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Friday, April 01, 2005

What is Love Anyway? (Part 1)

We've been beating around this bush for a while now, so I figured this might be a good time to pop the question: What is Love anyway?

You see, how we think of love impacts everything - how we view others, ourselves, relationships, even God. Especially God.

Ryan's post on freedom reminded us of this, when he pointed out that love of self - aka selfishness - is ultimately something that enslaves us. Or at least, that was his premise. We saw a wide range of responses because we have a wide range of opinions about what love really is.

On the one hand, love might be a matter of simple mutuality - you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours. Now, I'm not denying that much of life works this way. In fact, I will even admit that there are times when it seems to work pretty well - in work, in friendships, in relationships. We tend to "love" people who are like us, who want something we have and who are willing to give us something we want in return.

There are two fundamental problems here though.

First, it only works when you have something people want. I can guarantee you that if you can play basketball like Michael Jordan or have great breasts like Angelina Jolie, people will lavish their affection upon you. They won't just love you, they will lust for you, adore you, worship you. We see it all around us, and quite frankly, that's what I'd like from others, because in my heart of hearts, I already worship me.

There's just one minor glitch. I can't play hoops to save my life, and most of you women just don't measure up to what we see on TV or the internet.

Sorry, but it's the truth.

So what do we do? We try to compensate. Cosmetic surgery to enhance our looks, new skillsets to improve our resumes, a better job, a bigger car - you name it, we will try it. We do whatever it takes to make ourselves more attractive to others, because when love is conditional everything depends on it. If you don't have the goods, you won't get the love.

But you can only reinvent your game so many times.

And this brings us to the second problem. You see, even Michael Jordan gets old. Our centers of gravity shift. Things sag. Fat cells multiply like rabbits. There was a time when I was very buff, and had lots of hair. But you don't stay 21 forever (and to be brutally honest, by the time you hit 25, you are on the downhill slope in terms of your looks and your physique). Sorry, but it's the truth.

Yet if Love is simply a functional thing, a matter of mutual parity, then this state of affairs is the best we can hope for. When you are 18 and immortal and all the world is your oyster, you may think you can make this system work, but sooner or later you will face the music. It's inevitable.

When Love is conditional, it will only last as long as you can deliver. And the reality of life is that at some point, sooner or later (probably sooner), you will no longer be able to deliver the way you used to.

At the end of the day, conditional love will leave you feeling shallow, cheap, empty and used because when your worth is defined solely in terms of what you have to offer, you will always come up short in the end.

I think God uses the hardness of this life to strip us of our vanity, to point out the foolishness of the external things with which we would commend ourselves to others. We are all in the process of dying, of losing our youth, beauty, strength, innocence. And at the same time, even when we manage to crawl into a real loving relationship, the reality of who we truly are constantly percolates to the surface and threatens to undo everything from within.

This is why Conditional Love ultimately comes up short - because the strength of the glue is only as strong as our ability to measure up to the expectations.

And everything in life is reminding us that we are all inevitably losing our grip.

Fortunately, this is not how God treats us. This is not the type of love he offers. But if his love is not "conditional," then what's the alternative?

The answer may surprise you, and I'll tackle that tomorrow in Part 2...

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