Love is…

Happy Valentine’s Day, a day to celebrate love. It feels that for a very long time now, the overall focus of the world has been centered on hatred, division, or anger in some form or another. The tumultuous cacophony is exhausting and I know I’m not the only one who is over it. So, it’s a relief to come to a day that emphasizes love.

Finding a reprieve from the ongoing negativity by shifting my focus to the celebration of love really pushed me to pause and consider what love means. Love is so complex. It includes feelings, emotions, choices, actions, words, and paradox. SO MUCH paradox. For example, a parent’s love for their child, which exceeds their own love of self, as evidenced through sleepless nights and perpetual sacrifice of personal desires. The love of someone who celebrates their friend’s success, even as they struggle to overcome one failure after another. The love of a spouse who continues to embrace their partner, even in the most difficult marital circumstances.

As I contemplated love, a song from my childhood church choir popped into my head, “Love Is.” Here are the lyrics, as best I can recall and with a little help from an internet search:

Love is a very special thing, a smile, a tear, a soft summer rain. It has no beginning, it has no end, but I like it best when it’s shared with a friend. Love is never stuffed up, never puffed up, never gives up when the going’s rough, it’s the biggest little word you can say, by the way. It’s sympathy, sincerity, it’s charity, the main variety, it’s everything happiness is made of.

I think that’s a pretty good summary of love.

My understanding of and appreciation for love has deepened over time. While there are many ways to express love, I often look for examples communicated by those around me. As I thought about the different ways love is conveyed, I realized there are many facets of love that often peek through in unexpected places. Recently, I have found myself learning about love by listening to and watching my children interact.

It is inspiring to see how easily kids grasp some of the most important aspects of love. Take, for example, forgiveness, probably one of the cornerstones of love. Due to our current daily routine and schedule, my two kids spend almost every waking moment together. Sometimes the intensity of this rhythm manifests, understandably, in major fights, meltdowns, and frustrated outbursts of disagreement or aggravation: “I’ll NEVER play with you EVER again!” …only to resume their fast friendship literally thirty seconds later. Forgiveness. My kids’ ability to go from extreme frustration with one another to complete forgiveness inspires me to remember the importance of practicing forgiveness in love.

Just as impactful as forgiveness, are the expressions of support and encouragement that my kids often convey. They have essentially zero inhibitions when it comes to sharing messages of praise: “You’re amazing at building Legos!” “Wow, you’re really great at drawing pictures!” Hearing their unconditional support for each other reminds me of the power of words and the importance of cheering for and celebrating each other. Building others up through words of encouragement and praise can be one of the most joyful expressions of love.

Of course, love is so much more. Like, wanting to ease someone’s discomfort. Take, for instance, when my daughter needed to start taking a new daily medication. She was not having it. For the first two days, attempting to get her to take the medicine was absolute torture for the entire family. However, I think it was most unbearable for her older brother who could hardly stand to see her in such distress. He would bring her favorite toys or dance and sing as a way to distract her from the ick of the medicine. He would offer hugs, encouragement, and cheers of support to help motivate her. He would cry when she inevitably broke down in tears. That’s love, sharing in their pain when we know a loved one is hurting and hoping they overcome the struggle and excel in all areas of life.

Beyond sharing in their pain and hopes, is a desire to simply share experiences with our loved ones. This brings to mind an anecdote that occurred when my daughter and I ran an errand without her brother. A fun song came on the radio as we drove around town and I turned it up so we could enjoy it. In the midst of her dancing and singing along, she paused. As I glanced in the rearview mirror, curious of the sudden silence, she reflected sadly how she wished her brother was in the car so he could also enjoy listening to the song. This may be one of my personal favorite aspects of love: wanting to share big experiences and small moments of life with our loved ones.

Sharing forgiveness, encouragement, joys, sorrows, and experiences with each other brings a fullness to life through love. By connecting and sharing our highs, lows, and all of the in-between moments, we create support, comfort, connection, and community with one another. By offering forgiveness, understanding, and encouragement, we strengthen the chords of love that hold us together. My hope is that as we continue 2022, we can all focus more on the healing and restorative power of love, rather than the destructive nature of disheartening divisions that attempt to permeate all aspects of life. Maybe if we could shift our focus to all of the uplifting aspects of love, the power of connecting would help create a new pattern of hope and optimism for the future.

As we celebrate a day filled with flowers, candies, and cutesy messages of adoration splashed across heart-filled cards, I need to remember that love is more than just a word used to sell holiday products, it is more than just a warm, happy feeling – love is much more nuanced and gritty. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 elaborates on just how deep and complex love is (emphasis mine): “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

And so today, Valentine’s Day, I hope to dedicate a few moments to more deeply dwell on the concept of love and extend grace to myself as I continue to grow in my understanding of and appreciation for love. I encourage you to also watch and learn about love from the people around you and to be on the lookout for all the unexpected ways that love shows up in life. And I hope your Valentine’s Day is a day overflowing with love.

Wendi is co-author of The Unexpected Ever Afters blog and enjoys sipping extra hot coffee, sharing a love of reading with her kids, and exploring bike trails.

photo credit: personal photo

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