Everywhere we look we see people trying to tell us what love is. Most of these are commercial images trying to sell you something — jeans, movie tickets, greeting cards. All those images might stir something in us, but none of them really speak to what love actually is.
Which is funny, because love is the most basic human thing. You don’t have to be taught how to love, just like you don’t have to be taught how to breathe. But unlike breathing, I think loving does take some effort.
And I’m not just talking about romantic love here, which I think can be the deepest and hardest love to practice. No, I think this applies to all forms of love — love of God, love of friends, love of family, and love of bacon or bacon-flavored items. So, when I think about it, what is love to me?
Love is nothing. Let me explain.
No — there is too much. Let me sum up.
Recently my brother came home for part of the summer. He lives out of state now, but had some business in town, so he stayed with me part of the time he was visiting. And the thing that really struck me about his visit is how much meaning there was in all the things we DIDN’T do.
We are supposed to believe that love is this grand series of gestures and really fun times. This is especially true in an age of social media when we are constantly bombarded with Instagram posts of our friends tasting sangria in Barcelona, Periscopes of co-workers at the Taylor Swift concert, and Facebook posts with our parents “cave diving”.
But sitting in my condo, watching the Lego Batman Movie (definitely “Dateworthy” in my opinion), I was really reminded of how meaningful — even sacred — that simple time spent together can be. To me, that is a true indicator of the depth of love between two beings — sharing the same space and just being together.
…after the fire there was the sound of a gentle whisper.
It takes a depth of love and trust to not try to fill the silence with idle talk. And here’s the thing: You can feel really comfortable around some people. Maybe you’ve dated someone you have felt an instant connection with. But the kind of depth where you can sit in silence together can really only be achieved one way: time.
Think, too, about one of the greatest opportunities we have as Catholics to experience the love of God — adoration. Here is a place where we can sit with God in sacred silence. Maybe we talk to God some, maybe he responds.
But mostly we’re just invited to sit in each other’s presence. That’s pretty awe-inspiring to think that we’re welcome to just sit in a room with the Word — who Was, who Is, who shall ever Be, but it is mind-shattering to think that HE actually greatly desires to spend that time with us.
In Psalm 46:10 we are told to “Be still and know that I AM God.” It is this quiet confidence that the other will be there with is that really demonstrates the kind of selflessness and trust that speaks to the innermost parts of us.
Love is also nothing held back.
There is a couple in my parish — let’s call them Tom and Lois (because that’s their names). Every week they arrive to Mass a half hour early, and it usually takes them 20 minutes to get to the back pew from the handicapped space adjacent to the front door. It’s maybe a 40-yard walk.
Lois has bad hips and walks with much difficulty and pain using a walker. They’re both approaching 90, and have been doing a similar routine as long as I’ve known them (which we’ll just say is a long time).
Bob always and without fail walks with her, patiently, quietly, and with such care. He never rushes her, never complains, and is always attentive.
To me, this is maybe the greatest expression of love I’ve seen — total abandonment of self. There’s no music playing. No montage of great adventures and intimate dinners. Those are fairy tales.
Love is a total death of self, and yet you can see how life giving and life affirming this “death” is. The more we can empty ourselves in a true sense of charity, the more we are filled up. The how is a mystery, but we can see this borne out time and again.
Gift of One, Gift of the Other
To understand this love, just look at the cross. Here, the God of the Universe has not only lowered himself to human form, but he chose to lay himself bare and suffer a painful and humiliating death so that you and I (and all our friends and loved ones AND our enemies) might have newness of life.
We can tend to take this truth for granted, but every time I reflect on the gravity of that great gift I am awed and humbled. And I want to reciprocate. And so it goes — two persons, each dying to self and responding to the gift of the other.
These deaths can be manifest in a number of ways — taking care of an aging parent (when they’re not cave diving), moving to a faraway city with a spouse, or even just giving the window seat up on an international flight to someone who might need it more.
The act doesn’t have to be big, but the more we can mirror Christ’s own sacrifice, the more we become like him and the more we make him manifest to the world.
Love Keeps No Record of Wrongs
Love is definitely desiring, but it’s never selfish. The more we can enter into the Nothing, the more we become capable of real love.
And love, as it always has, will change hearts and transform the universe. And that’s not nothing.