My mother makes the best peanut brittle in the known universe. You may think I’m biased, and I probably am, but it is really good. Every Christmas she gives us a very large tin packed with this special treat. It always has a small label on it that says, “Merry Christmas, Much Love, Mom”, in her nearly perfect handwriting. Seeing that label each time I open the tin to get a piece of that wonderful peanut candy goodness reminds me how much my mom loves me.
The notion of love is actually quite complex. Unfortunately, the English language doesn’t have very much richness when it comes to describing things like love. Sanskrit has 96 words for love, ancient Persian has 80, Greek seven, and English only one. So, it is no wonder that we are often confused about how we feel or how others feel about us. In “Four Loves”, C. S. Lewis describes four types of love:
Storgē: Empathy Bond
This is liking someone through the fondness of familiarity. An example is the natural love and affection of a parent for their child. Lewis describes it as the most natural, emotive, and widely diffused of loves: It is natural in that it is present without coercion, emotive because it is the result of fondness due to familiarity, and most widely diffused because it pays the least attention to those characteristics deemed “valuable” or worthy of love and, as a result, is able to transcend most discriminating factors.
Philíos: Friend Bond
This is the love between friends as close as siblings in strength and duration. The friendship is the strong bond existing between people who share common values, interests or activities. Lewis differentiates friendship love from the other loves. He describes friendship as “the least biological, organic, instinctive, gregarious and necessary…the least natural of loves”.
Erōs: Romantic Love
This, for Lewis, was love in the sense of “being in love” or “loving” someone, as opposed to the raw sexuality of what he called Venus. The illustration Lewis used was the distinction between “wanting a woman” and wanting one particular woman – something that matched his classical view of man as a rational animal, a composite both of reasoning angel and instinctual alley-cat.
Agápē: Unconditional Love
Agape love is representative of universal love—the love of God. This is the love that exists regardless of changing circumstances. Lewis recognizes this selfless love as the greatest of the four loves and sees it as a virtue to achieve. He sees a need to subordinate the other three natural loves to the love of God.
Yesterday was the 4th Sunday of Advent, the Sunday of Love. As Christmas rapidly approaches, after considering Hope, Peace, and Joy, we turn at last to the defining characteristic of and the motivation for the season. Love.
We celebrate the birth of Jesus into our world on Christmas Day. In the Christian faith, we believe that God’s love for each of us led to this sacrificial gift of His son, Jesus Christ. The word used in the Greek text is ‘agapao’ which is unconditional love, the love of reason and esteem. During Jesus’ life he said that the way His followers would be identified was by this kind of love for others. Agape. Love that is a choice, a choice to esteem others.
Christmas is a celebration of this kind of love. For this is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. If we accept this gift, we are supposed to love others in the same unselfish and unconditional way.
When we talk about a value culture we are talking about loving people in tangible ways. We are talking about a community that shows agape love for everyone. This is not love based on the attractiveness of the other person or on what the other person does for us. Rather it is love based on the choice to treat everyone with the same respect, and esteem, because of their intrinsic value as a person.
In “LOVE”, Nat King Cole sings, “Love is all that I can give to you.” He is, of course, talking about romantic love, but he is right. Love, respect and esteem are really all we can give others that makes a lasting and transformative difference. The presents we give at Christmas time are just small representations of this most important gift, the gift of love.
My mother loves me with philia love, the unconditional love a parent has for a child. She also loves me with agape love, the love that chooses to make peanut brittle, send emails telling me she is proud of me, and share what she is reading and studying. In other words, she loves me because I’m her kid, but she also loves me as a person whom she chooses to value in tangible ways. Even now my mom is still giving me all that she can give to me—and teaching me The Kimray Way.