This article was written by Hannah Firestone, one of the Hope Stands team members.
When you google “define love,” the first definition that pops up is “an intense feeling of deep affection.” “To love” as a verb is “to feel a deep romantic or sexual attachment to someone.” Some synonyms for love are “affection,” “fondness,” “darling,” and “passion.” Synonyms for the verb to love are “to like,” “to be fond of,” “to fancy,” and “to adore.” This is what the world thinks of the idea of love: that it is a feeling. In order to love someone, you simply need to feel “deep affection” for that person. Love is used in our culture almost exclusively as the love between two romantic partners. The Bible says something entirely different. “Greater love has no man than this: that he lay down his life for a friend” (John 15:13). I could easily say that I have “an intense feeling of deep affection” for my dog. However, I certainly would not give up my life to save my dog. Also, the Bible verse says, “friend.” Maybe I could show true love to a friend without feeling “a deep romantic of sexual attachment” to them. The world would say that is not possible. However, I would say that not only is loving a friend possible, it is a better way of showing love than in a physical way to a romantic partner. Love is not a feeling. Love is making a choice to show someone in a tangible way that you will put them above yourself no matter what.
All love begins with a choice. What makes a true friendship is a mutual decision to put each other first. You do not automatically begin loving someone. No one can make you become friends with another person. When you begin spending time with another person, at some point you make the conscious or subconscious decision to pursue your relationship with that person. When you are in kindergarten, the decision is easier. You think, “Will this person share their toys with me? If they do, I will be their friend.” By the time you are in high school, the question you ask yourself is, “Will this person remain my friend and be loyal to me even when I do stupid things? If they do, I will be their friend.” Whatever question you are asking yourself when you meet someone new, you are still making that decision of whether or not you will become friends with the person and share love with them. The other person also must make this decision. The best kind of love is when both people decide to share love with each other. However, sometimes only one person makes that decision. In that case, the relationship is one-sided. One of the parties is taking advantage of the love shown by the other. When neither side decides to show love, the relationship becomes that of two acquaintances or is ended altogether. Whatever the case, that relationship began with a choice of whether or not to share love with the other person.
Love must be unconditional. Love that is not unconditional is not true love. One thing that people say to their friends is “If you really love me…” These people are placing conditions on their friendships. They are saying that the other person must prove their devotion in order to maintain the friendship. Other people say, “Is this the thanks I get?” These people have been hurt by their friends and are trying to express their hurt. But they are not showing unconditional love. Love that is truly unconditional offers forgiveness and grace to a friend that commits a grievance. Of course, love should not be taken advantage of. When a person continuously hurts you, you should not continue to open yourself to them. You should forgive them and grant them grace, but not necessarily trust them fully. But love must always be unconditional. When you decide to love someone, you are not only offering them courtesy for the present, you are promising them forgiveness and grace in the future. True love forgives.
Putting the other person first is essential to love. This means that you must care about the other person more than you care about yourself. When the other person needs something, you must be willing to give up what you need in order to fulfill their needs. You cannot show true love to someone while still putting your own desires above theirs. This does not mean that you should put yourself in harm’s way every time your friend wants a coffee from Starbucks. Love is also discerning. To love someone, you must recognize the difference between your friend’s true emotional and physical needs and their unnecessary desires. Love does not call you to make sacrifices of your own health in order to get that coffee to your friend at untimely hours. Nor does it require that you jump up at your friend’s every request. However, when your friend has a true need for your help emotionally or physically, you do need to fulfill that need out of love. You need to sacrifice your alone time to talk to a friend who is suffering emotionally. You need to be willing to give up everything, even your own life, when your friend is in physical danger. The only way to show love is to put the other person’s needs above your own.
The ultimate example of love is Jesus Christ. By coming down to Earth as a baby, He made the choice to show love to all humans. Although many people sinned against him and continue to do so, he showed unconditional love through his forgiveness of them. His death on the cross put the spiritual needs of all humans above his own needs. Christ is love, and he embodied love perfectly on the cross. As a Christian, I am called to show love to everyone around me. That means that for every person I meet, no matter how they treat me, I make the choice to love them unconditionally and put their needs before my own. I must even love to people I have never met. It also means that every one of my brothers and sisters in Christ make the decision to love me. Love is so much more than a feeling; it is a choice. Choosing to love others is the only way to bring joy into a relationship, and Jesus’ love gives us an example of how to do so.