Thursday, September 26, 2013

Love On Fire

Love.  What is it?  Is there only one definition, or are there several?  Is there only one person you can love in life, or can you love many different types of people?  Is loving an object the same as loving a person?  Is loving a person the same as being in love with a person?  The question of love has been on my mind for about a year now.

Recently, a fire was started that ended up burning over 400 miles of the area I live in, including burning into Yosemite National Park.  "The Rim Fire" was out of control, nothing could stop it, and firefighters tried their hardest to put it out using all sorts of tactics.  My heart literally hurt as I saw the frequent updates of how the fire was burning into the park.  My heart was burning as it edged closer and closer each day to the Valley floor (but thankfully never reached there.)  It has now become the 2nd largest fire in California's history.

Love can be on fire in two different ways - either a passionate, burning love where nothing can stop it or get in the way, or it can be a painful, hurtful love where everything within you hurts as you are reminded of the times spent together with someone or the memories you spent at a certain place that is, in my case, literally on fire.  Sometimes, the two combine. There are so many songs from every decade written about love. Love, heartache, breakups, friendships.  (Click on the song title for the link.)  All the way from "She Loves You" by The Beatles in 1964, "Loving You" by Minnie Ripperton in 1975, "What's Love Got to Do With It" by Tina Turner in 1984, "The Power of Love" by Huey Lewis & the News in 1985, "Stand By Me" by Ben E. King in 1986, "Don't Let Go (Love)" by En Vogue in 1997, "Anytime" by Brian McKnight in 1997, "Bleeding Love" by Leona Lewis in 2008, to "Wrecking Ball" by the currently controversial Miley Cyrus (2013).  (I personally like the lyrics to the song.)

Personally, I've experienced a lot of heartache in the past several years.  I love hard and once I'm in it, I'm in it fully.  I'm devoted, committed, passionate, caring, supportive, giving and any other adjective you want to add to the list of  pure loyalty.  Though horoscopes are not biblical, I do believe that there is something to be said for those who are born around the same time having the same characteristics.  With that said, this is a very good description of me and love when it comes to a relationship.

But many of those qualities transfer over into friendships, too.  I'm 100% old-fashioned.  I love writing and receiving letters/cards.  I believe in saying thank you to someone when they've gone out of their way to do something for you.  I believe in celebrating the birth of someone otherwise you would have never met them.  I care about what's going on in people's lives and want to know the deeper version rather than the surface one.  I believe in honesty and truth.  Like I said, I love hard.

When it comes to objects, places, or things, it's slightly toned down because I know that at the end of my life, they are all just "things" and will not continue on with me to Heaven.  You don't have to know me very well to know that Yosemite is my heart.  It's my "happy place," my safe haven, my serenity.  But I also love things like taking pictures, playing violin, being outdoors, cooking, exploring, and getting my hands dirty.  I love life and all the things, places, and people that come with it.

But when you bring up the subject of "love" in any sentence, it seems to make a lot of people baulk at the word.  They don't want to become vulnerable and get too close, because something might be said that either they can't handle or they may say something about themselves that they didn't want to open up about.  They may begin to feel a certain way that makes them think way too far into the future or they may think you're obsessed with whatever topic is at hand.  I'm not quite sure why the word "love" is so avoided in culture these days as there are different levels of love.  Honestly, if we had more love in the world, there wouldn't be so much hate, right?

There are three different types of love as described in the Greek version:  agape, philos, and eros.  Let me try to briefly explain these in reverse order.

Eros:  Eros love is most known as an "erotic" love that is physically based.  With this love, when one doesn't feel appreciated anymore, they feel as if they can "fall out of love."  This could also go towards things, places, or objects.  I remember when my brother was little that every year there was a different type of shirt he loved.  One year, he had to have shirts with pockets.  But then he "fell out of love" with that idea, so the next year, he had to have shirts with no pockets.  The tread continued in various ways: collars, no collars, polos, no polos, baggy shirts, regular shirts, etc.  Eros love is the type of love that is thrown around a lot in various situations, settings, or conversations.  But when it comes to relationships, eros love will not last if the two people are not committed to making things work, pushing past barriers, going through the ups and downs together.  The romantic feeling common in eros love is natural, and an important part of the relationship between a man and a woman, especially at the beginning of the relationship.  (The word "relationship" could be a whole other blog, but attribute the same principles of "love" with "relationship.")

Philos:  Philos love is based on friendship.  It is true that friendship is the foundation of a successful relationship.  This is true whether it's a marriage, a boy/girl relationship, relationship between family members, co-workers, etc.  You start out as friends, then admire each other, then possibly strong emotions can suddenly appear over time and you both realize you miss each other more. It takes time, and is patient (love is patient, love is kind!).  This is in contrast to a man-woman romantic relationship which starts out by "eros love", meaning you get attracted by physical/mental traits alone. Strong emotions start almost immediately (some would even say "love at first sight"), though you do not even know each other that much.  With eros love, you see only each other's strengths/good side, everything is rosy, mushy feeling of happiness, etc. Again, you cannot judge "real love" between two people based on strong emotions alone.  Philos love is a love based on "give-and-take", where two people benefit each other in a mutual way. One partner is still concerned with what she/he can take, but at the same time is also concerned with her/his partner's benefit and therefore gives back in return.  Therefore, philos is a higher type of love than eros. Philos love is a mutual, "give-and take" relationship, while eros love is a self-based, form of love that is more concerned with the "self" or self-benefit.

