There are many definitions of love, some better than others. Christ commanded us to love, but did not leave us with a clear definition of what love is. One of my favorite definitions of love is that it is “practical concern”. This description of love is simple and direct. Moreover, it lends itself to a host of examples that prove the point. I offer an example culled from my experience as a father.
When a friend of our family left for a vacation in Florida, she left us in charge of her little Cairn Terrier. We were happy to take care of “Rosie,” but had not anticipated the stir she was going to cause among other canine residents in our neighborhood.. Rosie’s time had arrived, a hormonal event that did not go undetected by a veritable barrage of keen-smelling male suitors. The situation did not constitute a problem, however, since Rosie lived a highly chaperoned life with our family. But the day arrived when a Collie mongrel came onto the scene, an unsavory character who was destined to earn the unflattering appellation—Cujo.
Cujo’s puppy years in an auto-body shop did not prepare her for peaceful interaction with human beings. Furthermore, she showed up at our house one day with a single-minded purpose that did not include making friendly responses to children who were coming home from school to have lunch. When our eight-year-old daughter offered a friendly hand to pat her unexpected visitor, the dog reacted by biting her on the face.
I was in the kitchen putting the finishing touches to the gourmet delicacy I was preparing—fried bacon—when my daughter entered the house stating in mournful tones that she did not like that dog. Her disappointment over the Collie’s uncongenial behavior distracted her from the trickle of blood that was making its way down her cheek.
A whirlwind of thoughts entered my mind. I instructed Peter and Paul , who arrived just behind Elizabeth, to finish the bacon. Feeling reassured that the homestead was not going up in flames, I then carried Elizabeth up to bed and administered First Aid. It was clear to me that stitches were needed to close the tear. A trip to the emergency room of the nearby hospital was in order.
I broke the news to her gently in the more pleasant context of her not having to return to school that afternoon and that her lunch would be prepared, not by me, but by McDonald’s. She would then enjoy a couple of children’s videos that she would select as soon as the hospital inconvenience was over. All in all, it looked like a good deal.
Having settled sundry matter of practical import, we were soon off to the hospital. The kind doctor informed my daughter that her four stitches would be the tiniest pin-pricks she would ever feel. It wasn’t exactly that painless, but the doctor’s reassuring word in closing her fears were as important as the stitches that closed her tear.
We were soon back home. The application of a McDonald’s hamburger to her digestive system, the distracting spectacle of an animated cartoon, and a fatherly arm around her shoulder provided sufficient restoration to her briefly shaken spirit. She felt, on balance, that she had come out ahead. In fact, so much so, that she was disposed to extend forgiveness to the maverick Collie that had set her day apart from the ordinary forevermore. Besides, she wore a bade of honor on her left cheek and a harrowing tale to tell her friends at school.
When Rosie’s owner learned about the incident, she presented Elizabeth with a few gifts that were a much appreciated dividend. Would that all injuries might occasion such compensatory benefits.
We commonly think of love in terms of emotion, of passion, or even ecstasy. Love may require a heart full of feeling; but it also may require a pocket full of quarters for the hospital parking lot. The best definition of love we need so that we can respond lovingly on a day-to-day basis is that love is practical concern.
Life is fundamentally a practical affair. Therefore love as practical concern fits nicely into our every day existence. And as practical concern, love is taken out of the realm of the ambiguous and solidly planted where it is easily appreciated and easily returned.
Photo by Juliane Liebermann on Unsplash