I’ve shared this true story previously on my blog. However, since it is, without a doubt, the quintessential love story, I believe it has a right to be repeated as we celebrate this year’s Valentine’s Day. It takes a look at two of the world’s greatest lovers who have much to teach us about loving and communicating that love generously.
First, let me lay just a little foundation from the most important book ever written. God’s Word says all of the Ten Commandments of Jehovah are fulfilled in living our lives in genuine love. It also says that fear is cast out of our hearts and our lives by love. And, most important of all, it tells us repeatedly that the God we serve is Love. He’s what it’s all about, and He’s the source of all genuine love. But when the Word talks about love, it’s referring to much more than just an emotion. Certainly, the emotion is important – and extremely satisfying. But the love that really makes a difference in this world is love that does something.
Love, according to the original language of the scriptures, is the fulfilling of a duty or a responsibility to another – whether to God or to the people in our lives. It works good toward another person whether it ‘feels’ something or not. The truth is that feelings of love – like feelings of anger, happiness, hurt, etc. – come and go. But the act of loving another person is fueled by that deliberate intent of the will to do them good. Like faith, real love is more of an action verb than a noun.
I’m grateful that in my life I have known a great many people who love in this active way. But every time I ponder the subject of love – and especially around Valentine’s Day, when people are prone to send little ‘love letters’ to each other in the way of commercial Valentine cards – my mind turns to two particular lovers of the past who knew and experienced the power of love to change people’s lives completely.
Poets Elizabeth Barrett and Robert Browning lived one of the most powerful and life-changing love stories ever experienced by human beings. Much of their poetry, especially Sonnets from the Portuguese, describes that love and the power it had to overcome enormous obstacles, and to vanquish debilitating sorrow and hovering death. While the best remembered and most often quoted lines from all of those sonnets are the words, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,” the truth is that some of the most riveting portions are Elizabeth’s descriptions of how that love destroyed death and renewed her life. In “Sonnet VII” she says this:
“The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink
Was caught up into love and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm . . . .”
In truth, it was that love that literally saved Elizabeth’s life. She had been plagued for many years by physical illness and an expected early death, and, although in her late 30’s, was kept almost a prisoner under her domineering father’s control. But Robert’s love encouraged her to believe for renewed health and to escape from the control of her father. That courageous action led them to many happy years of marriage and fruitful writing that blessed the world for generations. It also gave them a son, whom they loved dearly.
But something many people do not know is that prior to their marriage, Elizabeth and Robert courted primarily by letter, for a period of 20 months. During that 20 months, they exchanged a total of 574 love letters. Think of it: 574 love letters! In 20 months, that is an average of more than 28 letters each month. Never running out of ways to say “I love you,” and never growing tired of expressing that love openly. It’s no wonder I consider them the king and queen of valentines.
And what about you, dear readers? Have you experienced the joy of seeing love give life to those who need it? My Valentine’s wish for each of you this year is that you will experience that reality — whether for the first time or the hundredth.
And, by the way, does the person you love know without a doubt how you feel about him – or her? This time of year offers a great opportunity to make sure. Grab some inspiration from Elizabeth and Robert and make a little extra effort this week to show your love in generous ways.
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