I wrote this as much to myself as anyone else, so do not take offense, I am not targeting anyone.
The title of this article is from a man whose words have challenged me to choose my own carefully.
Before I begin, check out the song “You Were a House on Fire” by the band “Listener”. The lyrics kick me in the stomach every time I hear them. They challenge me not to be afraid of getting real and messy with people and to really love them.
I really dislike the word “love” or at least the way I use it and hear it used every day. I love my wife. I love pizza. I love my kid. I love that movie. I love my family. i <3 you. I love my roommate.
I hope you do love your wife and your kid and your family and your roommate. All of them are worthy of it. But the question that I have to reconcile is: what do I mean when I tell you I love you?
I think part of the problem is that we only have one word to describe an array of emotions. In Hebrew I count at least four words (Hesed, Ahavah, Da’at, Raya) which variably can be translated as love. Greek does the same thing. Each word shows a different nuance, a special component of love. When I say that I “Da’at” my wife, I’m saying that I know her intimately, am fascinated by her, and want to experience her entirely. When I say I “Hesed” you, I’m saying I have chosen to be in the long-haul with you, that I am committed to you, and that I am prepared to let my actions prove it.
I believe that love is not just the warm fuzzies that you get from being around someone, or the warm fuzzies that you get from eating a piping hot slice of pizza, as the case may be. I believe that love for others is not even that which makes you happy. Rather, I believe it is by serving the other and by the other’s mere existence that we may derive the joy that comes from love.
The Hebrew “Hesed” is often translated “loving kindness”. Or as I like to call it “love-with-its-work-boots-on”. It is the kind of love that we see when God made the covenant with Israel at Mt. Sinai in Exodus. In that covenant God said “Look, I know you guys are going to mess up. But I am going to prove to you that I am committed to you anyway” (okay, so I paraphrased a little. God uses “thee” and “thou” much more than I do).
When I am told that I am loved by someone, I want to be able to rest in the knowledge that that person is a safe place for me, that that person recognizes my value, and that they’re willing to get their shoes dirty wading through my crap or get their shoulder damp from my tears.
You can argue with my theology or my definitions. I both invite and welcome it. That’s not why I wrote this. My hope is that you ask yourself what you mean when you say you love me or anyone else.