What Is Love, Anyway?

By: Ted Harro

More Than Romantic Hogwash

It’s Valentine’s Day weekend, the weekend of the year when we talk about romantic love the most. But what is love, anyway?

A friend of mine recently said that her parents’ definition of love is doing the right thing no matter what. I could tell from the look on her face that that definition left her a little cold.

“I admire their sheer determination,” she said. “But there’s not a whole lot of joy in how they go about it.”

A lot of our world’s talk about love is romantic hogwash. Anyone who has been married for more than 18 months knows that. And even many dating or newly married couples know this, too. We all know that there will be days and even seasons when we will stick at the task of caring for each other, not because we’re overflowing with warm emotions but because we have chosen a way of life that’s about caring for others. 

More Than Cold Duty

But I think we also know that a lifelong relationship without fondness doesn’t quite live up to what we mean by “love.” As Roberta Bondi says, “Though love has to do with commitment, where there is no long-term loving feeling, there is also no love.”

More Than Enjoyment

Maybe part of the problem is that we’re super casual with the word “love.” I’ve said I love Cherry Garcia ice cream. And paddling our canoe in the Boundary Waters. And baking bread. 

These are all things I enjoy. But I probably don’t love them. In fact, a lot of problems I have in my marriage come when I want to enjoy Gretchen rather than love her, since enjoying is a pretty self-centered thing to do.

Love goes way beyond enjoyment. Love is a habitual way of seeing and acting for the good of another person. 

Enjoyment asks, “what am I going to get from this interaction?” It plans the perfect date for me and hopes the spouse will come along. Love asks, “how can I serve this person?” It plots the evening that would most serve and delight my spouse, regardless of my own tastes. 

Enjoyment evaluates every person and interaction for the gain I can get or the pain I can avoid.  Love looks at each person as a precious image-bearer. It instinctively notices situations where that person is thriving and where they are struggling – and easily wants to pitch in to support them.

Enjoyment keeps score. It has a little barometer that constantly needs a jolt. If love keeps score, it’s only as a competition to out-serve the other.

What We Want

Which do you want to experience for decades?

Now, tell me, which kind of relationship do you want to be in… for decades? One where you’re each trying to maximize your own enjoyment? Or one where each of you has developed a habit of seeing and acting for the good of the other, to the point where you compete to see who can out-serve and out-delight the other?

Don’t think for a second that this kind of love is pure duty. Gretchen truly loves the plants in her garden. She spends hours each year working for their good – weeding and feeding and training them. Some days, it’s hot and messy work and she’d probably rather sit in the shade with a glass of iced tea. But she delights in those plants, in watching them thrive, in seeing what they need and working for their good. 

That’s love. That’s the kind of relationship we’re shooting for when we learn to love like Jesus.

This week:

  • Notice how you use the word, “love.” Is it about love or enjoyment?
  • Notice your attitude toward your spouse. Are you trying to maximize your enjoyment from them or are you focused on serving and delighting them?
  • Don’t worry about changing anything in how you think or feel. Just notice. If you’d like, talk with God about what you’re noticing.


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