What Is Love?

smiling father and child

Worldly Love …

I’m not going to lie. I hate rejection and am far too fond of the world’s approval. When a person doesn’t like something about me I’m often too thin-skinned. I’m in awe of people who let things  roll off their backs.

Lately I’ve been realizing that my definition of love — what I really believe it to be deep down — is something related to people telling me I’m great in exchange for me telling them they’re great. So basically take-take relationships have been my thing.

Selfless Love …

I do occasionally have  true moments of unselfishness but I have to admit they are moments when I am kind to animals or people who won’t tax me too much. Animals, in particular, aren’t able to write negative reviews of the home-cooked meals I make for them but then they don’t mind eating trash and roadkill either so …

The other night I decided to look at the  book reviews that had just been posted on Amazon. A few weren’t as wonderful as I always want them to be. Here I will also admit that people who leave one star reviews on free books are very taxing to me (hey, I’m human).

I whined to my husband. He always brings me to the heart of the matter. “You want to put yourself out there, so you have to be able to take the heat. Do you think Trump spends time worrying about reviews?”

Yeah. Let’s not talk politics, but my husband of course was right. People write negative reviews on everything from pavement sealer to the Bible. Why should I expect to be liked all the time? Some of you remember that I don’t leave negative reviews online but that hasn’t stopped me from trashing movies, books, politicians and so on to friends and neighbors. I’ve also fallen out of love with people.

Anyway, since I’m reflecting on life’s purpose these days I’m reconsidering my definition of love as that happy feeling when everyone likes me and I like them. It turns out, that in general, I’m not even marginally good at selfless love.


I basically love the following reader who left this review of THE HOUSE ON TENAFLY ROAD:
“This is a love story from the first. So much love between two people. The story is wonderful. I want to read the whole series.”
Yet I find it harder to love this reader:
“I have never read anything so dreary, sad, depressing, and frustrating in all my life!! It took me forever, I had to force myself to finish it.”

Yet these two opposing views made me consider love even more. I get the desire for uncomplicated feel-good stories about love, but I’m incapable of writing them. I’ve never found love easy. Surface romance is fun but it ends so quickly. It ends because romance is always about drawing attention to oneself until that point when you can no longer keep up the facade of being a truly marvelous soul.

Romantic Love vs. Biblical Love …

On that day or soon after both partners have to decide if it’s better to run or stay. Staying means you have to enter into the Biblical meaning of love which can be not only difficult but also horrible in many ways. Yes, you begin to discover that your partner is so damned selfish and too hard on the kids. He’s quite possibly insane (or so you think when he disagrees with you). When this person isn’t spending all of his time reflecting you back to yourself in a positive way and begins to question your sanity, well then, it’s no rom-com.

Possibly because I have such trouble sacrificing my desires in acts of love (and also find that my passions are fleeting and that my eyes wander), I’ve always been interested in the after stories of the happily-ever-after stories. You know, when things get real.

Tortured Love …

But getting real means you have to be strong enough to deal with people who won’t like what you have to say. On second thought I have compassion for the reviewer  who just couldn’t like my story about a love that endures great hardship. I couldn’t  endure a similar relationship in real life and I really, really loved the guy (or thought I did).

Now that I’m older I see the promise in sacrificial love. I’ve done it once or twice and wonder in those moments why I don’t do it more often. Laying down every expectation comes with a weird peace that goes against my controlling tendencies. It usually brings about better outcomes (in the long run). For me I can only do it with God’s help in the form of daily digging into Scripture. My worldly self sees no reason to give myself to anything that doesn’t reflect back on me glowingly.

The Creator’s Love …

The gift that God has given me in writing  novels is an insight as to how God loves us despite our miserable behavior and hardened hearts. I tell the truth about my characters because I’m  compelled to do so in search of  greater truth. This may sound pretentious but why do we tell ourselves stories anyway? I told the Tenafly Road story because one day I was asked to let surrender my romantic ideas about love and let a different kind of love flow in — a love that believes that the lowliest sinner is offered a place in the kingdom.

Redeeming Love …

I write about these lowly people because I know where I come from (and it’s pretty low). I write because I know that deep love is hard and miserable sometimes. I’d always had a hard time imagining a God who really loved people until He showed me a creator’s love for the created. God in His wisdom and with His sense of humor got my attention when I first set out to write against Christianity years ago. No matter how I tried to get around it, I kept bumping into my own desire to redeem John Weldon and the rest.

And so after a few days reflection I’m ready to admit that I still have a lot to do when it comes to loving people who leave negative reviews or critique my cooking. Deep love brings with it risks, but I want to take God at His word that loving deeply is worth it.

Finally I got this review and it kind of sums up my feelings about life which  makes sense since I wrote the book. 🙂

“Not sure what I think of this book on its whole. A list of dysfunctional characters all so full with faults. But so well written I had to keep reading. Characters so frustrating one wants to slap them but so human one keeps hoping for the best for them.”

I want to know what you all think LOVE means in the comments. Have any of you survived a tortured love story? Do you like reading them?

The Tenafly Road Series
“Characters so deep you follow them into the abyss, hoping to come out unscathed, but never returning the same. They will haunt me forever.”

26 responses to “What Is Love?”

  1. Bad reviews always hurt, but I think most especially for folks sensitive enough to write about real people and ask the kinds of questions you ask. Choosing to remain silent, however, is no easier, even if it seems safer.

