Every February 14th we celebrate love, in all its various forms. Valentine’s Day is supposed to be the time we honor and cherish loved ones with anything from a phone call to a card to a cliché box of chocolates and a dozen roses. Our children take valentine’s cards to school to give to their classmates and teachers and we pull our hair out trying to make sure we bring the right amount of individually wrapped sweet somethings to their school parties. But in the midst of all this do any of us bother to ask what love is? Probably not. And the major problem with that is we don’t seem to know much at all about this celebrated term.
Love is one of the most debated, analyzed, discussed, and dreamed about subjects in our culture. It is depicted in our songs, our literature, our movies and on our television screens. Yet, for all this thinking and talking, discussing and debating, how many of us actually know and have a firm understanding of true love? Popular culture has offered us a definition of love that equates this term with warm feelings, physical attraction, and sexual activity. This view of love is hammered into our thinking everyday through the music we listen to, the movies and television we watch, and the books and magazines we read. But the broken relationships, failed marriages, and shipwrecked families that characterize so much of our modern society should tell us that something is terribly wrong with the way we look at and practice love.
So, what is love? Ask ten people and you’ll get ten different answers. Everything from “that fuzzy feeling” to “something to be avoided” to “the whole point of life” can be heard based on all the subjective viewpoints. And that’s the problem isn’t it? Our culture doesn’t easily agree on any external definition of almost anything. Everything can be contested and debated based on the subjective study, experience, and bias of the individual. So, what do we do when we can’t seem to agree to any concrete definition of something so important to our lives as love? We show it.
Sometimes we can’t bring words to bear in a situation that requires action. For example, not long ago I was at our children’s school (which is a rented building on a church campus) when a strange man and his daughter came through the door. He looked tired and terribly anxious. I asked him what brought him into the school that day and he told me he was looking for someone from the church in hopes of getting some help. I informed him that no one from the church was in the office but I asked what it was that he needed. He went on to explain that his other daughter was at home very sick and had an appointment with an oncologist at the children’s hospital about 35 miles away. He had lost his job just 6 weeks prior and didn’t have enough money to put gas in his car to drive his daughter to the hospital. He was so sincere and vulnerable with this information that the dad in me just couldn’t help but put myself in his shoes. What would I want someone to do for me in this situation? Would I want them to give me what I needed if they were able? Or would I want them to send me on my way with words of encouragement and thoughtfulness while not really meeting my actual need? I know what I would want, don’t you?
Now, I had a decision to make. He didn’t know this, but I had a phone appointment to keep in the next seven minutes and I had to make this decision quickly to make my meeting. What should I do? One thing’s for sure. Whatever I chose to do was going to communicate something to this man.
Is it all really as simple as the old adage, “Actions speak louder than words?” Maybe it is. Where words fail, action speaks. Love is action. It is primarily a verb, not a noun. It is useless in this moment to say, “I love you,” and send him on his way with no money to get gas, right? It’s incongruent. Out of order. And, by the way, it doesn’t communicate love. That’s not the message I wanted to send this lovely man and his young daughter. I wanted them to know how much they were loved when they walked away from me. So, I pulled out my wallet.
Where words fail, action speaks. Love is action. It is primarily a verb, not a noun.
It just so happens that this man was very lucky that day, because I had just put a one hundred dollar bill in my pocket that morning from a forgotten Christmas card on my dresser. As I was scrolling through my bills, I looked upon it and I knew that was the one I had to give him. I folded it, put it in his hand and told him take care of his family. He started crying and gave me a big hug and then told me that he had already stopped at two other churches down the street that refused to help him. He asked me if I was a believer and I said, “Yes, sir. I believe in a God who wants me to show love to others with my actions.” He smiled real big and said, “Well, thank you, sir. You have been Jesus to me and my family today.”
This man might not have known it, but Jesus was a product of the Ancient Near Eastern tribal culture where love was defined as “benevolence on behalf of another at great cost to one’s self.” Love in his culture was an act of service and sacrifice. Is it any different today?
How much different would our world really be if we were focused on serving each other and sacrificing for one another as our way of showing love instead of focusing on getting others to meet our need for that feeling we believe love ought to give us? How much different would our relationships be if we were focused on serving our loved ones instead of needing them to serve us?
After all, love is only love when it is shown.