It is February—Valentine’s Day is creeping nearer and nearer and the cliché “love is in the air” is perhaps not a cliché, but a real, tangible wind. We cut up little hearts with cute messages on them or buy red roses or sulk and relish in the “Single’s Awareness Day.” We think of our love interest whether it be a cute lady-friend we met in chemistry class or our husband of fifteen years or the new John Grisham book we’re reading. Whether we are romantically involved with someone special or not, Valentine’s Day is a momentary time in winter when we forget the chill and the dreary sky and focus on love and loving those around us.
But, what is love? I’m convinced that the English language is flawed because it only has one word to describe a wide abyss of emotion. There are so many different types and forms of love. I love strawberries is vastly different than I love you, will you marry me. And yet, both declarations use the same word. How can this be? How can the English language be this restrictive? It is a goal in my life to create new words that define the different versions of love and have them approved by Merriam-Webster’s and all the high-class dictionaries. But, that is a story for another day.
Often language isn’t sufficient. It falls flat. The human heart is more complex than our language. Our emotions are a mosaic of indefinable feelings and stirrings. We love in so many different ways. I love my cat and I love my mom and I love new shoes—obviously not in the same way. We even love the same person in so many different ways. I love my husband as a best friend, as a provider, as a father to my future children, as a guy who sometimes doesn’t clean his dishes, as an admirer, as a lover, and as a life-long partner.
Before I get too soppy, let’s explore the different names for love used in other languages. Old languages, especially biblical languages, have more names for love. Hebrew used in the Bible has three different words used for three different types of love. The first is ahab which refers to spontaneous, impulsive love. The second is hesed which means deliberate choice of affection and kindness. And the third is raham or brotherly love.
Greek also has three different names for love. The first is eros or romantic, sexual love. Eros was the Greek god of love and sensual impulsiveness. The second is philia or love for family and friends or other people who really like. The third is agape which is the deepest love—the love that makes us sacrifice for the sake of others.
These distinguishing words help us pinpoint the human feelings of love. Love can be shallow and impulsive or profound and everlasting. This time of year gives us pause to reflect on the ways that we personally love others. What ways do I love? Do I simply ahab love for the thrill of spontaneity? Or do I philia love without fully giving myself to others?
Do I agape love? Do you agape love? In this season of love, we should consider our attitude towards love and the ways in which we love. I want to agape love more. I want to be a force for good in my home and in my community. I want to forget myself and stop focusing on the small things that are wrong in my life—our lives will never be perfect. I want to experience the completeness of love.
Agape love is forgiving, is being patient, is making my friend a care package with all her favorite things because she’s stressed, is helping my mom make dinner because I know she’s not feeling well, is driving my husband to work at five in the morning so we can be together a little longer. Agape love is charity in its purest form. So this Valentine’s Day, instead of buying a materialistic bracelet for your wife or a box of chocolates for your husband, serve. Agape love. Love to your fullest capacity and show your loved ones just how much that is.
Victoria Candland is currently an intern with Familius working in editorial and social media.