I’ve always thought of myself as a bit of a romantic. Growing up, my dream was to find the “love of my life”, get married by the age of 27, own a home and have kids. Simple enough… or so I thought. The image in my head was that of a fairytale love between a young man and woman who would serendipitously find each other, and at first sight would instantly know beyond any doubt that they were meant to spend the rest of their lives together. Their worlds would be wrapped around each other, and that’s all they would ever need. What a perfect picture of how amazing “love” could be… right? That’s what I thought when I was much younger. However, that’s not the case today.
My idea of love has drastically changed. The idea of “love” is so much more than just a word that signifies a perfect life with another person. “Love” is not a feeling or emotion that magically erases the very real responsibilities of a truly committed relationship, where a foundation is built on trust first and foremost, as well as something even greater than the individuals themselves that make up this union. Love is very misconstrued by today. The way we interpret “love” must be re-defined, and how we act in “love” must be carried out in a completely different way. Everyone seems to have their own opinion on what “love” really means. Everyone has taken their own journey through and experienced love in their own ways, and thus have derived their conclusions and perceptions on love through these interactions. However, these are not facts. Personal thoughts, feelings, and emotions are unstable and ever changing, so how can we come to a consistent definition of what love really is? I don’t claim to have all the answers, but here is my take on the subject from the little experience that I have walked/crawled throughout my years.
Here’s my story. When I was a child, I remember clinging to my mother’s side. I was a shy kid. She was great in showing her love towards my two sisters and I. Our family didn’t show love so much through physical affection but more through acts of service and kindness towards one another. During my childhood, my mother was a great example of a person who gave “selfless service” to her family and community. My mother is a hairdresser, and I would witness her cutting hair for the elderly and homeless completely free of charge. Also, since she was a single mother, I saw her tirelessly work long hours in order to make ends meet for our family of four, but always made sure she had time to spend with us, and to tell us that she loved us. The first type of love I experienced as a child was a tender familial love. But no one teaches you what to do when it comes to love in a “boy meets girl” setting. So, as I grew older and experimented with relationships, I learned to find my own way. Age 16, I got my first girlfriend ever…. but there was one problem – a huge problem: her English was terrible, and my Korean was non-existent. But we were young and naive, and although we had no idea what we were doing, the infatuation quickly escalated with the excitement that came from my first relationship. This was my initial step into dating.
The relationship lasted for only a few weeks. Not knowing what love was, I had said “those three words” to her already because that’s pretty much the most thoughtful simplified term I could think of to convey my childish feelings toward her. To be honest, it was innocent and we had the best intentions, but looking back, to think that this was what love was…. was absurd.
I don’t know if I can say that my maturity grew much from this point on as I fell into the next few relationships. I mean, what did I know about being a “boyfriend” in my early high school years, let alone how to love? With almost no experience, my definition of love was this: If the girl I was with gave me those “sparkly” feelings, then it must be love. It was simple. If we felt the same towards each other, then great, no problem! Needless to say, these meaningless relationships never lasted very long. Of course they didn’t, because they weren’t built on anything but fickle feelings based on unstable emotions. There was no foundation to uphold a real relationship. My thoughts on love were confused more than ever. I believe that we look at love as a chance to find someone that compliments us and in turn, that makes us happy. There is nothing wrong with being happy, but do we know what happiness looks like and how to get there? We search for this “someone” so eagerly that we often enter courtships recklessly to find out that after a few months or sometimes years that she/he is not the “ONE!” I don’t know where the term the “One” came from, but I do know that this person doesn’t exist. Somehow this notion of a person that will completely change our world and be the final end all, be all element that completes our life. It can not be so. We build up an image of someone that no one can meet! Trying to live up to these expectations from a significant other is impossible. Oftentimes, both hearts involved are wrecked, broken, and confidence is shot given all the mistakes that were made. Our spirits are exhausted from playing tug of war with emotion and reason! I know I’ve gone through this cycle of giving my heart away too quickly to find that, “woops, not this time…”, only to move on and try again. We have no guide map to show us how to go about this thing called, love. But as we all must do, I moved on and decided to give “love” a few more tries.
