Archive for August, 2011

Take the Time to Do the Prep Work

I am a project person.  From brainstorming to execution to reveling in the completed product, I love projects, especially the home-improvement, crafty, organizational ones.  I think what I love most, however, is how much I have learned through doing projects.  I’m not talking about the technical stuff, either.  What I’m talking about is wisdom.

About four months ago, I decided to refinish some old, tired looking patio furniture from IKEA.

Originally purchased eight years ago, the set fit the necessary criteria: it had a TABLE and CHAIRS that we could AFFORD, and it was STURDY (at least sturdier than the plastic stuff).  Neither ugly nor attractive (nor comfortable), we never really enjoyed the set.  And after we got nicer stuff, it was pushed to the margins of the yard, somewhat functional, but hardly used.

Refinishing the set was going to be a four-step process:

  1. Clean and Sand the Wood
  2. Prime with an oil-based paint
  3. Decoratively paint
  4. Finish with polyurethane

In all honesty, I don’t necessarily enjoy every part of every step in any given project.  Specifically, I neither enjoy cleaning years of caked on dirt and spider webs nor do I like sanding.  But if there’s one thing you cannot skip it’s the prep-work.

Taking the time to do the prep work always pays off in the long run.

In the case of this project, I begrudgingly admitted to my insistent husband that yes, I wanted to avoid frustration when it came time to paint the chairs, and yes, I wanted my efforts to be long-lasting, so yes, I would take the time to clean and sand the wood.  Yes, I would properly prime everything with the smelly, difficult-to-clean oil based paint.

In reality, “taking the time to do the prep work” applies to practically every aspect of our lives.  Take the “PIES” model of self-examination: Physical, Intellectual, Emotional, Spiritual.

  • Physically, when we don’t properly warm up or train, slowly building up to the goal, we are more prone to hurt ourselves.
  • Intellectually, when we don’t do the necessary reading or studying in preparation for a class or a meeting, the parties involved experience the frustration of wasted time, and the failure to perform can have ever-widening implications on our jobs, our reputation with others, and even in our personal integrity.
  • Emotionally, taking the time to do the prep work can impact our ability to truly be in the present moment.  Sometimes this is about coming to terms with where we are in the process of “change.” Other times, this is about working through “differences.”  Acknowledging and attending to emotions helps us to be more present to one another in the situation at hand, rather than being fixated on the past or the future.
  • Spiritually, taking the time to do the prep work is about cultivating ourselves as people of justice.  Spiritual prep work is about developing the moral character to be good people who do the right thing.  It’s about becoming a person who means it when they pray, “Thy will be done.”  It’s about setting aside the time to be with God in prayer while reflecting on life.  It’s about aligning our whole selves with the folks to whom Jesus says, “Come, inherit the kingdom…For I was hungry and you gave me food.” (Matthew 25:34-35).
When we take the time to do the prep work, the finished product doesn’t just look awesome.  It is awesome.  Through and through.

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In what areas of your life do you take the time to do the prep work?  In what areas do you need to be more attentive?  How have you noticed the difference prep work makes in your own life?
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The Truth About Love

Have you ever had one of those random moments in life—personal or professional—when someone asks you something, and when you open your mouth to respond, you’re amazed by the profound insight that comes out?  You know you said it, but the wisdom had to have come from God?

Well, years ago, while teaching in Austin, I took a group of students to work at an orphanage in Mexico.  In addition to showering the children with attention and affection, we did a bunch of home-improvement style projects – from cleaning to painting to repairs.  The poverty was staggering. While we helped both physically and financially, it was abundantly clear that our charity was not going to bring about a real and lasting change.

That evening, we did the Mission-Trip-Circle-Up conversation to discuss and process our day.  One student, Travis, was extremely conflicted: “I feel really good about myself, but I feel guilty for feeling that way.  We have so much, and they have so little.  It just doesn’t make any sense; I don’t like the fact that I feel so good about myself.”

I suggested to Travis that “feeling good” was not reflecting some kind of “superiority,” but rather he felt good because he was participating in true agapic love.  In the Gospel of John, Jesus called us to love one another as he loved us; to participate in agape.  This was not a “to-do-list” task, but an invitation.  The act of selfless giving in service (and in love) feels great because in it, we experience the divine.

And it doesn’t matter which kind of love we’re talking about: philia (friendship love), eros (passionate love), storge (family affection), or agape (unconditional giving of oneself for the good of another).

What a profound “God-is-love” truth.

