Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
–William Shakespeare, 1609
I’ll admit, I’ve never been huge on Shakespeare. Granted, I can appreciate Romeo and Juliet as much as the next man, and I love the conflict — both internal and external — in Hamlet, but the thees and thous and wherefores really lose me. It seems overly flowery, and while the payoff is good, I really don’t want to work that hard for that payoff. Call me lazy. I could give a rip 😉
But lazy as I am, I’ve always LOVED this sonnet. It has the same thees and thous of Shakespeare’s usual fare, but unlike his other stuff, the meaning of this sonnet is very intuitive to me. It doesn’t just speak to love, but to the nature of love — its honesty, its perseverance. Thinking on the events of this past Christmas and how my wife and I celebrated it with our kids brought this sonnet to mind.
See, I’ve never had much of a servant’s heart. Maybe that’s part of what attracted Mary to me — the fact that I’d be a lifelong project for her 😉 Well, this Christmas was another step in that project. We’d already cut back much of our Christmas spending, and what money we did spend, we spent strategically (minus the money we spent on Disney in October, of course hehe). Each kid got one present from us. They all got one “together” present. And they took the money that Nanny sent them and, instead of spending it on themselves, they had to spend their money on each other. To channel Borat, “Great success!”
Well, Mary went a step further and suggested that we celebrate on Christmas Eve and spend Christmas Day at a local soup kitchen, making and distributing lunches for the homeless and impoverished. I’ll admit I was skeptical — not just for how shallow I can be, but also because I was terrified of how the kids would react. They’ve got HUGE hearts, but they bore quickly and their mouths have no filter. I was sure that they’d be complaining five minutes in, or fighting, or say something rude at the worst possible time.
So imagine my surprise when they went all in! Before I knew it, my oldest was pickin’ turkey off the bone, my youngest was carefully selecting just the right desert for just the right plate, and my boy was directing traffic, stacking plates on the porch to get ready to move them to the vehicles for distribution. When it came time to distribute the plates in the projects, they rushed to gather up as many plates as they could carry and still be the one to knock on the door.
The day was an incredible success. We had about twenty or so volunteers. One was a family that our kids homeschool with, so that was a surprise blessing to work side by side with them and their kids. But the greater blessing, to me, was to see the love at work, both in the eagerness of my kids to distribute their plates, and in the appreciation of the people who received — appreciation not just for the gift, but for the love of the giver, kicking back to my previous blog post, The Silent Message of “A Christmas Story”.
I was thinking these things this morning and this thought came to mind — Love is not love if it doesn’t make its way from your heart to your hands — which, of course, was reminiscent of Shakespeare’s sonnet. These days, love is often misdefined as a feeling. Part of this might be because in the English language, “love” can mean many different things. In the Greek language, however, what we would call “love” is broken down into four distinct terms…
Storge, or familial love. This could be specific to the family, or reach to extended members similar to how the Hawaiian term ohana can.
Eros, or sensual love. This is erotic attraction, sexual and emotional intimacy between two people.
Phileo, or brotherly love. This is the closeness and camaraderie found between friends, or sometimes between people who share the same struggle, as in law enforcement, the military, or in the medical field.
Agape, or divine love. This is an unconditional love, an esteem that is not dependent upon any other attribute, save the individual’s genuine desire to see good come to another, even if that other does nothing to deserve it.
It is this last love, agape, that is so hard to come by — probably because it is ultimately the only kind of love that is not in some way self-serving. But as hard as it is to come by, it’s this very love that makes all other love possible, because without esteem for another person, even to the exclusion of one’s self, none of the others — familiar love, sensual love, or brotherly love — survive the hardships that they inevitably suffer.
It’s this very love that my wife and I seek to instill in the hearts of our kids with our non-traditional Christmas traditions, and it thrills me to see it taking root in them. May they grow to naturally be the servants that my wife has to force me to be 😉