Do you have lots of ideas in your head about love? Do you wonder what it is and where you’ll find it? Most people spend many years trying to get this subject organized in their minds. Perhaps if we discuss it in a structured manner we can save some time and learn to be more focussed on building true love in all our relationships.
Did you ever watch an old man as his grandchild walks up to greet him? It's quite an experience: He has arthritis, diabetes and high-cholesterol – it hurts him just to get up from his seat – yet his eyes light up with joy as he greets the child. Watch as he gingerly takes the child up in his arms and they gently hug each other. Notice the amount of time and attention that the child commands. Grandparents can spend hours with their grandchildren, always happy to chat about nothing in particular, so excited when the child asks a question or wants to learn something that the grandparent is able to help with.
What about bad behavior? Well, it is certainly annoying, but not really a problem; grandparents quickly forgive and forget.
Each grandchild is different. The grandparents get to know them well and see both their strengths and their weaknesses. Each child is a precious work-in-progress with unlimited potential. The grandparents remember the times when they gave up on their children. They won't make that mistake again with their grandchildren.
This must be true love.
Grandfather is easily exhausted and he has pain and weakness in his body; yet he wants to spend all the time he can with his grandchild. Children immediately recognize the immense value of true love. If it’s not true love, they’re not interested. They know love when they see it and they’re always excited about it.
Cynical people have long lists of wrong explanations for this, but experience in life can teach us the truth: True love comes from God through the power of His spirit in our lives. He wants us to love each other and He fills our hearts with a deep and wonderful joy when we serve one another. Adults are blinded by their many worries, but young children and the elderly know where the real priorities are: They want to be with one another, to care for one another and to serve one another. They desperately want God to fill their hearts with His great joy – so they take advantage of every opportunity to do what pleases Him.
Do you have lots of ideas in your head about love? Do you wonder what it is and where you’ll find it? Take the time to measure your ideas and opinions against the example of the Grandfather and his grandchildren. Do your ideas fit this example?
Most people will find that their ideas don’t fit at all – which is not a good thing; but it’s understandable. Plenty of people in this world are noticing every day that the media is working hard to turn right into wrong and wrong into right. Even the words we use in everyday speech are becoming more illogical and people are forgetting what the words are supposed to mean. Many people don’t realize that what they believe and what they say is often irrational.
So, how do you find the truth? Well, it’s a good start if you make a deliberate and sincere effort to find it.
True love, once you’ve had the experience of it, is so wonderful that you will work hard to find more of it, understand it better and incorporate everything about it into your daily life. With a bit of effort, we can fill our lives with true love without having to wait until we have grandchildren!
What is Love?
Many people, when they hold a baby in their arms, find that they have a certain feeling in their hearts. They think that this feeling is what love is. To be more precise about this feeling and what it means, we need to look more carefully at the difference between happiness and joy:
Happiness is something that we teach ourselves to do. This begins early in life:
Little babies, when they’re born, do not know how to suck milk from their mothers’ breast. The mother places the newborns’ mouth up against her nipple, but the newborn has no idea what to do. There are a huge number of nerve endings in his mouth, though, so the baby reflexively wants to play with anything that comes near his mouth. When he puts the nipple into his mouth he reflexively sucks on it and some milk comes out. This feels good! So, he does it again! Within a short time, he learns that he can get some pleasure in his life by sucking milk into his mouth.
Pleasure is the simple stimulation of the nervous system. Food is easily the most powerful pleasure in our lives – we begin to feel good about food immediately after birth and we continue to incorporate it into our activities throughout our lives.
After a while, a newborn discovers another pleasure: Waste will collect in the baby and make him feel bad. He doesn’t know why he feels this way; he just knows he’s not happy. At some point, another reflex kicks in: A muscle contraction causes him to evacuate some of the waste that’s been in his system for too long. Due to a large number of nerve endings in his back-end, this feels good! So, he does it again!
Throughout our lives, we continue to discover new pleasures, new ways to stimulate our nervous system, and we desire to practice this often. We learn, by habit, to feel good when we do things that bring us closer to pleasure. This good feeling that we get comes from our own minds and bodies. We practice feeling good under certain conditions and we learn, over a long period of time, to repeat this feeling.
In addition, certain activities cause the release of natural substances into our bodies. For example, endorphins produced by the pituitary gland are released into our minds when we smile for extended periods of time. This helps us to practice and learn to get high on life by doing the things we’re supposed to be doing.
We call this a Happy feeling, a feeling of Happiness.
Joy is very different from happiness.
Joy is often more intense than happiness. It is far more intense than, for example, getting high on drugs. Unlike most highs, Joy lasts a long time – months, years or even a lifetime.
