What is Love?
Ah Love, that thing we all desire, crave and long for! Really we obsess over it in our culture don't we?
Love permeates everything from movies, books, and music, to how we express our appreciation for our favorite pizza!
But how many of us really know what love is? What it feels like? How to identify in others?
For most of us, we are taught that love feels like cuddles and warm hugs, like laughter between friends, and the feeling that we just "get each other!"
It's so easy to love those that make us feel good about ourselves, and that respond to us with appreciation and gratitude.
But sometimes I wonder if that is all there is to love?
Or if there is something more to it?
Something that many of us are missing?
Don't get me wrong, all the warm hugs and cuddles are a part of it, but they can't be all of it, not when so many of us are still longing, still struggling, and still dealing with the feeling of lovelessness.
I am challenged when I read a quote like the one by Leonard Cohn:
"Love is not a victory march, it's a cold and broken hallelujah!"
A quote like that makes me ask myself what I am missing if I stay with the conventional wisdom on what love is?
When my belief that love is only positive mushy feelings, only gestures of support and applause, when I am told to only surround myself with the people that "lift me up" am I missing something valuable about what it means to love?
So as I am challenged to look at love in a different way, I fall on the definition by psychoanalyst Eric Fromm. He says:
"Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's (spiritual) growth. Love is an act of will - both an intention and an action."
Love looks a bit different in that light. So let's break it down.
Extending myself is really uncomfortable, in fact, it normally means getting out of my comfort zone and doing something I don't really feel like doing. When I do things within my means, that easy and it comes naturally, but when I have to extend myself, that means I have to dig deep and go further than I would like to. It requires real effort and presence. Extending myself looks like forgiveness, letting go, helping out, going the extra mile, being there when I would rather be doing my own thing, considering others when I would rather just be considering myself.
(Hmmm.... can't I just give hugs and kind platitudes? I promise to really really meant them?)
When I think about spiritual growth, I know that that is the most difficult kind!
It doesn't come when things are all rosy and easy. Real spiritual growth comes in what is commonly known as "the dark night of the soul!" When life is bleak, silver linings nonexistent, and as our spirit suffers we have no grip on hope. When we are going through this type of thing, we can often look around and find that nobody is there, that we are going through it alone. Or if we are on the other end and we see a friend suffer in this way we often feel like we want to fun away - we don't want to get "dragged into it."
So love is getting into the trenches with someone. Sharing their pain, and sometimes, even causing pain through honest, difficult conversations. It's setting boundaries and learning how to say no. It's choosing things that nourish our soul even if that means going against the status quo.
When I think of an act of will - an intention and an action - it tells me that sometimes I won't feel like loving. That it will require intentional planning and a craving out of part of my day that I would rather keep for myself, and pouring into someone else's life in a real physical and concrete way.
So love is uncomfortable, stretching, and requires that my actions and my intentions line up - even if I don't feel like it. I'm starting to understand where Mr. Cohn was coming from!
As I look at this side of love I have to be honest and say that many of my relationships are not relationships of love, but rather of bonding. We bond over the things we enjoy, the things that make us feel good, the things that we have in common and don't get me wrong, bonding feels really good!
But I want more - I want to be a loving presence in this world.
And if Leonard Cohn and Eric Fromm are right - then that's not an easy path to walk.
But it's the only path that's worth it!
It's the only path that is actually going to lead you to the fulfillment that you desire so desperately.
Because let's be honest, love should be more then how we feel about pizza!