How do we love? How should we?
I remember having a conversation with, oh, someone…maybe a Sunday school teacher, or a friend, or a stranger or all of these. All I remember is that I was young.
“If God loves everyone and we’re supposed to love everyone, does that mean I can’t love my mom and dad more than someone I don’t know? Do I have to love everyone the same, no matter who they are or what they do?”
So many possible answers to this kind of question, and none of them satisfactory. Yes, we should love everyone equally; everyone is our neighbor, and aren’t we supposed to love our neighbors as ourselves? Or, it’s okay to love a few people in a particular, close, favorite kind of way; our families are where we learn to love, and it’s normal to love them more. Or, God pours out love especially on the people who need it, not necessarily the ones who deserve it, so shouldn’t we do the same?
I may not have known the term, but I was asking about agape here. That seems to be the love of choice in most churches, the love we say God shows, impartial love, love for everyone, love without expectation of return, of good behavior, of exclusivity, of any result.
We talked about this some in divinity school; of course we did. Love was always floating in the background of all of our conversations, the guiding principle behind all the theorizing and theologizing and wondering. I never got a good answer though to what the right kind of love is, though. I never heard anything final about anything, including love.
Yesterday was Valentine’s Day. I was with my sister and brother-in-law and niece and nephew, and a friend in the morning. Lots of love, many kinds blended together. And yet, I still felt a sense of being left out, of missing something. I guess you could say I felt desire, a yearning for something more.
This led me to remember a class I took on suffering. (That’s not a punch line, at least not a purposeful one.) We talked a lot about suffering and love, love and suffering, the definite correlation and possible causation between the two. And we talked about desire, or at least I did in my last paper. I quoted Dorothee We might restate that as: love does not make the existence of love depend on the fulfillment of desire. We can declare our love for the world, for God, for our family and neighbors and lovers, and really, really mean it—and in the next breath proclaim our desire, our deep need, for change, for more and better love.
We don’t often think of God as experiencing desire, of wanting. Look at Jesus, though, and for that matter look at most of the history of Israel. God, Jesus, both cry out to their people, followers, priests, disciples, to strangers even, asking for more and better love. God loves us, and precisely because of that love, God wants us to live in a way that shows love to others; this is the only way forward, the only way we can understand what love is and what it can be.
My desires don’t always align with divine desires. In fact I’d say it’s a good day when a few of them sort of do. But isn’t that why desire is there in the first place—because things are off kilter, unfair, not quite the way they should be?
How do we love? How should we? Maybe I'm supposed to love everyone equally, without expectation, but, well, I'm not sure if that's going to happen anytime soon. All I can say is there is no one way, no right answer, no clear signpost, for love. There’s only us, trying to be for each other, trying to want and do good things for our world, trying to want what we think God, love, might want, and working to make those desires manifest. Let it be so.