What is love?

Two unexpected and warm notes have pinged in, from friends I haven’t seen for ages. I do love it when this happens – when I know that someone has thought about me and taken the trouble to write. It makes the miles between us melt away, and it’s almost as good as a chat over a cup of coffee, a shared time. Almost. Oh, OK, that’s a porky, it’s not nearly as good as that, but it’s at least an attempt.

I really love receiving emails and texts but I send loads, and rarely get more than a vague bit of well-wishery in return. Maybe we’re losing the ability to write letters, or perhaps the email mindset has clipped everything to the bare essentials so that it’s a message rather than a correspondence. And anyway, other lives are busy and I have little to say when it all boils down to it and so maybe… whisper it… maybe my emails are boring. It’s not a big deal if they are – it doesn’t upset me. You have permission to find me dull and unexciting. It’s not one of the world’s worst sins. And I have been much worse than boring.

I know I’ll keep on emailing even though few people reply in full. Some leave it a couple of days and then answer dutifully, but most whizz a one liner back at me ‘Thank, Luce. Wonderful.’ or some such say-nowt acknowledgement. If it’s a Christian they might bung me a quick “God is good’ which makes me smile (or is it a wince?) but I do know that other lives are busy and anyway, my friends come in all shapes and sizes and colours – and the gift of friendship is like every other gift, some have it in great skiploads, others have a tiny ingot that they guard jealously, self-protectively. And many reserve true honest friendship for their partner or family so that everyone else may receive courteous consideration, but nothing lavished or free flowing or rich and wild and reckless and generous. Their love is limited, measured out carefully. Measured love is the opposite of God’s love. ‘See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God!’ 1 John 3:1 

Ah, well. Some people don’t lavish. Isn’t that a lovely word? It reminds me of Luke 6:38 ‘Give, and it will be given to you. A good measure, pressed down, shaken together and running over, will be poured into your lap.’ What an image! How fabulous!

If you send me a chatty email, I know you have time for me and that warms the cockles of my heart, but if you don’t, do I take this as an insult or do I understand instead that your life has other priorities, other demands? I choose to do the latter and keep you close to my heart anyway.

I used to befriend people on the basis of mutuality, but I’ve realised over the years that this is not helpful. I have some dear friends, the dearest, who really just don’t have the gift of friendship, but that doesn’t stop me loving them. They would never just pop by, or FaceTime unannounced or send a ‘thinking of you’ message, or a silly gift, or a bad joke. They just don’t do these things. They are formal and reserved. But they don’t have to be super warm for me to love them, any more than they have to be super-brilliant or stunningly beautiful or mega-rich. And they can’t help their temperaments and their experiences or the culture they grew up in – friendship is forgiving and accepting. Forgiving their lacks as they forgive mine, accepting their personalities as they accept mine. When you love someone it’s a great feeling – and they don’t, they really don’t have to love you back in the same way.

Here’s a funny story, about someone who measures out her friendship in careful 5ml doses; I had been in a small community for about two years, slowly getting to know people, not making friends particularly easily, but trying to find my feet there. One of the matriarchs, very respected, told me that she hadn’t been able to visit her family for two years (this was before the limitations of Covid) and that she really missed them. She was crestfallen and yet sort of ‘brave’ about it and I could see that, at her age, it meant a lot to her. Even the shortest visit would mean a two night trip, a ferry, four or five hours driving, me staying in a B&B while she caught up with her siblings and their families, but it was no big deal. I put my dogs into kennels and took her. We had a good trip, lots of laughter on the way, and I had a couple of days pottering around this new area while she visited. It was no great hardship for me – absolutely not. On the drive home she looked at me thoughtfully and said something like “You know, Luce, I have a lot of friends and I don’t have time for another one. I know you won’t mind me saying so.”

That’s me told! It made me chuckle that she waited until the journey home to tell me. Did she think I wouldn’t take her if she had said it beforehand? It wouldn’t have changed anything at all. One response to her lack of love is to love her for who she is, and one response is to withdraw love because of who she isn’t. I choose to love her anyway.

Loving is not all emotion. That’s a mistake we make, especially in the Western World. Love is a choice. Love doesn’t look for reward. Love is. Love is a noun and a verb. I choose to write this blog, I choose to love. The same part of the brain is involved in both!

I’ve been thinking about love a whole lot – God’s love. We so glibly say ‘God is love’ but do we really understand what we’re saying? I’ve been following a series of talks and videos on rightnowmedia, a series called ‘Life Explored’ by Barry Cooper and I’ve really enjoyed it, been intrigued and engaged by it. It’s just a fab series. The second talk, titled ‘The Good God’ has given me a more complete view of God’s love than ever before. Not complete, because this is me with my myopic eyesight, but more complete than it was. It’s opened my eyes so that I understand why – although it doesn’t make sense in a worldly way – I love people who don’t love me, how I am able through Christ to love people who don’t love me, why they are loveable even when they don’t love me, why God loves us even when we don’t love him…. why God loved me even when I was against him….. it illuminates the thought and truth that God is love. And when we follow God, when we want to be like Jesus, love is a choice we can make. If he lives in us, his love is in us, and if his love is in us we can’t withhold it from anyone. His love envelops everyone.

What is love? God is love. Who does he love? Everyone. You. You and you and you and even, wonderfully, me.

In case you want to look up that righnowmedia series, here’s a link that might help:

https://www.rightnowmedia.org/Content/Series/481578?episode=2

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