When I was sixteen years old I had a girlfriend who worked at McDonald’s. She’d often get off work after 11 PM and take the bus home by herself. We lived in the rough end of town. There were lots of reasons to be concerned for her safety, so I’d walk two miles to meet her when she got off work. We’d ride the bus together to her house, then I’d head back home, often having to walk because I missed the last bus back to my house. I did this for almost a year.
If you asked me back then what love was I would have told you about how I felt about my girlfriend. I would have talked about how I felt when I was with her. I would have talked about feelings much more than actions. Now when I look back at those times I realize I knew much more about love than I imagined.
Love isn’t a just a feeling. Love is a selfless action for others.
If we’re going to speak of love we need to understand that genuine love doesn’t exist outside of sacrifice. If we’re not willing to put the needs of another ahead of our own than what we have is not real love—it’s much less.
It doesn’t matter if it’s love between two people who are attracted to each other, and perhaps involved in a relationship, or if it’s the love between a parent and a child, a grandchild and a grandparent, between two friends, a more general love between a person and humanity, or even the love between a person and God, love requires a willingness to do something for another without any expectation of anything in return—it’s selfless.
We live in a world where too often the focus is on loving oneself, where it’s all about me. I’m not going to pretend that self-care isn’t an important element of healthy living. However, the scale has tipped too far in favour of the me rather than the other when it comes to love.
I recently witnessed a beautiful example of selfless love. When my son was about to turn twenty his grandmother passed away. He moved in with his grandfather, my first wife’s father. They lived together for close to ten years and were good companions until my son’s grandfather had to move into a long-term care home because of Parkinson’s. Well over a month ago my son told me his nonno likely had less than a week to live—his time had come. It took longer than expected. My son visited his grandfather just about every day. About three weeks into it he asked me to visit his grandfather with him.
During this visit I witnessed my son’s love for his grandfather. I knew my son had been sacrificing much of his time so he could spend precious moments with his nonno. I was moved by his sacrifices. But when I actually saw how he cared so compassionately for him I was overwhelmed by seeing true love in action. My son and I entered his grandfather’s room. He went directly to the bedside and started rearranging pillows to relieve pressure points, he shifted sheets, and started to massage his grandfather’s legs and manually bend them up and down to get good blood flow. He sang to him, and spoke to him with tenderness and genuine concern.
No words can truly describe what I witnessed. When you’re in the presence of love you simply have no choice but to be in awe.
We all have endless opportunities to love others. Every day is filled with chances to make small and large sacrifices for those who intersect what might seem like the ordinary and mundane realities of our lives. A simple act, a simple word, can change the ordinary into so much more.
Life is filled with choices. I pray we all take action to fill them with love.