I went up to their bedrooms to tell them, one more time for this day, that I love them. But my children are asleep. So I kissed them both, taking a long moment to memorize their peaceful faces and listen to the steadiness of their breaths. I said, “I love you” as I shut their doors.
Curious, isn’t it? Such a hollow feeling, saying “I love you” to someone who, for whatever reason, cannot receive the words.
I came back downstairs to the office here, and stared out the picture window for a while. A beautiful, early winter sky, a boundless heaven of stars shimmering, glowing, each and every one separate – and yet together, they give such exquisite beauty, such perfect, infinite light.
I love you.
The phrase echoes in my head. Countless times every day, those words are spoken in my home; yet there are times when I feel a yearning as I say them, because they don’t adequately define what I feel.
I suppose that’s because they are the spoken expression of what I hope my actions reflect; after all, “love,” in its truest form, is a state of being - an ethereal intangible that cannot bear fruit without a recipient. Its testimony is witnessed in the lives of those who receive it, not in those who give it. It is sacrificially centered on the other, yet we spend our lives searching for it, not fully comprehending that we are imbued with it only when we have done our utmost to empty ourselves of it.
Maybe that’s because of our contemporary, savvy idea of “love.” Maybe we are better sated from the notion that it should resemble a country ballad or a Valentine card - something we can hold and see and name - than to live the selfless, heartbreaking truth it really embodies.
To honestly love another is a messy undertaking. My children feel loved when I set a loaf of fresh-baked bread in front of them, but the real love is expressed when my hands are tangled in the sticky dough. They feel loved when a special gift is given to them, but they’re not pondering the complexities of how I’m loving them when I take away their privileges, imposing upon them the consequences of their bad behavior. Your friend might feel loved as you serve him a sumptuous meal, but turn away with prideful derision when his iniquities are laid before him.
Yet, these efforts reveal acts of loving. It’s just that genuine love – the elevation of another to a status which supersedes our own needs, and addresses outcome, not comfort or desire – is not pretty, it’s not comfortable, and it’s not peaceful. It would never get the nod from Madison Avenue or romance novelists, because love is a spiritual covenant to use our wisdom to lead others into the light. And it renders us completely vulnerable. To love is to risk your pride, invest your heart and soul and mind in another, extending a hand that may very well get slapped.
Where the soul of the beloved matters more than their feelings and facades is where “love” has been redefined into something not just unpopular, but something mean-spirited, haughty, even evil. Discernment is redefined as judgment, wisdom as self-righteous hypocrisy, concern as being meddlesome. It seems that we become faint-hearted when it comes to confronting the mess of loving another, because it will cost us. Plenty. We turn our heads, we go along to get along. We let people crash into a wall at ninety miles an hour, because to scream “Stop!” will make us unpopular, cast away from our group, shunned. We, who ourselves may have once gone towards that wall, are dismissed as “hypocritical” for screaming for a halt to the danger - and because those standing silently in witness may, despising their own faintness of heart, turn on us in scorn.
But that’s where love is revealed: In abandoning the outcome, casting the self aside, inviting the consequences that will come. Even if the love we offer to others is not received – which may be the definition of loneliness – that doesn’t mean it ceases to exist, because real love ignores the cost, braves the darkness, lights the way. The true measure of the love within the human heart is inversely proportional to the price one is willing to pay to express it.
I know that the infinity of stars outside my window is ever-present - they just shine their brightest, with their light most apparent, in the dark.
And so it is with love.
For my children:
(December 24th, 2002)
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