Love is a word with a variety of meanings, most of them concerning pink hearts, chubby cherubs, or an overabundance of hormones. In the same moment you might love a tub of buttered popcorn, love the acting performance on the movie screen, and love your date sitting in the theater seat beside you. What does any of it mean? Do the snack, movie star, and company all make you feel the same way? Are they all worthy of the same response? Of course not. When a term is overused the definition becomes diluted. We’ve lost the meaning of the word love.
We are invited to love our neighbor. This means more than having an emotional response toward that person. A response is simply a reaction to an external stimulus, leaving us as passive recipients. A forgotten element of love, the perceptible aspect, is meant to be deliberately proactive with no strings or expectations. Love is conscious action in service of others. This does not diminish the emotional elements of love; rather it complements our feelings with a tangible means of expression.
Author and noted leadership expert Robert K. Greenleaf coined the term servant leadership in 1970. He popularized the concept in his books The Servant as Leader and The Institution as Servant. He contends when we serve others more loving, caring, and trusting relationships will be built. Our actions are designed to make certain the needs of others are met. They helps those around us “become healthier, wiser, freer, more autonomous, and more likely themselves to become servants.” Service is a conscious choice to take specific undertakings with no direct benefit in return.
Love as a deliberate, active choice is not a new concept. When Paul was instructing the people of Corinth he penned perhaps the most famous and complete example. “Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self. Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut, doesn’t have a swelled head, doesn’t force itself on others, isn’t always ‘me first,’ doesn’t fly off the handle, doesn’t keep score of the sins of others, doesn’t revel when others grovel, takes pleasure in the flowering of truth, puts up with anything, trusts God always, always looks for the best, never looks back, but keeps going to the end.”
Each example of love as described by Paul is a decision to do something, not an unpurposed uncontrolled emotional reaction. In the end, actions speak louder than feelings. Emotions play an important role as energizers and motivators but alone they are immaterial wisps.
Love is more than giggles and fizz despite the limited perception modern society likes to portray. We truly love through choices and actions, doing those things we do best for the benefit of others. Love your neighbor by serving those who are near to you. Through intentional efforts your feelings will gain meaning.