You can immediately notice that there’s something different about somebody who has a great deal of joy in his life: He accomplishes far more than most people do, he is more fun to be with, he seems to be brighter than other people and he seems to be able to deal with everything more effectively.
Joy is a gift from God. Only He can fill your heart with it – you can’t buy it, there are no pills that you can get it from, nobody can give it to you except our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.
If you want Joy in your life there is only one way to get it: Make sure you do things that please Him. What pleases Him? Well, that’s a big subject – you should ask Him about it yourself to make sure you get a good answer.
As we’re focusing here on finding love in our lives – which most people interpret to mean love in our relationships with others – we’ll focus on a basic type of activity that is well known to be pleasing to God: Serving others.
In the scriptures, we are asked to care about others, to do good things for them and not to ask for anything in return.
Remembering the example of grandfathers and their grandchildren: we see that this is what they are doing. Children don’t have much to offer their grandparents, yet grandparents feel such joy when they serve their grandchildren. We learn that there are three components here that we generally refer to as Love:
- The grandparents are actually doing things for their grandchildren. These include simple things like smiling, more complicated things like preparing food to eat and much more complicated things like helping with life’s problems. In our spoken language, we refer to these activities as “acts of Love,” and, in fact, we learn from this and other examples that true love is something that we do for others.
- There is a feeling of satisfaction that the grandparents will have when they do good things. This is a learned reaction, something that we give to ourselves. It is a basic form of happiness that we have taught ourselves, by habit, to feel.
- There is a feeling of joy that the grandparents will get as a gift from God. This is the feeling that should be associated with Love.
What Love is NOT
When talking about love with teenagers, we often discuss how young boys and girls feel in relationships. Understandably, parents see that young people find it difficult to separate different emotions and classify them correctly. For this reason, it’s a good idea to make sure we understand what love is not.
Most importantly, love is not lust. Specifically, nothing about lust is related to love in any way – even though society devotes so much time and energy to promoting and encouraging lustful behavior.
Lust is a negative emotion; it's behavior that's uncontrolled. It comes out of our natural and instinctive desire for sex, which is a powerful pleasure. In our screwed-up and over-sexualized society, we find ourselves dealing with lust as if it is love. This can become a destructive habit in our lives that prevents us from making the effort to build a long-term, stable relationship.
Let’s take a look at some of the main differences between lust and love:
True Love is not blind
You will hear songs that talk about how love is blind – but true love is not blind at all. In fact, true love is honest, transparent and deliberate.
(When you start to read about the lives of the people who write these songs, you start to understand how they made this error. Listen to the other songs they wrote and you’ll learn even more.)
When a man looks lustfully at the object of his affections, he sees her as a bright and shimmering being – truly like an angel! But, she’s not an angel and she doesn’t really glow – she’s human. What’s going on?
Lust is blind.
If every time you want to kiss her you bring your face real close to hers but you can’t see the little hairs on her cheeks: either you need glasses or you’re having trouble controlling your lust for her – but you are probably not in love.
When you love her, you can see her clearly. You might fall into lust a little from time to time, but you do actually know what she really looks like and you realize that she’s human; she might be an angel to you but she’s not a real angel - you see her for the human being that she really is.
True Love is not irrational
When a man lusts after a woman, he has no idea who she is or what she’s like as a person – but he thinks and feels that they’ve known each other forever and she’s perfect. This form of blindness is damaging and potentially dangerous.
When a man loves a woman, he can see her faults and he understands that she’s not perfect. He can see each of her bad habits. Its okay not because bad things are somehow acceptable; bad things are bad things and they’re not acceptable! When he truly loves her, though, he finds that he’s willing to live with her faults. And, if she truly loves him, she can see his faults and she knows that they’re not acceptable either – but they both feel bad about their faults and they both want to change for the better (and are making, or at least trying to make, some effort towards that end.)
Lust can’t understand any of this because it is very short term – a lustful relationship is based on chemistry in the body and thoughts in the mind that will change over time. Eventually, the lustful feelings will subside. The blindness will disappear with the lust. Then, the relationship will either change for the better or it will fall apart.
True love understands that sin is expensive and damaging. True love desires to avoid problems so that the love and the joy can grow. True love understands that there is a cost to this process and that the cost will be difficult to bear and time consuming and painful to work through. A man and woman who truly love each other understand that these things are necessary. They are able to add up the cost in their minds and make a commitment to get on with it: Work to provide for each others' needs, learn to accept what they can't change, change what they can and solve problems together as quickly as possible.
