by Annette Bridges. © 2006. All rights reserved.
“I love you this much!” our daughter would say, smiling and stretching her little arms as far apart as she could. And she would ask us to say how much we loved her while we held out our arms and included as many quantifying phrases as we could think of — such as, I love you … more than the number of stars you can count in the sky, or I love you … more than all the people in the world. Oh, how she would giggle with delight at this news!
I guess I’m a bit like my daughter, who is now grown up and married. I can’t help but tell my husband how much I love him, and I love for him to tell me the same. So, there are those times when I ask, “How much do you love me?” And he responds with answers similar to those we used to tell our baby girl.
Recently, after I asked him my “How much do you love me?” question, he sweetly answered and then asked, “But is there a measure for love?” A good question. A profound question, the more I thought about it.
Pondering if it’s possible to measure love, I can’t help but think of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways … .” Her beautiful love sonnet includes such sentiments as “I love thee to the depth and breadth and height my soul can reach” and “I love thee with the breath, smiles, tears, of all my life!” I must admit, to hear such statements of “quantity” would certainly make me feel really loved.
Perhaps it’s not possible or necessary to measure one’s love for another, because our love truly is more than mere words could ever express. And I know the old saying often holds true, “Actions speak louder than words.” But I still want and long for the words, too. Maybe that explains my passion for romantic songs, books, movies and greeting cards.
Consider how weddings almost always include a love song. Couples choose a song or songs that express their feelings for each other. Such romantic ballads have existed for thousands of years and have been found in most cultures. Songwriter and producer Robin Frederick wrote, “The earliest love songs sound so contemporary, so honest, so urgent, they might have been written yesterday. They are proof that human emotions have not changed. When we fall in love today, we feel what men and women felt in centuries past: desire, joy, disappointment, yearning, fulfillment.”
It seems we’ve always loved to tell our beloveds how much we love them, and we cherish having the same sentiments expressed back to us. “An anthropologist once asked a Hopi why so many of his people’s songs were about rain. The Hopi replied, ‘Because water is so scarce. Is that why so many of your songs are about love?'” (“Gila: Life & Death of an American River” by Gregory McNamee)
My answer to this Hopi would have been a resounding “Hardly!”
The American culture’s interest and passion for love is anything but scarce. We may not always have our actions coincide with our desires, but we are in love with love nonetheless. Love is the theme of many of our songs because we long to soothe and inspire our soul with love lyrics. We love hearing about longing for love, finding love, wishing we could find love, as well as when we have found it and want more of it. And yes, we also love lyrics that paint a less rosy picture, expressing our many fears and insecurities about love — losing it or never having found it.
But the Hopi was correct in that many of our songs are indeed about love. In fact, over half of the most popular songs written in America throughout the decades have been, and still are today, on the subject of love.
The subject of many of Jesus’ teachings were on love — love for God and from God, love for our neighbor, and even love for our enemies. Jesus also warned us against the wrong kinds of love — praying aloud because we love to be seen and heard and disproportionate love of our material treasures. His teachings established the basis for how we can measure our love for God by our love for one another.
Paul’s famous words on the extent and reach of God’s love for us is perhaps my very favorite Bible verse: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God … ” (Romans 8:38-39).
Wow! Those words surely quantify the love of God for us as infinite and eternal and sure make me feel very much loved. So, maybe words fail to fully give a measure of love, but that’s no reason to stop trying to express our love — not only in our actions but, yes, also in our words.