“Love is, in fact, an intensification of life, a completeness, a fullness, a wholeness of life.”
— Thomas Merton
We use the word “love” so often these days. In many ways, it has become a tongue-in-cheek expression of endearment rather than a genuine characteristic of a healthy society. This is not the case for every one of us, but it is for some.
Sometimes (in our ignorance) we undermine the meaning of it, and in the process leave out the portion of love that pushes us a little too far for comfort.
Sure, we want people to love us. We want to feel that unconditional affection that belongs to every human being. But what if we don’t have the complete understanding of it?
What if the media attempts to define for us the kind of love that encourages an incomplete expression?
It’s easy for me to show love to people who love me back, but it’s not so easy the other way around. When there is opposition, rejection, or disagreement, most of us will naturally despise the person or crowd from whom it comes.
Loving them despite those circumstances, then, makes it all the more uncomfortable. It challenges our pride and self-centeredness in profound ways. Which is why this form of love is the real thing.
Abandoning the “Me” Syndrome
Look around you and you’ll find someone who needs help. Yet, many of us are content with simply feeling sorry and moving on, focusing on ourselves as if there’s nothing we can do. That’s just not true, not in the slightest sense.
What seems more important in our culture is consuming the latest and greatest. Our worldviews are drenched in selfishness. There’s so much I need. So much on my plate. Why would I want to worry about anyone else’s problems?
But you can still do something. And the truth is, it will make you uncomfortable.
It will push you outside of the realms of yourself and help you see the needs around you, which are abundant.
Think about the work you do. It doesn’t matter what it may be at this moment, just ponder with me for a second. In some aspect or another, your tasks should be helping someone else down the line. You’re making someone else’s job easier, better, more manageable.
You’re providing valuable service to customers who called because they need something. During those moments, though, we are most often thinking about ourselves. We just want to get the day over with and move on with our lives.
Maybe that’s why you’re so stressed. Perhaps that’s why you can’t find pleasure in what you do. You’re focusing primarily on yourself.
What they need is not that important anyway, we say.
But real love is not always about how we feel when doing something. It’s about doing what we can to improve someone else’s life. It’s about sacrificing the “me” mentality for the “other” relationship, no matter how we feel. And that’s not easy.
This is something I have learned to accept in my own existence. I’ve realized there’s more to life than gaining exposure and popularity. The world we live in is quite dark, but it’s not one without light (as overwhelming as the dark may seem).
Giving More Than Taking
I’ll be the first to admit that it feels good to get attention. All eyes are on you. You get this dreamy picture of being on center stage, with the lights facing you and the flowers pouring in all around. This analogy is true for many areas of our lives.
When I created my Twitter account as a sophomore in high school, I set out to be the most popular kid in school. I was on the varsity basketball team, a proud member of FBLA (Future Business Leaders of America), and a notorious musician. But I felt the attention wasn’t enough at the time.
Every day I would make a goal to put something out there for my followers to see. The numbers would grow and grow, but it never seemed to be enough. After all, my goal was to be the most popular.
In my pursuits, my real friends were left outside the loop. I would spend hours on end trying to find ways to increase my following fast. Conversations around them were forced because I wanted to seem as though I was listening when I really wasn’t.
What’s crazy is that my tweets were meaningless, provided no real value for people, and were mostly about myself.
Even though these facts remained clear, people with the same characteristics followed anyway (funny how that correlates with who your true companions are).
But in the end, I lost my real friends. The ones who were right next to me when my mind was in a virtual world full of characters who could care less about me in real life. They had given their time, their energy and attention to me even though I didn’t return the favor.
That scene had an expiration date, and rightfully so.
I’d gain their friendship back, but only when I was willing to get uncomfortable. My dream of becoming a popular Twitter star faded and I started focusing on the things that mattered, like maintaining solid relationships and helping others.
Today, I still use Twitter. But only to share things that mean something to me, that helps people in some way or another. That’s what it should be used for, an idea so foreign to me back in high school.
Most of the time our minds are fixed on what we can get out of life instead of what we can give. Gaining overpowers giving in this regard, more than we care to admit.
It’s only when we see our need to be selfless that we rid ourselves of the worries that be.
You Don’t Get to Pick and Choose
We live in a world full of people with different lifestyles. People who look differently, speak differently and work differently. America is notoriously known as a “melting pot,” flowing with diverse cultures and ethnicities.
But that doesn’t mean they are always welcomed.
Naturally, we’re drawn to these assortments based on the connections we feel to them. The way we were raised and the environments we grew up in has a lot to do with that. So we flock to what is normal for us, at least most of the time.
There’s nothing wrong with this, in and of itself. Still, we have to ask ourselves questions that reach the heart of what hinders us from befriending other people. What blocks us from loving on people who are different?
If the fact that someone looks different causes me to avoid them, I have a problem. That's not loving. That’s striving to keep the boundaries strong that have separated us for far too long.
In love, there is compassion, there is empathy, there is affection.
Now, while many will argue that this is instantaneous, I would say the opposite. It takes time to get over certain phobias and preconceived assumptions. It takes a process, a necessary one.
Love is often messy.
Think about it from the perspective of a family (any family) or a relationship (any relationship). It gets crazy sometimes. People don’t always say things that we agree with or do things that fit our standards. But does love simply cease because of this? Of course not.
It’s growth we should seek, not perfection. Growth strengthens and builds, encourages and lifts others up when they fall. The same is true for love.
It also, as uncomfortable as it may be, takes a willingness to forsake a picky, selective pseudo-love. People are different, we can’t ignore that. But that’s a good thing.
These kinds of realities stretch us to our absolute limits, revealing what some of us aren’t used to experiencing: the idea that love should intrinsically be directed and expressed towards everyone. Because love remains, committed and strong.
Kevin Horton is a photographer, college student, modest book-worm, and wanna-be web developer with a new-found love for writing. He writes helpful words about creativity, productivity, and the enjoyably simple life.
’Til next time. Thanks for reading!