“I love this book.” “I love that song.” “I just love him.” “I love her hair that way.” We use this word “love” a lot. We use it to describe things we just like, people we appreciate, and those people whose absence would make the world spin a little more painfully.

I’ve been thinking about this concept of love a great deal lately. What does it really mean to love someone or something? How do we do this “love” thing well? What are the limits – if any – of love?

Sometimes I think we see love as something nice and sweet, the greeting card sentiments of our grandmother’s and their houses that smell like sugar cookies. If we “love” something, we like everything about it – the book we just read, the dinner we just ate, the painting in the next room. We sometimes seem to equate liking something or taking pleasure from it with loving it. I’m not sure we are really honoring the thing we love by doing so.

This holds especially true for people. It seems that often we think that to love someone we have to like them for every minute of every day. We also hold this standard for ourselves; if we don’t like ourselves very much one day, we can quickly turn to a depression or self-loathing that prevents us from loving ourselves either. I wonder if this is why we are so quick to walk out on things – marriages, jobs, churches, friendships. We have become mistaken in the belief that to love is to enjoy all the time.

I’m not suggesting that there aren’t legitimate reasons to leave things or that like and love are totally unrelated feelings. What I am saying is that perhaps we – perhaps I – need to be more willing to accept some of the things I don’t like about people and things simply because I do (or at least I want to) love these people and things. We can lose out on a lot of life’s joy if we toss away anything that we don’t like every minute.

There’s something about love that begs us to stick with it, to take on the bad and painful with the good and glorious. Love asks us to put ourselves out, to sometimes even cause ourselves pain, for the sake of caring deeply for someone else.

Perhaps this is why we are told that “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.” (I Corinthians 13: 4-7). We are not told that love is easy and fun and full of laughs; no, it is patient and perseverant. These are not traits necessary for a leisurely stroll on a country road. These are the characteristics of people on a wild journey over mountains and through rivers.

Sometimes love means putting up with his smoking habit or bearing up under the fact that she’s always ten minutes late. Sometimes love means reading the book that she recommended even though you have no interest in the topic. Sometimes love means standing beside someone while they make the toughest changes of their lives. And sometimes, often, it means laughing and holding hands and having a grand old time.