What Is Love?
Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy; love does not boast, it is not puffed up; love does not behave rudely, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrong. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices in the truth; love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8)
The word “is” indicates the present. “Was” is in the past. “Is” is in the present. “Is to come” or “will be,” expresses the future. If you read the scripture above once more and emphasize each occurrence of the word “is,” the immediacy of the nature of love will highlight itself in your mind.
Love is now.
When you love someone, whether they are alive on this earth or if they have passed away, your love is now. Love is not like a wisp of smoke that rises from a cigarette and then disappears into the air. It is not elusive. Love is constant, more like the stars that peer down at us from above: whether the sunshine or the moon hangs in the sky, the stars do not move. They are ever-fixed, as Shakespeare says. Love has the enduring quality of the stars as they keep their promise to light up the night sky.
The “is” of love is counter-cultural in our world today. It seems to come and go like a wisp of smoke. It seems to be difficult to attain, impossible to hold on to and easy to forget about once it flies out the car window. It only seems this way because we often define love as a feeling.
Feelings do waltz into the ballrooms of our hearts and then tango their way right out the back door. Feelings react to the foci of our mind, will and emotions but they are not, in and of themselves, capable of producing love. Feelings are like the lights on the dashboard of your car: they are indicators of how the machine is running. Feelings are not the machine itself.
If love “is” then it is a constant, present choice. For example, if I was patient with my husband yesterday but not patient with him today, yesterday’s patience is merely today’s memory. Yesterday’s patience cannot morph itself into this moment’s patience. I must choose patience anew, today. Right now. It would be nonsensical for me to say to my husband:
“Must I pursue actions of love everyday? I was selfless last month. Wasn’t that enough for you? Today, I am going to do whatever I feel like doing regardless of how it affects you.”
Or . . .
“But I was kind for the first three years of marriage. Just let your heart be content with that. If I MUST be kind to you again I will do it sometime next year.”
Love is a series of choices. It is active. God’s genius is fully displayed in his design for marriage in the fact that it is meant to be a lifetime commitment. The commitment I made to John is permanent. Even though we both display our fallibility by making mistakes and behave selfishly from time to time, the commitment stands. Even when we don’t sense the wisps of romantic feelings wafting through our home, love still “is” because the commitment we made to our marriage still “is.”
I suppose some feel it is a stifling truth but I find great freedom in the boundaries that marriage provides. The boundaries means both my husband and I are free within our marriage to be the strong individuals we are, to be brilliant in our shows of love at times and to display lackluster moments of spousal support at other times. Whether we laugh with feelings of love or pout with a lack of emotional vigor we both know that love still “is.” When our feelings are not creating sparks, the commitment is still alive with electricity even though the switch is turned off.
God’s definition of love extends to every loving relationship we enjoy (and sometimes do not enjoy). The love we have for our family, our friends, our co-workers—ones that are easy to love and the sand paper people in our lives—all begin with present choices. No matter how deeply the roots of any individual relationship extend, the way you choose to treat others today still matters.
For example, I love my mom. I am sure I could go two weeks without calling my mom and she would still know I love her. In fact, we have kind of a funny routine we often play out at the end of our conversations:
Mom: Okay, honey, I love you. Tell John I love him, too.
Jill: I love you, too. Tell Victor [my step-dad] I love him, too.
Mom: Okay, everyone still loves everyone.
Jill: Everyone is in love.
My mom knows I love her so I could probably go for several weeks without talking to her on the phone but I don’t want to because I love her. I delight in these conversations with my mom because our relationship is built on love. Every now and then we have an argument or become short with one another—it is rare but it does happen—but because love “is” between us we are quick to apologize or even simply let the moment go. Sometimes we don’t have to apologize at all because after one of us has been impatient or angry we return quickly to patience and understanding.
It is easy to see how God’s definition of love applies and works well in healthy relationships, but what about relationships that are either unhealthy or broken?
Love cannot be selfish. I do not mean to say, “It should not be selfish,” I mean that the character of love itself leaves no possibility for selfishness. We as humans can make selfish decisions when we are not acting in love, but then the fault is ours, the fault does not belong to love itself.
When we focus inwardly we cannot make the outward, forward-moving choices that are outlined in God’s definition. For example, I cannot give you a gift and also keep the gift at the same time. So, relationships that are damaged are often suffering from black clouds of selfishness and the rain of neglect. Even so . . . anyone who has ever flown in an airplane knows that above the storm, the sky is still blue.
If you are currently suffering from a broken heart, splintered expectations or the pangs of loneliness know this: love “is.” If you have given your love to someone in the past, or if you long to give it now to someone who will not receive, know that your love has not been lost, it has not dwindled, it will not burn out. True love—the love that God himself breathes into and through you—is a constant burning flame and it is yours to hold. Like a torch, you have been imbued by the Spirit of God to light your path and others’ paths with love.
There is always someone within your sphere of influence who needs your love: your daily choices to lift the light of your patience, kindness, encouragement, grace, forgiveness and presence. As you accept love into your life and give love to others, you will see its restorative, redemptive and rejuvenating power.
This sonnet is meant to capture the timeless, indestructible nature of love. Feel free to share it with someone you love, today!
Beating Time, by Jill Szoo Wilson
A timepiece closed cannot hold still the time
As seconds beat invisibly around.
Above, below, inside the ticking climbs
Like drummers knocking measured, muted sound.
Within the scope of Winter-turning-Spring,
Like mist that billows down before the dawn,
There tiptoes in a gust to which hope clings
And wind-blown hours melt with waking sun.
Notes banging ‘gainst enclose’d copper sings
To beckon signatures which swelling call
Inside a music box’s gentle rings
Where Winter’s cold tocks further from the Fall.
No matter what the beats of time may play
Here speaks my heart with words I do not say.
—Jill Szoo Wilson