I’d been thinking about love for several months. So, back in September, a theme caught my eye: “Love wins.” That phrase appeared in one meme after another on 9/11.
Love wins. I found myself wondering what that really means. Has love won since 9/11? What kind of love does it take to win? How does that love act?
Since then, I’ve come to believe that these are important questions. In fact, I believe everyone should identify and refine their beliefs about love for the following reasons:
Reason #1. Beliefs have consequences.
This theme came up repeatedly at a conference I recently attended. Dr. Mimi Haddad, the president of Christians for Biblical Equality, highlighted over-and-over again the connection between patriarchal beliefs and violence against women and children. In her work every day, she sees the reality that beliefs have consequences.
“Beliefs have the power to create and the power to destroy.” – Tony Robbins
I saw this from a different angle in my personal life. My last boyfriend broke up with me because he’d fallen out of love with me. It wasn’t a surprise that he wanted to break up. We’d been having problems for a while. However, I was shocked to discover our beliefs about love were so different.
I’ve talked with and read advice from people in successful, long-lasting relationships. From them, I’ve gained the belief that love is both a feeling and a commitment. And if you’re committed to someone, you can take action to recreate the “in-love” feelings. My ex didn’t share that belief.
Reason #2. Dysfunctional beliefs about love are common.
I talked about our break-up with a friend and shared my surprise. However, my friend pointed out that my ex’s belief was far more common than mine. Just look at any romantic comedy! Pop culture conveys the belief that love is a feeling. A romantic relationship is all about falling in love.
Problematic beliefs about love show up in other areas too.
As a university instructor, it’s important to me to show love and care to the students I teach. So, when a student told me she’d missed the week-long window for taking the online final exam and asked to take it late, I let her.
I’m embarrassed to even admit that now. At the time, it wasn’t a decision I felt good about, but the alternative, letting her fail the course, seemed too severe. Then, I heard Jessica Lahey interviewed on the Cult of Pedagogy podcast, and I went on to read her wonderful book, The Gift of Failure.
Lahey argued compellingly that we’re better teachers and parents if we let the students and children we love experience the consequences of their decisions. She also gave great advice on how to do so in an age-appropriate way. And… she talked about some of the reasons we don’t let kids fail.
Lahey’s thoughtful perspective forced me to face something I hadn’t been willing to admit. While I thought I was showing love to my student, I wasn’t really. I chose to appear loving, rather than to act in a loving way. I didn’t want to be the “mean” teacher. I’d rather she felt grateful to me for being kind. So, I put my own feelings above her well-being. And in unintentionally putting my feelings first, I kept her from experiencing the consequences of her actions.
Reason #3. It is more helpful to clarify your beliefs before you’re put on the spot.
This experience was another one which convinced me that we all need to identify and refine our beliefs about love. Prior to reading Lahey’s book, I hadn’t thought about what it meant to be a loving teacher. While no one can anticipate everything, I wish I’d been more prepared.
And this isn’t the only area. I’ve found myself wondering lately, what would it mean to be a more loving daughter? Sister? Neighbor? U.S. citizen? How can I be better prepared for the inevitable challenges and conflicts in these roles?
I’m not a philosopher or a theologian. As you can see, I haven’t even resolved my own questions about what love means. But I’m finding the investigation rewarding already.
I recently started reading Christian Love by Bernard Brady. In the first chapter, he described a Hebrew word for love, hesed, that is used in the Old Testament section of the Bible. He shared scholar Katherine Sakenfeld’s description of an act of hesed:
“First… there exists a situation of distress. A person needs the help of another. Second, the situation is desperate. Third, the situation is such that there is only one who is able to help. Fourth, the help offered comes from the free decision of the other.”
To my own surprise, reading this beautiful description changed my behavior. I found I was more in tune with friends’ needs. More aware of my ability to help, and more committed to doing so freely, no strings attached.
As I continue to refine my beliefs about love, my sincere hope is that the investigation continues to make me act in more loving ways.
Question: Was there a dysfunctional belief about love that came to mind when you read this? Is being loving something you need to think more about? You can leave a comment by clicking here.