The other night, I was in the kitchen working on dinner when I overheard a conversation between Theo and Oliver. Theo was telling Oliver that he loved him.
“I love you because I’m gentle to you,” Theo said.
I smiled to myself, because though they weren’t exactly being gentle to each other, I knew what he was getting at. And his heart was in the right place.
We try to steer clear of abstract terms and principles with the kids. It’s all fine and dandy to encourage your kids to say ‘I love you’ to each other, and we do, but it’s best when followed up with an explanation of what love looks like. Otherwise, it remains an abstract term, and it takes kids years before they start to understand abstract thought (most people say around the age of 9).
“Love is gentle,” I tell the boys. It looks like a soft touch, a kind word, a hug when the other person is crying.
Love does this.
Love is that.
This is what it looks like.
Theo might not know exactly what love is, but he knows what it’s supposed to look like. It’s a starting point. It’s a place to grow love and the understanding of what love is…and what it is not.
Love is gentle.
Love is not harsh words. Love is not defending one own’s position. Love is not waiting for the other person to apologize first. Love is not an icy demeanor. Love is not cynicism. Love is not expecting the worst.
Love is a soft response. Love is seeking to understand. Love is apologizing first. Love is warmth. Love trusts. Love assumes the best.
Love is gentle.
One of the definitions of gentle is “easy to handle.”
Is your love easy to handle, dear one?
I know there have been times in my marriage where I’ve offered up a love that is anything but easy to handle. We have all been there. We get our feelings hurt because of disappointed expectations, a sense of being wronged, or maybe we are just lonely. And so we turn our disappointments and our hurts and our fears into something harsh, into something hard, into something wild and unruly.
We want our love to be fair, but love isn’t really fair, is it? Love could never be “free from bias,” as the definition goes. No, love is derived from all that we are, and all that we hope to be. We pour all of ourselves into love, so it could never ever be fair, not really.
But it can be gentle. We can be gentle.
It’s not that we can’t hope or expect or desire. It’s that we keep our love and our loving soft, so that as we navigate the sometime rocky and uncertain waves of love, we don’t bruise the other person, but come out of it better and stronger. It’s about allowing our love to be malleable – shapeable – easy to handle. The stormy looks and cutting words might change our love, but never into the thing we hope it to be. Gentleness, though, with all it’s softness and humility, has the ability to transform love into something lasting and true.
This is what love looks like.