Well here’s a treat for you. Never short of self confidence, I’ve decided to write a diagnostic checklist for love. Naturally the coverage will not be exhaustive. What it lacks in comprehensiveness it makes up for in sincerity.
There has been one main stimulus for this article. The last few weeks have been ones of very strong contrasts for me: A follow up hospital stay for my long suffering shoulder; visits to far away children and grandchildren; joys and sadnesses in family relationships; aged parents who are struggling; and my brother, sister, and stepdaughter who are dealing with their own pain. Love or its absence, is a common factor in these experiences. There’s more, but you get the picture.
Sitting here this morning in the midst of a sea of pain surging out of the space between my shoulder blade and spine and extending down my arm, I cannot avoid being reminded that I am not an easy person to live with at times like this. Love springs to mind this morning, as it provides an antidote for and an explanation of sorts to many of the events of the past weeks.
So, we begin with my own humble diagnostic checklist which is not meant to be a paraphrase of the well known ode in the first chapter of the Book of Corinthians:
1. Love is inexplicable, inexhaustible, and usually undeserved. It cannot be predicted, resisted or owned. It surprises constantly with its adaptability, resilience, and its ability to forgive.
2. Love is tricky, and may not be what we expect. Sometimes it goes unrecognised, as people look for it in all the wrong places. Sometimes in their quest for love, people try to force it or settle for a replica of it. That is never a successful strategy. It is inevitably destructive for everybody concerned.
3. Love is not sneaky. It does not patronise or diminish. It is not afraid of the truth.
It never undermines. It builds up the loved and the lover. Love leaves us open to, and vulnerable to, the will of the one we love. That is the risk (and maybe the price) of love. The possibility of real hurt and pain is never far away. If you are not vulnerable, it’s not love you are experiencing.
4. Love can not be coerced. It can be as strong as rock, but evaporates quickly when fences are built around it or conditions are attached to it.
Love blossoms in every person who receives it. A person who is loved has fullness of life.
Love is not a commodity to be bought and sold. It can not be taken by one person from another. It can only be given away. It is always a gift. But like every gift, it is wise to receive it with humility and grace.
5. Love is a bit like a garden too. It needs to be tended, watered, the weeds removed, the soil turned and fertilized. Mostly though, it works in spite of the gardener. The seeds grow independently and the plants and flowers appear of their own accord in their own time. Just like a garden though, love can dry up and wither. In a loving relationship, the two people know this, and watch each other’s backs.
6. Love is the essence of life. Where we receive it, it heals us, lifts us, inspires us, reassures us, and sends us on to give it away to others. The presence of love is easy to recognise, just as is its absence.
How did I do? Did I cover the ground?
Does my description apply to the love between wife and husband? You bet it does! At least in this household.
Does it apply to romantic ‘lurv’? Yes, I think so, to a greater or lesser extent. There is a difference between being ‘in love’ and loving someone, as most of us discover eventually. Hopefully we discover it before we cause ourselves and others too much damage. Its all in the focus. The love I talk about above is not at all about ourselves. It is focussed on the other or others. On the other hand, romantic notions of love tend to be susceptible to a focus on having our own needs met. Maybe I am sounding like some old out of touch guy who doesn’t know what he is talking about. Maybe.
So, I would give romantic love a tick for No. 1? Yes. (forgiveness can be a bit problematic here though).
No. 2? Definitely applies!
No. 3? Ooh, not so sure.
No. 4? Yep.
No. 5? Don’t know whether this one gets much of a look in the first blush of romantic love.
No. 6? Yes, but don’t mention the ‘others’ bit too loudly. It will cause problems.
What about the love between friends or family members, sisters, brothers, cousins, uncles, aunts and so on? Does it apply there? Yes, I think the principles apply. There are undeniable undefinable differences in degree of course! I want to be there for my friends and family. I want to be open to them. I feel for them. I don’t want to let them down. Neither do I expect perfection from them (as they certainly won’t get it from me). Readiness to forgive comes in to play here too.
Specifically: No. 1? Yes. Friendship is one of the joys of life.
No. 2? Yes. Trying too hard to have friends is not a good way to go usually. Sometimes we can be surprised by the people who become our friends, just as they are by us.
No. 3? Absolutely and for sure, although the vulnerability barriers would be set higher than they would be with my wife for instance.
No. 4, 5 and 6 Yes. Pretty much word for word.
Well, I don’t know if I covered the gamut of manifestations of love, but I did forget about my pain for an hour or so, so I am content.
Hope it provoked some thoughts.