Sunday, March 16, 2014

The Power of Love

What is love?  What is the power of love?  I hardly feel qualified to speak on such a broad topic.  In addition to its breadth, the topic seems ephemeral and non-pragmatic.  There is so much to do and so many obligations to fulfill.  Do I have the time and energy for something so “soft?”  In addition, I feel like I am rarely a decent practitioner of the concept, and so I’m certainly no authority. 
Part of the problem is the word itself.  What does it mean?  Is it an emotion?  An action?  Does it always feel good?  Does it make us happy? 
Then there are the questions of application.  Can one make a mistake or unintentionally hurt someone and still be loving?  Is love demonstrated over the years or in each moment?  Does love always feel good?  Does love involve making difficult choices?  How do I love God, others and myself if there are conflicting agenda?  How do I love two or more people at the same time if they have competing agenda?
I don’t know if I have the ability or even the energy to answer any or all of my questions.  All I can do is share my own experiences and hope it sheds some light.
First, as I said, there is the problem of definition.  There are two problems here.  First, the word really does encompass more than one idea.  C.S. Lewis discusses the four relational loves in The Four Loves.  I have found, however, a love for Purpose, for writing specifically, that benefits me first.  Writing is a completely selfish act that cuts me off from the world while, at the same time, allowing me to offer the best to it.  In writing every day, I have found Purpose and happiness.  I have become a better person and made the world a better place.  When I study, this too is my way of loving others, but it requires that I am alone.
One of the problems with defining such a grand idea is that of monism.  Monism, as defined by Martin Seligman in Flourish, is the idea that one concept or idea answers many questions or many problems.  “Love is the answer,” as the song goes.  More accurately, one aspect of love may be an answer.  I think it is no mistake that when I feel happy, I feel more emotionally connected with others and I want to serve them.  Nor is it coincidental that when I am peaceful, I am more attentive.  At the same time, when I am completely focused on writing or studying, I feel something akin to happiness, but something less definable.  It is no mistake that St. Paul mentions love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control as one thing.  They all go together as one.
The other problem with the word love is its constant misuse.  We “love” movies or a TV show or a song.  We love sports or our hobbies.  Is that really love or is it just enjoyment of the pleasure and the feeling of safety these things give us?  For example, I used to say that I loved comic books.  Then I found Purpose and I realized that I didn’t love comics at all; I was just obsessed with them because they gave me comfort and they kept me from facing real issues.  That may sound ridiculous, but when I see people lie, cheat, steal and murder over politics, hobbies or sports, I realize things could have been much worse.
Without looking up the word, I’m going to give love two definitions that have served me well:
First, love is an emotion.  When I have loved someone, I have felt good.  It makes me happy and it creates in me the desire to make others happy.  It involves time, attention and the free choice to give my all of myself and especially my best to that person or those people.  And it feels, as I said, good.  It feels good to love someone.  It feels good to give my life to something larger than myself.  That’s why I can love my children and spend time with them happily or I love my Purpose and I can spend hours alone with my Muse, also happily.  I can even love my hobbies as a form of loving myself and as a way to contribute to the world when possible.  It is an emotion and it is deeper than an emotion.  This is the power of love.
At the same time, love is a conscious decision free of fickle emotion.  It is a commitment made no matter what I am feeling.  This comes in quite handy when I am dealing with people whom I love who are also being difficult.  My children come to mind here.  This commitment causes me to stay a parent.  It is the reason I write so much even when I’m tired or when I’d rather do something else.  It is the reason I go to work when I don’t want to and I try to give a little extra.  There’s very little emotion involved in these endeavors sometimes.  There’s often very little in it for me but the cost of my time and energy.  This is also the power of love.
It is also one other thing.  It is courage.  When my Muse gave me this topic, I was afraid.   As I said, I’m no authority and I’m not a consistent practitioner of love.  But I have felt its power when I give love and when love is given to me.  This is why I was presumptuous enough to believe I could add something to the conversation.  Love is emotion which is commitment which is courage. 
Love is what enables me to Get Started and to Keep Going.