“Sometimes all you can do is love,” said an exasperated mother in reference to her rebellious teenage daughter. When we don’t understand. When we don’t know how to respond, repair or resolve a situation. When our instinct is to push away, lash out at, or escape from someone who challenges the last frayed strand of patience or tolerance… sometimes all you can do is love.
There is a tendency to want to differentiate the types of love based on who we love and how we love. C.S. Lewis wrote the book The Four Loves in the 1970s where he explored storge love (affection/ familiarity), philia love (friendship/ “brotherly”), eros love (erotic/ sexual), and agape love (charity/ unconditional). This philosophy defines love as separate and distinctive styles depending on our relationships with the people in our lives. More recently, Gary Chapman developed the popular idea in his best seller, The 5 Love Languages, that we each communicate and translate love through our own personal love language: 1) words of affirmation, 2) acts of service, 3) receiving gifts, 4) quality time, and 5) physical touch.
Is love so distinctive and definable? Is the love we share for our rebellious 15-year old daughter or irritating husband of 30 years so different from the love we hold for a girlfriend who has betrayed us or a brother who has disappointed us? Regardless of the type of love or the nature of our relationship, love is dynamic. It has moments of strength and times when it is challenged. The young man who made our heart skip a beat, who made us melt at his very touch at one time, can become the curmudgeon at the other end of the table whom we tenderly answer after he’s asked the same question six times. The ten-year friendship with the freckle-faced girl we went to elementary school with can develop into a passionate love affair when both are home from college.
Similarly, how we prefer to express and receive love can also vary over time and from person to person. Our desire for physical touch can shift into our need for words of affirmation, which can lead us back to an interest in physical touch. It is a fine dance, one that requires practice, patience, experimentation and perseverance. Love is not EITHER-OR. Love is both. Love is equal. Love can feel unequal at times. Love comes in different shapes, sizes and colors. Love is fluctuating and fluid. Love evolves over time… sometimes fading, sometimes fortifying. Love is ever-changing. This is our challenge.
Author and revered public speaker, Stephen Covey said, “Love is a verb.” It requires action, effort and conscious awareness. It needs attention, care and nourishment. When we don’t know what else to do, sometimes it’s enough just to love. Not to define it with boundaries or to overthink about how to execute it. Covey goes on to say, “Love, the feeling, is the fruit of the verb of our loving actions.” We get out of it what we put in. Sometimes it’s all we can do… just love. Period.