What is love

(Baby don't hurt me) 

I know you were thinking it, so I figured I would beat you to the punch.


What a great disservice our culture has done to us when it comes to difining love.  There's the obvious use of only one word to describe a myriad of feelings where most languages have several words. The age old, "Do you like me, or do you like like me?" But even drawing our attention to these infinite shades of love, while important, misses the point of what love really is. 

We've been sold the lie that love is a feeling.  

I'm calling bullshit. 

Love, in some sense, is a strong, warm, fuzzy feeling. Sure. Sometimes that feeling even becomes hot, like a volcano erupting, but feelings come and go.  Feelings, by their very nature are conditional.  If it is 25 degrees outside, I will feel cold.  If someone kicks me in the shin, I will feel angry or maybe hurt.  If an ASPCA commercial comes on, I will feel sad. "If, then." The most basic definition of conditional.

Most of us have an understanding (and a deep desire) that love should be unconditional.  Thus the deep discontent in our relationships where we've settled for love as a feeling.  Sure, that new relationship energy is wonderful, and the first time you hear someone say, "I love you," you're filled with ecstasy and hope, but those feelings never last.  At best they change into something equally fulfilling, but that is rare, and never by accident.

So, what is it? What is love?

Love is an action. Love is a verb. Love requires one to act with kindness and compassion towards themselves and others. Love, in reality, has very little to do with what one feels. It has more to do with how one thinks and what one does. Love considers someone's needs before its own selfish desires. Love takes action despite fear or uncertainty.  Love can see and balance its needs with the needs of others. Love knows when to stand up and fight, and love knows when to walk away.

In 1 Cor 13, the oft-quoted Pauline scription on love (I'm sure you're heard it at a wedding), we hear that love is patient, love is kind, love keeps no record of wrongs...etc. You'll notice, none of these things are emotions. They are actions, or at very least, ways in which actions are taken.  Jesus tells us his disciples (and the world) that "The world will know you are my disciples by your love." Clearly, Jesus understood love as a visible, tangible action, and not just ethereal feelings.

Let me let you in on a little secret, no one on this planet gives a flying fuck about your ooey, gooey, warm and fuzzy feelings of love. They do no good to anyone. Not even you. The only way those feelings are worth a damn is if they inspire and fuel loving actions. No one will know you by your love unless you act on it. All feelings of love are a call to embody, to live out your life lovingly.  These feelings will fade away, but the call doesn't. It is very possible to be loving, even when we don't feel loving. 

This is the kind of love that will change the world. This is the kind of love that will save our souls. This is the kind of love that sets us all free. When we learn to take loving action inspired by our heartfelt feelings, we learn slowly how to act in this loving way with out the added benefit of the emotional boost. These emotions are in some sense our training wheels in love. They get us moving and help us find our balance, but in order to really ride with freedom we have to know how to ride without them. And to be sure, at first, trying to "live out love" when you don't feel love is a lot like taking off the training wheels for the first time. It's awkward. It's scary. You will probably fall over and fail, and quite possibly hurt yourself. But do those things stop any of us from learning to ride a bike? No. So, it shouldn't stop us from learning how to love.

I have a tattoo on my arm that reads, "Love is all you need." While I do, in fact, have an affinity for the Beatles, I chose these words more for their meaning and less from their origin. What would our lives look like if we were treated lovingly, like real down to earth, boots on the ground Love? What if we treated ourselves lovingly? What if we REALLY treated others lovingly instead of like props for our egos? This world would look completely different. There would be no ruthless political polarization. The systems of racism would be quickly and effectively dismantled and the humanity of people of color would be restored. Poverty and world hunger would be things of the past. Our earth would be taken care of and honored. Love really is all we need. Not just those nice feelings inside your chest, but the desire and capacity to treat others and yourself with respect and dignity. And it starts right now, with you, with me. In our cities, communities, families, and inside our own heads and hearts.

So, what do you love? Who do you love? How do those feelings inspire you to act? I've learned a lot about love in the last several years. I have been loved (had someone tell me they have warm fuzzies about me) and I have been Loved (had someone consider me and my needs and act lovingly towards me). I have loved and I have, oh so slowly, learned how to Love both others and, with much more difficulty, myself. I hope I never feel the warm fuzzies of love again without translating them into loving action. Love is slow. Love is deliberate. Love is costly to the status quo of our lives, to our egos. Love looks different on everyone, and everyone is asking to be Loved in different ways. Love is willing to learn. Love is willing to sit quietly and listen. Love is willing to think and be open minded. And most of all, Love is always ready and willing to step into action.