When I turned 21, I started to want to really understand “love.” I started to want to learn how to love the people around me, because I knew they loved me, but I couldn’t say I knew how to love them back.
I had issues with love in my past, and my ideas about love were blurry in all the wrong and right places. A wrong relationship, a bad relationship, a line of other guys wanting to be in a relationship with me–they all contributed to my ideas of love.
The fact that my relationships with each member of my family were in need of first aid did not help much. The fact that my family in itself had finally imploded did not do anything to help me, either. Christian or not, it didn’t make a difference. It’s no secret, after all; the details might be secret, but for me to deny that my family was on the opposite side of the spectrum of perfection is to deny that I am who I am.
So, no, I don’t think I ever knew what love meant. God brought a few people in to my life in my late teenage years who loved me though they knew all my sides. I knew they loved me, but I did not desire the kind of love they were giving. I wanted something intense, something raw, something passionate and dramatic, something that was so good it exceeded all logical possibility. In short, I wanted something that did not exist. Or so I thought.
I soon read of Hosea and a woman named Gomer in the Bible. Long story short, Gomer cheated on Hosea multiple times and the Bible does not record one ounce of regret on her part. Hosea kept on taking her back in even though it hurt him, just as God continually took Israel back in. Their story ends with Hosea purchasing Gomer from a slave market and taking her home.
The dreamer side of me imagines Hosea covering a half-naked Gomer up, scooping her up in his arms, and offering protection and an immeasurable amount of love still remaining. I imagine words of assurance gently whispered to a woman whose hair is in disarray and whose face is muddied.
Such poetry. Such drama. Such deep, raw emotion. Such love.
While I thought that I had been exhausted of all the love I could possibly give because I had already given too much of me away to all the wrong people, I understood then that love is infinite, and that God regenerates and gives new life (and new love). I realized that I suddenly had all this love in me again, to give.
I was starting to understand that love is not about what we can get from doing certain things for certain people. Love is not about “Will he take care of me the way I want to be taken care of?” Love is not about what I want for myself, or even about what I think I want for someone else.
Love, I learnt, is all about what is best for the other person, even if it means that I have to sacrifice my happiness, my joy, my heart, my wants, my pride, my sense of dignity, my dreams, my everything, my life. Love doesn’t need an assurance of future reciprocation. Love does, because Love loves.
From that point of understanding, it became easier for me to understand God’s love for me. It became easier for me to love God back. It became easy to learn how to love my parents, my brothers, my friends, and even people at church. Even strangers, and even the guy that I had been liking for the past year or so.
It became easy, whenever I was with people, but I was dealing with the not-so-easy during my times alone. I struggled with the fact that I had to learn what my brother likes to eat and yield to that whenever we had to choose a restaurant; what interests my friend has, and how I want to direct our conversation towards that; what preferences my mom has with regards to leisure time; what sort of words and actions make my dad feel that I love and respect him. While I used to not care about other people and just cared about how they made me feel, now I wanted to know everything they cared about. While I used to only care about myself, now I had to set aside myself because I had bigger things–other people’s things–to fry. I had to change my conversation skills, because if I wanted to show love to other people, everything must be about them.
All about them, less about me. Listen. Encourage. Prod. Give attention and time. Give gifts, even though at times it might make me broke. Give what I can, sometimes even more than what I can afford. Apologize, even if it means I have no pride left in me. All about them, less about me.
I would like to say it only takes a week, but it doesn’t. There is good news, though: it takes so much quicker than you expect, if you allow God to work, because God gives all grace. Less than a month after I embarked on that journey, I noticed things about myself that had drastically changed. Some attitudes were gone, my temper was surprisingly easier to keep in check, and I started loving to pay more attention to people. But I kept mum about it, because maybe it was just me.
“Here is the look of a woman so in love,” a girl friend of mine said shortly after, gesturing at me in wonder. “What happened? You’ve grown so much!”
I wasn’t in a romantic relationship when she said that. I was just enjoying life. I was in a love relationship with all my family and with all my friends. She was right, though. I was so in love. I was so in love with God that sometimes, all I could do was smile. I was so in love, that I could do anything.
Because we are made in the image of God, and God is love, there is this desire in us to reflect that love. But while most of the time love is in the doing, sometimes, love is in the not-doing. Sometimes, love is in the self-control, in the waiting, in the abstaining, in the never. Sometimes, love is in the “from a distance,” because love is all about what’s best for the other person.
But it’s all the same principle: ultimately, love is sacrifice.
It’s only this one principle to learn, and in this sense, love, while difficult, is also easy.
For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.