What does it mean to "be in love?" Now, I think it is obvious that most of us have an innate knowledge as to what this state of being generally entails. We may think of it as rapturous pleasure, noble gallantry, tender affection, or any combination of these and more. Certainly it is different than any other sort of love. We are not ever, I hope, in love with something like Pizza—"I am in love with that new pizza!" And certainly we ought not fall in love with a family member or even member of the same sex. To be clear, I am talking about the love between a man and woman that is romantic and uniquely so.
But I think very few of us examine it any further than that. Or worse yet, we create a sort of flimsy, sappy version of what we think it means to be in love. We make it to reek of soft, fluffy things that are nice to daydream about but clash with reality. We cripple its beauty, dim its glory. This has, at the very least, this has been what I have seen in my experience.
So, to the matter at hand. What does it mean to be IN love? Why is IN used? I find that to be of especial curiosity. Why not say I "I have love for So-and-so," or "We love OF each other?" Well, I will say that the accepted linguistic convention does have a nice simplicity to it. But I digress.
"Being in love" seems to, by its own nature, require that two persons are engaged in a similar state of the being. By this I mean that it seems to require two people—"I am in love WITH So-and-so." Furthermore, it describes a state of being—"I AM in love with..."
And this is the curious part: to be IN love seems to require that they be IN the midst of some state or action. But, while this clarifies things a bit, this still does not answer our question.
What does it mean to be IN the midst of it, to be IN love? What are they IN? Are they engaged in the same action, in the same state of being? I think the answer is yes, but let me help you understand further. I have found a way that is helpful, at least in my own understanding. I hope it will do you some good as well. And that way is this:
We, as Christians, often think of love as an outpouring, as a giving of our being. I've come to think that this 'outpouring' language is rather helpful for solving our problem.
Imagine two people, standing next to each other, in a metaphysical room of sorts. Now one person, should they really love the other, will give of themselves for the sake of the other. They will, and this is important for the analogy to have its desired effect, pour out their being for the other. They will sacrificially pour out their time, thoughts, goods, talents, possessions, wisdom, compassion, patience, goodness, kindness, discernment, faithfulness, happiness, peace, gentleness—everything that springs from and comes after their being. They will direct their life, in directing it to God, at the other person. They will first seek to love Him, them, and then lastly themselves.
Now really picture their love in its manifestation, their very being, poured out for the other. It flows out and fills the room in a way that is delightfully wondrous.
But there is a problem. Perhaps you see it, too. One being, when poured out, can only fill up this room to about half-way. As great as their love can be, it cannot fill the room, cannot surround them both. To be accurate, there is indeed one Person whose love floods the room and the earth itself, whose love is more than sufficient by itself. Christ's love is abundantly sufficient. However, the degree that a man can love a woman or likewise is not nearly so powerful, and so we return to our example.
At this point, one person is left empty and the other awkwardly standing in a shallow pool of sorts. They are neither truly IN love, but rather wading in it. And we know from our experiences at the beach that wading is not nearly as fun or fulfilling as a nice brisk swim beneath the waves. They are not yet in love, at least not together, not with each other.
But a marvelous thing happens when the two beings mutually give of themselves for the sake of the other. Then, and only then, is the room filled up all the way. The mutual outpouring fills the room to the top, fills it above both beings' heads. They are engulfed and surrounded by it. What a wonderful thing it is; simply marvelous.
In this state of true, beautiful, soul-moving, mutual sacrifice, wherein both people are surrounded by their shared love, that they are then truly IN love. It is the atmosphere that they live in, the air that they breathe.
This, it seems to me, is what it truly means to be in love with another person.
The ability to empty one's self, however, is only made truly possible by the One who perfectly and lovingly emptied Himself. He, Jesus Christ, enables us to love truly and in a way that God is pleased by. in Him is rooted any ability to love in a real and powerful way. I want to be clear about that, because to me that is clearly reality. This is the foundation that I operate upon. My discourse, then, is more a linguistic exploration of being IN love and how that is conceptually possible. It may be that there is some etymological reason for this idiomatic particularity, but if that is the case I am as of yet unaware to its existence and nature. These are my mere musings, pleas take them only as such.
So toss out the sappy, flimsy and utterly false conceptions of what it is to be in love, should you have any. I understand that what I have described is not an exhaustive picture of what biblical love between a man and a woman looks like. It does not encompass every aspect or implication, and I would hope that it does not—after all, if a lowly soul such as myself could arrive at such a formulation this love would probably not be so grand or mysterious a thing after all. But I do know that it is not less than this.
Real, powerful love between a man and a woman is not less than a mutual and complete self-giviing disposition of the soul that is founded in and enabled by Jesus Christ. The details that are placed upon it may make it more, but the foundations require that it not be anything less.