For me, love is one of the key ingredients to a happy, fulfilling life. Literature, movies, songs, and our world in general tends to focus solely on natural love, or eros. Natural love is that in which you feel for a spouse, a child, a sibling, a parent, a friend. It a love in response to the person, meaning that there is something about that person that elicits that feeling of love from you. It is easy to know when you have this type of love because you can feel it within and it is an effortless kind of love.
We all know that we are called to “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you,” and that we “shall love your neighbor as yourself.” What happens when our neighbor makes it difficult to love them? What happens when they purposefully do and say things to hurt and attack you and your family? It becomes increasingly difficult to feel any love toward them, right? Or maybe it just becomes difficult to feel any natural love for them since their actions are doing nothing to elicit a response of natural love from you.
I met a woman through a family member and after some time I came to consider this woman a friend. We spoke often, spent time together, and thoroughly enjoyed each other’s company. After some time there were personal issues that arose between the woman and the family member that I had met her through. As the issues progressed the woman had a difficult time handling her emotions and due to the relationship I had with the family member that had introduced us she ultimately lashed out against myself and my family. The more this woman attacked, the harder it became for me to feel any love for her whatsoever. I sought counsel with a priest because I began to feel guilty for despising the actions of this woman that I once considered a friend. I told the priest that I knew I was supposed to love her because that is what the Lord has called us to do, but that I felt no love toward her anymore. The priest’s response is what forever changed my view of love.
Priest: Do you care about this woman’s salvation?
Me: Well, of course. I don’t want her to go to Hell, if that’s what you mean.
Priest: Then you do have a love for her. Loving her doesn’t mean that you have to get warm, fuzzy feelings when you think of her, nor does it mean that you have to be best friends and go to lunch. It means that you feel charitable toward her and that you still care about her soul and are willing to pray for her. If you have done these things, then you are fulfilling your obligation of Christian love for your brothers and sisters.
What the priest described was agape and I had never taken the time to truly understand the difference between eros and agape until it came in the form of a neon sign that was blinking in my own life. Jesus wants us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ, but He also does not expect us to be a doormat. He does not expect us to subject ourselves to attacks from others just because we are called to “turn the other cheek.” Turning the other cheek simply means that when someone figuratively slaps you, you do not retaliate by slapping them back – you remove yourself from the situation and harbor no hate toward the person, but continue to show them agape, or supernatural, love. Agape. The love that does not need to be drawn from you based on who the person is or something they have done, but is there because the person is a child of God and we know that all children of God are worthy and deserving of love.