I have a confession: deep down, I’m a romantic. Whether from nature or nurture, genetic predisposition or environmental factors, I have always been a romantic, longing for (some notion of) love. And, frankly, I’m a little embarrassed to acknowledge that fact. But it is indeed true.
And I’m embarrassed primarily because of the many ways that people throw around that word “love” today, so much so that it has become almost acceptable nonsense in the wider world. Does love really make sense – at least as a unified word – anymore today?
Nevertheless, when I see it and really know it, I must confess that I love love. I am a romantic.
My understanding of love has grown and evolved through the years, but my “love of love” has been fairly consistent. Through countless mistakes, unrequited affections, rebellions, betrayals, and errors, I’ve always loved love.
Now I think I’m starting to understand love – at least a little better.
I grew up in a home where my parents loved me profoundly, and my mother especially was the model of a giving, loving, self-sacrificing parent. So I knew (at least by experience) what it meant to be loved. And I loved it. I probably took it for granted.
But only now heading toward the end of my 5th decade on this earth do I have any real sense that I understand the unity of love. Only now after making so many mistakes – even sins – in the pursuit of love, have I started to catch glimpses of the thread of unity that ties all our various loves together. I am so grateful for my partner and spouse, Katherine, who has taught me so much about love. And I’m grateful for the gifts of our daughters who also teach me about life and love in even more profound ways every day. I am a grateful man.
But what I’ve learned about the unity of love hasn’t come from just receiving love. It has come from my own efforts to share it – even to give it away. If love becomes a resource that we ration, we’ve lost it. Life’s difficulties and frustrations tend to challenge our confidence that we’ll have enough love to give when we need to the most. In trying to love my wife and my daughters, I’m learning that giving love away is the surest investment strategy in the universe. In trying to love my wider family when we don’t see eye-to-eye, I’m learning more about the breadth and depth of God’s love. In trying to love my brothers and sisters in Christ, I receive countless, unexpected gifts. In trying to love my neighbors, I’m learning how blessed I am. Whether those efforts result in happiness or turmoil, I am learning about love by giving it away. And the reason I’m learning about love this way is because of the most important lesson that loving teaches me: I am captured by a loving God who ALWAYS provides more.
THAT is the shape and structure of the whole universe – in spite of difficulties, frustrations and even tragedies. The whole universe – as much as we try to mess it up sometimes – is an expression of God’s self-giving love. My very being, like that of my daughters, is a result and expression of love. And Jesus Christ, the core of our shared faith, makes that love most real, most material, most visible in his very life, death, and resurrection.
So this February 14, Valentine’s Day, let me encourage you to ignore simplistic or shallow uses of that term, “love.” Really consider the whole scope of what is celebrated on that day – love that gives and gives, yet miraculously finds that it can give some more; love that reflects God’s nature through gift.
And this year, 2018, we have a special reminder of the unity of love, because Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday – or should I say Ash Wednesday falls on Valentines’ Day? In either case, as Christians around the world begin this Lenten season of repentance and reflection in anticipation of Holy Week, Good Friday, and Easter Sunday, recall the fullness of God’s love for us, even as we try to live out that love toward others and even toward ourselves. On February 14, 2018 – try to notice the dark crosses on people’s foreheads as much as you do the big red hearts that are exchanged. And when you do, sense the gravity and unity of love in this world.