The Metric to Measure Love
The pursuit of intimate relationships are a fundamental human motive. Emotions are a critical component in the development of intimate relationships. Or. At least I thought they were. Wait. Maybe they are, right? Ahh, I don’t know; love is complicated. Like, seriously… What is the metric to measure love?
If you were to be asked if you love someone, how would you prove it?
When you are first interested in someone or when you met the one you love, you didn’t love them at first… but, now you do. So, how did you get there? What was it that made you love?
The Lie About Love
Everyone thinks they know what love is, but few can define it well. Some won’t even try to define, yet state that they will know when they feel it. When you google the definition for love, it literally says that love is, “an intense feeling or deep affection.” Yes. Emotions and feelings are at least how American culture thinks when they hear the word, “love.” But, the origin of ‘love’ does not come from Western culture, rather, it’s rooted elsewhere. But, let’s focus on the Western perception or idea of love first.
Our culture clearly defines love by emotional experiences, pleasures, and satisfaction – more often than not, sexual experiences, pleasures, and satisfaction. Neurological researchers point to dopamine as the provision of that sense of pleasure. Orgasms, the taste of chocolate, satisfaction in relationships, and the stupor of alcohol are all on the same spectrum of neurochemical experience.
Have you ever heard people speak of falling in love? Well, yea. ‘falling in love’ is not a real thing. That’s the lie. Or, better yet, that’s the misconception or deception. The concept of falling in love is actually Western culture’s way of saying, “falling into dopamine’s pleasure zone.” It is lust chasing comfort, pleasure, and satisfaction deceptively masked as love. And with this idea of love, we’ll never see healthy, sustainable relationships.
So if this isn’t love, then what is?
The Truth About Love
Let’s look at it from its original roots – the Bible.
I’ve never read a better description and breakdown of love better than in Chapter 5 of Scot McKnight’s book, A Fellowship of Differents. (Seriously, go to the bookstore and just sit down and read just that chapter – you’ll probably end up buying the book). In it, he states, “Love is not primarily emotion or affection, but rather a covenant commitment to another person.” So, there we have it. Love is commitment. We see it as another word used by God with certain people throughout the Bible – covenant. God made a covenant commitment to love us. So, love is a commitment. But, it’s a commitment comprised of three sequential prepositions.
Love is a commitment…
- …to be with. (Presence)
God made a covenant to be with us. His primary covenant promise to Israel that we see over and over again is that He will be present with us. “I will be your God, and you will be my people.” That’s a simple, yet utterly loyal statement. He didn’t say that He would stop being our God when we fail him and cheat on him, or even when we don’t feel like letting him be or believing that He is our God. God knows that love is deeper than when feelings fade; He knows it’s rooted in commitment to be present with us. He will not leave us, nor forsake us.
- …to be for. (Advocacy)
My brother and I were both pretty good soccer players growing up. I was clearly better than him, simply because I’m older. (You know how siblings work). We weren’t the best in the world, but we definitely could stand out or at least hold our own in most leagues. Because we played pretty competitively at a young age, my parents, brother, and I often lived out of hotels in numerous states. Sometimes, my brother and I were in different states on the same weekend. At least one of my parents were ALWAYS with each of us. My parents first loved us by being present with us, but they didn’t stop there.
They were advocates for us. They fought to get us on the best teams in the region. They offered encouragement, advice, and even discipline for us to accept or not to make us better. The ALWAYS rooted FOR us, even when we both went and played collegiate level soccer. I remember driving about seven hours one weekend with my mom just to watch my little brother play a (singular) soccer game. For those that don’t know soccer.. that’s under 2 hours of game time. We drove seven hours there to watch him for an hour and a half just to drive back another seven hours. My parents were our biggest fans. They always advocated for us just like God does for his children.
The truth is that we actually do fail and cheat on our relationship with God. We constantly run from Him. But, God still advocated for us with an existing plan. Despite our failure and sin, He sent His son down as the ultimate sacrifice for us. He defeated what we could not: the consequence of sin, death. That’s love.
- …to be unto. (Direction)
If ‘with’ is the principle for presence and ‘for’ is the principle of advocacy, ‘unto-ness’ is the principle of direction. God, just like my parents exemplified in our soccer careers, commits to be with us, for us, and also unto us. He offers and gives us direction. Love transforms and changes us.
But, human nature fights against this. We don’t like change. So, sometimes love is a tension that we don’t like and appears as an enemy. The discipline of love is always a companion that confronts us with gentle care. Following the parent analogy, a good parent confronts their child because they see the direction their behavior will take them. Confrontation cares and offers better direction. We, as the children, have the freedom to choose whether we listen and obey our parents and to follow the analogy, the choice to listen and obey God. McKnight says, “All biblical love has direction unto the one to whom we surrender our love.”
This surrender has to be a two-way street with equal sacrifice and within the context of existing friendship. Every healthy relationship always has a give and take. When there is no give and take for both parties in the relationship, trust depletes and erodes the relationship. This all relates to the importance of the order of these prepositions. And yes, it definitely matters.
