A couple of years ago I was sitting on a couch, listening to few of my friends discuss the idea of marriage. One of the pair let out a sigh and said, “Is loving only one person for the rest of your life even possible? It just sounds so complicated.”
As far I was concerned, that was my cue to rain down my Catholic viewpoint on the total awesomeness of marriage. But alas, before I got the chance, another friend jumped in and said something that left me totally speechless. “Actually”, he replied, “I think it’s really simple, and that’s why it’s so difficult.”
One of the most well-known bible verses of all time is 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. It goes like this:
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
It’s a beautiful passage but it leaves something out, something that had never occurred to me until that conversation 2 years ago. Love is simple.
Now, when I say “love,” I’m talking about more than the warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’re around that special someone. You know. When you see them time stops. They somehow make you feel confident and nervous at the same time. When they’re around suddenly everything is perfect—not even the imminent decline in the polar bear population due to the gradual melting of the ice caps can bring you down.
While these feelings of attraction are often given the label of “love” I think they are better described as “being in love.” Now obviously these feelings can be pretty amazing—they’ve captured the imaginations of poets, playwrights and sparkly-vampire-fiction-fangirls across the ages. Nonetheless, real love is far more than a spontaneous emotional reaction.
So then, what is love?
To love is to desire the good of the beloved. This is a desire which manifests itself in our thoughts, our words and our actions. Love is not something that just happens. Love is something we do. It’s a decision we make to do what is best for the other person. Love is a choice.
Love finds its simplicity in being absolute. It is all or nothing. If I commit to loving a person “sometimes” then I have not really committed to loving them at all. If love only lasts in a relationship until the feelings fade, then you can be sure it was never really there to begin with. Pope John Paul II puts it like this, “The person who does not decide to love forever will find it very difficult to really love even for one day.”
It’s no surprise then that when we decide not to love, things become complicated. This is often the consequence of choosing lust over love. If love is simple, black-and-white, then lust is 50 shades of grey.
Lust is something we hear a lot about. Billboards are plastered with phrases urging us to “lust” after this burger, this bikini or this BMW. Lust is portrayed as some kind of edgy, uncontrollable desire that we really shouldn’t bother trying to resist. Magazines like Cosmopolitan even offer “lust lessons.”
In reality, lust is about using people. To lust after someone is to treat them like some kind of object for our own pleasure. It is often a lot easier to give in to this desire than it is to authentically love someone. It’s also a pretty sure fire way to mess up your life and your relationships.
Hook ups, friends-with-benefits, and other arrangements based on lust are often put forward as being satisfying and uncomplicated. However, often they are the exact opposite. At times in the past when I was involved in the above, I would constantly find myself caught up in questions like “What is the point of this whole thing?” “What if I want more?” “What if she wants more and I don’t?” “Do either of us really care about each other?”
In contrast, relationships based on love are accompanied by a beautiful clarity. Rather than having this nagging confusion at the back of your mind, there is an assurance that you will both fight to do what is best for the other.
If we’re being honest, I think many of us like “complicated” a whole lot more than we like “simple.” Complicated gives us something to hide behind. It’s much easier for me to say that I can’t attend/give/commit/care when I’ve got the excuse of being busy/stressed/ late/just-not-in-the-right-place-right-now. Simple, on the other hand, can be hard. Simple might require us to be there always, to give everything, to commit anyway or to care unconditionally.
There’s no 12-easy-steps-to-success for loving others. We can only, simply, love.
Samuel Brebner is an under-graduate, studying theology and law at the University of Auckland. He lives in New Zealand, loves to surf, and hopes to challenge youth to be everything God created them to be. Samuel works part-time with Real Talk, a Catholic organization that speaks in high schools on the topics of sex, relationships and personal identity. For more of Sam’s writing, visit his blog https://parttimeprophet.net/.