Monday, 9 May 2016

Love is... a verb!

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One of my favorite subjects to teach is grammar. I love the parts of speech, the way the words work together, and the way everything fits together neatly. It's (mostly) logical and generally easy to figure out the patterns and rules, with only a few exceptions. Like arithmetic, there's a right and wrong answer.

A verb is the part of speech that describes the action or activity of the subject. It also describes the state of being. Verbs tell us what things or creatures do or how they feel. Every sentence needs a verb to be a complete sentence.

Love is one of those verbs that is both an action and a state of being. That makes it one of those exceptions. It doesn't fit neatly into a box. It's a paradox.

Maybe that's why love is so hard to understand. How can something be both active -- a doing, an aggressive tangible behaviour -- and a state of being, passive, abstract, and inanimate? Love is both, at the same time.  That's what makes it so powerful.

Thousands of books, poems and songs have been written about love. Humans struggle to describe the impulses, actions, reactions and responses to love. We perform great deeds in the name of love. We humiliate ourselves, we do foolish things in public, we get others to help us all in the hopes of impressing and demonstrating just how much we love someone else. We buy expensive jewelry, create pictures, write cards and stories, grow or buy flowers to give to the objects of our love. In English, at least, we have at least 50 different words to convey this impossible-to-describe concept.

Love is both giving (active) and receiving (being). We give to those we love, we give as an act of love. This seems natural and easily understood. It's an almost instinctive response to the feeling of love towards another. Love inspires generosity.

But being loving is also graciously receiving the gifts that others would give us. For some, like me, this is harder to understand, but sometimes the most loving thing you can do is allow and receive the blessing from another. Receiving a gift gratefully is a gift in itself back to the giver. This passive state of being can be the most passionate of experiences.

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Love is both serving (active) and leading (being). The famous Five Love Languages book (Gary Smalley) says that one of the languages of love is acts of service. When you do something to help someone, to make their life easier or better in some way, it is love. Serving another is an active way to love even those you don't know that well. In church, we often describe the life of love towards other believers as "serving".

Leading, however, is also love. Providing that guidance, that sense of direction can be more loving than providing the service. In a way, it's a service in itself. When you let someone know, gently, lovingly, honestly and respectfully how they can serve you, you lead in love and in return serve their desire to love you. Paradoxically, the less active state of being loving in leadership is the more devoted love.

When we think of love, we often use words like "sacrificial" and "giving" and "serving" to describe how to love someone else. We assume that to love someone requires the sacrifice on our part. But sometimes the best way to love someone else is to take advantage of their loving gestures, their desire to actively love us. It is, in my experience, the harder way to love someone. Taking advantage feels somehow less loving. When in actuality, allowing and receiving and giving direction and leading can be the more adoring state.

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The verb to love is a paradox of actions and responses. While we naturally gravitate to the doing side of love -- giving a gift, serving another -- we don't always realize that our more passive receiving of the same is also a part of love, and often the more passionate side.

Another active part of love is admiration. We love to shower our loved ones with compliments and praise. It's often accompanied by gifts or acts of service. Telling someone how much you like their appearance, or praising their accomplishments, or complimenting their behaviour is concrete way to show just how much we love them.

The counterpart of this active love is the more passive vanity. Did you know that too often, we end up rejecting our lover's admiration out of a desire to not appear vain or proud? Yet it can be a loving thing to do to accept the admiration, not just because you want to please your beloved, but because you agree with them. After all, they love you as well. And there must be something about you that they love. Recognizing that, being in the state of agreement with their admiration, is a way to love them in return.

Actively loving others often leads us to appreciate their efforts to love us. It becomes a cycle of activity. They give and we reciprocate with gifts in appreciation. We serve them and they serve us in return. They admire our efforts to please them and we show our appreciation with more compliments. We always want to actively show our appreciation for our beloved.

The more abstract love is hold your beloved to certain expectations and to communicate those. It's not a really tangible thing you can do, but that expectation you have for your loved one -- the standard of care -- is simply part of being loving. It's almost an unconscious thing we do in love, but it can be a dangerous thing to have. These often unspoken expectations can ruin the loving relationship we have, because they are unspoken, and maybe even unrealistic. But having expectations for your beloved is part of being loving, as long as you communicate them.

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This paradoxical verb is a conundrum. So often we speak of loving someone as requiring action, needing a great deed to prove. But we forget that sometimes the more passionate love, the harder love is to sit back and let ourselves be loved. To accept the compliments and gifts, and to let someone else serve us -- and not just to allow but to direct, to ask for and expect these things -- this requires that we truly understand what it means to love and to be loving.

Love is a verb. Both the action and the state of being .. love is a contradictory verb.

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