I started reading The Four Loves by C.S. Lewis this week. I’m still working through the introductory material, but I’ve already gained so much insight into this word, Love. Today’s revelation was so powerful, I’d like to share it, and some of the practical applications that came to my mind as I read, with you.
In the pages I read today, Lewis was discussing what he considers to be the lowest form of love, pleasure. He identified two kinds: Need-Pleasures and Pleasures of Appreciation. We only experience the first kind of pleasure when a need is being met. For example, as a general rule, I don’t enjoy drinking water, but if I’m really, really thirsty, finally being able to drink water will be a pleasurable experience because it meets a need. On the other hand, if I’m walking on the beach with my bare toes in the sand and a cool breeze with a slight smell of salt comes up to touch my face and play with my hair, I will enjoy that, not because I need it but because I appreciate the gift, the existence of the breeze. I like carrots if I’m hungry. I like chocolate because it tastes good. I like air-conditioning in the summer because it keeps me cool. Once the need is met, however, I don’t like it so much. Wildflowers, I like all the time. Just because they exist. They don’t meet a life-need, but they make the world a prettier place.
Lewis goes on to compare this to love. If we love people only because we need them, the love is temporary. It’s real, but not really. It’s not unconditional or forever or true. If we love just because, however, the love is lasting and sincere. Of course, only God can truly love in this way. He has absolutely no need for us, and yet He loves us more than anyone else ever will.
In a perfect world, that would be our primary reason for loving Him back. A primary reason among countless others: He created us. He redeemed us. He is preparing a home for us in Heaven with Him for eternity. He is with us. He will never leave us. He provides and protects. He is everything; He is love.
But the truth is, we need Him. Every heartbeat, every breath comes because He allows it. We are absolutely dependent on the God Who loves us perfectly. We truly are clay in His hands. That makes me very thankful that He loves me; I can’t imagine what life would be like if He did not.
Two practical applications came from this train of thought:
1. In order to move from a need-love relationship with God to a pleasure of appreciation relationship, we need to spend time praising Him every single day. Yes, it’s important to thank Him for all His gifts, for all He does for us. We must continue to do that, but we also must worship Him sincerely for Who He Is. We need to get to know Him, discovering every aspect of His character we can. We need to grow in our appreciation of His very existence every day.
2. We need to examine our relationships with the people in our lives. If any are based solely on need, these are unhealthy (except in the case of babies, who are born completely dependent and must learn how to love). Genuine love is unconditional. It loves just because the other one exists (which means, perhaps, that one comes closest to being able to love in this way when one becomes a parent). I think this is why Jesus told us to serve one another in love and to reach out with hospitality to people who can’t pay us back. It’s in service, in showing and giving love, that we learn to appreciate just because.
Along these lines, if anyone loves us just for what we can provide, we need to be aware that once the need is gone, the love will probably go, too. (It may even go sooner. Just as addicts come to resent the drugs they depend on, people often come to resent people they depend on.) This doesn’t mean we stop loving, but we hold the relationship loosely, refuse to let people idolize us, point them to the One they truly must depend on, and ask God to help us love wisely and well.
We can’t control how others love. It hurts to be loved only because someone wants something from us. It hurts to be rejected when we no longer have anything to offer that someone wants.
Thankfully, there will always be One Who loves us just because He does. He loves us perfectly. Our value rests in His opinion alone. And if we learn to love like He does, He’ll lead us to others who love well and whom we can also love.
Father, please teach us to love as You love because You do. Amen.