There's an ancient Greek tale about a guy named Narcissus who fell in love with his own reflection. He thought of his looks as god-like.
Narcissus must have been as vain as he was gorgeous—tall, dark, handsome, and a body like an Olympian.
Wandering along one day, he caught a glimpse of his reflection in a pool of water and thinks, Oh! Who's that gorgeous creature? Why, it's me! I always
knew I was handsome but this is ridiculous.
I think I'll sit here for a while and stare... . By Zeus, I could marry myself!
Narcissus became so self-absorbed, he forgot to eat or drink. And when he died, all that was left of him was a beautiful flower, which you can probably guess the name of.
There's a lesson in the story about vanity and self-involvement, but there's also one about the importance of loving others (as well as yourself ) in order to keep life in balance and priorities in check. If Narcissus had this balance, he probably would have just flexed his muscles while looking at his reflection before going home to his loved ones, and Narcissi might have been called Fred instead.
Having a healthy level of love for self is important—self-esteem is vital to being able to make the most of life and maintain a positive attitude. However, current culture tells us to be focused on ourselves to the point of narcissism: Give yourself some love with this widescreen plasma TV; you'll love yourself more if you go on a celebrity-endorsed diet; show your kids you love them by buying mountains of toys when you can't spend time with them.
It's a good way to get people to spend money on themselves in an attempt to fill up a place where love should be. But does it mean that we're forgetting that love goes beyond the self and simply how we feel, to how we act and treat others? After all, we generally get more enjoyment from life when we share love with others rather than lavishing it upon ourselves alone.
So, what is love?
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails. But where there are prophecies, they will cease; where there are tongues, they will be stilled; where there is knowledge, it will pass away” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8).
You'd almost think Shakespeare had written those words, but, instead, it was one of the most prolific writers in Bible, Paul. Shakespeare did write something similar in Sonnet 116, where he talks about love bearing out even unto the edge of doom, surpassing time and being of immeasurable worth.
Shakespeare wrote a further 153 sonnets about love, but the apostle Paul also concludes, “And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Corinthians 13:13), which sums up love so well.
Paul's perfect exposition hasn't stopped others from trying to work out their own written expressions of love.
If all the poems, movies, songs, books, Hallmark cards, articles, graffiti and paintings that have been created about love were laid end-to-end, they would probably reach to Jupiter and back.
Still there are some of us who would rather gnaw our own arm off than talk about love and feelings, perhaps because love is one of those things that is sometimes hard to find the words for.
To love and to be loved is one of the most incredible feelings in the spectrum of human emotions. Whether it's the love you give to and receive from family, friends, a partner, pets or whoever, not much else will succeed in giving you the feelings of contentment, happiness and utter bliss. However, to love is also to be vulnerable and doing so opens up a world of possibilities in pain, disappointment, loss and so on. It is said that it's better to have loved and lost than never loved at all.
A world where all people let the fear of hurt impair their expressions of love for others would make for a very dull, grey and unfriendly place. Allowing ourselves to be open to the possibilities of love makes life far more enjoyable, not to mention interesting.
Part of my grandpa Nash's wooing when he was working on catching my grandma included cycling past her house while standing on the handlebars of his bike, which obviously worked.
Throughout history, love has seen people doing the equivalent of standing on the handlebars because they love someone—parents fighting off wild animals to save children, being there to care for a friend when they're ill and throw up on your shoes, or just taking the plunge and saying, “I love you.”
Loving each other
We've all done crazy things with love as motivation. Paul points out in his first letter to the Corinthians (chapter 13) that if we don't have love in our hearts and as our driving reason for action, even the best things that we do are pointless. Love changes our perceptions, behaviour and reasoning, which explains why it's said that love is blind.
This kind of love is the type that God wants us to be working on more, rather than just focusing on romance.
In the New Testament, Jesus often talks of love, even describing loving one another as being the new commandment.
“This is my command: Love each other” (John 15:17).
He also talks of loving your neighbour as yourself (see Matthew 19:19, 22, 39).
For Jesus, loving God, others and yourself (in that order) was a reflection of embracing a relationship with God and following the Ten Commandments as part of loving relationships rather than pure legalism. Loving God naturally progresses to manifesting itself in showing love for others. You don't have to believe in God or love Him to be able to love others, but it's impossible to truly love God and not show that love to those around you.
Paul says, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves
his fellow-man has fulfilled the law... .
Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Romans 13:8, 10).
If we loved our neighbours as ourselves, it would help to change the way we treat people, help to connect us
with the positives about them and lead to building better love relationships, both with God and others.
And a neighbour isn't just the family who live next to you. Luke 10:29 sees a young lawyer asking Jesus just who “my neighbour” is meant to be. Jesus replies with the parable of the good Samaritan, with the answer ultimately being that everyone is a “neighbour” and we all need to show care and kindness—love—for them.
With the whole essence of God being love, it makes sense that we will become more like Him as we get to
know Him better. In the song “'Tis love that makes us happy,” written in 1892 by F E Belden, the lyrics say,
“God is love; we're His little children.
God is love; we would be like Him.
'Tis love that makes us happy,
'tis love that smooths the way;
it helps us ‘mind,'
it makes us kind to others every day.”
Simplistic as the words may sound, this is the kind of love that goes beyond the self-absorbed kind that saw Narcissus end up with more petals than he originally started out with, and involves us with the world around us in a practical fashion.
Paul says in his second letter to the Corinthians, “For Christ's love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:14, 15).
Jesus died on the cross out of love for the entire world, even those “neighbours” who didn't like Him. His love overcame death and separation from His Father because we matter so much.
His love for us stretches beyond anything relating to death and time, and into infinity—an opportunity that
Jesus' death and resurrection opened up for us. Love makes Him blind to our faults when we turn them over to Him.
We can learn a lot about love from God's way of going about it, and should also probably be less shy about expressing love for others. It doesn't hurt to let those you love know how you feel, and not just on Valentine's Day.