Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:4–8)
Everything that Paul says about love here requires multiple people. Towards whom is love patient? To whom is it kind? Whom does it bear with, believe, hope, and endure?
Love is always directed. Love that sits in one person’s heart and never directs itself toward anyone or anything is not love at all. The heart can sit in isolation and experience emotions like happiness, warmth, or satisfaction. But love does not exist apart from some object toward which it is directed.
My love for my wife is exactly that—love-for-my-wife. It’s not as though I have a store of love in my heart, like some sort of substance which I can choose to dispense here or there as the occasion requires. Love comes with the object. My wife and I stand together, and the love we share is manifested in the patience and kindness we show toward one another, it can be seen in the absence of irritability and resentment between us.
Love that sits alone and focuses on self is not love. For this reason, love is never lonely. You can feel longing for an absent loved one, but you can’t experience the pain of a love that has no beloved—there’s no such thing.
A major problem in the church is our equation of love with romance. The result is that Christians feel pressure to find “the one” they love—their soul mate, their spouse. I am pro-marriage, but I am against the notion that we can begin with a vague sense of love toward “the one” and then sift through all of the candidates until we find him or her. Love requires an object. You can’t love a hypothetical person.
This can also cause us to devote all of our “love”(pseudo-love, really) towards a non-existent object rather than directing it toward the people we interact with every day. We can get so caught up in finding someone to love romantically that we fail to love the people that God has placed in our lives, even as we feel the sting of the “love” we think we feel towards the lover who does not exist.
Because love is always directed, we are only loveless when we have isolated ourselves from people. With each person comes the potential for love. We thrive as human beings not when we have romance, but when we have love. And love is as near as the person next to you. This may include romance, but it doesn’t have to. It has nothing to do with the lovability of the person; it has everything to do with the choice to love.
God first created a solitary man, then declared that it was not good for this one man to be alone (Gen. 2:18). So he created a woman—a wife, yes, but a companion above all. Another human being. An object for his love. Someone to bear with, someone to show patience and kindness.
Love is never lonely. It is as near as the next person to walk through the door. “Let brotherly love continue,” urges the author of Hebrews (13:1). The choice to love will never leave us lonely, because love is always directed.
Happy Valentine’s Day!