A Definition of Love

by Dr. Lorin Bradbury

Question: I was wondering if you could offer a good definition of love. Can you point me to some good literature that might help me better understand love?

Love is one of those little mysteries in life that is sometimes hard to define. That is especially true since there are many voices attempting to define love. I tried to find a psychological answer, so I went to the research databases of the American Psychological Association (APA) and came up empty.

The best definition of love to date is found in the Bible in the Apostle Paul’s first letter to the Corinthian church in chapter 13, verses 4-7. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” Let’s see what we can learn by examining this classic definition of love.

“Love is patient.” The word “patient” may not be the best definition. The Greek language in which this definition was originally written states that love is “not short suffering.” In other words, it is “longsuffering.” Love will allow us to tolerate unbearable people and situations. This would eliminate such regrets as, “If only I had thought, or listened, before I spoke—or struck.”

“Love is kind.” When love is present, so is kindness. The Phillips translation of the Bible translates this clause as “looking for ways to be constructive.” This eliminates a spirit of brow beating, derision, or undermining self-confidence in family members.

“Love does not envy.” Love is generous. Envy and bitterness go hand in hand, and if left unchecked, are like cancer that will consume the whole body.

“Love does not boast; it is not proud.” Love is humble. It places others ahead of self.

“Love is not rude.” Love is courteous. Lyman Abbot describes courtesy as “the eye that overlooks your friend’s broken gateway but sees the rose which blossoms in his garden.” The ability to recognize and allow for another’s faults and shortcomings will prevent many arguments and hurt feelings.

“Love is not self-seeking.” You can never force someone to love you; you can only give and receive love. To attempt to force someone to love you is coercion and is no longer love. Manipulation in any form is not love.

“Love is not easily angered.” Love is not touchy, irritable, resentful, or easily offended. Love has a good temper.

“Love keeps no record of wrongs.” Love doesn’t keep score. This is the concept of forgiveness. Once one has asked forgiveness, the slate is wiped clean. If forgiveness is absent, whenever stress arises, old stones are thrown at one another. Love looks to the future and is uninterested in keeping score.

“Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, and always perseveres.” Love is an optimist. It believes the best of all, even when there might be some dark appearances.

I hope this is helpful in providing you with a definition of love. For your benefit and the benefit of the readers of this column, I am including a story on love that I found years ago, written by Jane Lindstrom. It is entitled “Tommy’s Essay.”

“A grey sweater hung limply on Tommy’s empty desk. A reminder of the dejected boy who had just followed his classmates from our third grade room. Soon, Tommy’s parents who had recently separated would arrive for a conference on his failing schoolwork and disruptive behavior. Neither parent knew that I had summoned the other. Tommy, an only child, had always been happy, cooperative and an excellent student. How could I convince his father and mother that his recent failing grades represented a broken-hearted child’s reaction to his adored parents’ separation and impending divorce?

“Tommy’s mother entered and took one of the chairs I had placed near my desk. Soon the father arrived. Good! At least they were concerned enough to be prompt. A look of surprise and irritation passed between them, and then they pointedly ignored each other.

As I gave a detailed account of Tommy’s behavior and schoolwork, I prayed for the right words to bring these two together, to help them see what they were doing to their son, but somehow the words wouldn’t come. Perhaps if they saw one of his smudged, carelessly done papers. I found a crumpled tear-stained sheet stuffed in the back of the desk—an English paper—writing covered both sides. Not the assignment, but a single sentence scribbled over and over. Silently, I smoothed it out and gave it to Tommy’s mother. She read it, and then without a word passed it to her husband. He frowned, then his face softened, he studied the scrawled words for what seemed an eternity. At last, he folded the paper carefully and placed it in his pocket. He reached for his wife’s outstretched hand. She wiped the tears from her eyes and smiled at him. My own eyes were brimming, but neither seemed to notice. He helped her with her coat and they left together. In his own way, God had given me the words to reunite that family. He guided me to a sheet of yellow, copy paper covered with the anguished outpouring of a small boy’s troubled heart. The words? “Dear mother, dear Daddy, I love you! I love you!”

Lorin L. Bradbury, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in private practice in Bethel. For appointments, he can be reached at 543-3266. If you have questions that you would like Dr. Bradbury to answer in the Delta Discovery, please send them to The Delta Discovery, P.O. Box 1028, Bethel, AK 99559, or e-mail them to [email protected]

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