True Love is not Lazy
When a man lusts after a woman, he wants her body. That may even be all there is to it. The sad fact of the matter is that he may have lots of money and he may be willing to throw some her way to get into her pants – but he’s not necessarily willing to make much effort to make her happy. Lust takes all it can get and gives little or nothing in return. When a man lusts after a woman, he doesn’t necessarily do much for her because lust has nothing to offer except a small amount of pleasure; and even that only for a limited amount of time.
True love is all about giving. He asks himself, “What can I do to make her smile?” He does silly little things for her. When he sees that she needs something, he tries to get it for her – she doesn’t even have to ask.
True love asks for nothing in return because God fills the heart with more joy than it can hold. True love can give everything to a woman and still be able to give everything again to each one of the offspring that follow. True love comes from the incomprehensible wellspring of Jesus Christ and His Holy Spirit. True love is unlimited.
True Love is not Deaf
When people lust after each other, or if they have any other sin in their lives such as gossip, they don’t hear the little things that they try to say to each other. One might be trying to tell the other, clearly and directly, that there’s something that they need to discuss – but the one who is lustful or gossiping or otherwise sinful will not be able to get the message.
This is actually part of a bigger problem related to sin in general and the communications problems that accompany it. Sin separates people. Sin blocks all forms of communication. People try to communicate but find themselves prevented from doing so. When they do manage to talk to each other, the opportunity is found to have been lost – fruitless because sin prevents people from telling the truth, from dealing with the more difficult issues. Sin prevents people from being able to understand each other in spite of any effort they might make.
True love, when freed from sin, communicates both verbally and spiritually. When a man loves a woman… Well, let’s be realistic: Just because they love each other doesn’t mean that she’s going to suddenly stop being feminine! She will still do foolish things like sending morse-code signals by flashing her eyelids – which he can’t possibly understand. But, if the two of them are serving each other, the Holy Spirit will be telling him what he needs to know. Sadly, most men are so full of themselves that he will most likely think he understands her… but he doesn’t. God understands her and, as long as they serve each other, the Holy Spirit finds ways to explain what he needs to know about her (and vice-versa.)
True love takes the time to listen and makes an effort to understand. Over a period of time, true friends will build a relationship that is trusting and confident.
True Love is not confusing
A man who truly loves a woman will say what he means and do what he says – and, if she loves him, she will do the same. They avoid surprises and other timing issues by regularly discussing what they want, need or expect. The odd surprise might still happen, but each one will at least think a little bit about the perspective of the other and they will provide the necessary cues to bring each other back onto the same page. True love takes the time to explain things and makes an effort to avoid problems and misunderstandings. Over a period of time, true friends will build a relationship that is strong enough to withstand all the little troubles that life sends every day.
Unfortunately, true love is not exempt from sin. During the course of the relationship, they might stop serving each other for a while – so God might stop helping them to communicate. If they’re wise, they will be careful to make sure that they continue to talk to each other often. They will be careful to speak to each other sincerely and honestly, making sure that they take the time to deal with issues so that they can prevent sin from growing in their relationship. They will work hard together to rebuild the love that they enjoyed so deeply and so desperately desire to enjoy again.
Incidentally: By trying to discuss problems together, a man and woman risk the fallout from an initial lack of communications skills. If they keep at it, though, their ability to work together will improve. They will eventually learn how to deal with difficult issues. This gives them the power to strengthen their relationship, their love for one another and their love for Jesus Christ who keeps them in His arms.
If you’ve been thinking about all this, you will have noticed a pattern:
- Lust is fleeting, Love is long-term;
- Lust is an accident of circumstance – you can teach yourself to be lustful and to fall into lust from time to time, Love is a deliberate act – you must work to build and maintain it;
- Lust is wasteful and worthless, Love allows you to build with what you have so that you can make your life worth living.
If you feel fear (as a parent or as a teenager,) because an issue has come up and you need to discuss it: you should know right away that this is not from God. His Holy Spirit gives us power, not fear or any other weakness. When we are living with Him in our hearts, we have the courage to try to discuss things.
Yes, we lack the skill and experience to properly explain what we feel. Worse still, parents who need to talk to their children often don’t have enough experience explaining things – so they do a lousy job of it. They don't take the time to think things through in advance, they don't organize their thoughts so that they can present them effectively to their children. We do know for sure, though, that practice will help us develop these skills. Over time, if we keep at it, we will eventually be able to discuss, to explain and to grow together. Also, we can be confident that our Lord Jesus Christ, always faithful, will fill our hearts with joy as He sees us serving each other in this way.
May our Lord Jesus teach us and guide us to build good and strong relationships that are pleasing in His sight. Amen.