When I was a young girl I heard my first real bit of advice about love, and it went something like this: if you read 1 Corinthians 13 and cannot replace the word love with a special someone’s name, then that’s not your person.

Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.

The New Testament, An American Translation, by Edgar Goodspeed, Professor of Biblical and Patristic Greek at The University of Chicago, 1923

I dismissed that advice, and I’ve thought a lot about that in the last couple of years. And as the month of February approached, the month of love, I decided to actively focus my thoughts on what love really is. How it behaves. What it looks like.

We celebrate a day of love in the middle of the month and almost everything about how we celebrate that day is not really about love. Chocolates, flowers, dinner, and sometimes jewelry. One of my clever young pals pointed out those things all fall into one of three categories: (1) what’s expected, (2) what’s lazy, or (3) what’s safe and won’t send the wrong message. I thought he was being silly, but upon further reflection he’s actually quite right.

As February began, I made a decision to look each day for acts of love and to keep a list of my observations in my phone – and I was completely moved day after day with my findings. I found that focusing on love is not unlike focusing on your blessings in that the more you look for examples the more you will notice.

  • Fanning the back of a neck after noticing a spouse is warm and not feeling their best
  • Holds eye contact, even with phone buzzing
  • Spouse upset on phone – how can I help? (not tell me what you want me to do, which is another task, but an offer and a genuine understanding of all they do and that they are overwhelmed)
  • Proudly telling others about their spouse when they are not around – proud of who they are as an individual
  • Starting a car and cleaning off the windshield so that a spouse comes out to a warm vehicle
  • Voicemail: I know you’ve got a lot, just leave me a message so I can hear your voice and I’ll know that you’re ok.
  • Looks down at their phone to see spouse calling, and smiles – a display of love the recipient didn’t even see
  • Mutual reaching out to grasp the other during a prayer
  • Speaking a truth in safety: I’m exhausted
  • Receiving a truth in safety: I get you need space
  • I can’t help, but I can give you a hug.
  • Using a walker but holding hands
  • Good morning quote message, Ralph Waldo Emerson: Most of the shadows of life are caused by standing in our own sunshine.

What did I learn this month as I observed and as I experienced? Love is in the noticing. Love is not offering silence, or tacit approval, when we see someone we love behaving in ways that hurt themselves or others. Love is not needy; it’s giving. It works on equal partnership, instead of taking advantage of inequity. It’s in the celebration of another without jealousy. It involves effort. And respect. It honestly values the thoughts of the other. It sometimes sacrifices personal wants for the needs, or even just the wants, of another. Love sets boundaries. Love doesn’t need to sell itself. It’s not in a display. It doesn’t compete. It doesn’t race. Love embraces. It believes the best. It trusts. Love shares and confides.

When you Google the word genuinely you’ll see it means “in a truthful way” or “to the fullest degree; properly.” Love is and does a thousand things in addition to what I saw and recorded this month, but I think perhaps most importantly I learned this…

Love genuinely smiles and love smiles genuinely.

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