Agape. Upon hearing that word, most of us likely think of something that is “wide open”, but the word holds another meaning. Love. In it’s purest form. Self-sacrificing, ever-lasting, enduring, unconditional….Love. More specifically, it refers to the love of God and Christ for man, thus it quite literally is “Christ-like” love. Agape is the ultimate example of love in it’s highest manifestation.
Agape originates from Greek origins, and appears in ancient texts to denote great, or pure affection. It then was adopted by Christians as the word to describe the love of God for humanity, and in turn, the reciprocal love of humans for God. “For love is God” (1 John 4:8). Though we are not capable of loving at that level, or even comprehending…. it is still the guide to lead us in our lives, and the form of love we should strive towards as far as can be achieved by humans. Agape is selfless. It does not seek to gain, and it does not place conditions. Agape is loving, and doing good for others, even if they would not do the same for you.
When applied to personal relationships, agape can also be used to describe the deep love one has for their spouse and children (family). However, agape is not about drippy, gooey, sappy romantic sentiments. It is also not about a rushing chemical response “high”, or drunken butterflies fluttering around in your insides. Lust plays no part in agape—it has nothing to do with physical attraction, or sexual desires. Seeking to gain something from others, to possess them, push agendas, control… wanting to achieve status through a relationship, showing-off, or desiring constant attention ….are also common relationship elements/intentions that do not apply to agape. Additionally, obsession, or “being in love” with the idea of someone loving you, solving everything for you…is most especially not something that can be called “agape”—though ironically, it is most often in those types of situations that people will want to boast that it is what they feel for, or share with someone. Essentially, there is no “me” in agape. It is not about getting, it is completely about giving. It is quiet, deep, unconditional, selfless, unwavering love… no matter the situation or cost. Agape is the type of love that sacrifices, and puts the welfare and needs of the other before our own.
Unfortunately, agape is a difficult thing for many to understand or grasp. As someone who assists with relationships, I frequently see clients who are purely focused on the sparkly surface elements of “love”– so much so, that many instantly proclaim love and soul mate connections for every man (or woman) that walks in their door, and then try to shove them instantly into deep commitment (or even a wedding tux) before enough time has even been given to truly get to know the person, let alone develop true love for them. The focus is sometimes more on having their big princess wedding day, than on the reality and commitment of marriage itself. The notion of love and marriage has become over-romanticized and skewed for so many—-it often is more about gaining, getting attention, planning a fairytale fantasy event, playing house etc… than about truly feeling pure selfless love for another.
The truth is? What goes up, comes down. Gushy, high-flying “love”, as great as it feels, and and as addictive as it can even become… cannot possibly be maintained indefinitely. Those fluttery feelings are not love itself, but often initial chemical reactions and lust… or even fantasy-fueled adrenaline rushes from the prospect of having desires fulfilled. To forever stay in that “high” state would be exhausting, and would require endlessly giving little focus to anyone, or anything else in your life, and just… well, is not possible…. no-matter what people want to believe, or what movies and Nicholas Sparks novels shovel at us. It is after those drippy, rushy, manic feelings settle that it can be determined if there is indeed a real enduring love bond present…but unfortunately, many make their big relationship choices while in the hyper-arousal-euphoric-tune-out-reality state, and it is why so many mistakes (and divorces) happen. Often once the high-flying phase passes ( and when people become more real, and stop trying to behave, impress, or temporarily change themselves to fit with the other to achieve the glittery ring etc…) it turns out to not be at all what it originally appeared to be, no matter how perfect it seemed. We tend to rationalize, and tune-out anything that does not fit with what we hope to receive from the situation and person. Eventually the things we tried to blind ourselves to WILL hit like a mack truck, no matter how we try to deny, or wish them away. It often is a harsh reality check, yet many of my clients fall for it again and again, and even blame the men, despite the fact that they themselves have not changed how they approach relationships, and their desire to instantly gain gain gain from them.
Giving, and loving someone to “get” either in return… is not love, and is not agape— yet it is what so many do. If we all were to truly focus on developing an agape level of love in our relationships, so much would change. Agape is the kind of love that truly lasts, and cannot be shaken…. there is no upset to be had when things quiet down, nor are there unrealistic expectations for constant lovey-dovey-validating attention. It is loyal. It endures. It forgives. It supports.
Did Christ demonstrate euphoric, skip-through-the daisies love? Did he love us expecting anything in return, or to gain admiration from others? Is any of that described anywhere in scripture? No. Instead, he gave us the example of pure love which seeks nothing for the self. That may not sound very romantic, but, it is still what is truly real and solid. Sure, butterflies, and physical attraction feel great, but they should not be the soul deciding factors of love, or a relationship—they are sweet sugary frosting that can melt away, compared to the solid, lasting, nourishing “cake” that agape represents in comparison.
The ideal situation would be a relationship of two people who both feel an agape level of love for each other— who simply, deeply, unconditionally love each other without the expectation for fanfare, or to constantly be validated/adored. Really, it is mature love, verses immature notions of love. The other types of pairings? When one person feels agape, and the other is more self-seeking—it often can create imbalances of one giving far more than the other, and even making great sacrifices to try to live-up to the constant expectations/ demands of the other… and eventually the strain typically wears the relationship down. The most volatile relationship pairing is when both partners are soaring high in the clouds with their fantasy images of what they want, and what think they have/feel, and typically are seeking the “me me me” elements (though no one likes to admit they are doing that) of having someone validate them, solve their problems, and to gain the big princess wedding day (since again, that is often the focus for immature love situations that do not truly understand that marriage is not just a single romantic admiration-receiving day). Unfortunately, I see those kind of situations often with my clients, and when things finally come down to earth, it often is very shattering for both parties—especially if they rushed into big commitments while still in the euphoric stage, and without looking at the situation (and each other) honestly.
Although agape love is something that denotes Christ-like love, and is what we should strive for in general in regard to how we approach, and treat others….it also can be the true key in forming true, lasting relationships. Regardless of what your personal religious beliefs are, if you seek to love someone without selfish motivation (no-matter how well-intended you think your personal motives/needs/ reasons are), and are careful of getting involved with anyone displaying signs of immature love (it is hard sometimes to be honest with ourselves when we really desire for someone to fill that kind of role)….that is when you are most likely to have something real, and lasting. The interesting thing is, it typically is when we truly are not seeking for ourselves (when we simply love and give), that we ourselves DO gain blessings, and experience personal growth towards being the best version of ourselves that we can be. So, try not to push or rush things (anything that needs to be pushed or rushed reveals a desperate, impatient need to “cinch” things before reality, or anything can bring it “down”– rather than having a solid, secure, bond). Do not shove just anyone into the tux because they are there, and you are desperate for them to be “the one”— to love you, fill you, give you what you need. You should be able to accomplish those things for your own self in the first place, and seek relationships as a place to share, grow, and give….. not to gain, escape, or fix things that ultimately only you can truly fix for your own self.
Love to love, not to be loved. That is what Christ taught us, and is the definition of pure, agape love.