Love is Sequential
We must first be with; second, for; and third, unto. It’s sequential: presence, advocacy, and then direction. You can’t take them out of order. Whether first-hand or observational, I’ve experienced people practicing these concepts out of order and it wreaks havoc with a snowball effect that can create an avalanche that has the potential to destroy a whole community. It’s a reason why people hurt each other so often. It’s also a reason why communities fall apart. It’s a reason for people to disconnect from the church.
When someone tries to offer direction (often correcting a poor behavior) but they haven’t first committed to being present and show and prove they are advocates… at least for me, a deep desire to punch them in the face develops because their (often, well-intentioned) direction comes across very accusatory, judgmental, and hateful. Yes. Your ‘loving’ action can be perceived and received as hate. Just because you say that you are saying it out of love and concern before you say it, doesn’t make it any better.
Love is commitment, not feelings; yet, feelings influence our commitments and choices. McKnight also writes, “Commitment does not deny emotions; commitment reorders emotions.” The tension between commitment and emotion is that our emotions and feelings are unstable, inconsistent, and they fluctuate. For instance, when we feel overwhelmed and stressed, emotions lie; we must focus and hold onto what we KNOW is true rather than what we FEEL is true at that given time. When there is opposition and anger in relationships, feelings will tell us to believe the lie that we aren’t loved because we don’t FEEL loved at that moment. When a parent disciplines their kid, that kid doesn’t FEEL loved, but rather hated. But discipline is not an enemy, rather a companion. As stated earlier, confrontation is a conflict management tactic rooted out of the basis that the person cares for you, but feelings will tell you otherwise and make you believe the lie.
We must first sense a person’s commitment to be with us and to be for us before we can adequately receive direction. This takes time. Longevity is a trust builder – the longer you are in or someone is in your life, the easier it is for trust to exist. The sequence matters because love must be shown in that order for us to let down our fragile walls and surrender our guarded hearts and mind.
Love Out of Sequence: ‘Church Hurt’
Apart from personal relationships, this sequential love also relates to people’s relationship with the Church. It’s a reason why there is an emotional disconnect for a good chunk of people when they hear ‘church’. People are calling it, ‘Church Hurt.’
The church has become notorious for offering direction before first committing to be a friend who is present and advocating for that person. Instead, the Church first jumps to behavioral change by offering direction. By ‘behavioral change,’ I mean – a sin issue or even a change of lifestyle of how a person prioritizes his/her resources such as time. For example, serving on a ministry team or coming to an event rather than going to a bar or hanging out with friends. With good intentions, we prematurely advise people to change before first being their friend; this is a quiet violence that tells the person we don’t love them as they currently are and that they must change in order to be loved. Love then becomes behavior-based. Thank God that Jesus paid the penalty of death for my inability to behave well in this broken world. Thank God that grace covers my worst behavior.Thank God that Jesus paid the penalty of death for my inability to behave well in this broken world. Thank God that grace covers my worst behavior. Click To Tweet
Maybe, we as the church ought to become quicker to create friendships before inviting people to church services. Maybe, it communicates a better message. Maybe, discipleship is more about friendship than behavioral change. Maybe, it’s more effective to see people find relationship with Jesus rather than religion for Jesus.
I find that people accept the offer to go out to eat, grab a drink (whether coffee or cocktail), or go do something together much more willingly than a random church service invite. To be clear, I completely love the church and believe it is God’s program to transform people. So, what I am saying is that maybe we, as a church, should first offer friendship to be with and for people (where and as they are) WAY BEFORE we offer direction such as come to a church service that is completely foreign to them… and more than likely, weird and boring.
Love is Built, not Bought
Whether we desire, are pursuing, are currently in an intimate relationship, relationships are built, not found. Relationships are not defined by what we are able to find, but rather what we are willing to build. We believe the lie that if he/she or this church doesn’t first feel right, or give us our dopamine rush, then, in the words of Ariana Grande, ‘Thank you, next’.
It’s a reason why we don’t commit to relationships whether personal, communal, or church related. It’s a reason why people hop around. We believe that we FIND the right one, but really love says that we must BUILD the right one. Thanks to a culture that develops a consumeristic mindset – we could even go as far as saying that love can’t be bought, but rather must be built. It takes work and it takes time.
Love Takes Time
When you begin to work out, you can look in the mirror after each day and easily give up because you don’t see the results. You don’t go to the gym one day a month for 9 hours and expect to see results; you go to the gym every day for 30 minutes and see the results later. It’s common sense that the results are better seen over a longer period of time. Just like working out, the metric of love is better seen with longevity. Love is built on commitment proven by longevity.
The faster something grows, the faster it typically dies. Things that grow slow, typically grow healthier, stronger, and better… like aged wine. Rick Warren says it like this, “When God wants to make a mushroom, He does it overnight, but when He wants to make a giant oak, He takes a hundred years.” Time is foundational to relationships.
When love is built on commitment in its’ proper sequential process, a safe and trusted environment is created for feelings to be shared despite the connotation of those feelings. It allows us to develop stronger relationships by opening up our feelings to be navigate together. Differences strengthen each other. The Bible tells us that iron sharpens iron. In order for iron to become malleable, it requires the management of serious tension to heat it up. If we want to build a strong relationship, we must commit to each other through tough times together.
So, how can you commit better? What are you going to do to love someone today?