What is love? I love sitting beside a clear mountain stream with my feet in the gentle current, watching the water trickle over my toes. I love seeing the first red tulips come up in my flower bed each spring. I love reading a great book and getting lost in the lives of the characters. I love chocolate with almonds, chocolate with peanut butter, chocolate with orange peel. I love pumpkin spice latte and gingerbread latte and country harvest breakfast coffee.
I love my country. I love my fellow humans. I love life and laughter and love. I love a God who hovers so close sometimes that I can almost touch the air and feel the Spirit. I love my daughter and my husband, my stepchildren and my parents and my siblings and my friends. But every once in a while, my husband laughs when I tell him I love him and asks, “But do you love me more than chocolate?” I smile. “What kind of chocolate?” I tease him.
How is it that this one word can describe all those things? Other languages have many words for love—words that distinguish between affection and passion, between brotherly love and parental love, between friendship and unconditional love. Though I’m a writer in love with words, I’m forced to admit that this one word is inadequate to show the depth of abiding love that I feel for my husband and our children.
We don’t question whether we love our children. For most of us, that love is indelibly imprinted in our DNA, a love so forceful that it’s overwhelming at times. We endure physical pain and cry for joy as they slip-slide into the world. And how many parents do you know who love their children unconditionally no matter how many times their children disappoint them or fail them?
But romantic love? How do we know when we love someone enough to commit for life? When we meet the one who will love us in return—who won’t eventually toss us aside like the pumpkin spice latte when the more alluring gingerbread latte makes its appearance? Many of us aren’t even sure that kind of lasting love exists. And even more of us believe in it but give up waiting and settle for something less.
The first time I believed in love enough to think about marriage, I had doubts—little tickling thoughts that were easy to push aside at first. But they grew. And a week before the wedding, as I stood in the dining room looking over the mountain of shower gifts on the table, I thought about calling off the wedding. I picked up a place setting of flatware and closed it in my hand, as though I could grasp the answer if I just gripped the utensils more tightly. Walking slowly around the table, I picked up one gift after another, turning each of them over in my hands as if they would reveal the hidden answer to me of whether I was doing the right thing. Get a grip, I told myself. This is just pre-wedding jitters. I couldn’t rid my mind of doubts, but the thought of returning all the gifts overwhelmed me, and I walked away from the table and into a marriage that fell apart a few years later.
In the wake of the divorce, a wise reverend said to me that for love to last, you had to be just a little in awe of that person and that person had to be a little in awe of you. I thought about that often as I put my life back together and began to believe in the possibility of loving again. And I’ve thought of it this week again as the news has been full of more leaders who have been caught in affairs with younger women who are completely in awe of them. Too little awe, and there isn’t much left once the fire of passion dwindles. Too much awe, and it’s destroyed by the reality of discovering that no one can live up to that sort of adoration.
But if you’re a little in awe of one another, you take joy in each other’s accomplishments and keep each other going when one person’s confidence falters. When you think about that person, even when you’re a little mad at him, your heart smiles, and you know you’ll move past your momentary exasperation. When you imagine future sorrows and losses, you know without a doubt that you’ll make it through them with him by your side. When you think about the dreams you hope to accomplish, you can’t imagine sharing them with anyone else.
What is love? When you find that kind of love, you won’t have to ask. Listen to the little voices. They’re never wrong.