Our culture is obsessed with love. From songs and television to marketing and social media, we're inundated with stories of love and ideas of happily-ever-afters for ourselves.
Even though our culture is filled with persons of different ideologies, political beliefs, and religious views, it's universally understood that every one of us desires love.
What Actually Is Love?
Yet where we differ is in our understandings of love – and I’m talking about romantic love fostered in relationships, not the overly sexualized and sensationalized notions of “love” that pop-culture and tabloids promote.
It seems that a common perception of love is that you always try to make the other person happy – or at least, you try never to make them unhappy. Most of us would probably agree that when you love someone, you don’t want him to feel pain, to experience sadness, or ever to feel that you don't love him back – and so we try not to let any of those things happen!
We're also encouraged, though, to only “do what makes us happy” – and when it comes to relationships, this seems self-destructive. After all, if we're trying to make the other person happy and it conflicts with our own happiness...what are we supposed to do?
True love desires the good of the other above all things.
The reality is that true love doesn’t just focus on the happiness of the other person conjoint to our own happiness. True love desires the good of the other above all things. And the most genuine love comes from self-sacrifice.
Real Love Means Self-Sacrifice
You were probably forced to read A Tale of Two Cities in your high school English class. I was, and, contrary to popular high school opinions, I fell in love with this story. Charles Dickens tells the tale of a beautiful girl named Lucie and her father escaping from the terrors of the French Revolution. Lucie falls in love (spoiler alert) with Charles Darnay, a French nobleman who is arrested and ordered to be put to death for his noble lineage. Enter Sidney Carton, the low-functioning but brilliant lawyer. In an act of heroic bravery, Sidney sneaks into the prison, switches places with Darnay, and goes to death by guillotine the next day.
Why? Well, he had been in love with Lucie as well – and when he realized how much she loved Darnay, he heroically gave her up and told her that he would “embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you.” Perhaps his words were slightly dramatic in the moment – but when push came to shove, he laid down his life so that Lucie could be happy with her husband. “It is a far, far better thing that I do than I have ever done,” he says as he dies, “It is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”
When Carton realized how much Lucie loved Darnay, he heroically gave her up and told her that he would “embrace any sacrifice for you and for those dear to you.”
Sacrificing self for love – really, nothing is more beautiful than this. Of course, sacrificing oneself for the good of another doesn’t necessarily demand being guillotined (at least not in 2021). But Sydney Carton’s heroic sacrifice is a beautiful illustration of what real, true love looks like.
Selflessness – the Ultimate Gift
We don’t see this kind of selflessness much anymore – in fact, we often see the opposite. We've seen how many women prefer to think of themselves first and the child they carry second. The horrifically large amount of testimonies throughout the #MeToo movement have shown us that many, many men are only concerned with their own sexual gratification – even at the expense of women they supposedly “love.” And our world’s politics are a daily reminder that many of us use one another to get what we want.
We're All Capable of Love That's Sacrificial
Stories like A Tale of Two Cities remind us that real men will lay everything on the line for those whom they love. More importantly, they remind us that we're all capable of love that's sacrificial. We're capable of loving others even when they don't love us back. And we're capable of desiring the good of the one we love over our own happiness – even if that might mean losing him.
We're capable of desiring the good of the one we love over our own happiness – even if that might mean losing him.
I am by no means saying that we should be treated with less dignity than we deserve – that we should think only of our boyfriends or husbands (or the guy we wish was one of those things)! Of course, we must always ensure that we're treated with love and respect, and we should never hesitate to speak out when we are not.
The world wants us to put ourselves first, and we instinctively do so. After all, we're naturally drawn to what we believe is the highest good for ourselves, and it takes conscious effort to sacrifice our happiness for someone else. Even though our culture pushes us to only do what makes us happy, we can recognize the good in lovingly putting another first.
So do yourself a favor and reach for that higher love. Let’s push ourselves to desire the good of the other above all things – and see where it takes us!