What is Love? (And What Isn’t It?)

What is love? Especially if you’re in love, this can be a tricky question to answer since sometimes love seems either too confusing or too simplistic. 1 Corinthians says, “Love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way…” One aspect of love is it stops focusing on the self and instead begins to seek another person’s well-being.

However, love is not only concerned with someone else’s good but also seeks the truth. 1 Corinthians also says, “Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth.” Thus truly seeking the good of another is to lead them away from evil and into truth which is why love is not always comfortable.

  1. Love isn’t just about uniformity.

To begin seeking someone else’s good, it’s important to view them as a separate person which might seem obvious, but a danger can be emphasizing uniformity at the expense of rich love.

When I was little, my Mom and I would play a game. We would walk holding hands and when we came to an obstacle, we would walk on either side but we would keep holding hands by lifting them over the object. When we did this, we would state a pairing such as: “peanut butter and jelly” or “salt and pepper.” I have no idea where this game started or why my Mom decided to play it with me, but the game’s concept recognizes objects with distinct individual characteristics also make a good pair.

In fact, I think this game is a great example of a bigger picture of love because it celebrates the unique differences that contribute to a good pairing. While the words of “jelly and jelly” could still be joined, this would be less complex and less rich. Just like in a relationship, preserving individuality won’t lead to uniformity but it will contribute to a richer relationship.

2. Love isn’t always comfortable

When I go out to eat, I’ll see couples sitting on the same side of the booth and usually, these couples are young and appear extremely in love. But I often wonder how in love they are. Not because sitting on the same side of the booth indicates a substantial lack of character or any other similar red flag but it is an image that fails to reflect the entire scope of love.

In conflict resolution, it’s better to face the same direction because facing the other person indicates confrontation, but sometimes confrontation can be beneficial, since it is ultimately more loving. Proverbs says, “Faithful are the wounds of a friend; profuse are the kisses of an enemy.” True love isn’t afraid to introduce conflict in the relationship when it is for the benefit of the other person. While this may not be the easier action, the Bible communicates the value of confrontation.

It’s sort of like getting a flu shot. Nobody really wants a shot, but we know we need the shot for our ultimate well-being. It would be more comfortable to skip the shot or even for the nurse to check off the shot on the chart without giving it. Similarly, in a relationship it would be easier to go through the external motions of love and ignore an outstanding problem, at least for a time. But true love looks out for the best interest of another and is therefore willing to inflict short-term pain for the long-term benefit.

3. Love isn’t always miserable

While some confrontation may be healthy in a relationship, it also says in Proverbs, “It is better to live in a corner of the housetop than in a house shared with a quarrelsome wife.” While it may be healthy to sit on opposite sides of the booth, it’s also unhealthy to kick each other under the table. Conflict should be introduced into a relationship with the intention of benefitting the other person by leading them into truth, not leading them into misery.

Since the goal of love is to seek the other person’s good, any action, including confrontation, should desire a growth in the ultimate truth which is Christ’s. And while this growth might bring pain, it will also bring joy. Hebrews 12:11 explains, “For the moment all discipline seems painful rather than pleasant, but it later yields the peaceful fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.”

When considering what love is, it is easy to get caught up in an overly-simple understanding. Even the Bible’s commandment to love is simply stated, “As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” However, a simple phrasing of love is not equivalent to a shallow understanding and as Christians, it’s important to have a full grasp of love since this reflects Christ’s love. So with a better understanding of love, let us practice this understanding that we might love one another with a heart that is better caring and deeply truthful.

Forming Genuine Friendships

Just admit it. You enjoy spending time with certain people and you avoid those who you don’t enjoy. You have friends, maybe even best friends, and you also have those lesser bonds that we call acquaintances or do not even bother to label at all.

Those who we call friends are the people that we enjoy being with the most and they too enjoy time with us. Together, friends care for each other, are understanding, and are also quick to forgive. We enjoy being with them because we are welcome to be ourselves when we are in their presence.

Since the above seems the case, I would venture to say that we avoid those who are not our friends because we simply do not feel welcome to be ourselves in their presence.

But sometimes it takes us a while to figure out who it is that we are comfortable with. A person that we initially see as a possible friend may turn out to be someone we cannot open up to, but we may still pursue that friendship without realizing it.

I often feel like I am in the middle of this tension with some of my friendships. I’ve seen someone that I desire to be better friends with and I pursue them by starting conversations with them or even setting dates to get to know each other more. But amidst all of the attempts at forming a comfortable friendship with someone I fail to see that I have never been myself with this person nor enjoyed all of the time that I have spent with them. On top of that, the sentiment that I have expressed may not be returned.

All of this factored together leaves me hanging onto some small hope of a friendship that will probably not turn into anything else than what it already is: A performance.

My initial desire to forge a friendship has caused me to so desperately want to impress my potential friend that I have forgotten to be myself. Yes, being friends with someone means that you enjoy their company and enjoy who they are, but it also means that you enjoy who you are.

I cannot enjoy myself if I am constantly performing.

When I forget to enjoy myself I prevent my friendship from developing further since I cannot be genuine and therefore cannot genuinely care for the other person.

It is the people that we do not at first anticipate pursuing a friendship with that we often become the most comfortable with because we do not set ourselves up for a performance.

These are the people that we may at first think are lame, not worth our time, or we don’t even remember meeting, but we soon find that these people are who we can really befriend. We’ve never tried to impress them or changed who we are for them and because of that we are not debilitated from forming that friendship.

