The other day my wife and I were sitting at a restaurant waiting for our dinner. Across one of the walking lanes between tables was a little girl sitting with her mother. She was singing a song most of us with a partially televised childhood would know. It’s a song made popular by a big purple dinosaur. To my credit I can remember it as: “I love you, you love me, we’re a happy family. With a great big hug and a kiss from me to you, wont you say you love me too.” This little girl, who I am certain has heard the song more recently than I had managed to learn only part of the song. She sang on repeat: “you love me, you love me, you love me”. She had the right rhythm but knew only those words. To this my wife and I shared a laugh. Then I started thinking. This girl had unwittingly described how most people tend to perceive love, a one sided, in my favor sort of connection. Just as this little girl did not yet understand the declaration of love as a two way street we often miss the boat in a similar fashion.
I started thinking of how often my treatment of others was not a willful act of love regardless of circumstances but little more than a reaction to their present treatment of me. I walked around with an attitude much like the fragmented lyrics to this young girl”s song. You love me, you love me, and perhaps if you love me well enough I may grace you with a few scraps from my own table of love.
This however is not an act of love at all. To love that which has already treated you with love is little more than natural instinct. The way a child loves their mother, at least at first, is a selfish re-action to the love their mother has shown them through the protection, provision, and affection.
This is not the trueness or the fullness of love. It is at best the cliff notes to a good book. It may summarize the idea but you are missing out on the beauty and details that make the book what it is. While reading the cliff notes might give you a reasonable understanding of what the book is about, it lacks the depth and intimacy that exists within the pages of the story.
In short, this love, which for many of us is our default mode of love, is a truncated, watered down, diluted version of love that lacks what love is really about.
We chase after this shallow love because it fill us with a sense of value an purpose. It feels good. Like eating skittles for dinner however, it does not provide us with the nutrients we need. Though a skittle diet may sound appealing for awhile, should you ever try to sustain it for long the time would certainly come when you would desperately long for something of substance.
Love that matters is not a reaction. It is not selfish, shallow, or summarized. It is a harsh, real, and often ugly emotion that opens you up to as much pain as it does pleasure and promises as much suffering as it does joy. True love is a conscious effort of the will. It is a choice made in the biggest of decisions and the smallest of moments. The suffering of this love is that it requires no less than the constant denial of self. The comfort of this love is that it offers the hope of a relationship built not by you, meeting your own needs, but by the one who returns your love.
Their is only one place such a love originates: God, who while we were still sinners chose to love us. That choice caused Him immense pain and sacrifice. Yet because of His conscious willing effort to love us, we can know what true love is. Through Him we can learn not to love as a reaction, but to radiate love as the entirety of our being. Through this, the transformation of God in us, we become true ambassadors for Him, embodying who He is.
Instead of looking to people to love us and treat us with the value we consider ourselves to have, we ought to seek nothing more than to love them with the value that God has for them. I can’t help but wonder; what would happen if we spent as much time worrying about how we loved others as we did how they loved us?