The more life experience I tuck under my belt, the more I've come to recognize that love is really the core, the center, the foundation of human existence. It is the only thing that infuses life with any sort of meaning. It is the only thing that brings lasting joy. It is what fills a human soul with light. It is the very essence of goodness and truth and beauty.
When the new year came around, I thought a lot about what I wanted to accomplish in 2010. There are a million areas in my life that need improvement: I could exercise more, eat less, read better books, write more consistently, keep in better contact with my friends and family, be a better wife, improve my parenting skills, learn more about Microsoft Excel, etc, etc, etc. But my thoughts kept coming back to love. And I realized that what I really wanted was to end the year a more loving person than I was when I began it. Not very concrete, I know. But it's what I felt I needed to work on.
Thus far the bulk of my work towards this goal has simply been keeping the idea simmering in a pot on the back burner of my mind. I think having it there has helped a little in helping me cultivate a more loving attitude toward others, but more importantly it has given me an opportunity to reflect on the nature of love, helping me to solidify in my mind the nature of the thing that I want to comprise a larger portion of myself.
Following are a few of my thoughts and I'll apologize in advance for getting a little religious on ya'll-- I actually tried to write this post without doing so--but after many attempts I realized that, for me, God and love are inextricably entwined, so I decided to go ahead and leave it in. But there it is, your warning: there's going to be a little bit of Jesus Talk in this post, so proceed at your own risk.
Love as Purpose
My cousin Marc spoke at his younger brother's funeral this summer. He remarked, "When I was twenty-two, I knew everything. I could have told you exactly what you were doing wrong and how to live your life and fix all your problems. Now I'm fifty-three and I don't know much of anything at all. Except one thing: that God loves us. And that we are here to learn how to love."
During my pregnancy with Soren, I experienced some spotting. After a panicked visit to the Doctor's office in which our fears were neither fanned nor squelched, Abraham and I went to his Great Aunt and Uncle's house, where Uncle Bob joined him in giving me a priesthood blessing. I don't remember everything that was said in the blessing, but the line that brought me the most joy was this: "God gives us life that we may know love. Your son will experience that gift."
The words of both these men resonated with me in a deep, meaningful way, down in that part of me that recognizes goodness and beauty and truth. I truly believe that love is the only reason we are alive. And I am deliriously grateful that my son has, indeed, experienced "that gift."
Love as the Opposite of Fear
I've been learning recently about dialectics, the art at arriving at truth through a study of contradictions. The basic concept behind dialectics, if I'm understanding it correctly, is that two apparent contradictions brought together will produce a closer approximation of the truth. Self-preservation and selflessness are two seemingly contradictory concepts that were brought together when Jesus taught that "whoever seeks to keep his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life will preserve it."
Living a life of love fleshes out the spiritual portion of our beings, it builds up the substance of our souls, it frees and brightens the light that makes up the core of every human being. People who live their lives based on the principle of selfish self-preservation will ultimately lose the best parts of themselves, because in refusing to let go and love they will never have the pure loving experiences that will bring them to the best of who they are.
Love is about seeing the very best an another person and encouraging her along the path to fulfilling her greatest potential. When she reaches a new height, love cheers. And if she's stumbling, or climbing back down the mountain, or even being rotten and tripping other people--maybe even trying to trip you--love will reach out without anger or criticism, gently steady and re-direct, and guide her back to an understanding of who she is and who she can become.
"There is no fear in love," wrote the Apostle Paul, "but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love." Love is about letting go of yourself and giving to someone else-- regardless of what you think that person will do in return. Love is, as has been said in many contexts, the opposite of fear. Love is recognizing that you are merely a part of a greater whole-- the whole of humanity-- and that one person's joy, one person's accomplishments, and one person's happiness contribute to everyone's happiness.
Love as Sacrifice
Love is so much about giving. Giving when you don't want to. Giving when it's inconvenient. Giving what you don't want to give.
During my pregnancy with Liam, I felt overwhelmed by the misery of the endless nausea that, for me, accompanies those first several months. Hoping for a miracle, I asked Abe to give me a blessing. As part of that blessing he said, "Remember that eternity is a long time to love." I was still miserably nauseous after that blessing-- but it did help to remember that those few months of suffering were well worth the eternity of love that would follow.
Motherhood has taught me so much about this aspect of love. It has provided me with myriad opportunities to give even when I don't particularly feel like giving and to sacrifice the things I want (unbroken sleep, free time, peace and quiet) for the things that someone else needs (food, comfort, redirection, room to learn). And having the opportunity to give up my wants for their needs has been wonderful-- it has underscored and increased my love for them.
Love as Celebration
Love is finding joy in another's existence. This represents the bulk of the love I have for my husband. I simply adore the fact that he exists, the way he moves, the way he thinks, the things he says. I am happy that he is alive and that he is who he is.
People (ahem: me) often have a tendency to be critical of one another, to pick at differences rather than celebrate them. But love, in all her confidence, casts aside criticism and just celebrates.
I often muse that the best way to solve all of the world's problems would be to issue what I call "breeding licenses" to a very select group of people, people who have been properly screened for good sense and fully prepared and educated for the great task of parenting. But (I guess) a more ethical solution might be to teach the whole world to love. If humanity could just learn to give and accept real love, all its problems would melt away.
Those dang Beatles. They were right: All you need is love.
Love is all you need.