My sister celebrated a momentous birthday last week. It caused me to reflect. I love her so much, yet we are so, so different.
Different favourite things.
Different lifestyle choices.
I just can’t comprehend how she can be so different (we’re 100% blood related). Sometimes I look at her and I think:
Love is a choice
I have realised that I don’t love her because she likes the things I like, because she laughs at the same jokes, because we can do certain activities together or talk about identical passions – because that’s just not the case.
What then, do I love, when I say to her “I love you”*? Is it that I love the sum of her personality (but what is that, if it’s not her likes or dislikes, her sense of humour or values?)?
*= I do, in fact, say this extremely sentimental phrase. Sometimes. On special occasions. It’s a nice thing to write on birthday cards and all that. (Oops. That reminds me. I haven’t given her a birthday card yet..)
The simple answer, the almost cliché answer, is: “I love her because she is my sister”. But what does that mean?
I think it means that love is a choice. That often the people we love aren’t so much loveable in themselves, but merely convenient.
I don’t say this to belittle the act of love. But the fact is when we look at the people we love, how many of them do we share hobbies, likes, dislikes, activities with? And those that we do (that is often how we meet people after all), would we say that we love them because of these things?
Why do we love people?
Love is natural
I think the answer is: we’re made to love. As humans, love is something that we do.
I’d like to posit that every person alive has loved (whether they’ve been loved back, is another question). We simply can’t help it. The most angry, jaded, cynical person has loved at least one person at one time.
To love is to be human.
After all, God loves. That’s His nature. That’s who He is. And thus, as creatures made in His image, that’s who we are. We love.
If you think I’m making grand and sweeping assumptions (it certainly feels like it), look around. Test my words.
And so, love is a choice. But it’s also not. Because we will love. The question is merely who, or what.
Love takes time
Yet love takes time. Friendship takes time. Relationships take time. I don’t tell people I’ve known for an hour that I love them. Or if I do, what I really mean is “I like you” or “I enjoyed spending time with you” or, “you have traits and characteristics which I admire or am passionate about”. Because loving someone means loving someone – not merely part of them, not who they were that night, how they made me feel at that time or who they could be.
And so loving someone takes as long as it does to get to know them completely.
That is, it takes a lifetime.
We’ll never love anyone perfectly on this earth. I remember the person my sister was, I gaze at the person she is, I guess at the person she will be – and I shake my head in confusion.
She surprises me every day. I love her, but I’m still learning to love her. And the thing is, even if she never changed – I do. I need to learn to love simply because I am still learning to live (and will continue to do so until the beginning of eternity).
Love is active – it’s a choice. I choose to love her, because I’m made in God’s image to love, and I know that that love will take a lifetime.
What is love?
Now that’s all very well, but (as you’ve probably guessed by now), I’ve been skirting the real question. Because I can talk about love until my hair falls out, but that means nothing unless the love I’m talking about is the same love that you’re thinking about.
The real question is: What is love?
And the answer? Like my relationship with my sister, it’s both simple and complex.
Love is a mystery.
But it was a mystery that was revealed to us.
This is love: not that we love God, but that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. So says 1 John 4:10. I can know what love is because I know God, and I have seen him enact love. Perfectly.
Because of this I can say “I love my sister”, and know that those words aren’t pointless. Because I understand what I’m choosing when I say I love her. I’m choosing a hard path. I’m choosing pain. I’m choosing sacrifice and forbearance – things I don’t like, and would prefer to avoid. I’m also choosing joy. I’m choosing happiness and community. And I can choose these things because God chose them first.
If love is such a good thing, what happens when I fail to love? What happens when other people don’t love me back? What happens when love is perverted or manipulated?
Then I hold my hurt and my shame up to heaven, and know that redemption is coming. Because although God is love, love is not God. God is a person, not an idea or a hope. And when love fails now, I can hold onto the hope that one day it will fail no longer.
One day we will know each other and God completely, and we will love completely (even as we are loved completely ourselves). There will be no more learning, no more practicing. No more frustration.
And that day will be even more momentous than my sister’s birthday.