The couple sat opposite me on the loveseat. This was pre-marital counseling; the wedding date was three months hence.
What is love? I wondered, almost aloud while while the two described their first date to me, and then how they became attached, one to the other. What is love, anyway, I mused. If not an attachment disorder? Or … an attachment order?
These two people were in love, they had told me, just like most couples tell me the first time I meet them. If they were not in love, they would not be sitting here – or, I would be the last person they would tell. After all, the two wanted me to perform their wedding ceremony, and they knew that I would not do it if I suspected them of not loving one another.
I do. Need to know. They love each other. What they don’t realize, yet, is that their version of love is not the same as my version of love.
Arise, my fair one, and come away; for now the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. (Song of Solomon)
It seems to me, most couples confuse infatuation with love. Infatuation, to the extent it refracts love at all, such love is the tip of the iceberg. Love is far more than infatuation, far more than warm feelings. For love to be love love, there must be an intertwining, a connection, a sense of belonging, one to the other.
If you aren’t married by the time you walk down the aisle, I told this couple, you shouldn’t be walking down the aisle. I tell this to all the couples. Marriage is like two trees, I continued. Two trees planted too close together. Over time their trunks grow one into the other, and eventually, suffuse into each other, each one becoming a part of the other – yet maintaining their identities. You marry over time, over the course of life, not just in the instant of a feeling, and certainly not at the moment of the vow. If you aren’t part of each other by the time you walk down the aisle – well, that is what love is.
Love. Becoming part of the other. Not infatuation, not just finishing each other’s sentences, but two lives becoming one.
A scribe asked Jesus to rank the commandments, which Jesus did. The Lord your God is One. Love the Lord your God, Jesus answered. With all your heart, soul, mind and strength. (See Mark 12)
The second commandment is like the first, only tangible. Love your neighbor as yourself. Intuitively I know how to love my neighbor, or to be more precise, I know when I haven’t loved my neighbor as myself. But love God? Who I cannot see? Jesus anticipated this conundrum when he said that you can’t say you love God yet hate your neighbor. Fine, but loving one’s neighbor is not equal to loving God. If it were, there would be no need for two commandments.
Love the Lord your God, and what does that kind of love look like, feel like? Is it the goosebumps I get when I sing, Amazing Grace? Maybe.
And when I recall what I told that couple – the couple is fictional, by the way, and represents all the couples I’ve married over the years, and what I’ve told them – when I think back to the love I defined as the day in and day out of living, the connection that happens there, I ask myself, could that be what love of God is? I must be close to an answer.
Love of God, the living day in and day out with this God I call my own, or better yet, who calls me her own. I rise early in the morning every day to pray to this God, to read his Scripture, to connect in some tangible way as I wrestle with this God, rejoice with this God, and simply live my life both intentionally and unintentionally alongside this God who promises, like the husband to the wife, or husband to husband, or wife to wife, never to leave nor forsake me.
Love, the intertwining of souls over the course of time, when trunks of trees bump one into another. Grow into one another. Share at some fundamental level the nutrients and souls, one with the other. Love the Lord your God … that way. And it will be enough.