So, I am here today to bring up something that is a bit confusing: Love.
What is it truly? What does it mean to us? Why does it hurt more often than not?
These are questions I don’t have perfect answers to. But earlier this week, I was having a conversation with a close friend of mine about a new relationship she has just entered. She shared with me that in the short time they’ve known each other, they were tempted to say that they’re in love. To me, that sounded scary and exciting. But for her, it wasn’t time for that. While they’d talked about their potential feelings, she made a point with him to wait another few weeks to think it over before discussing it again. I wondered why they had to think about it if they already knew, and that is when she made a statement that hit me harder than I thought it would: Love is a choice.
And so I realized that she wasn’t sitting back to think about whether or not she felt the emotion of love or not, but rather if she and him were ready to make the choice of love in a long-term sense.
I was mind blown, quite honestly. It just made so much sense. And so this week, I kept thinking about that interaction.
After examining it, I do think that deep down I believed love to be a choice, but on the surface of my mind, I understood it simply as an emotion. I had no idea how little I was reducing love to by doing this.
You see, emotions are fleeting, ever-changing, incredibly unpredictable, and extremely unstable. If love were simply an emotion, it’d do no good for anyone. It would be much more harmful than fulfilling. But for those who steward it well, who use it to honor others, it is an emotion least of all. It is much more so a conscious effort to seek the best in others, to do whatever is in your power to fulfill them and encourage them. Love is about your intentions—if they are to serve the other person and to want the very best for them, no matter the cost to you, you are choosing love. And that is the one and only way to do so.
Love is not something you do when it feels easy. It is something that is only proven and strengthened by the fires that refine it. Take a look at your parents, for example. When you were born, you had literally nothing to offer them, per se. You could do nothing but cry and and eat and go to the bathroom. Yet your parents chose love (I hope) and changed your diaper, fed you, held you, and walked you step by step into adulthood. Chances are you’ve used a lot of their resources emotionally, financially, and physically, things you will likely never be able to repay in full. And yet, they chose to pour a great portion of their purpose into crafting you whether they did a perfect job or not.
An even greater example of this is Jesus. Yes, I talk about Jesus a lot. But I hope you can see why—there is no God in any other belief system that resonates with our pain, that took on human flesh to understand it, that begged for mercy on those he came to save still knowing that they would reject him, beating him to the point of a humiliating death on a cross.
Love will never again be a lighthearted endeavor in my mind because I know this kind of love. And it is by this that I have now discovered an entirely new dimension to love. So let me begin next with an example.
I have been guilty of claiming to love someone before I truly did. And because of that, I closed a door and locked myself behind it before allowing time to discover the true foundation on the other end. I dove in heartfirst, no matter how desperately my head was screaming to wait. What I failed to realize in this emotional, fleeting moment is that love is your actions. And actions create what is truly defined as love.
When I allowed myself to dive into the “L” word too soon, I was being naive. If I could go back and do it again, I’d have stuck to my guns and taken a more similar approach to the friend I mentioned above because real love is patient. And when it comes too soon, it is standing on a foundation of emotion rather than actions/choices. And that is a slippery slope likely doomed to fail.
Hearing the phrase “I love you” creates immediate trust. It makes you want to say it back. It encourages you to believe, to take risks, to give more of yourself. And in saying those three words, people can get away with a lot more than they ever could have otherwise. So love by your restraint. Because without this critical tool we often forget, we set ourselves up on faulty, fleeting, short-lived foundations. We cannot attain the kind of love that makes us feel safe without restraint. And you owe it to yourself and whoever is on the other end of this connection to test the base before letting it sink roots into your heart.
Choose to help your neighbor. Choose to hold your breath when you want to lash out. Choose to dig deeper and understand rather than dismissing. Choose to stick around when it isn’t easy to. And most importantly, expect that in return from those closest to you. Don’t let just anyone into your deepest places before they’ve earned a spot there. Because then it gets tricky. And emotions are like a thick fog around our judgement skills.
Love is a choice, and a choice you have to make for yourself as well. Do you love yourself enough to be picky about who is in your circle of influence? Do you love yourself enough to rise to the occasion rather than dragging others down to your level? Do you love yourself enough to wait patiently, to hold back, to test the intentions of others thoroughly? Do you love yourself enough to run and never look back when you find that you have to?
And finally, do you love yourself enough to forgive the times that you didn’t?
Choose not only to love others, but choose to love yourself. We often forget that love is a discipline and therefore our primary source of empathy. We must practice love faithfully to understand it and to know how to truly deliver it in a way that is life giving to both parties and not just one. The balance is hard; I fall on the wrong side of it all of the time. But please don’t give up in pursuing love. Just make sure to pursue it for longevity, for truth, for peace, for mutual fulfillment. Not as a bandaid, a spontaneous endeavor, a temporary plug on an unhealed wound, a distraction from your underlying hurts.
The forever kind of pain that waits for you on the other side of a broken heart isn’t worth the gamble. You may know your intentions, but you don’t know those of others. Don’t dive in no matter how incredible the beginning may feel. Because once in a while, diving works. But much more often, it doesn’t.
You are all so worthy of connection, of depth, of vulnerability. Love is the key to unlock your soul. Please, make it a priority to practice connecting with others in a healthy way. And remember that you will not always get it right. Every encounter becomes another tool in your pocket for the next time around. And you are growing more than you will ever even realize.