Today I received one of those cute e-mails that circulates among family and friends. It was about the responses from very young children when they were asked what love is. I realize that we’re supposed to just appreciate these e-mails and pass them along, but this one included some very profound truths, “from the mouths of babes.”
There is a lot of misunderstanding about what love is. However, in Biblical terms, there are three types of love: friendship love; sexual love; and, Godly love. The children’s responses actually addressed all three types.
Many of the children talked about love in terms of affection. One child said, “Love is like a little old woman and a little old man who are still friends even after they know each other so well.” This indicates a friendship type of love, where we enjoy each other’s company, and we like to do things together, even if we have to overlook some of the faults of the other person.
Another child said, “Love is when your puppy licks your face even after you left him alone all day.” This is also friendship love, which can even exist in a young child’s relationship with his pet, as well as in his relationships with other people.
One of the children had a different kind of response when she said, “Love is when you kiss all the time. Then when you get tired of kissing, you still want to be together and you talk more.” This indicates a sexual type of love, in addition to a friendship type of love. This child was describing a man and a woman who love each other in a physical / sexual way, and she also noticed that they were good friends–enjoying each other’s company and conversation.
Then this e-mail addressed the type of love that the Bible refers to as Godly love (“agape”)–a mental attitude free of any bitterness or ill will. Some of the children captured this type of love in their responses. One said, “Love is when Mommy gives Daddy the best piece of chicken.”
Another child said, “Love is when you go out to eat and give somebody most of your French fries without making them give you any of theirs.”
If you love someone, you are truly willing to pursue the welfare of that person. This means that you want what’s best for them, to the extent that you’re willing to make sacrifices so that person can indeed have what’s best for them. The examples about sharing food with someone you love does indeed indicate this sacrificial type of love.
The e-mail also included the following story from author and lecturer Leo Buscaglia:
A four-year-old child’s next-door neighbor was an elderly gentleman who had recently lost his wife. Upon seeing the man cry, the little boy went into the old gentleman’s yard, climbed onto his lap, and just sat there. When his Mother later asked what he had said to the neighbor, the little boy said, “Nothing, I just helped him cry.”
C.S. Lewis said that when you love someone, you want to take that person’s suffering onto yourself. In fact, 1 John 3:16-17 says, “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers.”
Perhaps the best description of Godly love was from a child who said, “When my grandmother got arthritis, she couldn’t bend over and paint her toenails anymore. So my grandfather does it for her all the time, even when his hands got arthritis too. That’s love.”
Although many people misunderstand what love is, I believe that this child definitely had the right idea. This grandfather had a mental attitude of Godly love toward his wife. He wanted what was best for his wife. I’m sure that painting toenails wasn’t one of his favorite hobbies. Like most men, he probably didn’t even understand how painted toenails could be very important at all, in the grand scheme of things. Yet, he knew that it was important to his wife. So, he was not only willing to perform this act of love for her, but he also did it repeatedly. He even showed that his love for his wife was sacrificial. Even when “his hands got arthritis too,” he endured the pain, just so that his wife could have painted toenails.
I believe that the key to this Godly love is the characteristic of being unselfish. If a husband truly loves his wife, he doesn’t find faults in her; neither in the things she enjoys, nor where she might have failed to live up to his expectations. Instead, he unselfishly wants her to have the best things, even if he has to make sacrifices to acquire those things for her.