There's something deep down inside us that knows love truly is the answer to all our problems. But what about this love?
February is the month of love in the U.S.
It’s Valentine’s Day, and everything is pink and heart shaped. Many stores go all out in their decorations, reminding us mostly of cupid-driven, romantic love.
And, while this is all good for the bottom lines of many retailers, what’s missing is a deeper communication, exploration and understanding of what love truly is. Let’s explore that for a moment here.
What, pray tell, is love, really?
You know it. You've felt it. But can you accurately, completely, comprehensively explain it?
Love is something every human being on the planet has experienced in one shape or form, however fleeting. It is this sense that, in a really deep way, someone cares about us. It is frequently the bedrock for art, literature, theatre, cinema and music. It influences human behavior in strange and sometimes heroic ways. It is at once completely natural and understandable, while at the same time being mysterious.
The ancient Greeks assigned six different words for love: philautia (self love), pragma (longstanding love), philia (friendship), ludus (playful love), eros (sexual love) and agape (unconditional love).
Don’t worry! We won’t take a deep dive into any of these here! You can do your own online research if you want to know more.
Safe to say, however, most human focus on love is on philia, ludus and eros love. Philautia and pragma (from which, of course, we get the English word pragmatic) often get overlooked. And agape is frequently viewed as impossible. I mean, who loves unconditionally? Most people will acknowledge they get at least a little something out of the love they give, and this fuels them to give more.
Agape love is often attributed as the love God offers – no strings attached. After all, the basis of Christian belief is that God offers his love first (1 John 4:19 – “We love because [God] first loved us.”) This is true whether we choose to love back or not. In fact, bringing this world – and us – into existence was, Christians believe, an act of extreme love itself.
But let’s bring this into our present age.
Why is love the choice we must make right now?
Our world needs love – much more love – because of the rise in division, misunderstanding and hatred. It’s not as if this problem hasn’t existed since the dawn of time. It’s just that now, more than ever, it is part of the daily experience, the constant news streams, the tenor of our conversations.
Largely because of the pervasiveness of media and the 24/7 nature of the news cycle, we are constantly reminded of the enmity, friction and pervasive evil in our world. And it’s hard. We need love to temper this. We need love to wash over everything – our minds, our souls, our relationships, our behaviors, our communities, our nations, our world.
I would argue we need more healthy philautia (self love) first. Too many people feel terrible about themselves and their existence. The scourge of self-inflicted wounds and rise in suicide rates, especially among young people, bear witness.
It’s important to know, philautia unchecked can become narcissism, and this is dangerous to human beings, both individually and corporately. Sadly, we see its devastating effects every day. But healthy philautia enables a person to thrive and give from a place of humility.
We need more philia – healthy love of friends. And we need a more expansive view of who our friends are. You know the expression: “A stranger is a friend you just haven’t met yet.” (I find this discussion in Quora about this quote intriguing.)
This doesn’t mean we need to be friends with everyone we encounter. That is impossible. But we can be friendly with all. That is a choice.
We need more pragma – longstanding love. Commitment, love to go the distance. We see this nowhere more prominently than in the staggering divorce rates in the western world, and increasingly around the planet. Now, I know – divorce is complicated, and the reasons for it are as diverse as humanity. But this epidemic of divorce – a lack of pragma – cannot be overlooked.
And lastly, we need more agape – unconditional love. Is this something we can summon from within? Personally, I would say it’s pretty darn hard. But, for Christ-followers, the model of this is Jesus. We look to Jesus to summon that type of love toward another even when we don’t feel it.
Our agape will always be less than 100%, I believe. But we can strive for a love for our fellow human beings modeled upon the love God offers us. And if you are not a Christ-follower – and even if you do not believe in God (or god) at all – you can still cry out to the universe for power to love this way.
Even when it’s hard.
Because, when we get to the end of ourselves, of all our striving, and choose love – even when we don’t feel like it – we are having an impact. We are adding to the overall balance of good in this world.
And that is worth striving for.
How does this understanding of the different types of love challenge you?