C.S. Lewis decoded the 4 different types of love—which one are you thankful for?
I’ve been married for four years, five in May, and I’ve told my wife, Meghan, that I love her thousands of times. I travel just about every week and I always make sure to say I love her last thing before I head out the door and also shoot her a quick text reminding her that I love her before taking off. But curiously, I’ve probably proclaimed my love for coffee just as often. The Catholic theologian, author and speaker Dr. Edward Sri reminded me of this alarming lack in the English language during his keynote at the conference. Of course I don’t have as strong an affection or desire for coffee as I do for my wife, but I constantly find myself lacking the eloquence to express myself in any different way. Even worse, I find myself floating out my “I love you”s to my wife as flippantly as I float them out to my piping hot cup of morning Joe.
The English language is so limited when it comes to those four letters which have some of the biggest implications of any combination of letters in the history of the written or spoken word. And I fear that my all-too-human heart is just as limited. And sitting in an auditorium filled with college students, hearing Dr. Sri describe the earthy, dirty-dishes ridden, diaper changing, child bathing implications of true love, I began to contemplate what love is and how I can become more intentional in how I use the word and more appreciative of the many ways I experience it.
So I brewed a pot of coffee (the natural starting point of my inquiry), poured a cup and turned to my trusted friend, Clive Staples Lewis, for insight and guidance.
C. S. Lewis contemplated the same question during his lifetime, and penned his classic The Four Loves in response to his search for the answer to: “What do we mean by love?” He found that the ancient Greeks weren’t so tongue-tied and differentiated their terms for love quite a bit more accurately than we are able to.
The first type of love he described was affection. Our biology even works to bring about affection. I thought back to the moment I first held my daughters and the overwhelming affection I had for them. I was instantly bonded. It also grows with familiarity. I recalled back to countless nights pouring a couple glasses of wine and watching a sitcom with Meghan, not even needing to speak, but just sit in each other’s company and enjoy the familiarity. I thought of the relief of putting my formal manners aside and getting to be myself whenever I walk in the door, and of the many moments where we paved the way to this blessed informality as we got to know each other dating. Yes, I have an abundance of affection for my wife, but I can say I get some shade of familiar comfort from my morning coffee as well. I get that swell of affection when my 2-year old makes doe eyes at me. I have some extra bond with my wife.
The second type Lewis described was friendship. We don’t often value friendship as a valid form of love. We don’t often seek real friendship in general (at least that seems to be the plight of the modern male), preferring the superficial realm of companionship. We work with our companions, share a job with them, and talk shop with them. But we bond with our friends. We stand shoulder to shoulder, whether it be a sports team or stamp-collecting or a philosophy of life. We journey together with friends. And once again I contemplated my friendship with my wife. We’ve bonded over board games, fine bourbon and craft beer, Prison Break and The Walking Dead and our faith and virtue. We also stand shoulder to shoulder, journeying the great a wearying path of parenthood together. We have a deep friendship for sure, but there is another natural layer to the love we share.
We also have romance. Sure, the romance is buried under a pile of laundry at times, and drowned out by the wailing of two toddlers at others, but it is still present. This love gives you butterflies on a first date and makes you really lean into your wedding vows when you proclaim them. It allows you to say that you would rather suffer heartache and pain (“in good times and in bad”) than be without your beloved. And I can say I very much have that for Meghan.
But there is a deeper type of love driving all of these loves.
All of these loves are instruments for charity—the ultimate form of love. Charity keeps me washing the dishes, balancing the checkbook, sacrificing even my own personal happiness at different moments for the sake of my wife. Charity allows my marriage to be a vocation that I live and not just a choice of roommate. It enkindles my affection, friendship, and romance with Meghan. And ultimately it makes me want to get up, brew another pot and share this whole conversation with her. Not a bad meditation for a morning’s cup of sludge.
Valentine’s Day is always an occasion to excessively throw around the “L” word, but every day is the right day for it. So when you find the word “love” about to spring off the tip of your tongue, whether it be in reference to your morning caffeine, your spouse, or your best friend, pause and give thanks for whatever variety of love you’re experiencing.
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