Written by Mara Bowman
One of the greatest tragedies on Valentine’s Day this year will be the discontinued candy hearts that will be missing from millions of grocery store shelves and classroom parties. If you didn’t already hear, consider LCM blogs your latest and greatest source of news. As I think about all the traditions that surround this holiday, everything about its calculated romance, commercialism, and glamour leaves a lot to be desired. Everything about it can feel…transactional.
While romantic love might be more on our minds in the context of the holiday, other types of love could use some attention. One that has particularly resonated me throughout this past year, is a form of love called agape. [And to prove that it resonated and guided my last year, I got a tattoo of it, no joke]. Agape does not resurrect for me, the whimsy of this holiday that come in the form of puns on valentine’s cards. [Although, don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for a good pun.] It sounds simple, but it isn’t. Agape calls us to dig deeper than that—agape calls us to love in ways that are unexpected and challenging.
So what is agape love? To say it simply, it is sacrificial, selfless, unconditional, loving without expectation of return. [Here’s a great video that I find beautifully encompasses what agape is if you’re curious about it!] So much of our lives is about transactional relationships that this concept can feel foreign. This highest form of love is demonstrated in the gift of God’s son, Jesus, who endured pain and suffering, through an act of love. I struggled to compare that heart-wrenching, sacrificial love to the flowery image of love we see in hallmark cards and exchanging of chocolates.
When I thought about replicating the kind of love God expresses to us, I was confused at the feelings of brokenness or hurt that developed from it. I wondered, how do we feel fulfilled and whole, in a world where we are called to love everyone—no exceptions? It began to feel to me that when I was practicing this expectation-less love, I was left feeling empty. I began to have doubts about this sacrificial form that agape takes, I craved the transaction where I could receive the equal of what I had given.
Even though practicing agape was hard, I found that in that vulnerability I began living more fully into who God is calling me to be. Agape gets rid of the transactional relationships that fill our lives; we begin to love those around us because that love is an expression of God among us.
God’s purest form of love was shown when Jesus died on the cross, and this great act of sacrifice made newness of life possible. Martin Luther King Jr. described agape as a love which heals communities, the idea that loving selflessly leads to reparation of our relationships, of the hurt in the world. The idea that the highest form of love, this ultimate gift, a sacrifice that was made with no expectations for humanity, Jesus is not only resurrected but brings the promise of newness of life for all people. This newness arises when we give up our expectations for how others will love us in return.
While I don’t think the agape we live out in the world is quite so gruesome as this, we are invited to love others without expectation of return. We love simply because it brings the broken and jagged edges of the world together when we do so. We express agape because it is the breath of God among us; in the extension of a hand to a stranger, in the heartache of loving a family member despite a broken relationship. We love, because God first loved us.
May you feel the warmth, tug, challenge, and hope of agape this Valentine’s Day.