    As for love–you’re right — we often equate love with romance or attraction or any number of other things. Greek conveniently offered different words for love, but this is one place English comes up short — and why many of us fall back on using the Greek agape when discussing the type of love you’re describing when you relate your desire to see your troubled character redeemed.

    There are no easy answers to the questions you’re asking — but there are good answers. Selfless love is always the one that both strengthens the one who loves and helps those around him or her. It makes the world a better place. It saves people. The only encouragement I find is the one you’ve found, in Scripture. When someone attacks or criticizes, I remind myself that Jesus was perfect and loved perfectly, and that created powerful enemies (though also devoted followers).

    As for loving people who leave horrible reviews — it is good to remember that love does not mean like. Selfless love means you want the best for them despite their negativity, and you give up any idea of getting even. You can still dislike the review. Like God, who loved and saved us despite not accepting the way we too often behave.

    So I try to differentiate between nasty comments and potentially constructive ideas, and then I try to just let go. Sometimes, the criticism will be because a reader detects an idea that makes them uncomfortable, such as redemption. Sometimes the negativity is a matter of taste. I don’t like liver, some do. But I don’t think any more about it. Because it can keep you from writing if you don’t let it go — and I can’t see how that would be a good thing.

    Sorry I can’t drop by and have a cup of tea with you and offer encouragement, because you have so many good, important thoughts.


    • I’d love to chat over tea — my new favorite is Constant Comment Bigelow tea. Have you tired it? I don’t know what took me so long.

      I blame my parents. My mother taught us to be opinionated and my father taught us how to not rock the boat and do it with a smile. We’re a mess. LOL.

      A friend called yesterday who reminded me of the scene in The Passion of the Christ when he embraces his cross. Obviously bad reviews are very minor crosses but the bigger cross is being way too sensitive about the wrong things. Sensitivity can be used for good, but in my experience that only happens when I’m relying on God. In my own strength I feel too much.
      When I was a young girl I stopped eating because I realized that hunger pains dulled emotional pain. I thought I found a way to control life but it wasn’t until years later that I slowly began to realize that you have to lean into the pain sometimes before you can get through it. As a timid creature it’s only through God’s strength that I have had breakthroughs. But i have to remind myself of this far too often. 🙂

      It’s funny how God used my emotional sponge type personality to write books about love and suffering –so there He goes again “All things work together for good for those who love God and are called to his purpose.” Even the negative review gave me an idea for a post that led my friends here on wordpress to have a nice talk!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Have you ever encountered the book “The Highly Sensitive Person” by Elaine Aron? There are genetic reasons many of us are more sensitive than those around us. It makes us very good for some things, but not so good for others. Fortunately, the things we’re not so good at are the things that drive us to God — so as you note, all things work together. But Aron’s book does help with a few tips on how to maximize the benefits and lessen the problems of being an HSP.


  2. Ah yes. We are not for everyone. I struggle with the same–a thick skin comes and goes. But those your message/stories DO resonate with are grateful, I’m sure. And that’s everything right there:).


  3. This is a complex essay bringing up many issues. Thank you for providing lots of room for thought. One thing to consider, and it was mentioned by WaltzingAustralia, is the word “love” is used to relate an entire universe of emotions and situations. It’s inadequate.

    You make an assumption that your readers, all of them, understand your use of the word exactly as you intend – which is the problem with writing. We assume that all readers not only grasp exactly what we’re trying to convey in our stories, but that they come to our books with the same expectations, histories, and experiences by which they can evaluate it.


    • LOL, Shari, you always push me to think deeper.

      I think my point (about myself) is that despite knowing that love comes in many forms I want to have the world adore me. Haha.

      I know that readers come to books expecting different things but it doesn’t stop me from wanting their adoration. I also know that even if I received the adoration it wouldn’t be enough. That’s the trick of the ego (or the devil, maybe).

      I want my review average to be good even as I know myself that certain types of fiction only appeal to certain types of people but when I’m having a silly temper tantrum I just don’t care. 🙂

      The particular negative review I shared actually didn’t bother me that much because I know my book is a sad one and even I have trouble reading sad stories. I was more interested in the fact that one person saw a lot of love and the other only misery.

      I don’t say this with false humility or anything but I feel that I’m in a sanctification process and God is showing me one of the big things that holding me back from a joyful life and it is this unhealthy obsession with human approval instead of God’s approval.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. I think love–not “romantic” love but real love–can be boiled down to willingness to serve and sacrifice. Am I willing to serve my boyfriend by straightening up his room or putting away his laundry or buying his lunch? Additionally, am I willing to sacrifice the need for recognition every time I do him a favor or the urge inside me to nag him about the fact that I do him favors? If I love my mom who is allergic to animals, am I willing to sacrifice the idea of ever having indoor pets so she is always welcome in my home? If I love my friend with the flu, am I willing to serve them by driving to their house with homemade soup?

    Jesus came to serve us and sacrifice for us.


  5. One of my favorite books is Carolyn See’s, Making a Literary Life, in which she says several humorous and true things. One is: “There is no better cure for a bad review than a thank you note.” Also, her advice is golden: “Learn how to say ‘thank you’ and ‘no kidding’”. You say “thank you” when you get a compliment, and when someone insults your work, you say “No kidding.” It’s a hilarious book and full of great suggestions.


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