What is love?
“I love chips. I’d have them with every meal.”
“I just love him so much. I can’t live without him!”
“I don’t know if I love him any more. I feel empty and distant.”
How can we use one little four letter word in such different ways? The word love trips to our lips so easily, but do we know exactly what we mean? In classical Greek, they had three words for our one.
Eros is the word they would have used about romantic love, excitement between lovers, affection, physical attraction. Phileo is the love of friendship; common interests and admiration are factors in phileo love. Agape love is love that endures even when things are difficult, when we have been let down by the one we love or feel hurt or even unloving. It’s love without expecting anything in return. It’s wanting the best for the other, not counting the cost to ourselves.
All three sorts of love can be valuable parts of marriage, but the one that empowers commitment and joy is agape, enabling us to love through difficulties, ‘for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part’.
What is your love like?
What is unconditional love?
A child or grandchild reaches up their arms to give us a hug. A young man asks his sweetheart: “Will you marry me”. It’s so easy to respond in love in such situations when someone obviously loves and appreciates you.
But how about the teenager who is giving you the lip, who leaves his dirty underwear all over the bathroom floor, or the husband who comes in late each night and sits straight down in front of the television and falls asleep? They are not so easy to love, because we don’t seem to get anything back, no affection, no appreciation. We might as well be invisible. When we do get a reaction it often hurts – the critical word, disrespect. Then it can be even harder to love.
At times like this we don’t feel warm, romantic or loving. We often feel angry, hurt and lonely. Can we still “love” in these circumstances? Can we act with love, even when we don’t feel “loving”?
My father told me as a teenager that he would love me whatever I did, that nothing I did would stop that love. He was true to his words, despite disapproving of and being hurt by my actions and behaviour as I grew up. His words have had a big impact on my life. It has meant a lot to me to know that at least one person had a love for me, a love that was dependent not on my actions, but on his will and commitment.
Love is more than just warm romantic feelings – it is a decision we can make with our will, despite our feelings. When we see love like this, then our relationships can grow and flourish even through the difficult times. If we’re always keeping score of how well we’ve behaved to each other, or base our love on how we are feeling, then there’s little hope for a healthy relationship.
How can we love unconditionally?
So what does this decision to love involve. It involves:
- wanting what is best for the other person, as much or more than what is best for us
- forgiving them and not holding out for revenge
- accepting them warts and all, rather than trying to change them
- looking for ways to show that we care for them and value them
- believing that things can change for the better.
That sort of love is powerful – it can break down indifference, heal hurts, soften hearts and bring out the best in others. But it’s costly too. It can’t live alongside pride or selfishness or bitterness or unforgiveness. They have to go, if you want to be able to love that way.
It’s very hard to love when you get absolutely nothing in return or even worse if you are being constantly let down. Most of us love others and treat them well, because we believe that then they will love us. That’s not such a bad reason to love someone, but what do we do when they don’t act lovingly towards us or let us down?
If we see love as being about giving to each other, about being the best we can for each other, rather than finding fulfillment, then our relationship is more likely to flourish.
Some examples of unconditional love
Where does this picture of love come from? Some people recognise it intuitively – the parents who keep loving a wayward child, the partner who forgives their husband/wife after an affair and offers a new start together.
Corrie ten Boom, who survived the Nazi death camps, tells of an occasion after the end of the war when she was speaking at a meeting about forgiveness. At the end of the meeting a man approached her holding out his hand. She instantly recognized him as one of the warders from the camp who had treated her and her family so badly. In that split second she was faced with the reality of the choice to forgive. She held out her hand and shook it as he quietly asked her forgiveness.
There’s another story that illustrates this sort of love. It’s about a prisoner of war in a Japanese camp. The prison officers were demanding to know who had stolen some food, which had actually been taken by one of the jailers. They began to threaten the execution of prisoners one by one to force a confession.
The innocent man couldn’t bear the thought of his friends dying in this way and stepped forward to confess and was shot on the spot.
Such love and concern for others can seem foolish or courageous. There is another man who has made his impact on human history and who many believe really demonstrated this sort of selfless love for others. That man is Jesus, who many believe died a cruel death to take the punishment every person deserves for their sin and rejection of God. Some view his death as a pointless waste and failure, but for others he is an inspiration to help them love others selflessly and sacrificially.
Loving like that can seem impossible without a little help. So next time you don’t know how to go on loving you might like to ask for God’s help.
Love is always being willing to say sorry…
Love is wanting the best for the one we love…
Love is seeing the potential in our loved one…
Love is telling them what you value in them….
Love is forgiving and not holding on to hurts….
Love is living today as if it were your last, but looking forward to a fresh tomorrow…
Love is listening with all your heart
Love is knowing when to speak and when to sit together in silence
Love is the most precious gift you can receive……
AND the most precious gift you can give……