some of us, the jury’s still out.
Whatever else Valentine’s Day may be, it’s a great chance to look love In The Practical. Whatever we may say about love, and whatever love may say about itself… what does love actually DO? If we’re going to love well, and we’re going to engage our souls, then let’s have at the “how.”
Well, glad you asked. And look no further. Here are 7 things love does.
1. Love L E A R N S M O R E.
We’re assumption-makers, aren’t we?
“She’s ignoring me.”
“He’s refusing to do the thing I asked.”
“She doesn’t like the way I said that.”
My son’s 7th grade teacher showed him how to break down the syllables of the word “assume” and use the phrase, “When you assume, you make an ASS out of U and ME.” Ha! Should I have been annoyed because of the swear, or been grateful for the tip? Because it’s helpful. I’m an ass. (Aren’t we all?) I rush to worst judgments.
The people we love are nuanced, just like we are. They’re distracted; they’re grappling with conflicted motives; their actions come from wants, hopes, fears – just like ours.
Love doesn’t jump to conclusions, doesn’t get ruffled, doesn’t react (or lash out) real quick. Loves takes a second, puts the thing in context, asks a clarifying question. Love seeks to give the benefit of the doubt.
Love L E A R N S M O R E.
(P.S. Love learns more in small ways and big ones, and when it comes to the big ones, I’ve found nothing more helpful than the Enneagram to generate understanding that leads to capacity for greater love. If you haven’t checked it out, you should!)
2. Love G O E S F I R S T.
Here’s the thing about love: it’s proactive. It doesn’t sit on its haunches, surveying the scene, hanging around till a good time. Or till it feels like it – which may be never.
Love doesn’t wait till the other person does the predicating thing, opening the way for us to do Our Thing. It doesn’t wait till someone says they’re sorry (at least not most of the time.)
Love means mercy, and love means grace. It means enlarging the soul to embrace the other person… especially at the moment it’s hard. This is necessarily active, not passive.
How do we know? Because God went first. He came when we didn’t deserve it… and He still comes first, every day.
Let’s be people who go first with our love. It’s not what we want to do, usually, but it’s who we want to be. (And who we’re called to be). So just DO it – with that well-timed word, that hug, that small act of service, that Getting Off the Couch.
Let lead love you into initiation, without requirement of repayment.
G O F I R S T. It’s a sacrifice God will honor.
3. Love P U T S D O W N T H E P H O N E.
A backbone. That’s one thing love requires. It requires self-control and sometimes a will of iron to do the harder thing.
The harder thing, very often, is putting down the phone. That’s the reality of life in our modern age. We have these computers at the end of our arms that bring us into what feels like Better Lands Than Here at the literal push of a button – places we feel more interested, more productive, more important. Our phones are seductive.
But love, that greatest of all the virtues. It’s spelled T-I-M-E… and it’s also spelled “eye contact.” Love asks to be more important than that other thing, and it asks not to be rushed. It wants attention, and rightfully so. There is no love without attention.
Love means saying no to self in favor of the other. In the practical, saying no to self means putting down the phone. Doesn’t it? And leaving it down. Offering our impulses and addictions at the alter in favor of the other before us.
Here’s to it: let’s P U T D O W N T H E P H O N E and love the person in front of us.
4. Love F I G H T S F O R T H E B E S T.
The reality of love is that it’s a fight. In actual fact, it’s the greatest fight we engage in in our lives. The person committed to loving wholly and well is participating in active warfare.
Why is love such a fight? Because it’s so.very.hard. We’re selfish beings – it’s in us by nature – and what we want is what feels good to US. We want our own comfort, support, appreciation by others. To love others well, all these things have to go on the back burner. Our inner man says: “Really? So much easier to let things carry on in ‘OK’ or ‘average’ fashion. Must we really aim for the BEST?”
Here’s the other reason it’s a fight: love has an enemy. And that enemy is well-equipped. It’s not vogue to talk about the devil, but he’s super real and super powerful and he literally hates love with his whole being. He will do everything in his power to thwart us in our quest for love (giving it, and receiving it). And the more you grow in loving – in all the realest ways – the more he’ll attack.