The act of selfless giving in love feels great because in it,

we experience the divine.

For some reason, when talking about love, it’s a lot easier to get our heads around what love means when we take romance out of the equation.  But this same dynamic of selfless-giving-feeling-great applies to all four loves.

Allow me to explain:

Remember Erich Fromm’s definition of love (from Art of Loving 19)?  I concluded my post on dependency (I Need You to Need Me), with this:

 Mature Love “is union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity” or individuality.

If we were to diagram that one, it would be two stick figures choosing to come together to hold hands, maintaining their integrity, freely capable of individuality.  This “pattern” can and should apply to all four kinds of love.

In all four types of love, one can and should be able to give of oneself without giving up one’s identity.

Going on, Fromm names four basic elements that are common to all types of love:  Care, Responsibility, Respect, and Knowledge.

  1. Care – When we care about someone or something, we are concerned for their well-being.  When we don’t care, we don’t love.

 Care “is the active concern for the life and the growth of that which we love (Art of Loving 24).

  1. Responsibility – Instead of limiting our understanding to some assigned “duty,” Fromm goes to the root of the word:

Responsibility, in its true sense, is an entirely voluntary act; it is my response to the needs, expressed or unexpressed, of another human being.  To be ‘responsible’ means to be able and ready to ‘respond’”  (25).

  1. Respect – Without the element of respect, the element of responsibility “could easily deteriorate into domination and possessiveness” (26).

Respect is the ability to see a person as they are, to be aware of their unique individuality (26).

It’s about respecting the person’s human dignity – in God’s image (not your image).  This means allowing the other person to grow and unfold as they are (not as you would have them become…even if you have the best of intentions).

If I love the other person, I feel one with them, but with them as they are, not as I need them to be (26).

Love means letting people be free to be who they are, right now.

  1. Knowledge – As we seek to become closer with people—friends and family as well as our beloved—we come to see how many layers there are to truly knowing someone.  Knowledge of a person is key to real, mature love.

We all have had “THAT conversation” with someone, and we recognize it as a turning point in a relationship – be it as friends or lovers.

Fromm points out that “Care, responsibility, respect and knowledge are mutually interdependent.”  They are all attitudes found in love, and they are each needed to balance one another.

“To respect a person is not possible without knowing him; care and responsibility would be blind if they were not guided by knowledge. Knowledge would be empty if it were not motivated by concern” (26).

So then love is all these things:

  • Agape, Eros, Storge, Philia
  • The will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth – M. Scott Peck
  • Union under the condition of preserving one’s integrity and individuality, practiced with care, responsibility, respect, and knowledge – Erich Fromm

Love is all of this and more.

Silly Mommy

While I was working on the post on Dependency (I Need You To Need Me), my 3 1/2 yr old comes in to my office and spots my uber-sophisticated drawings of stick figures, which I was in the process of scanning.  Max flips through them and asks, “Mommy, can I help you wif deese pictuwes?”

Sure, Sweat-Pea.

I had hoped he’d be content to play with Little People while I finished writing, but I quickly discovered that was not meant to be.

LOVE, I have discovered, is always rewarding, but not always convenient.  Especially when it comes to kids.

Please allow me to “illustrate”  (Or, rather, allow Max to illustrate):

“Look, Mommy, dese hafe yous favowite color gween.  Dey has gween eyes AND a gween mowff!  I made a mistake on the mouff of dat one and colowed it but it didn’t come off.”

“I gave dese ones blue eyes wike you and me.  And smiles.  Because they is happy.  Wike us.”


“I gave dese guys wots and wots of eyes.  Dey can see ev-wey-fing!”

“Dat is me, under da table.  I is hiding.  I pwaying hide and seek.”

“And dat is wots and wots of eyes!  Dey can see even mowe of evewyfing!!”

So I guess unhealthy patterns of dependency isn’t the only “fing” to open ourselves to…  Silly Mommy!

I Need You to Need Me

Within a week of starting college I met a guy and completely fell in love.

It was not only a textbook example of the what-not-to-do insights offered in You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling, but it would serve as my introduction to the dynamic of dependency.

When I excitedly told my favorite high school teacher about my new-found sweetheart, I thought his response was rather odd: “Ah, you’ve found yourself a symbiotic partner.”  The boyfriend, a biology major, thought for a moment and explained, “Well, symbiosis is a mutually beneficial relationship between a parasite and a host… which is an unusual way of describing our relationship, but they need each other… and so do we.”  And I’m pretty sure we felt affirmed by that description of our relationship.

