I Can Love You Like That

Elizabeth Barrett Browning penned these immortal words many years ago:

“How do I love thee?  Let me count the ways./I love thee to the depth and breadth and height/My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight/For the ends of Being and an ideal Grace…”

It is one of her most famous poems, included in the little book published by her husband, fellow poet and the receiver of that poem — Robert Browning.  Sonnets from the Portuguese is on my bedside table with my Bible, and now and then I pick it up just to read that particular work.

Elizabeth’s love for Robert is evident throughout the entire book of sonnets, but this poem in particular is so very exacting, so specific, in what her love for him is that we can’t plead misunderstanding.  There is no mistake to be made:  Elizabeth loved Robert dearly, beyond feeling, or Being, and into the realm of the ideal Grace. 

It made me wonder what it must be like to have that kind of a love.  How wonderful it must be to have someone love you that way — and to love them in return!  How much deeper, if this love were true, would the sentiments be than the kind of false ‘adoration’ we find today.  Yet so as not to journey into discontent, I purposed to think of what this love would be like with what I already have — my God.  As I read Elizabeth’s poem with this in mind, the message became all the more clear.

“How do I love Thee?  Let me count the ways.

I love Thee to the depth and breadth and height

My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

To the ends of Being an ideal Grace.

I love Thee to the level of everyday’s

Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.

I love Thee freely, as men strive for Right;

I love Thee purely, as they turn from Praise.

I love Thee with the passion put to use

In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.

I love Thee with a love I seemed to lose

With my lost saints — I love Thee with the breath,

Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,

I shall but love Thee better after death.

Beautiful, isn’t it?  As you read it through, think how we can love our God this way.  It is possible.  This love is a love that has taken all of life, the ‘breath, smiles, and tears’, and made them not a source of bitterness or pride, but a source of gratefulness and love.  This love is true in mundane — each “everyday’s most quiet need” — and is free, pure and passionate.  It is faithful and persevering… even unto death. 

I read once that “No love of the human heart is safe unless it is satisfied by God first.”  It’s very true.  And He can love you like that.


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