While musing on Valentine’s Day this week, I began to reminisce about the 1984 hit “I Want to Know What Love Is” by the British-American rock band Foreigner. This song caught my attention as a teenager due to Foreigner’s collaboration with the New Jersey Mass Choir. I loved gospel choirs growing up in church in the 80s, and “I Want to Know What Love Is” provided a taste of inspirational gospel vocals to many outside of the Christian faith through its music video that ran on MTV.
I went back to watch the video and listen to the lyrics. Foreigner’s lead singer Lou Gramm sang in the opening verse, “I gotta take a little time, a little time to think things over. I better read between the lines, in case I need it when I’m older.” The video shows the anxiousness and uncertainty embedded in life’s daily challenges. A young woman wakes up in bed alone and takes a shower looking deeply distressed. A construction worker carefully walks across a high rise plank balancing a steel beam on his shoulder, and an older woman pressing garments in a dry cleaning store pauses for a moment with an intense gaze. Then comes the famous chorus: “I want to know what love is. I want you to show me. I want to feel what love is. I know you can show me.”
When I listened to this song in 1984 at age 15, I was too young to understand how the vicissitudes of life can wear one down with feelings of loneliness, depression and fear, and being a typical high school girl immersed in social activities with my friends, I had not given much thought about the genuine meaning of love. Yet, I interpreted Foreigner’s lyrics as a desire and cry for the love of God from my knowledge of faith at this point in my life. I felt Gramm was asking God to seal a void that many feel within their hearts. Foreigner’s theme was universal, as people have always longed to have a virtuous fulfillment of love, a completeness that provides unremitting joy and supersedes carnal pleasures.
Valentine’s Day, unfortunately, is oftentimes celebrated in popular culture through relationships that are fleeting and steeped in lust or some feel left out because they are single. For young people, popular culture glorifies promiscuity, making “hook-ups” and one-night stands seem ideal while despising commitment. Many older adults are often depressed on Valentine’s Day due to being alone, being reminded of past relationships, or being dissatisfied in a present relationship. I believe that most people going through these circumstances truly want to, as Gramm passionately sang, “feel what love is.”
In reflecting on Foreigner’s plea regarding love, I went back to a Bible verse that I memorized as a child in Sunday school: 1 Corinthians 13:4-5. This Scripture provides a profound answer to what love actually is through God and Jesus Christ. Here is the translation in the New International Version: “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.” These are the attributes of what is known biblically as agape love, love that is unconditional in God’s affection for us and how He wants us to care for each other. This godly love is also described as “perfect,” with the Greek translation of perfect indicating a stage of maturity in mental and moral character and providing the comforting assurance of not living in fear. In “I Want to Know What Love Is,” Foreigner’s lyrics also pointed to fear of insecurity facing “heartache and pain” as one grows older, and being older now, when fear comes to battle my faith and happiness in life I take refuge in 1 John 4:18, which says, “perfect love casts out fear.”
If you find yourself this Valentine’s Day weekend feeling like “the world is upon your shoulders,” another touching verse that Gramm sang, I encourage you to seek God’s perfect love through Christ, love that is not condemning and selfish but enduring and compassionate. If you are lonely, disheartened or angry, take some time to “think things over.” God will definitely show you what love is.
Dr. Jessica A. Johnson is a lecturer in the English department at The Ohio State University-Lima. Email her at email@example.com. @JjSmojc