Retelling this story, I feel a little like an audience member in a horror flick, wanting to scream: “RUN!”

I need you.  I cannot be happy without you.

When M. Scott Peck discusses the misconception that dependency is love, he describes it as parasitic, and focuses on the lack of freedom.

“It is a matter of necessity rather than love.  Love is the free exercise of choice.  Two people love each other only when they are quite capable of living without each other but choose to live with each other.” (The Road Less Traveled, 98)

When talking about dependency, my favorite author to reference is Erich Fromm (d. 1980).   Fromm was a German social psychologist and philosopher who wrote the international bestseller The Art of Loving in 1956.  Like Peck, Fromm never actually uses the Greek term, but definitely talks about “Mature Love” in the agapic sense, as a skill that can be taught and developed.

What I really appreciate about Fromm’s work is the detail with which he describes the dynamic of dependency, or Symbiotic Union.  There is a passive form of symbiotic union (the submissive, dependent person) and an active form (the dominant, co-dependent person).

The passive, submissive, dependent person escapes from the unbearable feeling of isolation and loneliness by symbiotically becoming part and parcel of another person who directs, guides, and protects them (The Art of Loving, 18).

I am nothing without you; I feel special because you care so much about me.

The active, dominant, co-dependent person escapes from the isolation and loneliness by symbiotically making another person part and parcel of himself (or herself, as it were).  The ego is enhanced, especially since the passive person worships their symbiotic partner (Ibid).

I need you to need me; it makes me feel special to be so needed.

The thing to remember here is that both the active person and the passive person are dependent on each other.  They both need each other.  No one is being forced into submissive roles here, and this mutually beneficial arrangement—where everyone’s needs are being met—is a large part of that initial attraction.

Post-college, I attended an adult-enrichment workshop in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia in which the speaker described six different patterns of unhealthy relationships.  Asking for two volunteers, she had the “couple” kinesthetically demonstrate the different patterns she described.  I found the activity to be profoundly enlightening and came to use it in my classroom with teenagers.  It fleshes out Fromm’s explanation of the symbiotic union with relatable examples.

What follows is my uber-sophisticated stick figure representation of the bodily positions and corresponding description.

Patterns of Dependency in Unhealthy Relationships

1.  A-Frame – The kinesthetic set-up here may be difficult to see in the form of a stick-figure drawing: both people are leaning on/into each other, each putting their full body weight upon the other.  Their bodies are slanted towards each other like the sides of the letter “A.”

The people in this relationship are incapable of functioning independently; even if one attempts to do so, the other will literally fall without their partner’s support.

2.  Smothering – The kinesthetic set-up has the two hugging closely…and never letting go.

The people in this relationship may be physically (overly affectionate) or emotionally smothering.  These are the couples whose identities have become so merged that those around them refer to them as a unit (recall “Bennifer” or the teen couple from the Zits comic strip known as “Rickandamy”).

3.  Master-Slave – Kinesthetically, one stands firmly while the other is on hands-and-knees.

There are clear active (dominant) and passive (submissive) roles in this relationship.  One is the “boss” while the other willingly follows orders.  Remember no one forces their partner into a role; the “slave” needs the guidance of the “master” as much as the “master” needs the “slave.”

You don’t know her like I do.

He cares so much about me, it makes me feel so special.

 4.  Pedestal – The kinesthetic set-up here has one standing atop a chair or desk while the other stands on the floor, looking up to their elevated partner.

In this relationship, the (elevated) “hero” helps the (lowly) “troubled” person, which often involves saving “troubled” from some sort of crisis.  Initially, “hero” feels great with all the self-satisfaction involved in helping someone, and “troubled” feels incredibly cared for.

I love who you are becoming.

This dynamic becomes problematic if one of the two attempts to break out of their prescribed unequal roles.  While “troubled” may certainly worship “hero,” it is important to note that “hero” may not necessarily desire these unequal roles in the relationship.  It’s not just up to “hero” to step down; “troubled” also needs to stop putting “hero” up on the pedestal.  Ironically, resentment over the unequal roles in this relationship is usually the reason for its demise.

5. Contract – Kinesthetically, the two are back-to-back and interlock elbows.  Then, they each attempt to walk in the direction they are facing… constant conflict ensues.

The parties in this relationship have long since lost that lovin’ feeling, and have somehow managed to come to an (often unspoken) agreement to just stay together.  This couple is constantly fighting or bickering, but never actually works on any of their problems.  They prefer being unhappily together to being alone.  Stuck in the comfortable rut of their relationship, they need each other so that they’re not alone.

