The Word Love
I remember when one of my kids was very young she figured out that certain shapes were letters and if you put them in a particular order it became a word. This was called writing. She very much wanted to learn how to do this.
One day she asked me to help her write a word. I asked which word she wanted to write, and she said, "Love." So, I helped her little hand trace the letters L-O-V-E. This brought squeals of delight. "Daddy, I wrote a word. L-O-V-E that's love!"
Simple pleasures are, in fact, the best.
Later that day I was explaining what we had done to her mother. But she had moved on to something else. A different calling had grasped her attention, and she had forgotten some of what had transpired earlier in the day. I had been so excited, and I really wanted to brag on her. I asked her, "C'mon. Show me love."
Instead of pointing the word we had carefully crafted on the table before her, she leapt across the table at me, squeezing me tightly and planting a sloppy, wet kiss on the side of my face. I laughed and said, "No. Not like that. You know...the letters?"
She thought this was the silliest thing ever, "No, Daddy. That's not love. This is love," she said squeezing me again and offering another messy embrace.
"Well...what's that?" I asked, pointing to the paper from before.
She said, "That's just a word."
There are nearly 7,000 languages on planet Earth -- every one of them has a word or a shape or a sound for love. The Greek language has four or five. But the most fundamental thing to remember about love is that it is more than just a word.
A word, by itself, is nothing more than a symbol. A word cannot define love; it can only remind us that we are speaking of love. The problem with speaking of love is that our words reduce it to a thing, an object, a choice, a decision. Real love is not a noun or a verb. Real love is all that and more.
Moreover, talking about love can give us the impression that love is a distinct thing separate and apart from you. There is this thing we call "love" -- and then there is this thing we call "you". Speaking of love creates a false separation between us and love itself.
No matter what language you use, something's going to get lost in translation when we begin to speak about love.
In order to know love, you have to begin with the idea that love cannot be defined -- not thoroughly -- certainly not exhaustively. There aren't enough words (and, trust me, I have a lot of words). Science cannot define it. The intellect cannot define it. There's not a language big enough for it. It's more than an idea. It's not just particles and atoms.
But don't give up hope! Just because love cannot be defined, that doesn't mean it cannot be experienced. Many of the best things in life cannot be defined, but they can be experienced. It's really hard to define things like wonder and awe, mystery and a true sense of belonging. These things defy definition, but they can be experienced. You may not know how to define the word art, but you know it when you see it.
Some have claimed that love is impossible to define because love is shy and elusive -- like love is a mischievous person who rejects our advances and likes to play tricks on us. I'm not sure that's true. I think it's just that love can be known; it just can't be defined. I honestly believe love is available to everyone. My theology teaches me that love has been given to everyone who will simply give themselves to love.
You can think of love like a door. If you just sit and stare at the door you'll end up with an idea of what a door is -- and maybe what a door is for. But if you can muster the gumption to approach the door, open it, and walk through it -- well, then you're onto something completely different. To really experience love you have to be able to move beyond the word itself, you have to leave behind some stuff you've learned, you have to stop being so religious, you have to stop trying to define love so you can let love define you.
I used to think I had to figure love out before I could love someone or myself. What I'm learning is that you have to let love teach you what love is. Only love can do that.