Love, Lust and Infatuation
1 Corinthians 13:4,5 Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful…
When I first met my wife, I knew she was the one. I just knew I was going to marry her. Incidentally, she did not share the sentiment (for quite some time). For me, it was love at first sight. I dare say however, that what I felt on that day, 26 years ago, was not really love. Though I grew to love my wife dearly, what I felt on that day was more akin to infatuation or lust. She was and is gorgeous. My wife is a wonderful person, but my 18-year-old hormones were not smitten with her fantastic personality. She beautiful and I was infatuated.
We often mistake infatuation or lust for love. We love another person like we love donuts. We love what that person does for us. We love how he or she makes us feel. We say I love you, when what we mean is, I love how I feel when I am with you. As we understand love to be an emotion, we equate it with the magical feeling of being smitten.
Paul says though, in today’s passage, that is not the extent of love. * Love is not just a feeling. Love is being consumed with concern for another. Love does not look primarily to my interests or how I feel. Love is pointing the energies of my life at someone else instead of me. When I choose to love, I am not arrogant or rude. I do not insist on doing everything my way. Love does not seek to fill my needs above all.
Compare this to infatuation or lust, which like a drug, I need more and more of to satisfy my desires. Infatuation is a fleeting feeling that leaves me in withdrawal when it is gone. Infatuation seeks to satisfy my needs above all and is just another addiction to self.
When we find the high of infatuation or lust, we want it to last. True love lasts forever, right? As emotions are fleeting though, when the feeling is gone and a relationship becomes hard work, we feel cheated. As love is just a feeling, when the mood is gone, so too is the relationship. True love though, is more than a noun. It is a verb and thus, a choice. Lust is natural. True love is not. True love is choosing selflessness, looking to another’s needs above our own. This is completely unnatural for us. We think love should be easy but the reality is that it is anything but.
When I created a disaster for my family in my addiction, if my wife had relied on love as a feeling, we would have been done. I can say now that we very much feel love for each other, but three years ago, there was only a choice to stick it out. Incidentally, in my addiction, I practiced not-love for my wife. I claimed to love her but my actions betrayed that I loved self above all. I did not look to her interests, but to my own. Thankfully, my wife still loved me.
True love endures because it chooses to. Love is kind and caring because I make it so. If my idea of love is that the magical feeling is going to carry me through tough times, I am in trouble and so is my marriage.
*In his quintessential writing on the subject, Paul is not necessarily speaking of romantic love, but his description of love is, I think, still applicable to my marriage.