To ask what it means to love is one of life’s loaded questions! No one seems to have the right answer to satisfy everyone; thus, the opinions and perspectives are as diverse from one person to the next. Furthermore, what makes it more confusing is that we seem to be very confused about what it means to love in the post-modern world. We often equate it to a quantifiable attraction or satisfaction based exchange. Love also becomes very sentimentally or emotionally based instead of something deeper, substantial, and life-giving.
I think many people equate loving to liking something. Since we do not know what it means to love, once we stop liking someone, no longer attracted to a person, or cannot stand to be around that person anymore, we simply let go and move on to someone who is easier to like. Hence, in a world where we have not seen true love, it becomes harder to understand because we have not seen real examples of what it means to truly love someone. All we have seen on TV, movies, magazines, or examples from popular figures are mostly cheap exchange of physical intimacy and superficial attractions. We see often see the romantic cinematic version of quick love where the characters found love in times of crisis and decide to leave everything for this one quick change of heart, sentimentally motivated, and euphoric version love. We see in movies, over and over again, the typical portrayal of people who are quick to be attracted to one another, hooking up with one another for a one night stand or quick casual sexual exchange, hopefully, see the other person as worthwhile for something more. We often see the romantic and perfect portrayals of a quick, attractive, and puppy-love stage and think that every relationship should be the same.
Sadly, the perfect set up, sensual, sentimental, emotional, Hollywood-style portrayal of relationship only captures the initial and on-screen romance but does not give a complete picture of what it takes to be in a relationship through the ups and downs. Therefore, so many young people have falsely expected things to be perfect like what they have seen on screen. They go through the usual portrayed steps hoping for more but end up with none. They seek the “perfect” yet unrealistic version of love that leaves one with more hurts, burn-outs, shallowness, and trust issues. I have seen so many people get burnt because they engage themselves and be botched down with the picture-perfect lies that they simply go from one “relationship” to another like changing clothes. Hence, so many people then become cynical, hopeless, and distrustful of relationships; they are just going through the motions and play the games to get momentarily satisfied, “happy,” and accepted for a short time.
Furthermore, it is sad to see self care and love often interpreted as an egocentric, selfish, insecure, and fragile version of external, quantitative, and constantly worried version of the love and respect of one’s self. Too many say that they have learned to love themselves by caring for themselves physically and emotionally; but most of the time, these words remain words because too many people hide behind that easy excuse to simply justify doing whatever they want. It is getting sadder every day to see on social media outlets, posts after posts of people trying to show off the usual buff, slim, pretty, or whatever standards they have put for themselves, constantly posting selfies and things to make themselves stand out. Too many people go through the high ups and low downs because they let themselves be dictated by how many followers, likes, reactions, views, or comments by others. Yet, these satisfactions are short-lived and they make the person crave more because nothing is ever enough. Hence, if one looks for empty validation from others or by how much freedom they have to do whatever they want, these two extremes will ironically leave the person more empty, dissatisfied, bitter, and resentful toward the point of depression or despair because the ego is never satisfied with what it has. When one makes one’s life egocentric, one becomes more insecure, fragile, and worried about what one does not have, unhappy because of what others possess or how they are not living up to one’s double standards, and constantly wanting more of something but do not know what it is that truly satisfy the soul. It is a sad life of always wanting “more” but never happy or content with what one truly has or possessed deep from within.
Another thing that I have seen in working with many young people is their distrust of commitment. Since many come from broken families and backgrounds, they have not seen true, sacrificial love at home. Even some who have witnessed that at home, they give up because they do not see it in the present world. When we turn on the TV to watch a series geared toward our young adults, we often see people portray having casual sexual exchanges or as unhappy and dysfunctional in their marriage or relationship. There are too many pressures of just giving oneself through a “typical” relationship cycle: attraction, hookup/fornication, cohabitation, and hoping for the best. The pressures are real! Even if one wants to take it slow and let their relationship be faith-centered, the other side might not share their values and end up pressuring them into proving their love with shallow intimacy. Too often, many committed people become complacent and less committed because they think that what they expected in a relationship to be chaste and God-centered is not supported and understood by others so they give in or simply give up on relationship overall. People rather just give in because they do not want to lose the other person, hence compromising their essential values and losing their true selves, because the pressure to be like what their friends and society expect is dreading.
