Since before she could even string together a sentence, our Kali has been a girl of great enthusiasm. I know our daughter doesn’t have a corner on the market of childlike wonder, but her sense of awe and excitement takes those sentiments to a whole other level. As a young toddler, Kali loved to gaze up at the sky, oohing and ahhing at the moon (in fact, she still does this!). I’ll never forget her early obsession with waterbottles, the way she would squirrel them away in her room, loving on them as though they were the younger siblings she never had. And the Christmas she was one, she was so enamored with our Christmas tree and the lights around our home that you would have thought we invented the holiday just for her, the way her face lit up as she took in our living room decor.
These days Kali’s exuberance is most apparent when presented with anything pink, sparkly, or girly. She stares in awe at my face each morning as I apply mascara, begging me for a swipe of eye shadow or lip gloss, then squealing excitedly when I concede. She showers me with kisses when I choose a “twirly” dress for her to wear to church, then spins around the room to model her outfit as she thanks me again and again for my generosity. She prefers princess movies and shows above all other screen entertainment, but it’s hard to watch them with her since we can’t hear the dialogue over her endless commentary, extolling the characters’ beauty.
Kali’s love for lovely things is vast, but it isn’t exactly discerning. Case in point: earlier this week she discovered a “diamond” (vaguely sparkly used sticker) in the grass at the park and it is now her most treasured possession, accompanying her in play and sleep, never to leave her side. Also this week, as we were dropping off Charleston at camp, we passed by another young girl in a (cute but ordinary) dress and ballet flats. Kali stopped in her tracks and stage-whispered to me, “Oooohhhh, wow! She is going to be my BEST friend, because her dress is just so beautiful! And her shoes are adorable! And her purse is just SO precious!”
At three, this unrefined exuberance is endearing. Kali’s zeal is one of her greatest traits, and I hope she carries even a glimmer of that innocent fervor into adulthood. But as an adult looking on at Kali’s passion, I see it for what it is: sweet, yet fleeting. Her love of dress up clothes and gemstones and Disney princesses is not true, genuine love that will stand the test of time.
As Kali grows, I imagine (or at least I pray!) that Kali’s love will mature as she becomes more selective in the objects of her affection. Because a preschooler who pledges lifelong fidelity to a passerby based on her handbag is cute; an adult doing this is grounds for a restraining order.
St. Augustine taught that we are most fundamentally shaped by what we love. Augustine also observed that the heart’s loves have an order to them, and that these loves often become disordered as we love lesser things more than the important things. This disordered love leads to disordered and unhappy lives as we give too much time, attention, and resources to the wrong things while neglecting all that truly matters.
Centuries before Augustine was born, the apostle Paul also recognized an immaturity of love within believers of the early church. Rather than merely observing this weakness, He called the Christians of Philippi to a greater, flourishing love that would bear spiritual fruit. The Message translation of a passage at the beginning of Philippians says it this way:
“So this is my prayer: that your love will flourish and that you will not only love much but well. Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush. Live a lover’s life, circumspect and exemplary, a life Jesus will be proud of: bountiful in fruits from the soul, making Jesus Christ attractive to all, getting everyone involved in the glory and praise of God.”– Philippians 1:9-11
Love is trending in today’s culture. That’s great! Who wouldn’t want to live in a world that prizes and celebrates love? But I worry about the quality of our culture’s omnipresent love. “Sentimental gush” is everywhere we look; sincere, intelligent love is harder to find.
As followers of Jesus, this area of considered and mature love is where we can shine. Following the model of 1 Corinthians 13, we can demonstrate love that is patient, kind, humble, slow to anger, hopeful, persevering, and always rejoicing with the truth. This love goes beyond fleeting fixations or endorsement of trendy ideals. It is a love that seeks out the hurting and brokenhearted, offering friendship and loyalty and pointing others to the Author of Life, Love Himself.
Father, I thank you for loving us with a love that is wide and deep, much greater than our comprehension and so much richer and fuller than any other love this world can offer. Please give us wisdom and discernment in how and where and why we love. Fill us a love that is always growing, always fruitful, and always pointing others to you.