C.S. Lewis, the prolific British author, philosopher and theologian identified four kinds of that special “feeling” that we celebrate February 14th – love. He says there are four loves: affection, friendship, eros (romance) and agape (unconditional love).
During the month of February, card and chocolate companies glorify eros, romantic love. Many girls grow up dreaming of it, men dream of being better at it, and single people come February 14th grow cynical, or conversely, proud that they don’t need romantic love to feel complete.
By focusing on romantic love, we forget the greatest kind of love that exists: agape, unconditional love. Romantic love can be an infection, an obsession, an addiction. It can be an emotion fed by “good feelings,” and the release of hormones in pleasure centers in the brain when one feels adored or cherished by another person. Romantic love can provide a momentary shot of pleasure-filled feelings, only to leave a gaping, open wound when one loses love, is abused, or finds that the former flame no longer satisfies the hunger for adoration. In short, love can be selfish.
Unconditional love cannot be earned or lost. It is the love a mother feels for her child. It is the love many dogs feel for their owners. It is the love many find from God through their relationship with their Creator. It is a kind of love that humans aren’t perfect at giving, but the kind we each long to receive.
Romantic love is supremely conditional – on performance, on goodness, on beauty, on worthiness. Through the pain of addiction, self-harm, eating disorders and rampant perfectionism, many women begin to feel deeply that they are unworthy and unlovable. The illness feeds the lie that they’ll never earn love, or be cherished, by anyone.
The answer to eros is agape. Unconditional love, which rather than selfish, is selfless. In my own recovery, I experienced great joy and healing through self-acceptance of my weakness and flaws. I saw a loving God for whom I did not have to perform to earn love, but who loved me because he knit me together in my mother’s womb, knew me before time began. I was loved because I was created His. Accepting that kind of love is difficult, because shame and guilt can be tremendous. It is that kind of love, though, that sets us free.
During the month that celebrates love, celebrate a different kind for yourself: agape. Unconditionally love yourself, with all your imperfections. Here’s a hint: when you practice loving others this way, it becomes easier to love yourself this way as well. Although the world is far from releasing its pride and loving others unconditionally, we can create beacons of light in the dark as we accept ourselves and accept others, in February, and throughout the year.