“Loving ourselves works miracles in our lives.” — Louise L. Hay

“…honor your father and mother, and love your neighbor as yourself.” — Bible (Matthew 19:19)

Dr. Henry Cloud, in his book “Changes That Heal,” tells of a man who was attending a support group. One of his main problems was that he felt unlovable. This man said to Dr. Cloud: “I don’t deserve their love.” Dr. Cloud’s response was a message we all need to take to heart. “I told him he was right. None of us deserves love that comes our way; we don’t earn love. It is given to us. Approval can be earned, but love can’t.”

Dr. Cloud tells the man that he cannot earn love; it must be given freely and without condition. Most of us struggle with that statement. We live in a world that tells us, “There is no such thing as a free lunch.” If someone tries to give us something free, we are immediately suspicious: “What do they want from me?”

Some amplification of Dr. Cloud’s message would be of benefit here. Psychologists normally talk about four kinds of love, which we have discussed in this column before. Storge is love of family; parent/child, siblings, cousins, etc. Eros usually refers to sexual, passionate, romantic love. Phileo is love between friends, friendship. Finally, there is agapeo, defined as unconditional love and usually in the context of the love of God.

Agapeo love is given unconditionally; it is not and cannot be earned. The other types of love have some conditions attached. The conditions aren’t usually undesirable, but they do put restrictions on the love. For example, phileo love is between friends. Friends come and go and friendships can be terminated for many reasons or conditions.

The Bible refers to agape love over 200 times, all in the New Testament. Jesus’ presence on Earth brought agape love. He demonstrated it ultimately on the cross, and He enables us to love others unconditionally. If we fail to recognize the presence and purpose of Jesus, we do not have the ability to love others unconditionally. Our first love will be always be ourselves.

Back to Dr. Cloud. I believe he is calling the man’s attention to the only kind of love that really matters. The others come and go, but agape love, when given, by definition cannot be recalled. It is truly unconditional. As I have noted before, boundaries may be necessary because we are dealing with fallible human beings, but the love is never withdrawn.

This is particularly true in the family. Most of the wedding vows today still say that the love will endure “until death do us part.” Adherence to this commitment enables the marriage to survive during the storms as well as the sunny days. But it is very difficult to keep this commitment without God’s help.

Agape love truly cannot be earned. Initially we are attracted to people for some particular reason or condition. All of us experience phileo love. We have those friends we enjoy being with. Those friends we really appreciate, however, are those who get to know us well, the goods and the bads, and still love us. They have moved on to agape love.

The only way we can encounter/demonstrate agape love is through the presence of God in our lives. “So we have come to know and to believe the love that God has for us. God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him” Bible (1 John 4:16).

Join us for a gala affair with a delicious meal, great fellowship and an encouraging message celebrating marriage and the family. Our annual Marriage Celebration will be held at 6:30 p.m. Jan. 29, at the Woodside Plantation Country Club. Cost is $70 per couple and $35 for singles. Our guest speaker will be Michael E. Perry, Ph.D. cofounder, president/CEO Human Performance and Behavior Expert. Please let us know you will be with us (contact information below). You will be blessed.