Letters to Luthien

Letters to My Future Bride

What is Love?

Dear Darling,

Do you find it unthinkable that anyone who writes letters of love to an unknown bride for a half-decade still question its definition? On its face, the question seems rudimentary.

But if we look beneath the face of love, the question is anything but. Our native tongue is woefully inadequate to define love; you cannot love cake with equal avidity as you love your job, or summer, or friends, or parties, or your mother, or your spouse, or your country.

To Scripture we must first turn, to find that God created love and God is love. When we love, we are like God, but only because love makes us like Him, not because we have approached Him or belong to Him. All lovers may for a time become better for having loved, more godly and virtuous in their behavior, more charitable and patient in their demeanor. The blessing of love is not confined to those who belong to God; He is generous enough to bestow its blessings even to the unrepentant. Because God is love, and loving makes us like Him, sometimes people mistake the two for each other. God is love; but love is not God.

1 Corinthians 13 famously expounds on its virtues by telling us that love is patient and kind, without envy, boasting or pride. It doesn’t dishonor others, nor is it self-seeking or easily angered, nor keeping records of wrongs. It rejoices in truth, not evil. It always protects, trusts, hopes and perseveres.

All of these describe love, as we ought to aspire. But do they define it? The same may be shown to a sister as much as a wife. Nor can a list of mere descriptors fully define love, any more than the words “swift” or “beautiful” define a horse.

What does the world say?

The scientist says love is in our chemistry, neurons firing in the brain.

The teacher says love is in our actions.

The preacher says love is a commitment and service to others.

The mother says love is in the heart.

The philosopher says it is a force of nature, irresistible and untamed.

The hedonist says love is God, obeyed heedless of cost. The lover says it is a feeling; you have to go there to know there. The cynic says it is an illusion; the sensualist that it is sex.

This also is true, that some loves we choose and some loves choose us. After all Darling, you could not guarantee you would seek out and love every member of your blood kin had you not been born into their family. Families love each other, even when they don’t like each other. And some loves endure long after reason says they should.

The Greeks find greater variety of descriptors for love; in their tongue, there is ludus, the playful and unripe love among children. Then there is agape, the unconditional love and charity we show towards the world and its natives, a selfless Christian loving-kindness and altruism. There is philia, a deep affection, friendship and connection between comrades, which may be only friends or may be romantic partners. Of course there is eros, which may be the primal and passionate fire which presses towards any physical consummation, and the sense of being romantically in love with one in particular. There is storge, the natural love between family. Finally, there is pragma, the abiding devotion brought about through mutual understanding and longevity.

Why should such a question arise after so long? My Darling, I ask because I wonder how I’ll know that I love you. Such revelations take time, but may dawn suddenly or gradually. Some say there came a specific moment at which they suddenly decided, or realized that they loved. Others say it was a gradual process. Love (philia), I think, cannot come suddenly and spontaneously, not for me. I’ve inoculated myself against such uncontrolled sentiment. Reason has built walls and buffers to ward off such insensible emotionalism. (Though make no mistake, much of me still devoutly longs for surrender to such passions.)

It worries me, you see, because some say that love is putting someone else’s needs before your own (agape), and I think I would not be overly generous to myself if I say I tend toward this already. It’s hard not to be charitable of deeds when your life’s work is with the sick. Nor do I say this to congratulate myself; half the time I hate it. I hate feeling responsible for others, I hate feeling their pain and mistakes. I hate that people won’t listen. I hate that I am only human, much less others. I hate that “only human” is the excuse so many conjure in defense of their wanton misdeeds. I hate that I give so often and receive so little. I can’t deny this is just how I was created, one of God’s built-in cushions of the universe to balance out the selfish. I just have to make peace with it. That is, after all, one of life’s greatest blessings: to carry the burdens of others without breaking. To break, and only be kinder for it.

So Darling, how does a Christian discern between agape, eros and philia? How much play do we allow Venus and Cupid? What happens when you decide to spend time with someone, and resolve to model the behavior you hope is characteristic of yourself as a husband (why else would you date?) and you can’t tell between the deed and the feeling? It’s second-nature to me. More than getting doors or paying for meals, it’s an ongoing “how was your day” or “tell me your troubles.” It’s reading someone’s face to see what hidden meaning lurks behind polite formality. It’s being willing to get up at 5am if necessary to take you to the airport. It’s coming over and nursing you back to health if you’ve taken deathly ill. It’s sacrificing sleep to come help you change a tire. Within reason, it’s basically being available 24/7, and dearly hoping the same is offered in return.

Now don’t mistake me, Darling. I can be a selfish pain in the neck as well as anyone. That’s what will make our love last, a resolution to put behind us the parts which make us intolerable towards one another. But my inclination is towards serving as I describe above. You see how that already looks like love? Add to that a physical chemistry, which can present its own quandary by posing the question “do I like you for you, or do I just like having anyone to be with for a change?”

When do you choose to love someone, and when do you “fall” in love? How much is controlled and how much is loss of control? When do you possess love, and when does love possess you? To one who places high value on maintaining control of one’s senses and faculties, it takes a great deal of trust to be willing to let go. When do you love someone for what they do for you — for their mind? Do you need someone because you love them, or do you love someone because you need them?

You might say I’m an overthinker. It wouldn’t be the first time I’ve been accused of such. But asking too many questions? Nonsense, my dear. The secrets of life are reserved for the one who never ceases to ask questions.

Here is what I know. Love is priceless. It cannot be bought.

Love is a flame that cools us, and an ice which thaws.

Love is the sixth sense that makes no sense.

Love is needing someone, as well as wanting them.

Love is more than a feeling, but it isn’t just all the bolstering spiritual intangibles. There’s head spinning, heart racing and blood pumping, and it’s here that I need the most work.

Love is a Verb. It isn’t what you think and feel and say. It’s what you do that defines you to another.

Love is a Command. God said to love one another, no options, no exclusions. That means even when you don’t feel like loving someone, you love them anyway. Love is a Commitment.

Love is a decision. It’s an act of will and sometimes runs counter to all our instincts.

Love never looks the way you wanted or expected. It will change us and shape us and transform us. In time, it will define us. Love is a force and a power, and like any power, it must be controlled. We must change and shape and transform it ourselves. We channel it.

Love is unconditional.

Love is a multiplicitous, jumbled, wonderful mess, one in which I can’t wait for us to become entangled.

I will meet you there. Someday. Somehow.

 

I remain ever yours sincerely,
Beren

May 26, 2014 - Posted by | Loneliness, Questions | , , , , , ,

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