Many years ago, I read a book called, Love Is A Decision by Gary Smalley and John Trent. I found it interesting and thought-provoking but when I discussed it with a woman I knew she became very angry. “We don’t choose who we love! We can’t help who we fall in love with!” I had no answer. She wasn’t someone I knew very well so I didn’t know her background or what heartaches she may have suffered. Her words left a bigger impression on me than Gary Smalley’s book because of the strong emotion that she showed when she said it. It has made me ponder over the years about the many types of love and whether love is an active choice or something that overwhelms us that we just can’t help.
I had a small discussion with my 17 year old daughter Jadzia when I asked her the question.
Jadzia is a Philosophy and Psychology student and loves challenging questions. Like a true student of these subjects, she first wanted clarification on what I was asking! When she thought about it for a moment she said, “I think love is a survival tool. It helps us survive better in life but it’s not love if you are forcing yourself to love them.” To which I asked, “What about God’s love? He loves everyone. Is he choosing to love everyone?” Jadzia’s answer was that it was in God’s nature to love everyone. I then asked, “Does God create His own nature? If so, is He loving us by choice or nature?” The conversation ended there.
So what exactly is love? The Physicist would say that love is chemistry. It’s all about testosterone and oestrogen when it begins with lust and then it moves on to bonding with someone which then the brain releases other chemicals such as pheromones ,dopamine, norepinephrine, serotonin, oxytocin and vasopressin.
The Ancient Greeks used several different words for love, each depending on the type of love one is referring to. Storge meaning the natural affection one feels for family especially the love a parent for their child. Philia is more of a friendship love. It’s a loyalty one feels for friends, lovers, family and the enjoyment one feels in taking part in an activity. Eros is the romantic, sensual, passionate love one feels for a lover. Agape is used in the spiritual sense.
The word agape was used in 1st Corinthians 13. 4 Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.
8 Love never fails.
So in looking at the different types of love, one can argue that storge love is nature. It’s something we are born with to nurture our children so that they will survive. But what about those parents who are abusive towards their children? What happened to their storge love? Were they born without this natural instinct or do we as parents make a choice to love our children?
We can argue that philia love is a decision we make to stand by someone or something. However, on what basis are we choosing our friends? Aren’t we only choosing friendships to people we like or are attracted to? Are we therefore following our feelings before offering our commitment?
Eros is chemical and we CAN’T help that! Isn’t that why we so often fall for the wrong people? Or can we actually control falling in love? (I’m not so sure myself on that one)
Agape love is pure, perfect love. This is a Godly or spiritual love. So what does that suggest? Are we choosing to love this way or do we have to be super-spiritual people (or God) in order to love this way?
Elie Wiesel said, “The opposite of love is not hate, it’s indifference.” If you look at it that way then you can choose not to be indifferent. In fact, if you allow yourself first to care about the person than perhaps that is the first step to choosing love.
But can we, ordinary humans choose to love in a super-natural way? What if you are an atheist and don’t believe in God or spirituality? I sincerely believe that we can all tap into loving others in such a big way that we love those who abuse or hurt us. Of course we may not choose to do so and if we do, it won’t always be easy. It takes lots of practice. Just like the practice of meditation where we try to quiet our minds. It is so hard at first that we are inclined to give up but each time we practice it, it gets easier and easier.
When Jadzia was about three years old, she got very upset one day about something. I now don’t remember what it was but her emotional outbursts were what most parents would consider an out and out temper tantrum. Of course good parents always love their children right? Have you ever tried loving someone who is verbally abusing you? I always feel I love my children but at that moment, when this little fiery red-head girl was calling me every bad thing a three year old could think of, I could feel something bubbling up inside me that did not feel very loving. Thankfully, it came to my mind that this can get worse if I allow myself to give in to my anger. I decided to focus on the fact that I love her and to reach within myself to feel that love. At that moment, something happened that is hard to explain. I felt my mind come outside myself and instead of judging her I appraised her and tried to understand where she was coming from. I instantly felt calm and loving. So in choosing to love her even while she was abusing me, the love then became natural. I can’t say I have always managed to choose this higher ground. I have had victories and failures.
So to answer my now 17 year old beautiful daughter, if you are trying to be loving on the surface but the love hasn’t come from deep within your heart (or spirit) then you are forcing it and all it is is politeness or diplomacy. However, you can make active decisions to love from deep within yourself. You can tap into a love that is higher than yourself but can become part of yourself.