The Meaning of Love

What is love? I have heard many different definitions. I have read many books, watched many movies and experienced different variations. So seriously- what is it?

In the novel, The Giver, by Lois Lowry, a story about a boy living an a colorless and loveless world where everyone is the same, asked his parents, “Father? Mother?”…”I have a question I want to ask you.”

“What is it Jonas?” his father asked. He made himself say the words, though he felt flushed with embarrassment….

“Do you love me?”

There was an awkward silence for a moment. Then father gave a little chuckle. “Jonas. You, of all people. Precision of language please!”

“What do you mean?” Jonas asked. Amusement was not at all what he anticipated.

“Your father means you used a very generalized word, so meaningless that it is has become almost obsolete.”

Jonas stared at them. Meaningless?

“And of course our community can’t function smoothly if people don’t use precise language. You could ask, ‘Do you enjoy me?’ The answer is ‘Yes.’ ” His mother said.

“Or,” his father suggested, ” ‘Do you take pride in my accomplishments?’ And the answer is wholeheartedly, ‘Yes.’ ”

That paragraph always intrigued me, and it makes for a great discussion with my 6th graders- when we read the novel together.

I sometimes wonder if our own community has generalized the word Love, that we really don’t know what it means anymore.

The Greek word Agape means- selfless, sacrificial, unconditional love. Then there is the Greek Myth of Eros- the son of Aphrodite and Ares, whose mischievous meddling in the affairs of gods and mortals caused bonds of love to form and drama to unfold.  In other words- sensual love and desire.

In my own personal life I was confused with the two. I grew up in a home where addiction and abuse was normal. Whenever my dad had an episode of raging anger I felt fear to my bones. The next day my mom would apologize for him and explain that even though he acted that way, he did love his family. How confusing for a young person. I grew up thinking that love was suppose to hurt. I grew up thinking that Eros love was real – the feeling – and Agape love was nonexistent.

You see, even though my dad “felt” love for his family, he did not give us the Agape love that every human craves. How can a person be sitting at a bar, telling the bartender, how much he loves his family, yet neglects them and hurts them? How can a person show indifference to his brother, and yet be told he loves him?

When we were young girls, how many times were we told that if a boy hits you, he is probably interested in you.

Maybe I can’t precisely define love- but I think I am learning what love is not!

It is not indifference

It is not neglectful

It is not hurtful

It is not holding on to grudges

It not fearful

Unconditional. Sacrificial. Selfless.

The Great Book says it this way:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13 4-8.

Isn’t it insane how we justify, give excuses, whether it be for ourselves or others, when love becomes the opposite of the above statement? When a person holds a grudge because they do keep a record of wrongs, and justly so. Or when we become easily angered and say things to hurt the other person and expect the other person to keep us close?

Love is not about guilt. Love is not about enabling. Love is not easy.

When I start to think about such things, I go back to that dialog in the novel- Is the word Love so generalized, so abstract, so mysterious, that it is becoming obsolete, or just vague?

Or maybe to be fully human means to live with the tension of Agape and Eros love? That maybe in our hearts we love and we are indifferent. That there are people we love unconditionally, and people we just write off.

And maybe that is what is means to become a mature, wise and loving human being, is when the tension of Agape and Eros becomes more Agape than Eros. Which means we have to see the indifference in ourselves first. We have to recognize when we are holding our love when we should be freely giving it. We need to admit when we are envious, boastful, angry and resentful and practice the art of forgiveness. We need to love ourselves first!

Holidays, like Valentine’s Day, are cute and fun ways to express love, and it is true that we all show our love in a plethora of ways, however; neglecting, yelling, belittling, indifference and lying are not in the same vicinity as love. It is in fact very loving to yourself to let go of people in this world who do in fact, treat us that way. You can still love them from a distance, but for Heaven’s sake, love yourself and your children by showing them the true meaning of love.

When your child grows up watching someone close to them treat others with contempt, indifference and neglect- you are in fact, contributing to the confusion of what Love is- and speaking from my own personal experience, it is a confusing and painful way to live.

Love Always.

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