FAMILY AND MARRIAGE: What is love?
“I have found the paradox, that if you love until it hurts, there can be no more hurt, only more love.” – Mother Teresa
“But now faith, hope, love, abide these three; but the greatest of these is love.” – Bible
Joe loves the fall. It’s his favorite time of year, with the brilliant autumn color in the trees and the invigorating cool weather. He also loves ice cream. And he loves golf. And he loves his dog. And he loves his wife.
Love means many things to many people. Probably a safe statement is to say that love is a good thing.
OK, so love is a good thing; what do we mean when we say we “love” something? If we evolved from chaos (we didn’t), how does love enter in? For humans, maybe love is simply the attraction that causes us to reproduce, thus carrying on the human race. That love certainly gets a lot of attention these days.
Maybe love is the word we use to identify anything that helps us carry on once we’ve been “produced” (food, clothing, security) and in particular that gives us pleasure (makes us “feel” good).
When we look for the meaning of love we often fall back on the four definitions coming from Greek literature:
Eros – romance, passionate physical and emotional love based on aesthetic enjoyment.
Storge – natural affection, love of the family, e.g. love of parent for child.
Philia – friendship, affectionate love among friends that develops slowly.
Agape – unconditional, selfless altruistic love.
Eros, storge, and philia are relatively easy to understand and accept. They define different ways in which we get our needs met and derive pleasure from life. They aren’t bad and in fact are necessary for our fulfillment. But are they sufficient?
Agape love on the other hand is unconditional love. We love even though we may not derive any benefits. It is a choice we make to love another person whether they love us back or not. Agape love is not based on emotion at all. In fact, it may be contrary to our every emotion. It is an act of the will.
Many marriages are based on eros (romantic, sexual) and philia (friendly) love. Some hopefully also demonstrate storge (familial) love, especially as the children arrive. These kinds of love support our own needs. You might call them selfish loves, but God says it’s OK to love ourselves.
However, God also says we are to love others. The second of the two most important commandments in the Bible says “You shall love your neighbor as yourself”. This doesn’t mean that you are to love others so they will love you, although that may at times be a side benefit.
We are first of all to love (care for, forgive, etc.) ourselves, no matter how many faults we may think we have. We are then to love others with that same “unconditional” love, i.e. agape love.
Marriages fail when one or both spouses fail to exercise agape love. The other three kinds of love are necessary but not sufficient to sustain a marriage relationship. Failure in the marriage may not result in separation or divorce, but it does mean an unfulfilled relationship – two people living together in survival mode.
The first three forms of love, as noted above, come naturally, since they feed our needs and usually give us pleasure. We seek them out.
The fourth kind of love is a different creature. It goes counter to the natural desire for self-preservation. It may mean giving up things that bring us pleasure in order to bring pleasure to someone else.
Picture the Dead Sea versus a spring. One is constantly receiving without giving out, which is insufficient to keep it healthy. The other is constantly giving out and is hearty.
In order to maintain a constant – or even periodic - outflow, we must be plugged into an external source. Plug yourself and your marriage into God and you can experience agape love; that’s what relationship is all about.
The Family and Marriage Coalition of Aiken, Inc. (FAMCO) provides resources for you to succeed in your marriage and families. Roger Rollins, executive director of FAMCO, can be reached at 640-4689, email@example.com or www.aikenfamco.com.