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There’s a well-known children’s book about two rabbits—parent and child—trying to describe how much they love each other. Each time the child comes up with a way to share his love (“I love you as high as I can hop!”), the parent doubles the stakes (“But I love you as high as I can hop!”). It all culminates with the sleepy child saying, “I love you right up to the moon” and falling asleep before the parent whispers, “I love you right up to the moon—and back.”[i]
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And while in real life, that sort of interaction might get annoying eventually—a girlfriend and I went back and forth like this to the point of mutual frustration at being “one-upped” by the other—it points us to a core truth about how we learn love. Our love can only grow to the size we provide it, and there are two ways we create that space: what we have learned and believe about love, and what we imagine could be true about love.
Expectations about Love
I grew up with a significant advantage: extremely loving parents. So my expectations of what love should look like are pretty expansive. I expect love to include kindness, forgiveness, freedom, vulnerability, and so on. If someone grew up with a different type of relationship with those who raised them, their expectations might be different. Our expectations of what love looks like are formed by what we experience from our family, former and current relationships, and even the media—movies or books or podcasts that tell us what love is like.
Imagination, though, makes more room for love by asking, Is there a way this could be better? or Could love be something more?
I’m not talking about being unthankful (“I am unhappy—could I get something more than this?”), but rather suggesting that imagination gives us a greater, more expansive idea of what is possible with love. As our loving imagination expands, it creates more room for love to grow.
So, for instance, I might look at a loved one and think, How could I make things even better for them? Maybe I could be kinder when they ask a question I’ve answered a hundred times. Maybe I could make them a meal or express my love for them more clearly. It could be a small thing or a huge thing. All based in that key question: Is there a way to make my love for them clearer, stronger, better? What can I imagine love to look like in this relationship? What things can I change to bring my love closer to that imagined reality?
Photo by Marc-Olivier Jodoin on Unsplash
How Does Divine Love Increase Our Capacity to Love?
The loving, divine presence of God immerses us in a love that is deeper than we can find in human relationships. There is a purity, a fullness to the divine love that increases our imagination and our capacity to love.
For instance, if God loves me and also knows literally everything about me, then that teaches me to imagine a love where even the worst thing I have done does not mean I am unworthy of love. If God loves me enough to forgive me no matter the wrongs I commit, I learn to see the power of forgiveness and have the courage to offer it myself. If God’s person defines love, that means as I grow and understand the divine nature better, I grow and understand love better.
And of course, Jesus had an expansive imagination when it came to love. He even says that a human being can live a completely moral life merely by being loving: Love God, and love other people. Do those two things well, and you will never do something wrong.
What can you imagine love to be?
Think about the most loving relationship you personally have observed. What were the hallmarks of it? Now: Can you imagine a relationship even better than that one?
Get on your favorite social media and ask people to tell you the most unbelievable love story they know. It can be of any type—romantic love, love for a stranger, familial love—but look at the stories carefully. Which ones seem unbelievable to you? Where does your imagination need to grow?
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[i] Sam McBratney and Anita Jeram, Guess How Much I Love You (Somerville, MA: Candlewick Press, 1994).