Love Defined

What is love?  Love is different things to different people.  Love has many different definitions.  Finding one that meets your needs and that you can live out every day is important.  A definition that I have found that meets my needs is this:  Love is choosing to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of both ourself and others.  I have found that this definition brings balance to self-love and other-love.

I came to this definition by starting out with M. Scott Peck’s definition of love.  He states that love is, “The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.”  This definition served me well for some time.  However, as I became increasingly influenced by Progressive Christianity’s call to liberate the oppressed, feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, housing the homeless, being all we can be, and loving others as well as ourselves, I needed a definition that encompassed the actions of all those things.  I needed a definition that dealt with the soul as well as the spirit and sees all the parts as a whole.  On top of all that I wanted make sure there was balance between self-love and other-love.  That is why I reworked Peck’s definition into my own.  Even though Peck’s definition and mine sound very similar, as you will see they are not the same.

Another thing I think needs to be addressed is where love comes from.  This really depends upon ones life outlook.  If ones life outlook is religious then love comes from God or gods.  If ones life outlook in nonreligious then love comes from the evolution of human kind.  Since neither the religious or nonreligious life outlook can be proven or disproven, it is not important to go into which one is right.  For all we know it could be both.  What is important to acknowledge is that either life outlook can apply my definition of love to their way of life.

As I said, this definition meets my needs.  If you find that it meets your needs as well, then use it to guide you every day.  If not then I urge you to find something that meets your needs and let it guide you every day.  But before you decide whether or not my definition works for you, let me explain it in summary form.

The band, The Choir, wrote a song in which the chorus states, “There is something wonderful about love.”  The writer was expressing his thoughts about his marriage relationship.  However he was not saying that love is wonderful because it makes his relationship with his spouse “problem free”.  No he says love is wonderful despite the fact that the relationship is full of problems.  Yet he is still able to say love is wonderful.

Love is work.  Whether it is the love you give to your spouse, children, enemy, neighbor, or yourself, love is work.  It is a choice to humbly find ways to holistically nurture the true self of everyone you meet.  It is a struggle.

First you have to choose to do it.  You have to choose to make the effort despite the opposition you may face from yourself or others.  Second, you have to be humble in knowing who you are and who you are not, unabashedly using your strengths and asking for help with your weaknesses.  Accept the fact that you may not have all the answers of how to love and stand in the helpless feeling it gives you.  That does not mean you give up.  Remember, love is work.

Thirdly, you have to observe what will enrich and what will not enrich every aspect (mind, body, spirit) of the person you are choosing to love.  Then humbly meet their mind, body, spiritual needs.  Fourth, you have to balance your love of others with self-love.  Never let one overtake the other.  Lastly, you have to accept, be it yourself or some one else, who that person truly is, their strengths and weaknesses, and not what you wish them to be.

Love is work and a struggle.  But in the end the work is well worth it.  Think of the strong bond you will have with the person you love, be it yourself or others.  This is why there is something wonderful about love.

This of course is a quick summarization of my definition.  I will spend the rest of this book dissecting each part  and in doing so I will give you the concrete actions that are the work of love.  So let us go deeper into my definition.


Love Is A Choice

First thing we need to understand is that love is a choice.  It is a choice we make every waking second of every day.  It is a choice because love is a gift.  It is like the gift of breath that we receive from the Source of all that is.  Unlike the gift of breath, which is automatic, love is work.  We have to make a conscious effort to do the work of love.  We have to choose to use the gift so graciously given to us.  When we wake up in the morning we choose whom we will give the gift of love to, be it others or ourselves.  We can also choose not to use the gift at all.  The important concept here is that using the gift of love is a conscious choice.  Let me share why it is an important concept to grasp.