Agape:  Agape love is the highest form of love which is unconditional love. It doesn't matter what happens, what the other person does, or how you feel at the moment, there is a love that surpasses all human feeling and loves with forgiveness, purity, and selflessness. Agape love is above philos love and eros love. It is a love that is totally selfless, where a person gives out love to another person even if this act does not benefit her/him in any way. Whether the love given is returned or not, the person continues to love (even without any self-benefit). The love we show our parents, taking care of them and helping them in their old age. Just like they took care of us when we were young, it is done with or without benefit in return.  However, the highest type of agape love is not human at all, but divine - God's unconditional love for us, His children.  

In essence, eros love is "physical", philos love is "mental", and agape love is "spiritual". Thus, it is made up of the three fundamental elements of a person: physical, mental and spiritual.

So where does this leave me with my personal experience with love?  I haven't found the answer yet.  Because of who I am, I give my all to people.  I can't suppress that about me.  I've tried, and it's utterly hard and causes me much self-induced pain.  So in regards to people, does that mean one keeps things at a "philos" level where they are just getting to know the person mentally and keep things as friends?  What if during that time a physical connection happens?  Let's be honest.  We're humans, and physical attraction is what people are first drawn to. I absolutely believe in establishing a friendship first.  As I said before, it's the foundation of all love.  But why does society believe there has to be a time limit on how fast or slow one moves from friendship to a relationship?  I have friends who knew within 8 weeks that they were to spend the rest of their lives together and are still married years later.  But I guarantee you during those 8 weeks, both the man and the woman were investing all they had into getting to know that person which established a friendship faster than the average two phone calls a week.

Admittedly, I've spent too long in some relationships thinking the other person would "change."  I've also been in relationships where it was purely out of a physical attraction and connection.  And I've been fortunate enough to been in two relationships that were based off a long-term friendship and a foundation was set before the relationship moved to the eros type of love and (at least on my part) to agape love in time with one of the men.  I've been through the fire for love.  I have been on the passionate, nothing can stop us, burning type of love.  And I have also had the reverse occur and been burned to the point I have the emotional scars on my heart to prove it because tears swell up in my eyes every someone asks about that person.  Love on fire.

I believe in love because I know that God sent His son Jesus to die a painful, unnecessary death on the cross so that I may have eternal life and be free of pain, hurt, scars, wounds, and tears in Heaven.  I'm am loved with agape love by Christ.  But love on the earthly standpoint?  I'm starting to question whether people just aren't mature enough as I get older to understand that when I say, "I love you," it may not (and probably doesn't) mean I'm "in love with you."  Substitute another word if "love" bothers you that much.  I care for you.  I appreciate you.  I'm thankful for what you do for me.  But it all means the same thing to me - I love you.  If someone is IN love with you, you'll know, and the tone in their voice and the look in their eyes will be much stronger and deeper than something you've ever felt before.  I've always heard people say that - that "you just know."  I never knew that feeling or experienced it until a year ago.  I now know what that feeling is when you know, and it's the most amazing feeling of euphoria that words can't describe.  I'm sure grateful that I got to experience that feeling and have those memories.

Don't just give yourself to someone because you're seeking "love" only to get burned because a friendship wasn't established.  I just read a quote the other day that said, "Don't show your naked body to someone who isn't willing to show their naked soul to you."  Remember, YOU get to choose who loves you, not the other way around.  Don't feel like you're not worth something to someone, because you are worth something to God.  Will your desire of being loved, being in a relationship, being married, having children, etc come true?  I don't have the answer, not even for myself.  In fact these days I'm beginning to think that I won't get to spend the rest of my life with a soulmate and husband.  So with that, I'm beginning to let go of the idea of being in love with someone, something, an object, place, or thing.  Beginning to let go of people in a romantic way and focus on loving myself.  I've heard people say, "when you let go, that's when it will happen," or "it will happen when you least expect it."  I've experienced that already (and I'm so thankful for it even though it was the most emotionally painful experience I've gone through)... but after awhile, the timing just wasn't right on the other person's end.  So rather than being sad of unfulfilled promises and dreams, I reflect on the wonderful times we had together, the laughter, the drives, the smiles, the adventures, the firsts, the intimate conversations, his awesome family, coffee in the mornings, praying.  The list could go on.  But, rather than focus on others, I now put myself first and do the things I want to do in life so that I can enjoy life, love on people, and lay my head down on my pillow at night knowing that God loves me in the most unconditional way ever and that His arms will never stop hugging me .  That's the love that is most important, after all.  I have that passionate, nothing can stop me, burning type of love for that which I'm doing now - and big things are about to happen!  And I will be loyal and devoted to those things that come.

You have equal say when it comes to love on fire.  Do you want it passionately burning or dangerously hurting?  Learn to love yourself first.  If you can't love yourself, how are others supposed to?

1 Corinthians 13:4-8 provides a perfect description for agape : "Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil, but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails."

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