Towards the end of high school I became more involved in my church and the Christian clubs at school. My life was changing because of Christ, yet I still felt the need for control over my life, and at the very least I truly wanted to control the direction of my relationships. At the same time though, my view of having a significant other was changing. The difference now was that I added a requirement that they must be “Christian”. That was my most important criteria. AH-HA! Problem solved!…. Or so I thought. God must have said in His mind, “YES, YES, YES… ahh no…” At this point, as I entered further into the dating scene I was more worried whether or not the girl would pass this prerequisite. Once she got past that, it was all good. However, all wasn’t good.
From early college and on, I would continue the trend of “prequalifying” the few women I met. My long term girlfriend and I were together for 4 years, then after that a stint of 2 years with another relationship and lastly a 1 year girlfriend. Don’t get me wrong – the time I had spent with each girl meant a lot, but like most things, it was very self centered. I even thought to myself, “having had long term relationships must mean I’m great boyfriend,” and “if I can make these girls happy then I must know what it means to love someone.” Not true. Pleasing someone doesn’t equate to love. We had a lot of great times together, but the relationships were overshadowed by the fact that I had failed as a leader in the relationship because my first step wasn’t actually with Christ… my first love wasn’t the Lord, but it was the goal of finding and achieving Love on this Earth with another human being. Even though I had superficially put God first, I hadn’t put Him first in my heart. Sure every girl was Christian, but as a young man trying to follow after God I wasn’t strong enough or in the right place to be leading anyone else, even myself… especially myself! I was still learning on my own how to be led by Him. If Christianity was to be the basis, if God was to be the center of my relationships then I would need to literally place Him in the very highest areas of my life, as LORD, as SAVIOUR over all that I do, and all that I am. To this day even uttering those words makes my lips tremble, because I know that personally, it’s the hardest thing for me to do: To live as a man of my word, following through by living obediently in submission to the Lord. Otherwise, I don’t have the capacity to love. I don’t know how to.
My Father in heaven loves me more than I can possibly understand. He loves the Church as His bride. He wants me to love my wife as He has loved the church. This may come across as gibberish and nonsensical to many of you, but there is a reason. 1 Corinthians chapter 13 of the Bible is read at every Christian and non-Christian wedding alike.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
Love never fails.
But what does this REALLY mean? It all sounds really pretty and nice, but what does it mean to really live this out? The truth is that if we live by the standard of “love” as our society defines it, we will never achieve the highest potential of love that God intended for each and every one of us. On our own, we have no idea how to love one another. My self-taught way of love will fail. I can give gifts, time and affection to fill this hollow shell of what I once thought love was, but the only way to understand what love is, and to truly live it out is to look to the very man that defined the perfect ACT of LOVE… This man who is named Jesus Christ. Jesus was and continues to be the greatest lover of all time. He came down to this Earth willingly, to sacrifice His time, energy, and ultimately his LIFE so that we could all live, and join Him in heaven one day. His love is characterized in so many ways – unconditional, unchanging, sacrificial, all-encompassing… The list can go on and on. But the most important thing to remember is that Jesus’ love for us was always consistent and stable. When the world around us and our personal feelings are always changing from day to day through life’s ups and downs, this is how we know that we can count on Jesus’ life to define what true love is and really looks like.
So, how should we love? I am learning to love again. I’m learning that the beginning is not with another lady or person. It starts with Christ. My pursuit will be coming close to Jesus. It starts with knowing Him, and understanding how He loved us, so that we can in turn love on others in that same way. The best way to learn something is not by describing it but by the act of demonstrating it. So as I take steps with Him and continue to grow closer to Him, He will reveal more of Himself to me. I will learn to see what He sees, and my heart will feel what He feels for those around me… including the love that He feels for my friends, family, and potentially my future wife… God-willing!
My journey with Him has already begun as I keep Him on my mind and in my heart day in and day out. Realizing that the definition and characteristics of love come from Christ and Christ alone, and that He accepts me for me and loves me beyond my imperfections and the sins of my past have helped shape the way I see my family, friends, and even strangers. I now know the standard of love that I need to live up to – that I need to love on those around me the same way that God has loved on me.