There’s a famous poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning called “How Do I Love Thee?” You’ve probably read it. But if it’s been a while, here’s a quick refresher of this beautiful, short poem (which is in the public domain):
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
You know what I love about this poem? That it doesn’t try to explain why she loves Robert. It doesn’t enumerate his good qualities or how she feels in his presence. It doesn’t talk about the way her heart goes pitter-patter when he smiles at her. It’s not about the why. It’s about the how.
And there’s something so very true about that approach to love, isn’t there? Because we rarely know why we love someone. We just know that we do. We know how it changes us, inspires us. We know how it creates life within our existence.
I am so incredibly blessed to have a husband who tells me many times a day that he loves me. Many times a day, he’ll just look over at me say, “You’re so pretty. How are you so pretty?” Or “I love just looking at you.” I mean, I’m no supermodel. And he usually says it when my hair’s still wet from the shower or a mess from bed. But when I get ready for the day and walk out–which I do most days even when I’m staying home to work, he’ll comment on that too. He’ll tell me how nice I look, how beautiful I am, how lucky he is.
And when I return the sentiments, this man I love so much will sometimes say, “I don’t know why. I mean, everyone should love you. I don’t know why you love me.” It’s become part of the dialogue, part of the script, part of the game. And over the years, my answer has changed. Sometimes it’s teasing, sometimes it’s ooey-gooey. But lately…lately I’ve settled on what I deem the truth. “I love you because you’re you. I love you because you’re my hunny.”
That’s what love is. We don’t just love the things someone does, the words they say, the way they look. We love them. And when we love the core of a person–the place from which all those other things flow–that’s when love roots deep. When it gets at the kind of love God has for us. Our Lord doesn’t love us because we pray or sing or come to church. He loves us. First. Because we are His. Because we are us. And then all those other things…those rise up and overflow from that love. Because He loves us, we learn how to love Him. And when we love Him–not for the things He does or the Words He says, or the way He appears, but for who He is…then our faith becomes unshakable too. Because our faith is just our love for Him.
I certainly didn’t love my babies because they’d done anything right or were great people the moment they were born. I loved them before they were ever even put in my arms because they were them. I didn’t know who that was yet. But I knew they were. And they were mine. Just like David. Just like the family I was born into. Just like my Lord.
On Valentine’s Day, we might give a gift to our special someone (or even many special someones, if you have kids!). We might plan a nice dinner or put on nice clothes. We might try to look our best for them. But if that doesn’t happen this year, you know what? It’s important to remember that those things aren’t part of the why. We don’t love people because they take us out to dinner. We don’t love them because they remember to buy cards. We love them because they’re them. We love them because we can trust them to love us for being us. All those outward things…yes, they can be an indicator of that soul-deep love. But they’re not always. They don’t have to be. People can take all the right actions and not have the right heart. People can have the right heart and not know the actions you want them to take.
Today, this month, this year, let’s not focus on the why. Not in our own lives, and not in other people’s. Let’s not ask why they love the people they do. Let’s praise God for the beauty of love that exists without reason. Love that exists because we do. Love that provides the strength, provides the goodness, provides the words and actions.
Let’s smile, because we know that the answer that may sound like a cop-out is actually the truest answer of all. Why do I love you? Because you are you.