Some times of life are more stressful than others. When a child is sick, stress abounds. When multiple children are sick, stress abounds all the more. The past several months have been one of those on-again, off-again, stress-filled times for us. Thankfully none of these illnesses have been terribly serious, but they have been enough to add an extra veneer of challenge upon daily life.
This is probably starting to sound like a complaint, but this post is actually about love. Today is Valentine’s Day, after all. So what do heightened stress and people coughing and throwing up have to do with love? Quite a bit, actually, because love is more than a feeling. Love is a firm decision of the will, informed by the intellect, and directing the passions (or emotions) to will the good of another: to want what’s best for that person.
Love Is Deeds
A wise person once heard the voice of God telling him, “Love is deeds, not sweet words.” Another wise person—Fyodor Dostoevsky—wrote in his masterpiece, The Brothers Karamazov, “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared to love in dreams.”
A harsh and dreadful thing. Enter any supermarket, pharmacy, or other retail spot this month and you’ll find heart-shaped boxes of chocolates, cherubic angels shooting arrows, and sweet-smelling red roses by the dozen. Isn’t that what love is? Something pleasant, easy going, and nice? Why does the great Russian novelist say love is a harsh and dreadful thing?
Love in Action
To return to the first quote, “Love is deeds, not sweet words.” Love is where the rubber meets the road. Where actions—love in action—really will and accomplish the good of the other. It may begin with sweet words or love in dreams, but it must end in action.
Another thinker, Henry David Thoreau, famously opined that, “If you have built castles in the air, your work need not be lost … Now put the foundations under them.” The love of words and the love of dreams need not be discarded. Rather grace builds upon nature, the love of deeds and action must build upon the love of words and dreams.
In Sickness and in Health
So what does this mean for us? First, it means that we must commit ourselves to love others, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health. That commitment is not just for the husband and wife via a wedding vow, but—by extension—to parents and their children, adult children and their parents, siblings, family members, friends, neighbors, acquaintances, really everyone we come across in our life. In sickness and in health. Do we really strive to take care of others, both with their physical needs and spiritual ones? Do we reach out to our family members, friends, and others to see how they’re doing, what we can do to help, and, perhaps, pray for them regularly?
Charity begins at home. Do we strive to have the best relationship with our spouse as possible? Do we take care of our children in all seasons of life, in good times and bad? Most parents thankfully have the grace and mindfulness to care for their children heroically even when it hurts. Do we bring the same level of dedication and love to care for our spouse, aging parents, wayward sibling, or dying friend?
In the forthcoming third volume of our The Shadows of Freedom trilogy, a character relates how a terminal diagnosis led her husband and children to betray her and urge her to embrace euthanasia. This is obviously the opposite of true love. Yet do I do this, in little and big ways, rejecting the call to love with deeds and instead with just dreamy words?
This Valentine’s Day, let’s reject the saccharine depiction of love that our culture peddles upon us, which in the end is as empty as a marshmallow. And instead, let’s replace it with love that is hard as nails, perhaps even as hard as the nails used on Good Friday, so that that authentic charity will lead us to blossom into the newness of life. Happy Valentine’s Day!
Great essay, Chris!
Thanks so much, Jeanne! Glad you enjoyed it!