Years ago, my daughter fell in love with a young man whom she met during her summer break from college. I remember their relationship moving rather quickly and her talking about marriage. I counseled her at the time that she was not ready for that step, which did not go over too well. But in considering the ways I could counsel my daughter, I went deep into thought and discovered the most beautiful word in any language, LOVE.
Over the next few months my future son-in-law became a regular around our home in the evenings for our spiritual devotionals. During one of those evenings, I remember asking him if he had ever considered serving a mission for The Lord? He replied that when he was younger he participated in a religion-sponsored Scout troop, and he always heard the other boys talk about missions and thought he too would serve one someday. I told them both I knew they had been discussing marriage but I felt they needed both time and the blessings a mission would bring to their future union. I then said this to him: “You think you love my daughter. But you don’t know what love yet means.” I went on, “If you go on a mission you will learn to put God first and love Him with all your heart, might, mind and strength. You will also learn to love, sacrifice, and put others before self. Then when you faithfully return, I will know you learned to love God and others more than you love yourself. I will also know that you have the capacity and understanding to love my daughter, your children, and my grandchildren more than you love yourself.”
Thou shalt love thy neighbor as thyself. This commandment is most often cited from the Gospel and epistles of John, but the commandment is also found in Leviticus and in the teachings of Christ and His apostles. We do need to love ourselves and others. Love can only reach the pinnacle of its purpose when employed in the beautiful triangle of self, neighbor, and God.
But what is love? We use this word a lot in America. As a teen there was a new sitcom on television called “Love, American Style.” It was a romantic comedy that suggested that “love” was rarely more than a passing passion, lust, or romantic attraction to another person that often found its highest expression in a quick liaison in the bedroom. It was a very shallow definition of love. In lasting relationships friendship is frequently at the heart of the emotion. It is where utility or transaction give place to excellence in love.
Websters 1828 Dictionary defines a friend this way: “One who is attached to another by affection; one who entertains for another sentiments of esteem, respect, and affection, which lead him to desire his company, and to seek to promote his happiness and prosperity; opposed to foe or enemy.” Amor and amicita come from amare, to love. The word for friend in Spanish is amigo and is also derived from the Latin root am.
In Greek, four words are used to describe what we use for one. (See C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves)
Storge: Storge is the love of enjoying someone or something. It is frequently expressed as a fondness, familiarity as with a brother, sister, or family member. Storge may also be expressed as in liking a movie or play and can be a type of this love. With people, it can be the enjoyment of their company. Both ice cream and being with good friends and family can be examples of storge. This kind of love is the covering that clothes the other loves. Its foundation seems to be pleasure and transactional.
Philia: Filial love or friendship builds to a more noble state of honor and virtue when two discover that they have ideas in common and beliefs that build on those ideas. This friendship is pointing somewhere, usually toward a mutual aspiration. It is beautifully illustrated when friends would do anything for the other, thus going beyond business or pleasure.
Eros: Romantic love. This is also the love that creates the hottest of fires in our emotions. This is the love that is most frequently confused with the other three and can too easily be subsumed by lust and risks transforming another person to an object for momentary gratification. Yet it can also be the beautiful sacrament of commitment, covenant and trust that demonstrates ultimate loyalty, fidelity, and devotion.
Agape: Divine love. This is the highest and most unselfish of the loves. Paul in 1 Corinthians 13 called it charity. For many it is not natural and at times it goes against human nature. It loves the unlovable, the undeserving, and selfish individuals. It gives all and asks for nothing in return. It is the one that takes the greatest chances. It is also that love which experiences the most loss. It puts others above self. It elevates the other three loves to their highest virtue. The Apostle Paul put it this way, “Charity suffereth long, and is kind; charity envieth not; charity vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up, Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil; Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth; Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things. Charity never faileth:….” Its apex may be found where two people would lay down their life for the other.
When you put all four of these loves together, they will never fail you. They make an unbreakable bond of being and becoming. They will inform, guide, and nurture a true love and your real existence of happiness and pure joy above any other momentary pleasures. This is what I most wished for my daughter and her future husband as they stood before me in their younger years—a future full of the truest and most complete love. I am pleased to say the invitation was heeded with a beautiful outcome.
What is the most beautiful thing you have ever learned?
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I “love” your message. ❤️