What’s Love Got to Do with It?

Three Reasons to Consider What You Believe

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.

Woman sitting on the beach drawing a heart in the sand, love

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.


Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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3 thoughts on “What’s Love Got to Do with It?

  1. Wow, Abby! Good stuff here!

    Of course I agree with you about if you’re committed, you can do things to re-create the “in love” feelings. When my husband said he didn’t love me any more, I felt like answering, “And whose fault is that?”

    With a boyfriend, well, maybe it’s a tip-off that you don’t actually want to be committed to this person. Personally, I think you’re better off! Though I’m sure it still hurts. (Actually, I’m way better off, too!)

    With teaching, I found I did better if I could come up with consequences I could feel good about. Teaching math, I let every student make up quizzes and tests, correcting everything they’d gotten wrong or that they’d missed altogether – for half credit. It had the advantage of giving extra credit to those who actually needed it as well as helping students *learn* from their mistakes. For me, the lovely thing was that I no longer had to listen to students’ sad stories and feel bad for them. That whole situation is super tricky.

    And then you get into trying to show love when the person can’t see it as love. Is it loving then to express it? Well, you know your own heart. Once you know it’s not welcome, though, it’s probably time to back off.

    Have you read the Rob Bell book “Love Wins”? It’s about God’s love and is wonderful. I do believe that in the end, for everyone, love will win. http://www.sonderbooks.com/Nonfiction/love_wins.html

    • Thanks for the thoughtful comment, Sondy!

      It takes some processing to get to the “probably better off” point, doesn’t it?! Honestly, with the guy I was dating, I hadn’t been treating him well. It was during a stressful period in my life, and I took it out on him. I don’t blame him for his decision, but the reason for it really surprised me. I thought I knew him better than that!

      I love your point about teaching. I’ve become a big fan of allowing students to resubmit work, when possible. I feel like it’s a win-win: they still do the work AND they get a little more guidance. I like your idea of giving half-credit, and I think I’ll try that for my next course.

      What really has me fascinated about this topic is how it’s super tricky in so many different situations! If we surveyed 100 people, I suspect they’d all agree that love is the highest virtue… and all disagree on what it should look like in specific situations, lol.

      Have you ever read Gretchen Rubin’s book, The Happiness Project? She did a year-long project with a different happiness-related focus for each month. I’d like to do something similar with love as the theme. (“The Love Project” doesn’t sound right, though! Maybe “A Year of Love…” 😉 ) There are so many different themes you could explore – trying to show love to someone who can’t see it, loving someone who is abusive, self-love, forgiveness, justice, etc. Or what love looks like in different roles – at work, in a dating or marriage relationship, with friends & family, neighbors, strangers or the world in general.

      I’m not sure how I want to move forward, but I mentioned that I’m currently reading Christian Love by Bernard Brady. He moves chronologically through Christian teaching and perspectives on love, from the Old Testament through to present day writers. So, once I finish, that will be a perfect segue to Rob Bell’s book. 🙂 Thanks for the recommendation!