One of my all time favorite and most helpful books I've read is Eric Fromm's "The Art of Loving." There is one idea from that book that has embedded itself in my memory and in my weighing of love or not love. It is basically that love has at least four qualities that must be present.
Knowledge, care, respect, responsibility - these are the four.
If you say that you love _________, then you want to know. You delve into who this person is, what they believe, what they think, what they like, what they don't like. You are curious about who they are. You want to know how to be in their lives. You want to know them.
If you say that you love _________, then you care about them. You have empathy for them. You lift them when they are down and celebrate with them when they are up. You offer help when needed. You inquire about how they are doing. You care.
If you say that you love _________, then you respect them. The basis of respect is to see. That is, you see them as they are, not as you wish they were or pretend they are. You look clearly without judgment at who this person is. You celebrate their uniqueness. You do not try to change them into someone else. You accept and see them as they are.
If you say that you love _________, then you take responsibility. One of the ways to understand responsibility is to take it to mean that you respond appropriately. You respond appropriately to whatever it is they have going on in their lives.
I urge you to also apply these four to your own relationship with yourself. We have been told to love our neighbors as ourselves. Your knowledge, care, respect, responsibility to yourself need to be active or you cannot really give them to others.
That is just a tiny touching of these ideas. They can be applied to people, activities, events and a broad spectrum of your life. For example, let's say you tell people you love your dog, but you don't know anything about dogs or your dog's breed; you don't care for the dog not making sure that it always has exercise, attention, food and drink; you do not see its nature; and you do not act in a responsible way. It could be said that you do not actually love your dog.
Just look at your life and the people you say you love. Can it be said that you actually do love them? Do the four qualities of love show up consistently in your relationship? Or look at those who say they love you - are these four qualities apparent?
Lots of hurt could be avoided by noticing when love is or is not actually present. Do not take a person's words alone. Put them in the context of actions. So you say you love me, but you do not ___________. Perhaps love is not present. Perhaps this is not a whole relationship.
You know I have to go to the spiritual too. You say you love God. Do you spend time in prayer and meditation and study getting to know God? Do you care about God and your relationship so that it is on your top 10 list of priorities? Do you see God as God is or do you put God in a convenient box that is more comfortable for you? Do you respond to God's guidance and what is known as appropriate actions to be in relationship? Does your life testify to the point that you love God? What would God say to you about how you love God?
So food for thought. I hope you contemplate this food.
Lord, I lift up my heart and life to You. Lead me to be, think, and feel love here on earth. Help me to be aware of my love or lack of it and help me to shift into love. Help me to be filled with these four qualities in my relationships with You and others.