Rarely do we see Hollywood paint a true picture of the ups and downs of love (which makes it only lust). At the risk of losing my man-card, you should know that as men, we really wouldn't mind if life played out a little more like those dumb chick flicks. But, we all know that's not how it works--at least I hope we do. The nice guy doesn't always win. The damsel in distress may not find her prince charming ever (possibly because no man can live up to this ideal). It doesn't always end happily ever after. Contrary to the way love is portrayed, it isn't always rainbows and butterflies. The sad reality is that love, at times, can be pretty messy and ugly.
First and foremost love is a decision that takes commitment. It is much more than a fleeting feeling; here one minute and gone the next (but you already knew that didn't you). For love to grow, trust is required. We cannot love someone we cannot trust; it is an impossibility. And for trust, there has to be a two way street of vulnerability.
You've probably heard the old adage, "Love is blind." Well, there is a lot of truth to that one. It is much easier to overlook things when you truly love someone. Those blatant personality traits and character flaws others so easily point out disappear when love is in the mix. And all of this leads me to tell you the obvious. Love is risky. There are no guarantees...except it WILL NOT be smooth sailing and you WILL get hurt.
Anymore it seems we have grossly misunderstood love. In our culture, love is this ambiguous idea. Even without the ambiguity, trying to define love is kind like nailing jello to the wall. This is one reason I would venture to say that a majority of us aren't sure what the true nature of love is. If you ask anyone, they can probably ramble off numerous things they love. Someone might tell you they love their car (if it's a '69 Camaro, I could agree with that). In the very next breath they are discussing their love for their dog (because nobody in their right mind would ever love cats). I could even tell you a story about a teenager who loved pizza. Granted, this one isn't much of a shocker. A teenager that loves pizza isn't a rare thing. But she found it necessary to proclaim her love for pizza by getting a giant tattoo. There, permanently, on her right shoulder is a slice of pepperoni pizza. (I am sure people think some of my tattoos are weird, but come on, pepperoni pizza? I enjoy a good cheeseburger now and then, but I'm not getting it tattooed). All of this makes me wonder if it upsets God when we sing these songs proclaiming our love for him; because in all reality, we are putting him on the same level as all of these temporal things...but that's a different discussion altogether.
Sadly, there is an overwhelming majority of us that have not experienced or seen love. For many, the people who were supposed to love us didn't. Some of us had parents who were absent or abusive. Yet others have had a significant other use and abuse them. Others still had friends who took advantage of them. This list could be endless. I have been fortunate enough to have the rare privilege of experiencing this phenomenon of love. For starters, I had very loving parents. They were not perfect and I may not have always agreed with them. I didn't even always feel loved by them. To be totally honest, my father and I didn't have a good relationship until I was in college. I don't even recall hearing him tell me he loved me very often, if ever...until college. But looking back I see the boundaries, discipline, etc. were all tangible examples of their love for me. And let's be honest, a lot of that stuff was warranted considering the pain and agony I put them through during those 18 years I lived under their roof. The next place I have witnessed love has been a group I refer to as Alpha (a group of guys I went to college with). These are the kind of guys that are always there for you. They would give you their last dollar or the shirt off their back. My Alpha brothers would take a bullet for me--and I for them. I'm 99.9% certain they are the kind of friends that would hide a body for you (not that I will ever need them to do that, just to clarify). But again, most of us haven't witnessed anything like this; so, of course it makes us wonder if love really exists.
In our society, where lust is supreme, love is not very natural. For that reason, it only goes to say that love is not easy. Yet, loving others is the most important thing we must learn to do. A few words of Jesus' come to mind: "Everyone will know you are my disciples because of your love for each other." However, loving each other will remain an impossibility until we can learn to love ourselves. Herein lies the issue. We might love certain things about ourselves, but we all have our hang-ups. There are certain things we would change if we could. Each and everyone of us has a skeleton (or two or three) in the closet. We have all done things we are ashamed of. None of us is perfect. And that is why so many of us are constantly attempting to earn love and approval from others--and from God. But love isn't earned. Love isn't based on a transactional system (i.e. I give Papa John's $10 and I receive a delicious pizza.) Love is freely given. We will never be able to love until we can come to the realization that each and every one of us is an imperfect person in need of redemption--and loved by God. Once we reach this realization, it puts all of us on a level playing field.
No wonder this whole idea of love is so unsettling for many of us. No wonder it is so difficult for us to put into practice. No wonder we aren't sure it is the greatest of these--faith, hope, and love. We don't know what it means or looks like. I might be going out on a limb here, but I'd venture to say that for almost all of us, loving people will be the most difficult task for us this side of eternity. But, there is hope...and love is worth it. While the risks are great, the rewards are even greater! Even with the pain and rejection experienced in this lifetime, I am discovering that to love is far less painful.