Dear friends…recently I discovered something amazing about the word: love. It has five letters.
No, that is not a mistake and no, I did not miscount—although I confess mathematics and I have been at odds for most of my life. No, this extraordinary epiphany about love came to me during the most ordinary of tasks.
I had just finished picking up a few items at the grocery store and was pulling out of the parking lot when I received a text from my mother-in-law who was visiting us.
“The kids want more of these,” she texted along with a picture of some pretzel chips.
“Ugh,” I muttered to myself. Not only had I already left the store, but this particular brand of pretzel chips was only available at a different store.
“This is so inconvenient,” I thought. “But,” I said, “I love them so I’ll do it. I’ll get the pretzels.” (Side note: the “other” store was literally a 20 second drive across the street, so inconvenience is a rather broad interpretation here).
But then a second, more profound thought hit me. “Sarah, you’ve missed the mark. It’s not really love if you’re considering your feelings in this equation.”
Wait, what? I consider myself to be a kind person. I am a generous person. I live to encourage others. I feel as if I love well. And to a certain degree, I do. But the truth is love is not just about being kind or compassionate. To love in the fullest sense of the word is to do so unconditionally—and that means removing any self-interest from the equation. It’s not about me. At all. It’s 100 percent about the person I am loving.
Love means focusing on the “other.” O-T-H-E-R. Five powerful letters.
That means if I’m complaining while acting in love toward someone—it’s not love. If I’m engaged in self-pity, it’s not love. If I’m thinking about how it’s inconveniencing me, even in the slightest, it’s not love.
But here’s the kicker. When we do love fully and unconditionally, without regard for self and full regard for the other…something amazing happens. We reap the full benefits of that love.
Last year my sister traveled to Charleston, S.C. to undergo a major surgery and I came to help her for a few days post-recovery. I was in one of the top foodie cities in the nation. The weather was incredible. There was beauty everywhere you looked. But for the majority of my stay, I was either in a hospital room or the house we had rented. My sole focus the entire time was on the care and wellbeing of my sister.
I don’t say that boastfully. I was just genuinely happy to help her in any way I could. When I returned home though, something changed. For the first time in months—maybe even a year or two—I felt fully alive. I can’t explain it except to say that the funk of self-pity and depression I had been in was no more. My spirit was full of joy, love and contentment.
I was at a loss for why I felt the way I did. I kept telling myself that maybe it was the change in environment, the amazing food, or just spending quality time with family that helped break me out of my rut. Regardless, I seriously felt like I was Poppy the Troll and glowing from the inside out. Everyone around me, especially my husband, noticed the change.
What I didn’t know then however, I do now. It was love. The demonstration of pure unconditional love. That was the game-changer.
Love = Other.
Unfortunately, I can’t take the credit for this discovery. While it was a new revelation for me, this whole love “other” concept has been in the works for some 2,000 years when Jesus left his crew with these parting words before his death:
“Love each other. Just as I have loved you, you should love each other” (John 13:34).
Yeah, I’m one of those late to the party kind of gals. But hey…I showed up and I learned something.
Now, I’d be crazy to think I can remain in a constant state of unconditional love euphoria. I’m human and that comes with the full gamut of emotions. I’m not perfect and I will never love others perfectly. But I can—to the best of my ability—be intentional about how I love others by keeping the focus on them and not myself.
It’s a daily choice, and sometimes even a moment-by-moment one. Loving well is not always convenient. I won’t always “feel” like doing it. But it will always and forever be the best decision when I do choose to do it and do it well.