I used to think that this pattern applied mostly to older, married couples (staying together “for the kids”).  However, the teens I taught quickly pointed out that many of their peers were in these relationships.  A fear of loneliness can prompt a person to do ridiculous things.

6. Martyr – The kinesthetic set-up has one lying on the floor while the other stands nearby.

The martyr willingly sacrifices their own needs and desires for the sake of the “standing partner,” often enabling the “standing partner’s” own unhealthy behavior.  The martyr’s actions appear incredibly generous, and the “standing partner” benefits from all the attention.

I do so much for you!

At first glance, the “standing partner” looks to be in charge, but the martyr controls this relationship.  How?  Perhaps by manipulating through passive-aggressive guilt, by quietly punishing the other by chronically being late or forgetting things, sulking when things don’t go their way, blaming others for their failures, playing mind games, and so on.

When I discussed Peck’s definition of love (in What Do You Mean?), I made a comment that it’s often difficult to understand why self-love is so important without discussing dependency.  Well, here we are: A person who does not have self-love is like half a person who is looking for another half a person to fill the void within and make them whole.  (Side note: THIS is what is SO WRONG with that oft quoted line from the movie Jerry Maguire, “You complete me.”  But I digress.)That’s not a “gift of one’s self.”  That’s dependency, not love.

You were created in the image and likeness of God.  You have human dignity.  Love extends from this gift of wholeness and dignity.

Erich Fromm incorporates self-love into his definition (emphasis in the original, Art of Loving 19):

Mature Loveis union under the condition of preserving one’s integrityor individuality.

Giving of yourself does not mean giving up your identity.

Know yourself, be yourself, love yourself, and share that amazing self with another person.

THAT is love.

You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling

Falling in love is simultaneously one of the most fun and most confusing experiences in life.  The butterflies… the smiles… the overwhelming elation…  the excitement…

It often catches us by surprise—we neither see it coming nor choose it.  It just happens.  Sometimes we fall for people that (for whatever reason) we shouldn’t.

And before we know it, we find ourselves either singing along to You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feeling or being serenaded (and not in the good, fun Top Gun way).

Add in a few Three’s Company style misunderstandings or a Romeo and Juliet conflict-of-loyalty and you’ve got the plot to a bulk of the romantic movies, sitcoms, and dramas out there.

No wonder we find it so shocking that

Love is not a feeling.

Even that passionate kind of love known as eros is not a feeling. (See my post Love, Love, Love for more explanation on eros.)

This is not to say that love is devoid of feeling.  In fact, when we love, it feels great.

As we understand love, as we teach children about love, as we practice love in our relationships, it would be so much healthier if we understood that feelings are a fantastic side effect of loving, but feelings are not the essence of love itself.

When it comes to the topic of “Falling in ‘Love,’” M. Scott Peck says, “Of all the misconceptions about love the most powerful and pervasive is the belief that ‘falling in love’ is love…It is a potent misconception” (Road Less Traveled,84).

Recall Peck’s thorough definition of love (from my post What Do You Mean?).

 Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (81).

Mistaking the feelings associated with “falling in love” as the essence of Real Love contradicts every aspect of Peck’s definition.

  • Falling in love has no purpose: “Falling in love has little to do with…nurturing one’s spiritual development” (89 emphasis added)
  • There is no extension of one’s self (circular process) with falling in love.
  • Falling in love does not necessitate self-love (more on this in a future post on Dependency)
  • Falling in love is effortless – it happens to us.
  • Falling in love is not a choice; we don’t choose who we do or do not have feelings for.

In my second year of teaching high school, I was in my early 20’s and (unbeknownst to me) in the most unhealthy relationship of my life, which is why I find it so ironic that it was then that I stumbled upon one of the most helpful visual diagrams of relationships that I have ever seen.

The Relationship Cycle

Relationship Cycle

The explanation of the Relationship Cycle reads like the story of an actual relationship:

  1. Attraction/Infatuation – This is that beginning of the relationship, becoming increasingly attracted to one other…also known as falling in love.  As the (somewhat) straight line indicates, this is the easy phase where everything is wonderfully agreeable.  Most of us (subconsciously) are on our best “job-interview” behavior, either overlooking or overcompensating for any possible “faults,” because we’re in love and everything is perfect!

Social psychologists estimate that infatuation has a shelf-life of 18 months, tops. 