I had a friend that was reluctant to get engaged.  His girlfriend was sure that being engaged was what she really wanted.  So he caved in and proposed.  However, after the novelty of it had worn off, she became fearful and doubtful of the decision.  It could have been because some friction in the relationship or meeting someone she thought was a better fit.  Whatever the reason, the doubt and fear was there.  She didn’t know if my friend was “the one.”  She has bought into the current marketing scheme that there is one true love out there and all she has to do is find him.  She is not alone.  However, the truth be told: there’s a plethora of people you could possibly spend the rest of your life with.  It’s really a matter of choosing one and choosing to love them everyday.  It’s also a matter of choosing to make sure neither person’s needs is overpowering the other.  A while back there was an ad campaign for an online matching sight that stated the idea of “All you need is love” was a myth. Deep compatibility was what they where shooting for. And no offense to anyone who has used this service, but I can’t help but wonder why they would say that deep compatibility was so important. As if deep compatibility is what keeps a relationship long lasting. One thing that they never mention is how many relationship matches ended in break up or divorce. I could almost hear the Apostle Paul saying in response that if I had all the compatibility in the world yet had not love, I am nothing.
Love is still the most important thing in a long term relationship. You don’t have to be deeply compatible to have a long term relationship. All you have to do is the work of love every day and the reciprocity of that work needs to be given back to you. And by reciprocity I mean getting your needs met while meeting their needs without being a martyr or taker. When a couple, a family, a community can do that for each other with reciprocity, then the relationship will be long and strong. NO RECIPROCITY OF LOVE, NO LONG LASTING RELATIONSHIP! It doesn’t matter how deeply compatible you are.
Now being deeply compatible does help, but let’s think about it this way. When it comes to the likelihood of reciprocity of love in a relationship, being each others equal puts that likelihood higher. However, not being each others equal does not mean reciprocity of love is impossible. The couple will just have to be more willing work at nurturing each other. By being each others equal I mean this. On a spiritual, emotional, psychological, intellectual, physical, leisurely and sexual level, the couple is in the same place. When the couple is at the same level and they chose to do the work of love, it is easier for them to meet each others needs because they will most likely have similar needs that can be mutually met. Reciprocity will more likely happen.
Now what happens when a couple (and this can be extended to all human relationships) is not each others equal? And I purposely say “not each others equal” so no blame can be singly placed on one person. One cannot say it’s all my partners fault. If your partner is not your equal then you are not their equal either. If they are not meeting your needs, then you are probably not meeting theirs either. And don’t expect or go into a relationship expecting them to become your equal. I am not saying that it can’t happen, but you should not place that expectation on them. I has to be a part of their nurturing of their true self. If their true self turns out to be equal to you then all the happiness to you. But I wouldn’t hold my breath. If they are not your equal now, they probably won’t be (not impossible, but not likely). There are many relationships that end in frustration because one person thought they could change the other. DON’T DO IT! You have to chose to love them for who they are. I hope this all conveys a small part of the work involved in loving someone and why we have to make conscious choice to love.
Writer Sherman Alexia backs me up on this point.

In his short story “Saint Junior” found in the book The Toughest Indian In The World, Alexia describes the love between the main characters, Roman and Grace, as a choice.  He says that Roman realizes that he not only loves his wife, Grace, but he chose her and continues to choose her every day he wakes up.  Roman also thinks that anyone that does not believe that love is a choice is just fooling themselves.  If people don’t choose who they love then they just end up with whomever happens into their lives.  Those that just happen into peoples lives can end up being abusive, lazy, not supportive, and life drainers.  Love just doesn’t magically happen.  Love is work that you are not paid for in currency but rather in a long-lasting relationship.  Because it is work that is why you have to choose to do it for better or for worse.

This is so true, but it is not only true for marriage.  It is also true for any relationship.  Whether it be a friend, co-worker, student, child, enemy or ourselves, love is a choice.  We have to choose to love these people.  It is not automatic.  We would like it to be.  In fact some believe it is.  They think that people automatically love them and they automatically love the other person in return.  And when it doesn’t happen automatically, we blame others and ourselves.  We try to put love in automatic mode because we choose fear over love.  We fear the work involved and settle for a pseudo-relationship, something shallow and fake.

When we choose fear, instead of nurturing each other, we eventually start to compete with one another.  We compete by seeing who is the better friend or, worst yet, who can get more out of the relationship.  Now again, fear is not all that bad.  Fear lets us know that a need must be met.  You see, when we choose to do the work of love we need to know that it will work.  I believe that if we follow my definition we will see that it does work.  It may take some time and patience, but eventually the work pays off.  We enter into a deeper relationship with that person.  When struggles enter into the relationship, and they will, we choose to forge ahead and do the work of love.  We leave the shallowness of our past pseudo-relationships and move on to the next step, which is being humble.  But before we look at being humble I need say something about divorce.

Divorce is usually the result when couples sadly think that love is automatic.  No one taught them to choose to love each other every waking day.  Any relationship that does not see that love is a choice when things get rough, will most likely end up in divorce.  But that is not to say that all couples that get a divorce failed to see love as a choice or stopped choosing to love each other.  Through love they realized that they could not meet each others needs.  In a perfect world both couples realize this, but sometimes only one of them realized it.  Sometimes divorce is the only loving action that will truly nurture both couples.  This is especially true when abuse is taking place.  It is important not to see it as a failure, but instead see it as a best possible way to love that person. When you are not each others equal you have two choices. Decide that you don’t want to or don’t have the capacity to put in the extra effort of choosing to humbly finding ways to holistically nurture their true self, thus ending the relationship, be it divorce or break up. And please listen to me when I say that if there is no reciprocity of love, especially in abusive situations, then the most loving action you can take is to divorce or break up with that person. The other choice is to humbly say we are not the best people to meet each others needs, but we can work on it. That can take on the form of being willing to allow others to meet that need for your partner or finding creative ways to meet that need without sacrificing your own needs. As long as each person does the work of love and reciprocity is present, then the relationship will continue. If this cannot happen then divorce is the loving path.