"Is this love?" she asks.
I regularly hear this question as a psychologist and pastor. We are ever trying to get our love life right.
The English language is impoverished when speaking about love. It is a probable reason why so many of us are confused about love. We sense there are different types of love but only one word for it. We know in our experience that some of these loves are greater. But which love is the greatest?
The Greek language has four words for love. The lesser of these is narcissus - "self love." The next is eros - "romantic love." These first two loves are where our society is so preoccupied. These two loves were considered lesser in other societies, but now, in American society, these have catapulted to the front for many of us.
For the Greeks, the highest love was philia - "friendship love or love between equals." Later, when Jesus taught about love, the early Christians had to invent a new Greek word for love.
Agape (pronounced ah-gah-pay) is "unconditional love with reverence," and was taught as the greatest love by the earliest Christians. This love is God's love - regardless of what the person does for us, whether or not they're attractive, or whether or not they are our equal. Jesus said to love all.
Self-love is in excess for our society. Obsession with eros, attraction and being "in love" is strong, too. Taking care of oneself and erotic love has its place, but in the emerging maturity of love, the Greeks and earliest Christians knew we needed to grow further.
Putting God at the center of our lives is not only a first and most important commandment, it also is the way we are empowered with the greatest ability to love. To love God with our whole heart, soul and mind "unconditionally with reverence" is to be filled with love overflowing for our neighbors and ourselves.
If I love myself first before God and others, I am most impoverished in love. I have reversed the order of the greatest experiences of love by putting myself before God.
Jesus' love is the supreme model and teaching. His is the example of a life ordered on love - agape first, front and center. When agape is first the other loves follow with greater power and ability. These other loves become grace filled when we begin with agape.
Just before his death, Jesus told his disciples that they now knew what he was doing, and that they were committed to agape of God and everyone else, from the closest dear one to the greatest enemy. Now they were his friends (philia). This was the greatest title given by Jesus - friend. This was indicating an equality between him and them because they had their love life right. Their love began in God's agape and therefore in him as well.
Life is about love. Jesus' whole life is love. Learning about God's love directly is the best way to learn about love, for God is love. In contemplating Jesus' life of love and through prayer and spiritual experience we will know the greatest love.
RON HUNT is a psychologist in private practice in Brainerd and Deerwood. He also is an ordained pastor and spiritual director. You may reach him at (218) 330-5306 or (218) 534-5377 at Lakeside Center, LLC. Learn about nurturing your love relationship at his couples' seminar: "For Better - Forever" on Jan. 27 by contacting email@example.com.
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