  1. Confrontation of Faults and Differences – Whether it’s as meaningless as what movie to see or as meaningful as the role of children, money, careers, religion, etc., this is where the couple begins to identify and confront their differences.  Many people look at this and exclaim, “Ooooo – first fight!”  Perhaps… or perhaps it’s just a quiet recognition of the truth…  Here, we often hear someone say something to the effect of: “You’re not who I thought you were.”

Somewhere in-between these two phases, the “falling in ‘love’ feeling” fades

  1. Crisis of Disappointment/Dissatisfaction/Disillusionment – As the ease of the so-called honeymoon ends, it can be disappointing. Devastating, even.

“We need to talk.”

  1. Acceptance or Separation/Abandonment of the Relationship – At this point, the couple has a choice to work out their differences or decide that the relationship is over.

The key here is honesty… ignoring problems or lying to yourself/partner about “working out those differences” doesn’t actually bring the relationship to the next phase.

  1. Love – The most obvious implication here is that love is a choice.  With the effort of working through differences, the couple truly chooses to love one another.
  1. Commitment – The cycle continues… as the couple keeps discovering more and more about one another, they will continue have a choice to make: work it out or abandon the relationship.  Commitment is a matter of continually choosing to love at every turn.

I think my favorite thing about this Relationship Cycle is being able to really see that the “falling in ‘love’” phase is just the fun beginning.  Real Love is a lot deeper than that.  Real Love is a choice which embraces truth.  And that, my friends, feels incredible.

What Do You Mean?

While enjoying a Wine and Chocolates night with my sister, we touched upon the topic of love.

“What do you think love means?” I asked.

Laurie had read my previous post Love, Love, Love, and appreciated the description of the four different kinds of love, but she—like so many of us—still felt at a loss for how do put it into words.

 “I don’t know how to define love. I know how I feel, and I know what I do, but I don’t know how to define it.”

The very nature of the word “define” (which means to put limits on something) seems to contradict the infinite possibilities (and mystical nature) of love.  With that said, I think it’s important that we pursue a better understanding of what we mean by “love.”

Bestselling author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (d. 2005) set out to do just this in The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978). He dedicates a whole section to love, beginning with “Love Defined.”  I appreciate how he starts off by acknowledging the tension between the worthy pursuit of a definition, but the inherent difficulty in doing so.

In a very real sense, we will be attempting to examine the unexaminable and to know the unknowable.  Love is too large, too deep to ever be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.  I would not write this if I did not believe the attempt to have value, but no matter how valuable, I begin with certain knowledge that the attempt will in some ways be inadequate (81).

In my years of teaching—and moreover—in my years of learning from my own personal successes and failures (lots of failures) “in the field,” so to say, I find Peck’s definition of love to be clear, thorough, and helpful.

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (Ibid).

Now that is a sentence packed with meaning.  In the pages that follow, Peck offers five concise points about his definition which help better explain his meaning.

  1. Love has a distinct purpose.  The goal of love is spiritual growth.

It’s not about forcing (yourself or) someone else to fit into your image of what they should be.  But about encouraging them to become their very best selves, in God’s divine image.  Notice the word-choice here: nurturing… not implementing, evoking, or creating this change (in oneself or others), but nurturing.  That’s significant.

  1. Love is a circular process.  The more we practice extending one’s self, the better we become at doing it.

It’s easy to think that the circular process refers to “the more you give, the more you get.” But that’s not what Peck means.  Instead, think of it as extending your limits and expanding your ability to love—akin to working a muscle.  (And you know what, if it helps, think of the phrase love-muscle…whatever works!)  The more you work it, the stronger it gets.

  1. Real love necessitates self-love.

This is a tough one to explain or understand without talking about the distinction between love and dependency (which will be the topic of a post in the very near future).  What it really comes down to is that love is about giving of one’s self, and you can’t give what you don’t have.

  1. Real love requires effort.

Anytime you “extend your limits” or “expand your ability” to do something, it requires effort.  Many people read this with a tinge of negativity, thinking: “effort”means work, and “work” means drudgery.  But a lot of wonderfully fun things that we do require effort.  What’s that cliché? Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  That, my friends, implies effort.

  1. Love is an act of the will; it is a choice.

Love is a decision; it is a choice you make, particularly when we are talking about nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.  Both the idea that love requires effort and that love is a choice will become much clearer in future posts about the distinction between love and feelings.