So many people live in pseudo, marriage-like relationship because they think they have everything like what the TV and movies portrayed. Nevertheless, no one wants to recognize the elephant in the room, which is the lack of commitment, genuine, sacrificial self-giving love! It is easier to be like what everyone else is doing from popular media and what they see all around them. Even in a committed relationship or marriage, too many people tend make it too much about themselves. I have seen too many people who think their marriage depends on them and them alone. They try too hard to make each other happy and things perfect, or they go to the extreme of just shutting their eyes from the reality of the mess. It is sad to say but too many people stay in a relationship for the wrong reasons! It is rare to see both sides willing to learn, grow, and mature in holiness, transparency, vulnerability, sacrificial self-giving love. People tend to expect and try to be someone or something that they think they need to be too much that they become bitter, resentful, or burnt out, which causes them to give up or blindly ignore the reality of the messes, abuses, manipulations, and lies. People are trying too hard or simply ignoring what is real because they worry much about themselves, what they think they should do or ignore in order to make things seem alright on the outside.
Shortly put, too many of us have failed to love because we depend too much on society, popular opinions, and other venues in telling us how to love instead of being real, honest, transparent, vulnerable, and God-centered. When we focused on our ego, our satisfaction, and our needs, we will walk away when we are not satisfied. When we focus on the external things that give us pleasure, we become self-centered and end up dissatisfied, bitter, and resentful because we do not get what we want or looking at the wrong places that we think will make us satisfied for a short time. Therefore, for a relationship to be true, we have to be honest with one another, able to be transparent and vulnerable with each other, and especially humble, encouraging, and centered in the Lord. Life is a life-long journey and people change from time to time, so we have to be flexible to learn, grow, and mature, as well as to be able to lift and keep each other honest and accountable in the Lord and His commandments.
Love needs to begin, end, and hold up by prayer. It is also important that relationship begins with caring, respectful, and God-centered friendship where both sides care for each other, learn to respect each other’s boundaries and dignity, and pray for the other side by lifting up the other person up to the Lord. Without prayers, there is not much that one can give to one another. Without the Him, there is not enough grace to forgive, affirm, be honest and transparent. Therefore, a true relationship needs to recognize the value and dignity of the other person out of respect, especially in keeping proper boundaries so both sides can love and embrace the other person genuinely and wholeheartedly instead of being succumbed to the weakness of the flesh. It is life-giving to encourage and care for each other’s holiness and salvation enough that we pray for one another.
Our Lord Jesus Christ taught us what it means to love when He chose to empty Himself to become one of us. (cf. Philippians 2:7) He taught us that He was not into power, self-centered satisfactions or pleasures, manipulation nor control, but on love. The Lord‘s example of true love and humility gives us a great lesson of what it means to be honest, true, and transparent as to be vulnerable and genuine with one another. He was never pretentious or manipulative for He was focused about being present to others, taught us what it means to be sons and daughters of God, and showed us the truth that fixed our hearts on transcendental and eternal matters. In other words, our Lord was never about what other people thought of Him for He knew who He was from the beginning! He cared about people and who they truly are, helping them to recognize their freedom from sins, lies, and manipulations of this world. As was in the past and still now, He loves those who are genuine even if they are still struggling with their brokenness and old ways of life. He dislikes the hypocrites, accusers, self-righteous people. Therefore, our Lord desires a genuine relationship and love instead of self-serving ways. He cares for our eternal salvation and good instead of what we think we might need in the present moment to be temporarily satisfied for a short time.
That is why it is important that we rise above the things that we think will make us happy and pleasurable to seek the true joy and love that come from Him. It is not always easy because peer, social, and political pressures can be hard-pressing at times. It is so easy to just simply be like what everyone else is doing by desiring, chasing, possessing, and be in control of the things that make us popular, acceptable, and easy to be accepted or do not stand out from others. While true love can be hard at times, especially when we have to stand strong against the wrongs and lies of this world, but it will set us free because we are able to find real comfort, peace, and friendship with people who seek what is real in the Lord. Our friend circle might be but a little one but we will find people who share have substance, values, able to be genuine, honest, and true instead of many who are just there in number. Indeed, true friends lift each other up, forgive one another when they fall, and love the other side in the Lord when things get challenging because they try to help each to lift their hearts up to heavens. Therefore, do not be afraid to be true to ourselves in God, deepen our relationship with Him, and find spiritual companions who can support, pray, discern, and lift us up on our faith journey toward the eternal homeland. For sure, to truly love is hard but it is worthwhile because our hearts can find joy in small moments of blessing and be content with all things in light of eternity itself. May we seek to appreciate and live out what it means to truly love as He did!