February 13, 2015

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

Trying to answer the eternal question about love

Cynthia DewesWhat is love? That’s the eternal question. And since we know that God is love, it makes its description impossible. But we try to define love anyway, in songs, poems, movies, TV shows, you name it. Talk shows are devoted to the subject, and sermons delivered about it. For something so universally interesting, it seems to remain a mystery waiting to be solved.

Maybe that’s because love is so many things. It involves romantic love, sexual attraction, filial, maternal and paternal love, friendship and compassion. When we love, we try to model God’s love for us, meaning without judgment of who is worthy of it.

On Valentine’s Day, we try to demonstrate our love. Lovers shower each other with kisses and candy and weekend getaways. Kids exchange greetings with their classmates and present favorite teachers with chocolates. Greeting card companies and candy makers must love St. Valentine for inspiring the whole celebration.

These symbols of love are nice to have, but they’re only a reminder of what love really entails. Love has to start with us by loving ourselves. We need to believe that we are graced by God to be worthy lovers. We must love ourselves in the sense that we think we are OK people trying to do the right thing.

Sometimes love means sacrifice. We love by accepting and rejoicing in the births of kids, including handicapped ones, and unplanned babies before they come into the world. Just as we must love ourselves, warts and all, so we love the special children who surprise us and their siblings when they appear in our relatively orderly lives.

Love may mean visiting a sick friend when we’d rather be out on the golf course, or spending a week of our vacation watching daytime TV sitting on a couch with our elderly parents in another state. It may be suffering through a grade school performance of Pinocchio or helping a teen write a term paper. It might even mean passing up dessert in order to set a good example for a dieting spouse, or losing an argument we know we could win just to allow our friend to be right.

In a way, love is situational. There are times when being loving and supportive may verge on denial, enabling bad behavior or encouraging self-delusion. The parent of an adult drug or alcohol addict, for example, must choose tough love sometimes in order to really help their son or daughter. They must decide if their motive in helping is because they want the child’s approval, or because they want the child to recover and live a productive life, even if this makes them unpopular.

Sometimes love is such pure joy that we can hardly bear it. When we meet our beloved after a long separation, there aren’t enough hugs and kisses possible to celebrate the occasion. Or when we see the new baby for the first time and he or she wraps a little fist around our finger. Or when a teenager looks at us with real respect. Or when an unexpected person gives us a sincere compliment at a low point in our lives.

Scripture says that love is gentle, love is kind, non-judgmental, etc. Like the song says, it’s a many-splendored thing. It’s a reflection of God, after all. And we’ve been tasked with demonstrating it to others as we do to ourselves, so: Happy St. Valentine’s Day! Happy loving!

(Cynthia Dewes, a member of St. Paul the Apostle Parish in Greencastle, is a regular columnist for The Criterion.)

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