Editor's note: This article is by Claire, co-author of  Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We.

Waiting for Eli to email me back sent me into orbit. Every time I clicked “send” it was nearly the same as stepping into a spaceship, locking the door, and blazing off into La La Land where neither time nor responsibilities existed. 

Our whole story began in the wonderful world of La La Land. Eli and I swooned across bandwidths with the woozy hopes of people clearly out of touch with reality. There were 700 miles between us. We lacked basic knowledge of the other. But the mere fact that each other’s existence had become known to us was enough to fuel the rockets and send us flying towards each other. 

Our story began in La La Land, and I imagine that is where many people’s stories begin too. That place where our hopes for another surge with visions of summer picnics, evening walks, and coffee shop conversations. Then maybe these simple hopes blush with thoughts of goodnight kisses, candlelit dinners, perhaps even that perfect marriage proposal. Then there is the wedding aisle and picking out paint colors for your new home and playing board games by a fire with your kids and leaning against each other on a porch swing where your canes rest beside you. Things can accelerate pretty quickly in a world of apparition.

The anticipation of another is a powerful force. Those moments in between emails, those hopes ladled out between sleep and consciousness, they direct our gaze to something larger than life. They send us sailing into the foggy halo of love. It is a revelry out there, to be sure, but also a ruse, as anyone knows who has sat next to their daydream and wondered if he had always cut his steak that way or if her gaze had always drifted so easily. 

It’s natural to long after the abstractness of another, especially in the early and expectant days of a relationship. But to live life with our affections always aimed at anticipation instead of presence, at the not yet instead of the already, at the hypothetical instead of actual is in fact to relinquish love. We cannot truly love unless we are loving the concrete, the here and now, the person in front of us. Love necessitates the tangible particulars and the tangible particulars necessitate love.

This is why we have neighbors. Those people in our lives, both intentionally and unintentionally, provide infinite opportunities to learn love. To squander these occasions is easy but serious. It is rebuffing the greatest commandment. We don’t truly love until the vision we’ve worshiped becomes an embodied knock on our door, a missed call on our phone, a confrontation in the hallway or request on the street. It’s easy to love the apparition of our affections—and that’s fine—but the love of Christ knows no abstraction but only flesh and blood and more blood. 

Consider what the poet and essayist Christian Wiman says about the need for concreteness in our lives as Christians: “It is easy enough to write and talk about God while remaining comfortable within the contemporary intellectual climate. Even people who would call themselves unbelievers often use the word gesturally, as a ready-made synonym for mystery. But if nature abhors a vacuum, Christ abhors a vagueness. If God is love, Christ is love for this one person, this one place, this one time-bound and time-ravaged self.”

We are to love as Christ loves, which means moving away from vagueness and into the particular. The task of love isn’t to find one person to love for a lifetime in exchange for a mutual promise (which is often arrived at through blurry-eyes), though surely there is nothing inherently wrong in that. Rather, the task of love is to lay down one’s life for one’s friends (John 15:13).  It is to reach out our hands and run them across someone’s grimy scars and feel the contours of their need with our own hearts. 

For such a love to be possible, we need to be present. We need to be in this world, not in one of our own making, because it is here that pain and grief mingle with healing and joy, the divine beginning of new life that comes from a death of the old. It is this world that Christ came down to love. We can take occasional jaunts into La La Land, but that is not where we will find real love.  We will find it only in the love of Christ.

Eli earned a law degree from The University of Chicago Law School and now practices law at an international firm. Prior to law school, Eli worked in the music industry on teams working with a variety of recording artists, including Jeremy Camp, Underoath, and Starflyer 59. Claire is an editor and writer. She has worked at Christianity Today, The New York Times, Penguin Classics, and Penguin Books. She is a contributor to First Things, Books & Culture, and The Gospel Coalition. Find them online at claireandeli.com or twitter.

Publication date: September 26, 2012