Searching for a “get well” card I turn into the gift aisle. Immediately a sea of red and pink cards expressing tender sentiments or stating bold desires overwhelms me. Valentine’s Day is here.
A terrifying thought crosses my mind as I wade through this sea of pre-packaged sentimentality. Someday soon, my newly minted teenage son will come home and say, “Dad, I’m in love with her.”
And my heart will sink.
I don’t want my son to be ‘in love’ with a girl. I want him to ‘love’ her.
What’s the difference?
When we look at the words closely a gulf opens between them. On the one hand, “I am in love with her” is a statement about the speaker. It describes the one doing the loving. The only verb—the word that carries the action—is “I am” talking about the manner of my existence. “What am I?” is the question. “I am in love” is the answer.
And what does this “in” of “in love” mean? Do we go into love like going into a garden, delighted by its beauty? Do we later leave love when a chill wind blows and the bloom of passion fades?
Perhaps being “in love” is not a place but a time. You can be “in love” just like being in time for an appointment. When the time for love expires we can leave to pursue other delights. If so, it seems that love is “a fog that burns with the first daylight of reality,” as Charles Bukowski says.
And so when my son declares he’s “in love with her,” my heart will sink for fear that love has been reduced to mere emotion, a compulsive infatuation drawing him in, or a revulsion driving him away. I don’t want my son to be ‘in love’ with a girl. I want him to ‘love’ her. Click To Tweet
But, on the others hand, I will rejoice when he says to me plainly and boldly: “I love her.” This simple declaration places love at the center. Love stand forth as a strong verb—an action directed outward. To love someone—rather than being “in love” with them—moves into the world. In the words of Iris Murdoch, “Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real.”
Love respects, engages, and is committed to the reality of another person. Love connects two or more people in a web of actions and reactions. To love is to act.
This is my hope for my son. Love is the very difficult understanding that something other than yourself is real. Iris Murdoch Click To Tweet
Valentine’s Day promotes being “in love,” even if that simple preposition is missing. An active, outward focused love it isn’t captured in most romantic comedies or love songs. So it is little wonder my son will one day blurt out how “in love” he is.
But I hope he will learn—just as I am still learning—of a love that does not bend back on itself as an emotion but moves towards others in action. A love that would lay down one’s life for a friend. A love that would even help a stranger abandoned on the road. A love that Jesus has fully given in his life for us—strangers, even enemies. Of this love he tells us, “Go and do likewise” (Luke 10:37).
This Valentine’s Day, let us go and love likewise. This Valentine's Day, let us go and love likewise. Click To Tweet