I asked my daughter yesterday what the word love meant to her. She gave me the typical dumb teenager look that means something like a mixture of "why do you ask me such stupid questions" and "I have no idea how to answer your question". Then she quickly glanced at me and blurted out, "I don't know" and just as rapidly looked away so as to indicate to me that she was fine with this conversation being over before it ever really began - and that I should not expect anything in the way of a cognitive response from her.
But since I know that she has been using this word with other people, and knowing that I need to be a father, I pressed her for a more specific answer.
"Not good enough," I retorted. "If you don't know what it means to you, you need to think about it and tell me. I'm waiting."
A bit annoyed at my persistence yet knowing she needed to say something to shut me up, she thought for a minute and then said, "Ummm, I guess when you really really like someone."
Although I can say that I completely disagree with it, I don't fault her for her response. Like and love are often confused and while they can certainly co-exist, they are NOT the same thing. Like is an emotion that is based upon feelings, particularly the feelings of how another person meets (or fails to meet) OUR needs. As such, it is at its core a selfish emotion. As soon as the person that you like stops doing things that make you feel good about yourself, you will stop liking them. Like is an emotion built upon receiving, whether that be receiving compliments, gifts, stature, or pleasure, it is something that you receive from without and not from within.
On the other hand, love is an action of the will. It is something anchored in giving, not receiving, grace and not expectations, and does not cease simply because one's personal preferences have changed. In fact, I do not see love as an emotion at all. I see it as a voluntary act of submission or surrender. I believe that God is love and without him, we are utterly incapable of displaying it. Allegorical scriptures mention humans as clay in God the potter's hands indicating that we need to be moldable, shapable, humble. Other scriptures compare us to a vessel that becomes filled with the life-giving water of God. I believe that we are born empty - pure yet devoid of goodness - but when we voluntarily submit ourselves to God, we allow his character to fill us, and flow through us like we are a conduit. The love that follows is an unconditional acceptance of another person regardless of what they can do for us in return. The conduit example makes sense to me because love is counterintuitive to our basic instincts - indeed it is unnatural. In order to love, we must be submitted to an outside force that allows us to do so. The process of this submission is what I deem one's "salvation experience" and is so life-changing and eye-opening that I cannot imagine a person who has had their eyes opened to it ever giving it up more than temporarily and returning to their prior devoid state.
I often speak to people who have claimed to have had that salvation experience, but then seem to maintain an attitude of pride and selfishness. If it is true that we are merely vessels or conduits, and what's flowing out of us is pride and selfishness, then it goes without saying that what fills us then is not godly. And if we are not filled with godly things, we should not expect godly results from our actions or efforts. If we want to see someone's attitude change, we should first change our own attitude. But to do so just to make them change is nothing but selfish manipulation, it is not love. Love drops our expectations of the other person and puts their well-being ahead of our desires. It does not seek to change a person for our own sake, but seeks to accept them the way that they are, whether they deserve it or (more than likely) not. It's not a glorified position to be in, it seems foolish to most people, and it's not very rewarding many times. But it does bring one thing to your life that nothing else can bring. Peace.
And that's something that's in pretty short supply in this world.