Red Wine and Chocolate
Love, Love and Relationships
1

What Do You Mean?

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While enjoying a Wine and Chocolates night with my sister, we touched upon the topic of love.

“What do you think love means?” I asked.

Laurie had read my previous post Love, Love, Love, and appreciated the description of the four different kinds of love, but she—like so many of us—still felt at a loss for how do put it into words.

“I don’t know how to define love. I know how I feel, and I know what I do, but I don’t know how to define it.”

Laurie Thinking

The very nature of the word “define” (which means to put limits on something) seems to contradict the infinite possibilities (and mystical nature) of love.  With that said, I think it’s important that we pursue a better understanding of what we mean by “love.”

Bestselling author and psychiatrist M. Scott Peck (d. 2005) set out to do just this in The Road Less Traveled (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1978). He dedicates a whole section to love, beginning with “Love Defined.”  I appreciate how he starts off by acknowledging the tension between the worthy pursuit of a definition, but the inherent difficulty in doing so.

In a very real sense, we will be attempting to examine the unexaminable and to know the unknowable.  Love is too large, too deep to ever be truly understood or measured or limited within the framework of words.  I would not write this if I did not believe the attempt to have value, but no matter how valuable, I begin with certain knowledge that the attempt will in some ways be inadequate (81).

In my years of teaching—and moreover—in my years of learning from my own personal successes and failures (lots of failures) “in the field,” so to say, I find Peck’s definition of love to be clear, thorough, and helpful.

Love is the will to extend one’s self for the purpose of nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth (Ibid).

Now that is a sentence packed with meaning.  In the pages that follow, Peck offers five concise points about his definition which help better explain his meaning.

  1. Love has a distinct purpose.  The goal of love is spiritual growth.

It’s not about forcing (yourself or) someone else to fit into your image of what they should be.  But about encouraging them to become their very best selves, in God’s divine image.  Notice the word-choice here: nurturing… not implementing, evoking, or creating this change (in oneself or others), but nurturing.  That’s significant.

  1. Love is a circular process.  The more we practice extending one’s self, the better we become at doing it.

It’s easy to think that the circular process refers to “the more you give, the more you get.” But that’s not what Peck means.  Instead, think of it as extending your limits and expanding your ability to love—akin to working a muscle.  (And you know what, if it helps, think of the phrase love-muscle…whatever works!)  The more you work it, the stronger it gets.

  1. Real love necessitates self-love.

This is a tough one to explain or understand without talking about the distinction between love and dependency (which will be the topic of a post in the very near future).  What it really comes down to is that love is about giving of one’s self, and you can’t give what you don’t have.

  1. Real love requires effort.

Anytime you “extend your limits” or “expand your ability” to do something, it requires effort.  Many people read this with a tinge of negativity, thinking: “effort”means work, and “work” means drudgery.  But a lot of wonderfully fun things that we do require effort.  What’s that cliché? Anything worth doing is worth doing well.  That, my friends, implies effort.

  1. Love is an act of the will; it is a choice.

Love is a decision; it is a choice you make, particularly when we are talking about nurturing one’s own or another’s spiritual growth.  Both the idea that love requires effort and that love is a choice will become much clearer in future posts about the distinction between love and feelings.

While Peck never used the word agape, his definition certainly aligns with that Greek term for love.  I hope his definition helps you as much as it has helped me come to a deeper understanding of what love means.

So think about it… Which parts of Peck’s definition resonate with your own experience?  What part(s) do you struggle with?

Consider what kind of “spiritual growth” the experience of love has nurtured for you (and that which you have nurtured in others).  In doing so, I invite you to understand this phrase, spiritual growth, as Peck intended: as the health and growth of the whole person.  Body, mind, and soul.  Physically, intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.


“Two glasses of red wine © Depositphotos.com/Apriori”

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