Waking up from love’s dream

Awake from love’s dream! Lisa Fraser says you can only learn to love by loving.

“All you need is love” … I see this quote perhaps a dozen times each day: on tourists’ t-shirts, on prints sold at street markets, on tote bags, and in a thousand other places. How often do we also hear it in lyrics and when chatting with friends?

“All you need is love” can be either cheap advice or a life-changing mindset.

Professing our love in words is easy. In words, I can love all humanity without limit and across boundaries. 

The song by the Beatles made it a mainstream statement. 

But how useful is a statement?

As a principle, it can be a good start. A heart that seeks love is starting to be concerned about human flourishing and harmony.

Yet, abstract love is based on the assumption that humanity is the way we want it to be: friendly, caring and like-minded. But what happens when this isn’t the case?

What is this statement worth when life produces bitter fruits and challenging relationships? What comes of abstract love when my fellow human being has conflicting interests or an infuriating will of their own?

Sweeping, abstract statements can lead to a tendency for us to become two-faced: we will sing our love for our theoretical neighbour from our living room, and act with irritation (if not anger!) when queuing at the supermarket and confronted with real neighbours.

Love as a concept doesn’t change the world. Love is revolutionary when it leads to action and to deeds of service.

Russian writer Fyodor Dostoyevsky summarised it in his novel Brothers Karamazov: “Love in action is a harsh and dreadful thing compared with love in dreams … But active love is labour and fortitude.”

But what does active love require? 

It means getting to know  people one by one, individually, by their name. Genuine love is a one-to-one relationship. We can have multiple relationships but ultimately, there needs to be this direct, distinct, encounter with the other.

Genuine love makes us leave our ivory tower and hit the ground running – or perhaps limping, but with our feet firmly on the ground. Love happens when we go out to someone to help them face their challenges aware they are not alone.

Love is about unveiling human nature, discovering its glory and its flaws.

Love means being comfortable with someone’s darkness. More than that: love means embracing these shadows. 

There is also a time element to it. Dostoyevsky noted: “Love in dreams is greedy for immediate action, rapidly performed and in the sight of all. Men will even give their lives if only the ordeal does not last long but is soon over, with all looking on and applauding as though on stage.”

True love requires perseverance. Being able to endure over time in good days and in bad makes the difference between love in dreams and love in action. 

Perhaps, also, we won’t see the fruits of our acts of love straight away. Yet, if we truly want to love, we’re called to keep giving anyway. Love means placing our trust in someone, hoping that the act of giving will bear fruit one day. 

If we’re able to embrace someone’s dark corners, and to persevere through time, then truly we can say we love.

Mother Teresa said that love is a work of peace. Love is work indeed …

Every day we have the choice between sitting comfortably on our sofa, or going the extra mile. That extra mile can be volunteering; mingling with others and allowing ourselves to be challenged by different views and behaviours; or, being present for our loved ones when they are in need. 

Love certainly begins at home and loving family can sometimes be the hardest challenge. We might work tirelessly to serve the most abject poor but have no patience for a spouse, sibling or parent.

While there are different ways of expressing our love, the essence of it is our ability to give. Loving means going beyond ourself – not just looking out the window, but going out to the world. 

It is challenging, but it’s also a source of growth. That’s how our faith in our fellow human being gets tested and can become real.

This reveals the ultimate dimension of love: love is a decision. 

We decide to seek the company of the other. We decide to stand by their side in the storm. We decide to share something we possess – whether it’s time, energy, knowledge, or material wealth. 

Love often requires prayer. Not just prayer for our loved (and unloved) ones but also to ask God to give us the love we need to love them.

Love is demanding. It can make us want to quit and go back to our lofty space where love is a dream. 

But if what we really need is love (which I believe is true), then, it’s time to roll up our sleeves … time to take a chance on love.

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Lisa Fraser is a writer for Adamah Media. She has worked as a political Special Adviser, in lobbying and as a consultant, before joining the Civil Service. She loves having long walks, visual arts, and reading books about history and politics.

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