What love is
So...now that we've looked at the negative side of what love is not, what exactly should love look like? Is it wrong to care about ourselves or to want people to love us? I think we have to be careful about this question. We are not wrong in wanting to be loved. God created us with a need to be loved. Some of us suppress that need out of fear. But everyone wants to know they are valued by someone else. If no one cares about us at all, then it can lead us into deep depression.
But sometimes I think we imagine that we are not loved because we don't recognize it when it's given. I'll give you an example from my childhood. I craved physical affection from my earliest memory. I don't know why, it's just always been a need - more so when I was young. My dad was not a hugger, though he would never deny me one. He just didn't come seeking them out. He also wasn't one to say, "I love you," very often. (That changed, by the way, when he got older and I grew up. He was affectionate and said some of the most loving things to me that I've ever heard.) But I digress.
My dad's love language was not the same as mine. So for a short time in my childhood, I questioned his love. But I didn't recognize the way he worked hard every day to provide for me. I didn't see how much time he took off work whenever he could to be there for me at school functions, or when my mom had to work. His quiet presence didn't always look like love to others--and it took maturity on my part to see it--but my dad's love was far greater than I realized. You see, he believed these words:
Love is very patient and kind...(love) rejoices whenever truth wins out. If you love someone, you will be loyal to him no matter what the cost. You will always believe in him, always expect the best of him, and always stand your ground in defending him. All the special gifts and powers from God will someday come to an end, but love goes on forever.
And even three years after his homegoing, I still feel my dad's love. Did that mean he never failed and grew impatient or got irritable or touchy or noticed when others didn't act the way they should? Of course not. But the more he read his Bible, the more he became like these verses above.
Love is good. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things, as another version puts it. Love never fails.
People may mistreat us or not act the way we want them to. And we shouldn't allow them to abuse us or use us--that's not being loving toward them. If we want to truly love other people, sometimes we have to let them go their own way. But that doesn't mean we stop caring. It doesn't mean we wouldn't be there in a heartbeat if they had a genuine need. It doesn't mean we would stop praying even if we don't know what to pray for. We pray because we love. We love because God loved us first.
More on that on Valentine's Day.