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Inspiration for Today’s Devotional: “Hearts and Hooves Day”

It’s a bit difficult for a show that’s rated Y to accurately touch on romantic love, let alone “toxic love”, but that’s an important topic for many young people coming into adulthood to think about. This is especially true in American culture where most have been born and bred on media and film depictions of love, which are normally things out of an idyllic fairy tale rather than what represents reality. Unfortunately, as it’s a more mature topic that requires greater cognitive ability and a touch of personal experience, it was hard to accurately give a good lesson in today’s episode.

However, by looking a bit deeper into it, we can discover things from this episode that demonstrate what love isn’t and, consequently, what true love is.

1. True love is give-and-take.

One of the biggest misconceptions young people have about love is that it matches all the Valentine’s Day cards; namely by depicting a couple with big smiles on their faces, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, riding bikes together, going for boat rides together, eating candlelit dinners together, constantly in each other’s arms and, to borrow an appropriate British term, “snogging”. Basically giving the idea that once you form a relationship both parties essentially cease to operate as individuals and now must effectively be one unit who do absolutely everything together.

Now, the flip side of this is to do absolutely nothing together, at which point the relationship probably becomes more of a glorified “friendship with benefits” and is likely to soon see both people drifting apart. But, as this episode demonstrated, spending every waking moment together is a recipe for poison for a relationship. The constraints of trying to rebuild one’s life to totally work with the other would quickly get overbearing. Not to mention the fact that being constantly in the presence of someone else will likely inevitably lead to fixating on every little thing about the other person that annoys them, and that too could break up the relationship.

Most experts agree that every relationship should have a balance of time shared between the two individuals, but also time that both individuals have devoted to themselves. Simply put, the picture of two smitten lovers constantly sighing dreamily and saying cutesy words about each other is not only a bit sickening…it’s also unrealistic.

2. True love is unconditional.

Alright, I’ll admit this point is more than a bit of a “stretch” for this episode. After all, the condition for this “toxic love” was that within the span of an hour, every hour, Big Macintosh and Ms. Cheerilee had to look each other in the eye to stay in their bad relationship. That’s rather childish…but it’s more comforting than reality, in which people in toxic love relationships have to put up with abandoning school, abandoning jobs, lower standards of life, bad behavior on the part of the partner, and all sorts of abuse including verbal, mental, physical, and sexual…all in order to “keep the love alive”.

Paul summed it up best in 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.” Sadly, this passage is hard for a number of people to comprehend because of the way they were brought up. A lot of families that were strict unconsciously (or maybe even consciously) produced the idea that love is conditional. That when a child did bad, it wasn’t merely the act that the parent was displeased with…it was the individual themselves. That they even “loved them less”. Furthermore, the idea of when a child did good, it again wasn’t the act the parent was happy with but the individual themselves. Years of reinforcement of this can lead an individual to think that love is something that must be earned by performing acts, as is what determines net personal worth.

This is a highly dangerous mindset. On one hand, it’s destructive to the individual themselves because they never learned to be happy with themselves or even love themselves. They have the idea that if they do something bad, they are bad and therefore unlovable. On the other hand, if they feel unloved, it’s because they haven’t done enough to “earn” someone’s love. That they constantly have to be giving reasons for people to love them. And that’s a sure way to land in an abusive relationship, in which the individual needs approval from another to feel loved and will do whatever they wish and put up with whatever they give to obtain that love. If something goes wrong or they are abused or mistreated, it’s their own fault because they didn’t do the right thing to “be loved”. And they stay in these relationships because they feel if they lose this individual’s love that this means they themselves are unlovable. Once there, the person is trapped in a deadly cycle until they recognize their mindset and free themselves from it, which is far from easy once learned and requires constant conscious effort.

As Paul was pointing out, there is no “me” component to true love. There is no part where you don’t get the full measure unless your partner gives something first, because at that point it’s no longer love. Love is always something that is freely given. It can’t be earned. Jesus demonstrated the ultimate act of love on the cross, but the truth is even smaller acts of love mirror the same example. Something that is openly bestowed on an individual once they know them for all of their faults. And if it’s not freely given at that point, then it was never love to begin with.

3. Love is a choice.

Now, don’t get me wrong. Attraction can be, and often is, highly involuntary. We can’t necessarily help who we are attracted to. We’re either attracted to people with that sort of build or we aren’t. We’re either attracted to people with that hair color or we aren’t. We’re either attracted to people who are that tall or we aren’t. And, although I’m sure some would argue with me about it, we’re either attracted to people who are that gender or we aren’t. Attraction is part of our physical makeup and individuality, and while under some situations it can be denied or subverted the actual attraction itself occurs independently of our wishes.

Love, on the other hand, is something we either choose to do or do not. It goes hand-in-hand with what I said above; how love itself can not be earned or made conditional. We either choose to love another or we don’t. That’s why love is a virtue along with faith and hope. If it was purely something that just “happened”, it would have little other meaning than eating or breathing. Because it’s a choice, however, it has greater importance.

And because it’s a choice, you can’t force anyone to love you just as no one can force you to love them. The Cutie Mark Crusaders found this out when they thought they could force Big Macintosh and Ms. Cheerilee together. Instead of getting true love out of it, they ended up getting a sugary-sweet parody of it that very quickly showed a marked contrast to the true variety.

But if that’s the case, then how do we learn to love others, and others learn to love us?

As I said before, love is a choice, but it is a choice that can only be rightly made out of fully understanding and embracing another individual. Seeing them for all of their successes and failures and then deciding to love both sides of them. When you love someone, warts and all, and they realize that, then they, in turn, will usually tend to feel more open and “lovable” themselves. And when you yourself feel lovable, that leads you to start wanting to love others in return. As the Bible says originally in Leviticus 19:18, but rephrased by Our Lord in Mark 12:31, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” So, naturally, if you yourself feel lovable and you love yourself (in the sense of having a healthy self-image and personal acceptance as opposed to narcissism and egotism), then you can better love others.

And that is why we love God. 1 John 4:19 says plainly: “We love because He first loved us.” Understanding us completely, knowing all the good and bad we ever would do, God loved us and accepted us for who we are. Because God knows us for everything we are and loves us just the same, we can love him in return, and extend that love to others in return.

The problem lies in if we are still trapped in the mindset that “true love” is conditional. Getting out of this isn’t easy. It’s quite hard to “unlearn” certain things, and might actually require counseling or professional help in addition to prayer. I still struggle with it myself to this day. For that reason, it’s best that we also find caring, loving, “Christ-like” individuals who love in the same way and share it with us. By being with other “flawed” individuals who show the love of Christ to us, gradually we can learn to realize that we are lovable, and that if imperfect people who are subject to our same weaknesses, hates, fears, biases and grudges can love us, then so much more so does God.

Suggested Prayer: “Lord God, thank you again that you love me with an everlasting love, even when I feel that I am one of the lowest people in the world. Please help me to be receptive to this love, and remove from me all fears, doubts, and misconceptions that have plagued me or poisoned me all these years into what the true nature of love is. And as I learn to realize that I am loved, grant that I might give healthy, true love to others. Gratefully in Jesus’ Name, Amen.”