While Peck never used the word agape, his definition certainly aligns with that Greek term for love.  I hope his definition helps you as much as it has helped me come to a deeper understanding of what love means.

So think about it… Which parts of Peck’s definition resonate with your own experience?  What part(s) do you struggle with?

Consider what kind of “spiritual growth” the experience of love has nurtured for you (and that which you have nurtured in others).  In doing so, I invite you to understand this phrase, spiritual growth, as Peck intended: as the health and growth of the whole person.  Body, mind, and soul.  Physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.

Love, Love, Love

I grew up in a house where we said “I love you” a lot. It was a statement of appreciation (“Thanks, Mom! Love you!”), a farewell (“Love you! Bye”), a part of the bedtime routine from childhood through adulthood, (“Goodnight! I love you!”), as well as an expression of sentiment (“Happy Birthday! I love you!”).

I frequently tell my husband, kids, siblings, parents, and friends “I love you!” And I mean it sincerely.

There is a bright shade of lime-green—also known as Julie-green—which I love. I love red wine and dark chocolate. I love cheese. I love my Vita-Mix, my iPhone, and the way my washer and dryer beep me a song when they’re finished a cycle (instead of buzzing). I love Austin.

I recently had the privilege of helping to create a quilt filled with messages of love and support for a dear friend who (after four years in remission and a full mastectomy) is facing a second bout of breast cancer.

A few days ago, my 3 ½ year old got sick in the middle of the night. He came to my bedside and in the saddest, most heartbreaking voice said, “Mommy, I had an accident and it got all over.” Without hesitation I jumped up and consoled him. Within a split second of surveying the scene, I called my husband in to tend to Max while I cleaned up the mess. The whole thing was quite unpleasant, but handled with tremendous love.

So what is love?

With all the different ways we use the word love, it’s a good idea to take a moment to reflect upon what exactly we mean. I am the first to admit my laziness when it comes to distinguishing between like and love. My love of places and things is really about enjoyment. And when it comes to wine, chocolate, technology, and Austin, that enjoyment is pretty intense.

In English, we have one all-inclusive word for love. In Greek, there are four distinct words. I appreciate the insight that C.S. Lewis gives in The Four Loves as he defines and describes each one and their relation to one another.

  1. Storge – (pronounced with two syllables, and a hard “g” ~ STORE-GAY) A love rooted in a natural fondness or affection. This is often the love we find within families, between parents and children or siblings. The expression “blood is thicker than water” reflects storge love.
  2. Philia – (the root word in Philadelphia; pronounced PHILLY-AH) true friendship love, involving loyalty, equality, respect, and the bonds of shared interests and activities.
  3. Eros – (the root word of erotic ~ ERR-OS) refers to a passionate love. This is certainly the intimate love of romance, but it is not necessarily sexual. Eros refers to the passionate love which touches the depths of one’s soul with excitement, energy, and beauty.
  4. Agape (pronounced both as AH-GAH-PAY and AH-GAH-PEE) is the unconditional giving of oneself—selflessly—for the good of another.

C.S. Lewis wisely points out that as we come to understand the different kinds of love, we shouldn’t feel the need to categorize a relationship or even a given experience as exclusively one of the four kinds of love. There is often quite a bit of overlap.

I find myself quite fortunate to have all four kinds of love for my husband. I have always had a fondness for geeks, so he started off with quite a bit of storge. Our friendship grew as we discovered our mutual appreciation of live music and outdoor fun (in Austin). The mutual respect that followed offered us a great foundation for philia, which we continually cultivate with quality time. Over time, we developed eros, with a passionate and energetic connection that feeds my spirit. And we undoubtedly practice agape with each other, with our children, and with the world around us.

I like that CS Lewis affirms that all love is good; we needn’t rate the four loves as superior and inferior. What we should do, however, is pay attention to the differences. Why? Just as we can get ourselves into trouble when we confuse love with like, things can also go awry when we confuse philia with agape (thinking we have to be friends with everybody).

In faith, we are called to “Love one another as I have loved you” (John 13:34). But Jesus was not calling us to practice eros, storge, or philia. Jesus loves us with agape and calls us to practice agape—unconditional care and concern for the well-being of another—with those we encounter. Agape is the theological virtue of which St. Paul speaks in his First Letter to the Corinthians. Recognizing it as a virtue means that agape is the kind of love we can choose to practice, and become better at practicing.

As you think about who you love, consider also how you love. Which of the four loves do you find abundantly in your life? Which do you find yourself being nudged to cultivate more of and why?

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