My daughter asked me to speak on “Loving God” for her baptism, a topic that sharpened my focus on themes I had been considering for some time. Though I respect the important contribution of a book like CS Lewis’s Four Loves, I have been drawn to the image of two loves rather than the Greek four. In the dichotomization of love into two, though, I want to draw attention to the need to have these loves in constant dialogue. I call these two loves the love we feel and the love we choose.
The love we feel represents the kinds of sentiments and attachments that seem to arise unbidden, naturally. These are the loves that can overwhelm our will and even at times our better sense. This is the love that we make movies and write books about, these are the loves that, in the modern West, drive the initiation of marital or reproductive associations. Sometimes it makes us do glorious things; sometimes it makes us do stupid things. But it always seems to _make_ us. This type of love is not restricted to human relationships. Some of us love places in nature or geopolitical entities or sports teams or particular endeavors in this kind of felt way. It is hard for us to imagine not loving when we have felt this love, at least at the time that it is first felt.
The love we choose generally seems different to us–artificial, an act of will. If we discover that we have been loved purely as an act of choosing, we may feel betrayed or angry or even, strangely, unloved. In the modern West this love–one we associate with arranged marriages and religious or political leaders who claim to love even people they do not know well–is often poorly respected.
But the love we feel will often sputter and fail without the love we choose. I submit that the love we choose is best understood among Latter-day Saints as a synonym for covenant. Through covenants we commit, through the exercise of our will, to love God or to love other specific people. In baptism and the temple liturgy we commit to love God and the Saints unconditionally, to maintain a love of choosing behind a love of feeling that will wax and wane naturally over the course of our lives. This type of love is work, and we sometimes internalize the voices representing the love we feel that tell us that love that requires exercise of will is not love at all. This simply isn’t true.
In marriage, in parenting, in relationships with relatives and close friends or with our religious tradition, there will be times that our love will need to rely heavily on our choice, our covenant, our commitment. Paradoxically the security of that commitment to love by choice can provide the environment required for love that we feel to grow. The two loves are interdependent, necessarily.
As a married man, I remember vividly courting my wise, bright, compassionate, beautiful wife, the visceral intensity of my hopes to be with her during our courtship. I also know that marriage includes differences of opinion, domestic chores, the incessant chorus of cycles of feeding and cleaning and money’s inflows and outflows. Dealing with the constant barrage of effluents that attends early parenthood can make one’s connection with the love we feel seem cloudy at times, as can the sleep deprivation and the sense of exhaustion that attends modern family life. Without the love that we choose these stresses and the ways that personalities evolve over time can severely challenge the memories we retain of the love we feel.
I believe that remembering the love that we choose is also useful as we negotiate the exigencies of church membership. There are times that Mormonism will be as natural to us as breathing, times when we feel secure in the love that we feel for the Church and its members. But there will also be times for many of us when membership feels hard, unnatural, challenging. We may struggle through a campaign against gay marriage or–on the other side of the sociopolitical spectrum–a campaign against anti-immigrant ideology. Those are the times that the love we choose, a conscious, even strenuous commitment, has the chance to carry us through. As we exercise our will in such instances we leave open the possibility that the love we feel can return or grow.
The same can apply in our relationship with God. There will be times, often times when we feel particularly blessed, that our love of God is the love we feel, a love we could not resist even if we wanted to. There are also times, often when we feel abandoned or tested or uncomfortable, when it is the love we choose that binds us to God. Both are important to our faith walk and the flowering of our relationship with our divine parent. If I may without stepping into the scholarly debates about the suffering servant, I would close with the image Handel (as multitudes of Christians before and after) borrowed from Isaiah of the Christ “with no apparent beauty that man should him desire,” a God whom we will at times have to choose to love.
 I apologize that this is not better organized–I’m crushed with work right now but wanted to maintain the rhythm of the fast Sunday posts.
 I do not intend this post to represent a criticism of any individual’s decisions with regard to marital or church commitment. I have little enough insight about my own life that I would only under duress seek to comment on another person’s life. I am not under such duress.