Suit up, my friend, make sure your spear tip’s sharpened, and head with me to the battlefield. Our loved ones need our love, and we need healthy relationship with them (and with God) more than most anything else. We’re promised that the battle will be worth it, and the victory will be ours. Let’s F I G H T F O R T H E B E S T.
5. Love S P E A K S T R U T H.
Everyone says they like truth, but living out truth well is another story. Truth doesn’t come easy – both truth about ourselves, and also communicating truth within relationships.
The workload of truth-speaking comes in two parts. First, we have to do the hard work about what’s happening in our own souls. WHY are we angry / defensive / jealous / harried / resentful / passive (or – fill in your own blank!) when we’re interacting with that other person? The issue may be with US, as much (or more) than the other person.
Or maybe it’s not. Only solitude, reflection, prayer, and gaining wisdom will reveal this truth.
Second, once we have come to truth in our own mind and soul, we often need speak to the other person. This involves a bunch of prayer first (and sometimes during), a soul full of bravery, a big dose of humility, and a gentle spirit. Tall order, all around. Good thing God makes it all possible.
Bottom line, love means being known and cherished AS known. Relationship doesn’t thrive where truth isn’t present. For there to be intimacy and closeness (which are what love is all about), truth must be in the midst. And it must be spoken.
So here’s to it, pilgrims! Let’s do the work to get to truth, and then let’s S P E A K T R U T H with great kindness to those we love.
6. Love G I V E S T H A N K S.
“All you need is love,” the Beatles sang, and they were onto something. Why is love all we really need? Because it’s awesome and powerful and soul-filling. In short, it’s an enormous and amazing GIFT. And because love is more than anything else a gift, we must see it as such and be grateful for it. We must give thanks for it.
It would be easier to be grateful for love, and for our loved ones, if the picture were prettier, wouldn’t it? If our spouse paid a few more compliments or brought home flowers a bit more often. If our kids didn’t leave their socks on the floor (again!) or bicker with each other. If our house were just that darn bit cleaner.
But that’s just the point. Love disciplines itself to see the blessing amidst the frustrations and disappointments. It schools itself to stay in its own lane, not glancing sideways at the blessings of OTHER people in THEIR relationships. Love knows that this very thing – this particular specimen of marriage, parenthood, friendship, daughterhood, neighbor-ness – is the one it’s called to, the one to give thanks for. The gift is here itself, not somewhere else.
Love sets aside imperfections, doesn’t look sideways, doesn’t compare. Love commits to gratitude, and to the radical act of thanksgiving for life’s good gifts. So let’s G I V E T H A N K S!
7. Love V A L U E S S E L F.
This is a counter-intuitive one, but for me it’s one of the most critical. Love understands that, just as the *other* person is a beautiful gift, a being made in God’s image worthy of respect and treasuring… so is the self. The self we’re given when we’re born (we didn’t pick or make our own self, after all!) is God’s first gift to us, and we’re supposed to cherish it.
Some of us break this commandment, this golden rule, often: “Love your neighbor as you love yourself.” But we break it in a weird, unexpected way. We love our neighbor MORE than we love ourself.
We make time for our neighbor when we won’t make time for ourselves. We happily spend money on our neighbor that we feel guilty spending on ourselves – so we don’t. We help our neighbor fulfill her dreams, but we don’t take our own remotely seriously. (“Dream? What dream? I don’t even have one.”) We mis-apply the Biblical call of self-denial, and we try to die to all the wrong things. This kills relationship and stifles love.
If we are going to love our spouses, children, friends, neighbors, fellow citizens well… we must love ourselves equally well. We must love ourselves AS we love others (and not less). We must treat ourselves carefully, with respect and dignity. Doing this will open doors to love that can’t open any other way.
So let’s love well and V A L U E S E L F aright! Our relationships, and our loved ones, will ultimately thank us.
This piece originally appeared at susanbarico.com, published with permission.