Countless bookshelves are filled with stories, analysis, and poems on the subject of love, but what is love? There are so many ideas on what it means to love or to be “in love.”
When I was fifteen years old, being the hopeless romantic that I was, I purchased a book of poems at a book store at a local mall on my lunch break. In it were several love poems, but Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s work stood out as some of my favorites. Many people know her most for her Sonnet 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach…” Sound familiar? My favorite, however, has always been Sonnet 14. It goes as follows:
If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love’s sake only. Do not say,
“I love her for her smile—her look—her way
Of speaking gently,—for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day”—
For these things in themselves, Belovèd, may
Be changed, or change for thee—and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity’s wiping my cheeks dry:
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love’s sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love’s eternity.
You so often hear of people “falling in and out of love.” How can this be? Our love as humans is so selfish. We become infatuated with a person for a certain way they look, how they laugh or make us laugh, their public image, common interests, material things or comfort they provide, etc. What Elizabeth Barrett Browning conveyed in this sonnet is that she wants to be loved for no reason at all. If you have a reason you love someone, you have a love that can be subject to change. True love is not based on compatibility, experiences, or feelings. It is a promise to be there for someone no matter what. It is not something that can be earned. It is rather something that you are freely given.
It may sound silly, but God loves us for no reason at all. It is not how we look, and definitely not how we act. It is not for our meager achievements or creativity. We have nothing to offer Him. We reject Him and break His heart daily in so many ways. He has every reason not to love us, yet He loves us unconditionally. All we have to do is accept His perfect, selfless love.
Why do you love God? How do you reciprocate His love? Do you love Him because He is all powerful? Do you love Him for His majesty or creativity as our Creator? Or do you love Him simply because He first loved you? The Bible says in I John 4:19, “We love Him, because He first loved us.” In fact, God is love. He is the example we should always look to in searching for answers to the mystery of love.
Just as your love for your spouse can fade away if it is not built on that lasting, unconditional love; your love for and loyalty to God can be stripped away if you are basing it only on what He can do for you. If you lost everything like Job in the Bible (your spouse, children, home, health, or wealth), would you still love Him? Do you love Him only because He blesses you? Would you shake your fist in anger at God if your circumstances in life changed? Or do you trust Him completely and love Him unconditionally?
Challenge yourself to love unconditionally as God has loved us. I encourage you to look at who you love and why you love them. Are you basing your love on temporal or tangible things, or are you building your life (and love) around the eternal and intangible?
Let us love “for nought.”
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins,” I John 4:10
“And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him,” I John 4:16.