“I love your hair!” “Didn’t you just looooove that performance?” “I’m not feeling the love right now.” “Don’t say it unless you’re ready to commit!”

Have you ever wondered why the word ‘love’ nonchalantly rolls off the tongue for some, yet gets stuck in the throat for others? Why is that? Is love a four-letter word we should only use with extreme caution, or is it mostly a throw-away term, the English language’s version of a thumbs up or a heart emoji?

How about option c: None of the above.

‘Love’ is not something we necessarily have to say (although it can be quite lovely to hear!) and it’s not even something we have to feel. Then, what the heck is love?

In the words of Poet and Musician Toby McKeehan, real ‘love’ is a verb. Or as bestselling Author Bob Goff declares, “Love does.”

A verb, huh? Yep. Authentic Christian love denotes action — something we do rather than something we merely feel, or a description of something we “like a lot.” Genuine, selfless, God-imaging love demands something of us: A choice, a decision. It requires movement on our part — movement that leads us away from our desires and agenda and propels us further on and further in toward the will of God and consideration of neighbor.

I don’t remember exactly when or where I heard it first, but years ago, someone answered the $970 million question: “If you want to know what real love is, look at a crucifix.” I paused, gazing upon the Lord Jesus hanging on that old, rugged cross, and pondered the meaning of authentic love.

“For God so loved the world He gave His only Son …,” John 3:16 tells us. The Son who was tortured and died ... for me. For you. For our family members and friends. Even for our so-called enemies. For anyone who ever was and ever shall be. A crucifix certainly doesn’t resemble a box of candy hearts or a bouquet of flowers. It isn’t the lyrics of a sentimental love song, or some grand romantic gesture that makes us feel good. Yet we will never contemplate anything more loving than Jesus, the spotless Lamb of God, paying the ultimate price so that, one day, we might behold Love face to face.

Surely Jesus’s death on the cross is more significant than any act of love we could attempt to replicate. Yet Scripture reminds us that we have no greater love than when we lay down our lives for our friends (John 15:13). And by “laying down,” St. John doesn’t necessarily mean physically dying, but we are able to sacrifice something — to set aside our wants and needs for the sake of another. I’ve witnessed many folks showing that sort of love over these past many months, and you probably have, too: The first responders working tirelessly to keep us safe, and those who ensure our kids are cared for and educated. Medical professionals providing critical and routine care. Workers stocking grocery store shelves and sanitizing pin pads at the gas pumps. How about those who have worked week after week so that we — even if it’s only via the interwebs — go to church?

Personally, I never understood the sacrificial nature of love until I became a wife and mother. It took time, but eventually I could see it: the consideration of another’s opinion, the lost sleep, the changed plans, the tantrums in Mass — I had a choice to face each challenge with love or resentment, and only one choice was pleasing to God. Even today, after almost 20 years of marriage, I’m faced with countless opportunities to lay down my life for my husband and children. Unfortunately, recognizing the opportunities and doing something about them aren’t one and the same. But by the grace of God, I keep trying.

Over the years, I’ve learned that love wakes up in the middle of the night to comfort the crying child, to tend the elderly parent, to ensure the teenager makes it home safely. Love gives its last homemade banana cream muffin away. It picks up trash around the neighborhood when no one is looking. Love goes to work, cooks dinner, pays the bills, reads to kids, says prayers, tucks people in, and does it all over again the next day. Love volunteers at St. Vincent de Paul, the altar society, and watches the grandkids on date night. It makes extra chicken noodle soup for a sick neighbor. Love listens closely as the child describes his favorite game for the ten millionth time. It buys a cup of coffee for the next person in line. It stops to help the family with the flat tire. Love gives to the tuition assistance program so a family can keep their kids in the parish school when they’re unemployed. Love changes the toilet paper roll without being asked.

One of the best things about love is that it’s super contagious. When we show love to someone, that person is more likely to show love to someone else, and so on and so forth. How much better would our world be if we determined that we could — that, indeed, we have a God-given mission to — be carriers of his love?

This Lent, I want to give up the times when I put my own desires first. I want to listen to the voice of God and obey, no matter how strange his requests might seem. I want to do small things with great love for my family, my friends, and total strangers. I want my Lent to be filled with more of him, more of others, and less of me.

During the next 40 days, may we do something uniquely beautiful for God: may we choose to abide in his self-giving love, and in turn cultivate the courage, fortitude, and resolve to share that love with all we meet. Amen.

Renshaw is a wife and mother and author who resides in the wilds of suburban Portland.