Not as we know it, but as it can be

Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Love songs make me cry.

It seems like such a strange thing to say for me. It’s so cliche, and so unlike someone who would choose a documentary about elephants over a chick flick every time. Except that I’m not referring to the Harry Met Sally kind of love.

I’m not referring to songs of infatuated determination -- I would be a mess every time someone turned on a radio if I was. I’m referring to songs about real love. About what it is, and what it means to give and receive that kind of love.

I’m sure you’ve heard of it: It does not boast, it is not self-seeking, it is not proud. It wants the best for us, and it thinks and speaks the best of us. It doesn't keep score. It covers our shame, and it catches our fall.  
It doesn’t make a “plan B.” It doesn’t hold parts of itself back. It doesn't fly south for the freezing winter; it stays. And in it’s staying, it goes all in.

That kind of love. That’s what makes me cry. And it should make me cry. Because there is nothing else more moving -- or more in defiance of our human nature -- on this earth.

I cry because I’m so glad it exists... and because I grieve the years I utterly failed at showing it and receiving it.

I’ve been thinking about this love for a while now. And without even really trying to, I found four reasons I believe we don't practice this version of it.

One reason is that, somewhere in the back of our minds, we believe that this kind of love only really presents itself in opportunities of heroic altruism. Public generosity for a popular cause might be an example. Be loving while being loved? Sign us up, every time. We hear about this rare kind of love, and part of us thinks, “I can’t wait for an opportunity to be like that.” But I think that when we pay attention, we realize that opportunities are passing us like cars passing car trouble on the side of the freeway.

It’s the assumption we allow ourselves to make in our minds about a person who is not having their finest moment. Or maybe just when they fail to meet a reasonable expectation, like not taking days to return our text (I’m so guilty!). It’s the acceptance or disapproval that our eyes convey when someone is telling us something they’re not proud of -- and a small part of us believes, maybe even knows, that in their situation (which we rarely fully know) we would have done things differently. It’s when the reputation of someone who once intentionally hurt us in a humiliating way is suddenly at our mercy, and we decide whether or not we’re going to “press charges.” The opportunities for this kind of love are not rare and flashing, but found within the subtle nuances of our interactions with others everyday.

Another reason we don’t practice this love is because we’ve been sold a counterfeit. Mainstream “love” doesn't mean what I've described here, but ironically, it is a temporary feeling (because the word “temporary” can always precede “feeling”) that brings oneself great gratification and happiness. 

I say that this definition is ironic because the differences between that love and the kind of love I'm talking about couldn’t be more striking. One of the most valuable lessons I have ever learned is that love is not a feeling -- it is a decision. And it’s not thinking about your Instagram bragging rights, or really you at all -- it’s thinking about the other person. 

If we're honest, this is a wildly different picture from what we've come to associate with “love.”

Another reason is that we make the mistake of believing that this kind of love only really exists in theory. It just sounds impractical. Or maybe a pie-in-the-sky kind of doable. It's the opposite of what we're watching most of the world pursue, and if we’re buying the message, than love certainly doesn't seem worth the inconvenience. 

We nod our heads as Corinthians 13:4-8 is read at the altar, and as the recession music plays and the wedding guests’ eyes follow the couple outside of those four steepled walls, the bride and groom think, "Well, we’ll do our best.”

Which brings me to the last point. We think our best is enough. Marriages fail in the process of realizing this -- it’s part of the reason mine did. The love I’m talking about is a monument to something we’ve already been shown. I know it’s not just theory because it’s been demonstrated in my own life. Thinking that I could operate in something so counterintuitive to my nature in my own strength was an honest mistake it took me years to realize I was making. But 2 Corinthians 12:10 tells us that it is when we are weak that we are strong. 

I don’t just believe it. I am proof of it. And I’m so grateful for it. I'm grateful for being able to look at my own meager strength, and the version of “love” that society offers us, and know that there is a better way.

This is the part of the blog where I remind you that I don’t have it all together. I still fail at demonstrating love on a regular basis -- often times in areas that I’m not even aware I’m failing at it yet. But I’m figuring it out, I’m letting it change me, and I’m increasingly unrecognizable from the person that I used to be. If that’s not something worth sharing about, I don’t know what is.

Love not of you,
love not of me
Come hold us up
come set us free
Not as we know it
but as it can be

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