How to Love
Program 2: Love is Giving
by Ernest O'Neill
"How to Love." How do you love another person? How do you love your friend, or your wife, or your son, or your daughter? That's what we're discussing these days at this time, "How do You Love?"
Everybody says that's the right thing to do. Everybody believes loving is what the world needs more of. All our songs talk about love and say that if there was more love, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love", all the problems of societies, all the psychological difficulties that so many of us meet, all the perversions that we even create in our own lives are attributed to our lack of love.
When a person has trouble identifying themselves with others, or a person has trouble with their own identity or a person has trouble with their sense of self-esteem or self-worth, we always immediately say, "Oh, they hadn't enough love." When our schools fail to produce students that are literate, we have a tendency to say, "There isn't enough love in the teachers for their students." So everything that fails in our lives, personal, social, and national, we tend to attribute to the lack of this quality or this factor which we call 'love'.
Now of course, there is a great deal of difference in our opinions of what love is. In fact, there's a great deal of ignorance about what love is. I think many of us wonder, "Now, how do you love? Okay, you want me to love more. All right, I'm sure I should love more. I'm sure I should love my friends at work more. But how do you love?" So that's what we're beginning to discuss these mornings.
One Definition of Love
We started with one of the most famous definitions of love that probably all of us have come across, whether we're religious or non-religious, that is the definition that runs, you remember, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." Some of you will say, "Oh, well, I mean, that's the greatest love. There's no love greater than that. We would like something at a slightly lower level and a little less demanding." But all of us have the feeling that that definition of love is the right one. Indeed, we have a feeling that if we aim at something less than that, we end up with something that isn't love at all, and actually, that is the paradox. The secret, way at the heart of this thing called love, is unless you love fully and completely, you aren't really loving. So let's look for a few moments at this definition, "Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." What does that mean?
Well, obviously, it means that love is at least giving. It's giving, because the quotation runs, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends." That is, laying down your life is giving away your life. So, it is at least giving, and indeed it seems more than that, doesn't it? It's not just giving a book, or giving a gun, or giving a car or giving some candy at St. Valentine's Day. It's not just giving a present of a dress or a hat at Christmas time. It seems to be involved with giving yourself, because the definition is, "Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
In other words, the greatest love you could possibly ever give a person is to lay down your life for them. That is, to give your own life, to give yourself for them. Probably, that's the most important thing we need to see at this stage in thinking about love. When you talk about love, you're not talking about kindness. You're not talking about generosity. You're not talking about philanthropy. You're not talking about giving things to a person. You're talking about giving yourself to a person, giving of yourself. If you lay down your life, you're laying down something pretty important.
So, loving is giving yourself, at least part of yourself to others, because some of us might say, "Oh, well, now that's the greatest love. I mean, there is no love greater than laying down your life. Alright, then, let's step back a little from that. Then a little less love than that would at least be laying down part of your life." So one could say, "Well, the degrees of love you have are measured by how much of your life you lay down for another person."
Now I think as we go on in our discussion, we'll see that that is not adequate as a definition of love but even if one wanted to be as literal as one could be, and perhaps as miserly as one could be about one's definition of love, at least one would go along those lines. If the greatest love is to lay down your life, then a lesser love is to lay down part of your life, but it's still laying down part of your life. That's what love is. It's giving your life to others. It's giving yourself to others, but it's not giving things to others, or giving presents to others.
It's giving part of yourself to another person. That's why love brings something home to a person's heart that nothing else does. It means that they sense you are so concerned about them that you actually give part of yourself to them -- you give the most precious thing you have, which is yourself. You give yourself to them in some way, either giving your time to them, or giving your talents to them, or your abilities, laying them at their disposal, or giving your attention to them, or giving your interest to them, or giving your heart to them. But it's giving part of yourself to another person. That's what love is.
Giving Things or Giving Yourself
Love is not a kind of self-conscious, mechanical, detached, philanthropic attitude which kind of shows a little interest in a person and shows a little care for a person, or shows a little concern for a person. Love is not a kind of attitude that you turn on in order to give a person a certain feeling that you have a concern for them. Love is essentially a spontaneous thing, a giving of yourself, an issuing forth of your own heart, a laying down of your own life for another person. So, love is giving yourself. It's not giving things.
Many of us, I think, miss the whole point of love because we don't realize that. In fact, there is good ground for saying that love is not love unless it has some of that heart attitude behind it that is ready to give the whole life. So, in a sense, though an act of love might not be much less than giving your whole life, or laying down your life, yet that only comes home to a person as love if behind it is the heart attitude that is ready to lay down your life if that is necessary.
It is probably true that a human being does not feel an attitude of love from you unless there is in your own heart a readiness to lay down your life for them if that is necessary. It's that sense that they have that you're ready to do that, that imparts to the particular action or statement that you make to them -- a feeling of love in it for them.