Several years ago, I was in charge of shipping and delivery at a major clothing retailer. My team would work from 3pm to midnight on merchandising and janitorial tasks until a cargo truck would deliver our freight; we would unload and open the boxes, sort the contents, and restock the store's shelves. Ideally, the store would be properly stocked, cleaned, and orderly by midnight and ready to open the next morning. After work and off the clock, we were all night owls. My crew migrated from the Boise Towne Square Mall to the Shari's Restaurant around the corner. There we would spend a couple hours drinking coffee and snacking on French fries, laughing and telling each other stories.
During this season of my life, there were a couple coworkers that became good friends. After one of the late night shifts and social time at Shari's, he and I lingered in the parking lot leaning against my car and talked for another two hours about God and girls. He had just proposed to his girlfriend and was so giddy – even surprised she actually said yes. His joy was contagious; I had no choice but to feel excited along with him.
I was dating someone at the time, but the thought of marriage and a future were nowhere near a reality in my 21-year-old brain. It seemed like such a foreign concept until this friend of mine made it real and urgent. So I asked a question any young and dumb college aged kid would ask: "How did you know she was the one?"
He answered, "Oh I'm so glad you asked."
"I was reading my bible and I came across 1 Corinthians 13." (The love chapter where Paul detailed love in his letter to the church in Corinth. It is frequently read at weddings and the kind of passage a good Christian boy would read during his devotional time when he's fallen in love.)
He continued. "I know that we're supposed to be imitators of God. And I know that God is love. When the verses started saying 'love is this' I started thinking 'God is that.' Then I wondered if I could say I was that too."
"When it came to my girlfriend, I asked myself, 'Am I patient with her? Am I kind to her? Am I humble around her? Am I unselfish? Do I rejoice when she speaks truth? Do I bear her burdens? Do I believe in and hope for the best? Am I willing to endure hardships alongside her?' As I thought about it I realized I could answer yes to all of those questions."
"Then I thought about her. Is she patient with me? Yes. Is she kind, humble, and selfless? Yes. Does she rejoice in truth? Yes. Is she willing to bear my burdens and endure hard times with me? Yes. Does she believe in and hope for the best? Yes."
"It hit me, Nic," he said, "I love her. And not only do I love her, but I love her the way scripture defines love. And she loves me the same way. That is how I knew she was the one."
As I drove home that night, I thought about my girlfriend. Did I love her according to 1 Corinthians 13? Is that how she loved me? Did we even love each other? By the time I got home, the only answer I could reach was 'I don't know.'
Ultimately, the answer was no. A few months later, we broke up. Her dad convinced her that someone who worked freight at Old Navy was not good enough for his daughter and the two of us went separate ways. My friend invited me to his wedding but I did not go. He quit working at Old Navy and I moved to a new store with more responsibility. The last time we spoke was a week before the ceremony; I have never seen anyone more sure of what they wanted in life.
Fast forward a dozen years and my marriage was falling apart. In the aftermath of divorce, I began analyzing love as if I was conducting a post-mortem examination. Something had died; was it love? What was the cause of death?
I asked myself challenging questions trying to identify where I went wrong. I examined the nature of love and romance and commitment. I wanted to root out the source of failure so that I would never experience the same demise of love.
Did she honestly love me?
Did I truly love her?
Or was I more in love with the concept of her?
If you love the idea of a relationship with a person more than you do the actual person, is it really love?
If it isn't love, what is it?
Is it lust?
Why is it so easy for us to confuse the difference between lust and love? Is that confusion why so many husbands and wives have affairs or leave their spouses for someone younger, wealthier, and/or better looking?
I don't have answers to many of these questions. My mind has frequently returned to that 2am conversation in the Denny's parking lot during the spring of 2000. When I interrogated myself on the drive home that night, the only answer I could provide was "I don't know." Much is the same now. Did she ever love me? I don't know. Did I ever love her? I don't know.
In the absence of definitive answers, I have fought to understand real love. What does it mean? What does it look like? How does it feel? How does it work?
While the 13th chapter of 1 Corinthians is famous for detailing what love is and is not, what it does and doesn't do, it also provides a chronological perspective of now versus then. Paul wrote, "For we know in part and we prophesy in part, but when the perfect comes, the partial will pass away." And later, "For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, then I shall know fully."
Now I realize that my understanding is and probably always will be incomplete. For now, I only know in part. I only prophesy in part. I am only staring dimly into a mirror. Paul wrote about a time - a then - when we would know fully and see clearly. Until that then comes, I need answers greater than "I don't know."
What is the difference between love and lust? I have some answers now, but they are still incomplete. I am only answering in part.
Lust is an inward expression; love is an outward expression.
Lust is focused on self; love is focused on others.
Lust asks "What do I get out of it?" Love asks "What do I have to give?"
Lust fantasizes about what will never happen; love builds upon what already exists.
Lust thrives in imagination; love thrives in action.
Lust has zero investment; love is committed.
Lust risks nothing; love risks everything.
Lust gives up; love endures.
Lust wishes; love plans.
Lust skims the surface; love plumbs the depths.
Lust is fickle; love is unwavering.
Lust seeks a cheap thrill; love creates passion.
Lust won't fix what is broken; love is constantly improving what needs repaired.
Lust sees flaws everywhere; love sees the best in everything.
Lust devalues; love redeems.
These answers are incomplete. But until the day I fully understand, this will be enough.