Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Love is...

True or false? "Love is the will to extend one's self for the purpose of nurturing one's own or another's spiritual growth." (M. Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled)

I hate to disagree with the late Dr. Peck -- a brilliant writer by the way -- but his definition doesn't really suffice. Two decades earlier, Merton had this correction: "...love implies an efficacious will not only to do good to others exteriorly but also to find some good in them to which we can respond." (No Man Is an Island, p.170) You probably guessed this, but I believe Merton was really on to something here.

I mean, think of it. Boy meets girl, and after some time has passed, he declares his love for her. Candlelight, roses, wine, and then this: "Sweetheart, I'm willing to extend myself to further your spiritual growth."

She takes his hand, gazes into his eyes, and replies: "I love you too, dearest."

Yeah, right. Even outside the realm of romance, "I love you" usually means more than "I'm committed to your growth." We mean more than that when we say it, and we want it to mean more than that when we hear it. I mean really, how affirming is it to hear "I'm committed to your growth"? When I tell the lovely Carol, "I love you," I mean a number of things:

  • Yes, I'm willing to extend myself to further her growth, but also that:
  • I want the best for her and
  • I want to be with her, because
  • there's a lot I admire and respect about her and also because
  • she is, as one speaker put it, so cute and fine.
I think I'll stop there.


One benefit of an imperfect memory is the frequent joy of re-discovery. I wrote the above in August—i.e., about 16 months ago. Last night, I picked up Merton's No Man Is an Island and found that passage on page 170. I thought it brilliant and wanted to write about it this morning—having forgotten that I'd already referred to the exact same page in this post. The passage begins on p.169 with this brilliant observation:

6. We are obliged to love one another. We are not strictly bound to “like” one another. Love governs the will: “liking” is a matter of sense and sensibility. Nevertheless, if we really love others it will not be too hard to like them also.

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