Do you know what “love” is? I make a habit of asking friends that very question because I want to know if I'm the only one wrestling with the question, and I want to know where the question has led others.
Long story short: most of my life, love has been defined in terms of “me.” I “love” anything or anyone that pleases—ME. Even if someone pleases me, they usually have something about them that prevents me from loving them in all things. I'm sure by now, you see exactly where I am going with this.
Let's go back in time, the summer and fall of 1979. A major event had taken place about five years prior—a divorce. A divorce from a woman I thought I loved, with the exception of a few things that caused a large amount of stress between us. By 1979, I had lost all hope of a reunion with the ex-wife, and the meaning of life totally left me. I set out to kill myself. The high level summary of the event: I ended up in the Chiricahua Mountains of Arizona, sitting on a large boulder waiting to die from a rattlesnake bite. As my wounded leg burned, throbbed, and rippled with spasms, I delighted in the thought that I had only a few hours of misery left. In the mean time, it occurred to me that just maybe I should examine why I was so terribly unhappy.
You see, from the time of my earliest recall, I have been “God aware.” From the time of my earliest recall, I have wanted to be a servant to the Most High God. Never-the-less, I lived moment by moment, never thinking that I should plan anything. I was tossed daily by the whims of materialism and self gratification. As my thoughts progressed, I brought God into the conversation, “God, I simply do not want to live anymore if I have to live without you in my life. If you can still use me, you can have me, otherwise, just let me die.
Suddenly I felt gentle arms around me and a feeling of being totally and unconditionally accepted. All my sorrows and burdens suddenly left. I had never felt that--no, never--in my recollection of life. It felt so good. "Lord, if this is you, you will have to heal my leg as a sign to me. I will not seek any medical attention. If I die, so be it."
Did I say that God healed my leg right then and there? No, I didn't; He didn't. That leg remained in spasms and cramps for the next two months, and to this day, it suffers the most pain from arthritis and inflammation of the lymph nodes from the bottom of the foot to the connection at the hip. I have a constant reminder of that day in the Chiricahua Mountains.
The story is much larger than this, and would take many pages to describe everything that had happened prior to that day, and how obstacles, physical and emotional, were slowly removed and continue to be removed to this day, because I know without a single doubt, that I am in God's beneficent hands.
In remembrance of that day in the Chiricahua's, I now have a simple and complete definition of “love.”
Love is a complete, one-hundred percent acceptance of the person. Love does NOT say, “If you change this or that, I will love you more.” Love says, “I accept you just as you are, without any exception, without any anticipation or expectation of what you will be tomorrow.” Love does not change in degrees. Love does not change over time. Love is total and absolute acceptance or it is not love at all. Love by definition must be unconditional acceptance. The moment one puts conditions on acceptance, it ceases to be love and becomes a tool for self gratification.
The apostle Paul helps me to understand love in slightly more practical terms in 1st Corinthians 13:4-8:
Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails....”
Now, I am going through a list of people I claim to love. I ask a simple question: What would I like to change in this person? If the answer is anything but nothing, I know my acceptance has conditions and that I do not love that person. Believe me, the results of that test are revealing, disappointing and humbling. I now know the depth and width of my ability to love. I have been a very selfish person for the most of my life.
One can ask then, “So, when someone you love brings harm to you, you accept that and do not do anything about it?” The answer is in how I treat my dogs. I accept my dogs one-hundred percent. I love them. I would change nothing in them. They sometimes soil the carpet. When they do, I know they are sick and I seek to help them get well. My puppy continually picks up unhealthy things into his mouth; I gently remove them as quickly as I can so it does not cause trouble for him. Both dogs prance proudly into a street without looking; I restrain them until I know they are safe. I even get tired of doing those things time and time again, but, dogs are dogs, and dogs behave like that. I could even train them so they don't do things like that. I have nothing against that. The training is not for my sake, but for theirs. The same, I would think, applies to my family, and to my friends, in as much as they chose to accept any wisdom I have. I also recognize, that when it comes to wisdom, I have scant little. They are more often my teachers, than I am their teacher.
I have a friend in Second Life that has given me some sound advice as relates to my family members. I have to consciously assert myself and consciously seek to honor and love them. I do this supported by daily meditations and daily reading to help me understand how true love will manifest. In the finest Mahatma Gandhi tradition, if I want love, I must be love. That is one of my goals and I work at it daily. Yes, I said, I W-O-R-K at it daily. Love is not a fleeting feeling. It is a cultivated skill. For me, it is a total mind work-over. Love does not come to me naturally.
And by the way, I DO love my ex-wife. I am thankful to be able to say, we are still respectful friends.
Be Peace. Be Love.