This may be a bit controversial for some of you, but I want to address something that has crept it's way into mainstream thinking, both inside and outside of the church. Many of you will probably not agree with me. That's fine. It's my tendency to question and analyze any new concepts, catchphrases, and mantras that I encounter, and this is another that I feel many people have grasped a hold of because it sounds good, sounds meaningful, and sounds right, but in reality it only tells a small part of the story, leaving out a TON of the important stuff. The phrase in question?...
"Love is a choice."
I don't deny that a part of loving is a choice, but it must be emphasized that it is indeed only a part of the larger equation. Love, itself, isn't really a choice at all. To ACT upon it, or to ACT in a loving manner even when devoid of emotion and feelings of love, is a choice - not love in and of itself. Love, in and of itself, is only a verb in a portion of it's meaning. TO love is a verb. I'm afraid the phrase "love is a choice" ultimately devalues the emotional aspect and power of love, and I don't believe for a second that this is something God wants. It also makes for the fodder of warfare for authoritarian types. My ex, for instance, was coerced into believing that she'd made a "choice" to love me, a choice which she could "correct".
Genuine love is unconditional, and that's not really a choice at all. I loved my ex (and still do) unconditionally simply because of the passionate, powerful emotional connection that developed. I can genuinely say that I wouldn't have known how to NOT love her. Trust me, at this point I don't want to love her. The unconditional love I feel for her is now a source of immense pain, and has been for over two years. It probably will be, to gradually lesser degrees, for the rest of my life. There was a point, early on, where a threshold drew near, and as my love for her grew, I had to decide if I was willing to ACT upon that love despite the enormous amount of baggage, despite her legalistic and seemingly crazy family, despite the added stress and nonsense all of this brought into my life. I had to decide while the window was still there, because once that threshold had been crossed, my love for her would become such a strong connection and living entity that walking away would be devastating. I knew I could continue to love her, unconditionally, in spite of all the baggage, and I made the choice to continue acting upon that love. The action was the choice...not the love. Even if I had walked away, my heart would've still burned for her.
The emotion and feeling of love is a powerful, powerful force. It shouldn't be diminished. Ever. Love shouldn't be reduced to a formula or a works-based outcome - "Do this, this, and this, and you'll begin to feel love." Action doesn't produce love. Love produces action. In my opinion, too many Christians completely misappropriate 1st Corinthians 13 and turn it into a formula akin to patriarchy and it's seedy offspring like courtship. Let's look at that scripture...
Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.
Love doesn't come about as a result of being patient, longsuffering, kind, et cetera. Those things come about, in various shapes, sizes, and intensities, because you love. 1st Corinthians 13 isn't a list of rules. That bears repeating - 1st Corinthians 13 isn't a list of rules. It also isn't a formula, "do these things and love will develop", that solves all ills.
1st Corinthians 13 is a list of FRUITS.
As such, some things have to be considered. Does every apple tree produce the same number of apples? If Tree A produces one bushel, Tree B produces ten bushels, and Tree C produces one apple - does this mean that any of these trees are more or less an apple tree than any of the others? Absolutely not.
The fact is, few, if any, of us other than Christ have ever demonstrated ALL of those fruits simultaneously even in our most loving and passionate moments. That doesn't in any way suggest a lack of love on our part. It may suggest that we don't always make the best of choices in how to ACT upon our love, but it doesn't render us loveless. But it's SO important to remember that being patient (just as one example) doesn't make you love others. You're patient with others BECAUSE you love. This is a dynamic that gets royally screwed up in fundamentalist quarters, where what you do takes precedence over who you are, where symbolism and appearance is more valuable than substance. In that dynamic, it's more important to appear patient, kind, longsuffering, et cetera, than it is to actually love and feel love.
Love is an emotion first and foremost. I don't love Christ because I walk with Him. I walk with Him because I love Him and that connection to Him burns within my heart. I love my neighbor as myself because the love of Christ burns in my heart. Yes, there are people in my life, in all of our lives, who are hard to love by conventional means, so to those I "choose" to extend the love of Christ which burns in my heart - which is rooted in emotion and feeling.
While 1st Corinthians 13 shows us the fruits of love, for a picture of love as God intends it, take a look at the Song of Solomon. Two hearts aflame, burning with wholesome and pure passion - a snapshot of the relationship Christ desires with the church. Not one of duty and obligation. One of desire.
I pity those in fundamentalist backgrounds who are indoctrinated to believe that their hearts are evil and emotions only deceive, that love is a "choice" carried out through dutiful works. I fear that many young women in fundamentalist families make a "choice" to love a man for whom there's no passion, for whom Song of Solomon doesn't register, all to meet the demands of a formula, hoping, to no avail, that the fruit will produce the tree.
When it's been used as a weapon against you, when you still feel the intense pain of love far beyond the scope of choice, it takes on a larger meaning and it's tough to accept a very partial platitude that's become something of a thought stopper in speaking for the whole of an issue so much more vast than the platitude.
You can't turn it off. You can choose to be loving, to ACT in and on love, but you can't choose love. I wish to God you could.