February 12, 2016

Cornucopia / Cynthia Dewes

What is love? Can anyone really define it?

Cynthia DewesHere’s the eternal question: What is love? That’s hard to say, because love is probably the most elusive thing to define, while still seeming to be the easiest. Go figure.

We know that God is love, and that he loves us always, even though we may often think ourselves unworthy of it. We know that our job as Christians is to love others as we love ourselves, although we may not always love ourselves very much, not to mention how we may feel about the “others.”

So we sift through the various possibilities of what love is not. Love is not solely a sexual relationship, although it may include it if couples are married. It’s not a needy condition, although we all certainly need it. It’s not what makes a Subaru, despite the ads. And it’s not just being nice, although we may say “I love you” more often than we really mean it. In fact, love is not a lot of things.

We recognize romantic falling in love, that wonderful, exciting emotion that overwhelms us at times. It may continue into a loving spousal relationship, deepening and becoming more complex. Then it may extend even further into parental love, in which married lovers feel the desire and need to nurture and protect the resulting children. In turn, the kids love each other. On a less important level, falling in love can also happen when we get a new puppy, or find our dream house, or hear a piece of music that transports us.

Most of us also experience the pleasure of loving friendships. Here, too, we want to treat our friends with respect and work to make their lives profitable in some way. We listen to them, and they listen to us when we need to vent. They help us, give us advice and encouragement, and think up ways to amuse us. Their love may also last a lifetime.

Sometimes love means sacrificing one’s time or money or whatever it takes to serve another. In marriage, it means taking the vow “in sickness and in health” literally, maybe including years of nursing a spouse through depression, cancer or dementia. And it also means believing the vow to be faithful “for richer, for poorer” through failed business ventures or lost jobs or bankruptcy. Paradoxically, it may even mean surviving together through winning the Powerball lottery.

Tough love may be necessary when we must displease people in order to help them. The immature teen may need grounding, or the adulterous friend may need a reminder of what’s right rather than a sympathetic shoulder to cry on. It may mean talking to an employee about a change in method or behavior, or reminding a fellow parishioner of the need to be charitable rather than righteous.

Taking love to a wider area, we may show love for our freedom and our American way of life by exercising our rights and duties as citizens in keeping informed, voting and participating in national debate. We may also show such love by pointing out errors in national efforts and working for constructive solutions.

It’s a lot of fun to look at teenage lovers in the movies or ideal marriages on TV. But really expressing love ourselves is a bit harder, and yet more satisfying than those examples. God is love, which sets the standard pretty high. But we can certainly celebrate it on St. Valentine’s Day.

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

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