The Calculus of Love

How much does it cost to love someone? This is a difficult, if not impossible, question to answer.


Several months ago, Bishop Robert Barron reviewed Lady Bird, a film which, despite its at times questionable treatment of sexuality, captures the struggles of family life. The film centers on the relationship between a young woman and her mother as she prepares to go to college. Lady Bird, having grown up in Sacramento, wants desperately to go to New York City for school. Her mother, concerned both for her daughter and her family’s finances, plans to send her daughter to the local community college. In the midst of this tension, Lady Bird’s father loses his job, further disrupting their financial situation. Throughout the film, we see Lady Bird’s parents sitting at the kitchen table, with a pad of yellow lined paper, crunching the numbers to figure out how they will pay their bills. Yet this does not deter Lady Bird, and with the help of her father, she applies to several colleges in New York, unbeknownst to her mother.

In a crucial scene, Lady Bird and her mother are arguing once again. Her exasperated mother tells Lady Bird that she has no idea how much it costs to raise her and to love her. In reply, Lady Bird picks up that same pad of yellow lined paper, and says, “give me a number.” Lady Bird wants her mother to put a dollar amount on her love, so that she can “make a lot of money and write you a check and never speak to you again.” Lady Bird’s mother, of course, is unable to give her a number.

When Lady Bird is accepted to her dream school in New York, she tries to keep the acceptance from her mother, but a friend lets the secret out. After this, her mother stops speaking to her, in denial of the imminent departure of her daughter. We see a montage of her mother sitting at that same kitchen table, with that same pad of yellow lined paper, presumably crunching some more numbers, trying to figure out how they will be able to afford to send Lady Bird to New York.

Yet when Lady Bird arrives in New York, we learn this was not what her mother had been doing. Lady Bird opens her suitcase, to find several sheets of paper torn off of that pad of yellow lined paper, covertly placed there by her father. On each, a letter begins, but never ends. “Dear Lady Bird,” “Dear Christine,” “To Lady Bird,” “My dear daughter,” etc. Time and again, Lady Bird’s mother tried to give her the number she had been looking for, the number which would express how much she loved her, how much it cost for her to love her daughter as she did. And time and again, she realized she couldn’t. There wasn’t a number, because love is so much more than can be calculated.

This is the love of a parent for her child, a sacrificial love which is beyond calculation. This is the love of God the Father for us, his children. The difference is that for us, as Christians, there is, so to speak, a number. God the Father gave his only Son, Jesus Christ, God made man, to hang upon the cross for our salvation. That is the cost of love. “Greater love has no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends” (John 15:13). Christ gave his life for us because he loved us. If we are to truly love, we must give our lives as well, to be crucified in whichever vocation we are called.

From Dominicana Journal