Years ago, back when I still acquired my daily dose of news from a newspaper, I always finished up by turning to the comic page looking for the touching, single frame cartoon titled “Love Is...” by artist Kim Casali. It featured two cherub-like characters sketched in scenarios that represented a simplistic definition of what love is. “Love is...your anchor” “Love is...when it’s just great being together” “Love is...sharing the same dream”. The sweet little couple expressed the never ending positive views of love and over time “Love is...” became an industry and familiar iconic phrase in modern lexicon.
Love is... (fill in the blank).
In the English language the word “love” is more or less generic and used to cover all manner of ways for one to express devotion or affection for another unlike in the Greek which distinguishes love in several senses depending on the way in which the word is used. For example, ancient Greek has the words philia, or brotherly love, eros, physical love, agape, idealistic love, and storge, for child/parent love.
Christians believe that to love God with all your heart, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself are the two most important kinds of love in life. The Apostle Paul glorified love as the most important virtue of all. Describing love in the famous poem in 1 Corinthians, he wrote, "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres."
The short version of first Corinthians 13:4-8, as used frequently in wedding ceremonies, lists fifteen attributes of love, seven of which speaks of what love is and does. The remaining eight items addresses things that love isn’t. For example, love is not jealous, envious or possessive.
In my life I have had more than enough experience with the complex and various manifestations of love that has taught me how to discern when love is genuine, whether it is agape, philos, eros, or storge, and when it is something else masquerading as love. Unfortunately, because love taps into emotions instead of intellect, love is easy to imitate. Love can often be a wolf in sheep’s clothing, a dark devourer dressed in artificial light. Synthetic love is enticing and speaks glibly, making promises it rarely keeps or, even worse, enslaves with guilt because of promises endowed. In comparison, real love does more and speaks less.
Of all the things that love is, there are as many attributes that love, real love, is not. Most importantly, among these, love does not loudly demand loyalty, rather it chooses to earn devotion gently, quietly. Sometimes, because of circumstances and affiliations, one might find it easier to capitulate to the dictates of imitation love, if only to silence the din. That’s when real love shows its true character by remaining even more silent. That’s when real love waits patiently, never drawing attention to itself, never issuing ultimatums or imposing its own will. For this reason real love is often taken for granted and/or ignored. It is the first great failing of humans, to misinterpret what love really is. The second is assuming that real love never needs anything in return. But even love eventually needs affirmation of love and loyalty back, needs reciprocating, because though real love is indeed patient... it isn’t blind.
Love is...often better revealed in what love isn’t.
The beginning of a brand new year is the best time to figure out and stand up for real love.
(Rev. 2:1) To the angel of the church in Ephesus write: These things saith he that holdeth the seven stars in his right hand, he that walketh in the midst of the seven golden candlesticks: (2:2) I know thy works, and thy toil and patience, and that thou canst not bear evil men, and didst try them that call themselves apostles, and they are not, and didst find them false; (2:3) and thou hast patience and didst bear for my name's sake, and hast not grown weary. (2:4) But I have [this] against thee, that thou didst leave thy first love. (2:5) Remember therefore whence thou art fallen, and repent and do the first works; or else I come to thee, and will move thy candlestick out of its place, except thou repent.