How do you show love?

Throughout the month of January, WordPress is sending participating bloggers a writing prompt each day. It’s a way to find some creative inspiration and perhaps make connections with other bloggers. My entries in this blogging challenge will appear here under the tag #bloganuary.

It is one of my core beliefs that we are put on this earth to learn how to love well. While this is a core tenet of my own Christian faith, I would think almost anyone could co-sign on this, whether religious or not. But we’re not all necessarily talking about the same thing when we speak of love, because love exists in a variety of forms. C.S. Lewis writes philosophically about love in his book, The Four Loves, and I would proffer that Lewis’ take on love is worth considering.

I won’t dwell long on Lewis’ book–you can read it yourself–but he argues that there are four basic kinds of love, the first three of which (Affection, Friendship, and Eros) are subordinate to the fourth (Unconditional Love).

Affection is the natural love that generally occurs among family members–fondness through familiarity. It is a natural kind of love that isn’t generally dependent on one being lovable, nor is it forced. But it can degrade and become dysfunctional.

Friendship is less a matter of the chance of your birth and more of a choice, as one discovers others who share the same interests and/or values and “hit it off” with one another. Friendship begins, Lewis suggests, when one person says to the other, “You, too? I thought I was the only one!” Negative aspects can creep in, nonetheless, such as the forming of exclusive cliques, betrayals of trust, and more.

Eros, in Lewis’ view, is romantic love, what we would normally describe as “being in love.” It involves a heightened sense of deep appreciation for the other person, and goes beyond the mere desire for pleasure. It’s not merely, “I need someone,” but “I need him or her, that specific person. But Eros, too, is vulnerable to degradation into all sorts of cruelty and pain, as we know too well.

These three kinds of love can potentially be flawed as noted above, but the fourth type, Unconditional Love, or what the Greeks called agape, is pure and selfless and known best as God’s unconditional love, a selfless love that is focused wholly on the other. This is the sort of love that gives with no expectation of receiving. This is a self-sacrificial love, and a co-suffering love. This is the sort of love to which I aspire, albeit the sort at which I fail routinely.

These words from the prophet Micah simultaneously challenge and comfort me:

He has told you, O mortal, what is good,
    and what does the Lord require of you
but to do justice and to love kindness
    and to walk humbly with your God?

Micah 6:8, NRSV

Nothing. O thank God, nothing more is required. So I try to live as justly as I can, acknowledging the ways in which I have participated in and benefited from systemic injustice and doing what I can to change those systems. I make it my aim to treat everyone I meet with kindness. And because I know my own frailty and failure in these things, I also walk with a loving God in humility, and in gratitude, and accept that I am a work in progress.

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