“Love is a many splendored thing,” says the old song. Love has many hues, many shades, many facets. Love has many features to observe, many marvels to behold. There is so much to love that none of us can ever experience it in all its forms. Not even close. Yet while none of us can ever experience it in all its forms, we really do have the pleasure of experiencing it in many of its forms. Do you ever pause to consider all the different loves you experience?
Just consider some of the different forms of love within a single household. The love of a husband for his wife. The love of a wife for her husband. The love of a father for his daughter. The love of a father for his son. The love of a daughter for her father. The love of a son for his father. The love of a mother for her daughter. The love of a mother for her son. The love of a daughter for her mother. The love of a son for his mother. The love of a brother for a sister. The love of a brother for a brother. The love of a sister for a brother. The love of a sister for a sister. Each of these loves is different in their feelings, their affections, their expectations. Some are gentler and some are fiercer. Some are marked by sobriety and some by silliness. But all are true. All are love.
And we do not need to end there. We could speak of the special love of a father or mother for a child marked by special needs. And we could turn it around to speak of the special love of a disabled child for her father, mother, siblings, and friends—a love that will be different in a child with severe developmental abnormalities than in a child with mild Down syndrome. Yet who hasn’t remarked on the unique love toward and from those with disabilities?
We could add to it the unique love of parents for their adopted children, the love of biological children for their adopted siblings, the love of adopted children for their biological siblings, and the love of adopted children for their parents. We could add even to that the unique love of adopted children for their biological parents whom they may have known or who may always remain unknown, but still loved. And, of course, we could speak of the special love of foster parents for their foster children, or the special love of foster children for their many foster parents, the many people they may have called “mom” and “dad” through the years as they’ve tag-teamed the task of parenting.
We could speak of the love of a mother who has married a widower and adopted his children, making them her own. Isn’t this some of the sweetest love of all—a woman who steps in not just out of love and concern for a man, but out of love and concern for his whole family? Or we could speak of the love of a step-mother who has married into a family marked by divorce and who expresses love for her husband’s children by carefully treading the line between caring for them while not pushing herself into the place rightfully still held by their mother.
All this is love, and we haven’t even moved outside of a single household. What if we add grandparents, aunts, uncles, and cousins to the mix? Who can doubt the special love that grandparents have for their grandchildren and the special affection grandchildren feel toward their parents’ parents? What if we move from the Western world to other cultures where the nuclear and extended families blur in a way unfamiliar to many of us, where aunts and uncles are nearly the equal of moms and dads?
What if we move outside the family altogether and consider friendships? The love of a man for another man. The love of a woman for another woman. The perfectly appropriate love of a man for a woman who is not his wife, and the perfectly appropriate love of a woman for a man who is not her husband. Don’t you have friends of the opposite gender to whom you can say, “I love you” without the least awkwardness or shade of sexual double-meaning? The love of a married couple for another married couple. The love of a man for his friend’s children. The love of children for their parents’ friends. Some of my most precious moments are seeing my children loving my friends and being loved by them in return.
What if we move from friendships to the local church? How could we even begin to qualify or quantify all the love we see there? The love of a pastor for his congregation. The love of a congregation for its pastor. The love of a deacon for the widow, the poor, the unemployed, the disabled. The love of a Sunday school teacher for the young children she teaches. The love of young children for their nursery workers. The love of an elder for his fellow elder. The love of an elder for the deacon who frees him up for the ministry of Word and prayer. The love of a whole congregation for the visitors who just walked through the door. It just never ends! It never stops. We cannot reach the end of love. We cannot describe all of its many forms, each different from all the others, but each genuinely love.
And, of course, we’ve not yet told of the love of God for man and man for God. We’ve not yet told of the love of God for God, the ultimate love, the timeless love, the love that existed before time, before place, before matter, before man. This is the love from which all others proceed, the fountain that feeds every other river and stream of love. The God who loves created a world of love. What a pleasure it is to live in this world, his world, and to experience love as both a giver and a receiver of its infinite forms.