The result is an unanticipated friendship in which both parties not only enjoy each other but also enjoy themselves when they are together. This allows them to be genuinely careful of the other.

This unplanned sincerity is what allows us to rejoice with our friends and also mourn with our friends in true sympathy. They are the people who we care for and care for us, and they’re probably in your life right now whether or not you know it.

So stop and look around.

Sometimes in my goals to make new friends and pursue new relationships I begin to think that the friends I already have are not good enough for me. Since many of my greatest friendships were unplanned and unexpected I forget that they are most times better than any friendship that I have by my own power tried to create.

In light of this new realization of how to enjoy one’s self and be genuine in their attitudes towards their true friends, we ought to realize that these friendships that we did not at first expect are the ones worth maintaining.

The beginnings of a friendship with a lot of potential have now become clear, but how do we maintain a friendship that we so passively began?

This is where being genuine comes more into play. Sincerity is what first allowed us to break down the wall between two people and it furthers a friendship to allow two people to both build each other up and tear each other down in a (hopefully) constructive way.

Friendships are not effortless to maintain, but by recognizing your own feelings within a relationship and remembering that with comfortable relationships comes genuine ones we can see who it is that will be a lifetime friend.

If we can be ourselves in a friendship, then we can also be much better friends.

Inception and Loneliness

Inception‘s popularity may or may not last. It is far too soon to tell whether the sci-fi flick will live up to its similarly-talked-about-brother The Matrix in longevity. When the film came out, it seemed to me that everyone was asking the wrong questions. If you’ve not yet seen Inception, now is the time to move on: the rest of this post will have spoilers, and I do not intend to tag them. You’ve been warned. Consequently, if you’d like a read about a more recent movie, check out Mere Orthodoxy’s discussion of the new 007 movie, which I intend to see as soon as I am able.

The ‘big question’ from Inception comes from the final moment of the film. As Cobb spins his top, and then is called away by his children, the camera zooms in on his now-ignored toy and cuts to black before we can see whether or not it falls. Aside from the weirdness of the stated ability of the totems (which, at least for Cobb’s, would only function to tell him if he was in his own dream, and could not distinguish between the real world and someone else’s dream), I found this ending fitting, though not for the reasons a lot of people seem to have. While some get hung up on the question of whether or not Cobb is in reality or in a dream (his or someone else’s), the question feels unimportant. In fact, Cobb flat out ignores it, at that moment. After all, the film has given us reason to think about it (the film deceives us multiple times, suggesting we should be questioning reality), but Cobb moves away from these questions when presented with what he perceives as the ultimate good, his children.

It’s significant that the film’s answer to the question of what happens to the top is simply to roll credits. This is no accident: the answer the question of reality is to enjoy your children, to seek goodness, and to live your life, whatever it may be. I actually found the message to be relatively straight forward, in that sense.

But one point that I’ve not seen anyone write on is the loneliness that Cobb faces throughout the film. The Cartesian doubt tends to take over discussions of Inception rather quickly, but Cobb spends the entire film alone, essentially. It isn’t a physical isolation (probably, since he could be dreaming), but an emotional one. It’s clear that no one really knows everything about him, and he actively seeks to keep people from that knowledge. Cobb is also a miserable character; we pity him, we are concerned for his well being, and we instantly wonder how he got to be the way he is. We know something is wrong, and we are quick to attempt to decipher it. We all have a need for community, and the stark lack of one in Cobb’s life is jarring.

In fact, Cobb’s problems are only solved when he not only trusts others, but relies on them. When they follow him as deeply as they can possibly go, it is only then that Cobb figures things out, gets it together, and ends up able to see his kids again (note: even if he is still dreaming at the end of the film, he still allows himself to see his children, which should count as progress regardless).

Friendship, community, fellowship: pick your term, and I’ll tell you it is necessary. Even our natural, emotional reactions to Cobb function as evidence for this fact.

Of course, community is dangerous. What got Cobb into trouble in the first place? That’s right, letting someone else into the deepest recesses of his soul. He and his wife retreated from all others, and lived in (literally) a world of their own creation. This eventually drove her mad, and drove him to be an emotional hermit; both are terrible, of course, but neither is a necessary result of close fellowship. Friendship can lead to good things, but it cannot take over us so completely that it becomes a god. The best relationships are those in which we see Christ, because ultimately only Christ can satisfy the deep needs of our souls. Our job is to present Christ to our friends and family, and indeed to all people; let’s not forget to see Christ in others, either.

Image via Wikipedia.

On Talking: People Are Inefficient, But They Do Magic

Humans are not efficient. When they do become efficient, it is in a few shining moments preceded by monumental inefficiency. My undergraduate years were spent in the highly inefficient Torrey Honors Institute, where classes were three-hour conversations leading to personalized oral examinations for every student. I suppose that the success ratio of students who go in and graduates who come out is enviable, but it is a very expensive and gruelling program that only highly motivated and well supported people can finish — again, a testament to monumental inefficiency. Some “waste” was recovered through students supporting each other and through cohesion gained over time, and we sharpened each other’s ability to communicate. We often talked about talking so that more talking would result in better talking — ineffecient tickling of the levers of efficiency. Now, 99% of my Torrey friends and acquaintances are effectively gone from my life. Clearly, efficiency was not the goal. Continue reading On Talking: People Are Inefficient, But They Do Magic