I dated a guy a few years ago, let’s call him Frank. Frank was great. We had tons in common: future goals, ideas of marriage, faith, family, etc. But at some point he nonchalantly blurted out the “L” word in the same tone as, “Hey, can you pass me the salt?” “You’re great, Leah. I love ya.” Yep. He said “ya” not “you”. Was this his invitation to return the “love ya”?! More like “ya right!”
The setting: A sandy, pebble beach at sunset. We were taking in the romantic ocean scenery around us. My brain was doing everything in its power to forget all the chick flicks and Disney Princess movies that to this day tempt me to think that pixie dust and a fairy godmother can rescue my heart. Ugh.
So I did what any semi-rational woman would do. I freaked him out by interrogating him with a million-and-one questions to ascertain exactly what he meant. Frank was floored.
“I just mean that… you’re great! You know— I love ya.” Sigh. Back to square one.
This was not the great and powerful “I love you” that I had dreamed of. I was disappointed. Frank was too. He cared for me but seemed to use the word ‘love’ in the same way as loving pizza or a good movie. Today the word ‘love’ is used, redefined and distorted countless times.
What is love? Do you have a definition of love?
It is rare that we take the time to define the term love. We assume we know its definition by example or through gag-me depictions of it in media. We use the word love to describe our relationships, friendships, shoes, food, movies, etc. Obviously, we don’t really mean love when we gaze into a slice of deep-dish pizza (unless you’re from Chicago) in the same way that we utter those three little words to our spouse or significant other. What we say matters and how we define our words, or terms, matters even more.
We live our lives by our terms. Therefore, it’s important to define correctly these key terms in life because it is how we will navigate our lives.
Love. This word in particular carries a weighty meaning. If we define ‘love’ with a foundation in sexual acts, a certain type of ‘love’ awaits us— one that usually brings anxiety, insecurity, and worst of all— utility. Granted the relationship may have been rooted in genuine feelings and a healthy physical attraction for the other person, also known as the raw material of love (The base ingredients of love described by Karol Wojtyla in Love & Responsibility, 151.), but it was never given a chance to grow into something more. Something deeper.
Let’s define love this way…
Love: “Desiring the greatest good for the beloved.”
This is my definition of love inspired by St. Thomas Aquinas’ descriptions of the various types of love. Hopefully, this definition will draw us into a deeper meaning of the term ‘love’.
When we desire true goodness for someone, love goes beyond our feelings and attraction to become other-focused. This kind of altruistic love is selfless, responsible and resembles a virtuous friendship. This kind of love does not ignore the physical and emotional attractions but graduates those attractions to a mature love.
Are your relationships based on desiring the greatest good for your beloved?
Are your relationships based on fear, utility or neediness?
For love to be crystal clear it must be based in truth. It must be pure, transparent and desire the absolute best for the other. When our intentions, feelings, and thoughts rise above the physical and emotional, it is then, and only then, that we begin to participate in God’s definition of love.
God’s definition of love was manifested to the world when “the Word became flesh,
and dwelt among us” ( John 1:14 ). Jesus came to take away our sins, to teach us the Father’s love and to demonstrate God’s desire for a relationship with us. He desires our greatest good because we are His beloved.
Despite our genuine feelings or raw material of love (physical attractiveness and emotions), we are called as Christians to graduate above this level. The raw materials of love are the ingredients for love but without proper integration of the value of the person they remain only as ingredients. We wouldn’t call sugar, butter and flour a cake no more than we should call the warm fuzzies and cuteness factor ‘love’. Or better said, “For love to attain its full personal value, and truly unite a man and a woman, it must be firmly based on the affirmation of the value of the person.” (Love & Responsibility, 145)
Understanding the Christian view of love should guide and encourage us to see the true value of the person and love others as Christ loves us. Mastery of this new definition of love will free us from the utilitarian attitude to see others as objects of use.
“The truth will make you free”, (John 8:32) Jesus said. Love based in truth, in desiring the greatest good for the beloved is therefore, the most freeing kind of love – the love we are meant for.