What is love, anyways

Love rainbowsYesterday was spent with my youngest son, Bodie, hanging out in the Bay Area. He’s 25, 26 in a few months and he towers over me…both he and his brother do. As I often do, I think back to when he was a baby, small, not tiny, but I can remember the feeling that washed over me in the first time I held him…pure love. Anyone who’s held their child for the first time likely remembers that feeling. Looking at their tiny face, a reflection of yours, and thinking there was nothing more perfect. The same feelings swelled up in me with each of my boys. They were, they are, perfect. I’ve never hesitated in loving them since that day.

But I know that’s not the case for all parents and their children. Or, for that matter, children loving their parents. There’s something foundational about the love you feel from your parents, it’s sets the tone for the other relationships you have in your life. If you read the Bible, study the words of Jesus, He breaks down the “rules” for our lives to two simple statements. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbor as yourself.  Simple, right?

But we mess it up.

We pile on. We’ll love each other if. That’s where we go sideways.

We’ll love you if you adhere to what we believe.

We’ll love you if you do what I ask you to.

If layers on to what is perfect, pure, unencumbered by conditions.

Could that be because we can’t truly understand the depth of how much God loves us? It’s impossible for us to truly understand that love. So, we define it based on what life has taught us. We come into this world innocent, knowing nothing but love. Throughout childhood, we observe, we learn, behaviors that help us navigate our lives safely, ways to assure affection and love. If you study the Enneagram, your type is largely the result of how you interpreted and adapted to life around you, to the love you experienced as a child.

Though not my experience, I know that not everyone had the unconditional love of their parent as a child. And that influences how you interact with others today. I am a student of human behavior and notice that often, when people hesitate to express love unconditionally, it’s tied to fear. Fear that if they accept and love someone with all their bumps, lumps and flaws (because we all have them), that they’re not just accepting but endorsing each other’s messiness. To that I say, that’s on you.

If we break it back to the original instruction, it’s love God, love others. We’re all a hot mess to one degree or another. But when we layer on our own beliefs and experiences and weigh our love for someone else based on that? It’s a recipe for judgement, not love. The idea of “love the sinner hate the sin?” From my personal perspective, it’s a premise that inherently fails. Our human selves have a hard time separating those factors, instead, it’s a circle back to “I love you, but I judge you.”

What if instead, we tried to love people where they are. Love their heart, love their effort, their journey? Love them as they were created in their mother’s womb. Perfectly. Without judgement. Judging people is not our job. Period. Our job, the main deal, is to love other people. It doesn’t mean we’re necessarily in relationship with them, but we can hold that love in our hearts. Respecting our individual journeys. Love is love. Our lives are spent practicing sharing it with other people. It’s no good to hold it inside, it’s meant to share with others. So, in the midst of the messiness life can throw at us, we can practice bringing love into each situation. That’s our journey, one we’re walking out, together, every day. It’s our brave path in this one life we have to live. Go out and love each other.


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