Eyeing the sugary variety before me, I would survey all the confections in the glass cases. Lush caramels speckled with almonds. Sugar-coated pastel dots of licorice. But what entranced me most were the prettily wrapped boxes of heart-shaped chocolates. They were festooned with lace and plastic flowers and wrapped in bright red cellophane with questions like “Be mine, valentine?” emblazoned on top.
As a sugar-crazed little girl browsing the local candy shop in our small town, I’d imagine my parents buying the biggest box for me to proclaim how much they loved me, or the cute boy from my class surprising me with one of the massive boxes on Valentine’s Day. Hope would rise in me that I would be one of the special girls who received such a gift. And then there would be disappointment when the day brought no such grand gestures of love—even if I did receive a bag filled with Scooby-Doo valentines and chalky candy hearts, and my dad made my siblings and me heart-shaped pancakes.
Valentine’s Day would pass—the cellophane tossed in the trash—but the longing still remained: I wanted to feel special. Even at that young age I was asking the question: “Do I belong to someone? Am I treasured?”
Valentine’s Day seemed to heighten those questions in my mind and continued to do so when I was a single high-school and college student. And those questions followed me right on into my marriage as I would envision my husband displaying his lavish love for me in gifts that surpassed candy-store hearts.
Different Kinds of Love
In Galatians, love is the first fruit of the Spirit listed. Perhaps that’s because love is what enables us to develop the other fruits of the Spirit in our lives, paving the way for what God wants to do in our hearts.
C. S. Lewis, in his book The Four Loves, wrote about storge (affection), philia (friendship), eros (romance), and agape (unconditional love), based off of John’s statement in Scripture “God is love” (1 John 4:8). In examining the roles of these various kinds of love, Lewis provides a picture that is beyond what’s typically portrayed in sitcoms or found in Target aisles stuffed with now-75-percent-off chocolate. It’s a picture that’s broader, even, than the longings in our hearts that ask the same questions I asked as a child: “Do I belong to anyone? Am I treasured?”
God’s resounding answer is always, “Yes, yes, yes! I am pouring my love out to you through Christ. Do you see it?”
If we look as Lewis did, we find that love is expressed to us daily in many varieties, from the tight hug given by a small child to the kind words a friend or roommate speaks to us to a passionate smooch from a spouse. But most importantly, it’s expressed to us in an unceasing, always-and-forever love from the God who created us and treasures us. A God who wants not only to lavish his love on us but also to overflow our hearts so that we would do the same for others.
When we actually stop to reflect on the different ways God is expressing his love to us and through us, gratitude wells up in our hearts. We begin to become thankful for how we are loved rather than resentful about what we believe we are missing in life. Gratitude leads to love and can serve as our starting place, instead of the things we think will help us feel treasured. When we are grateful it’s as if our heart peeks out of the despondent hole it’s been moping in and realizes, “Hey! I’ve been loved all along!” Gratitude tills the soil of our hearts so that the fruit of love can grow and ripen.
God is love. And God is always present. This means his love is always available and always present in our lives. What would it mean for you to become more aware of his presence today and to express gratitude for his love for you? How can you express the affection, friendship, or unconditional love that Lewis wrote about to a friend, neighbor, or roommate?
Image by twentyonehundred productions team member Matt Kirk.