On one of my favorite mornings in Africa, we rode single speed bikes that clunked down the bumpy, dirt road to our project site for the day. The smell of sunscreen and Deet wafted behind us as we biked slowly alongside one another. We’d been strangers the week before, but by this day, we’d shared heart-wrenching and life-changing experiences. We danced somewhere between acquaintances – still learning about one another’s families and hometowns – and friends.
We arrived at our worksite for the day, where we planned to help build a school out of water, dirt and dung. Our sunscreen protection was quickly replaced by thick, cakey mud. We worked all morning alongside locals to build the first wall – telling jokes and sharing stories. Taking breaks to hold a tiny, perfect baby.
During our lunch break, we sat on a tarp and broke bread over a traditional meal, including hot tea and crumpets. While we ate, kids from the surrounding area started to gather around us. As we finished eating, we started to play with them. They asked me to take their picture on my phone over and over, begging me to see themselves each time. They don’t see mirrors regularly and don’t have phones – so seeing their own face in a photo was incredible to them.
What I didn’t realize was that each time I took their photo, I would say, “I love it! Do you love it?” and then show it to them. Quickly the kids caught on and started chanting, “I love it! Do you love it?” over and over.
I’d never realized until that moment how often I say the words “I love it!” Thinking about it made me wonder what the word love really means to me.
Love is not conditional
My bible study is reading Donald Miller’s new book, Scary Close. He talks a lot about love and intimacy. A point that has really stuck with me is that love is not conditional. Love is constant and is a choice. It isn’t dangled in front of someone or manipulative. I think a lot of times, we tend to confuse what love is in our relationships. When someone is being unloving or treating you poorly, they aren’t practicing love. And that’s what love is – it’s a choice and a practice. When it comes to love, actions speak equally as loud – if not louder – than words.
Love is not perfect
A lot of my friends are at a similar point in dating right now – close to getting engaged and really trying to evaluate if their relationships are marriage-worthy. Something we have talked about lately is this:
Even when you love someone, they still aren't perfect.
You will annoy one another. And frustrate one another. As you grow deeper in a relationship, the good things get better, but the bad things become more exemplified, too. If leaving the toilet seat up annoys you in dating, you better believe it will bug you when you’re sharing a house. But, I have to bet that the way Chris is always filling up my constantly emptied glass of water will only keep getting sweeter the longer he does it.
The truth is, this isn’t just in dating. Our siblings, parents, friends and peers that we love are equally as flawed. Have you ever had someone you love really disappoint you? It’s easy to want to write them off. And I think we live in such a readily connected and trade-in/trade-up society that we tend to look at relationships as disposable.
But, writing off people who have made mistakes, let you down and shown that they are, in fact, human, is not love. Because love is not conditional.
What does love look like in your life?
What I’m learning is that I may have really loved the cute photos of the kids in Africa. But when it comes to relationships, practicing love is much more than that. It’s an action and a choice. For me, showing love is being consistent and available. It is being vulnerable, honest and patient. It is remembering Donald Miller’s words that loving someone with flaws opens the door to them loving me with my flaws, too.
I don't know what love looks like in your life. But I do believe that when you love someone, you choose to grow alongside them and learn together.
You choose to be vulnerable and open yourself up wholly and fully to experience authentic love.
I want to be clear that there are definite reasons to end a relationship like abuse, manipulation (among many others) and any other deal breakers that are personal to you. I am not, in any way, advocating that you ignore major red flags or stay in an unhealthy relationship. Love is respectful, gentle and kind.