Love was once an opaque word etched on my heart—designed by the Father Almighty in the depths of my soul where He intended me to find. There was a time I looked at love in the mirror and could not get past the surface of my reflection. I could only feel the solid glass beneath my fingertips. A speck of wonder glistened and winked.
Love brings and gives us life—a motive conveyed in movies, songs, literature. I am engaged and entertained, but love songs to me were incomprehensible; romantic movies unrelatable; and amorous literature unfathomable. Here was a heart that pulsed unconsciously. Here was a mind that sparked innocently—a heart and mind naive to the meaning of love, but always nurtured and tended to by the Father to be prepared for this special moment in my life.
I might have only known God for a year or two when I discovered the real meaning of love. Before, love was vague. Love was intangible. Meeting God made love concrete and alive. Allowing Him to become my life, I was transformed—the beginning of self-exploration, of understanding and loving myself. To be able to love myself, I had to come to know God and love Him. I realized that was all I will ever need.
During this time, my well-being and my studies came first, and I was not one bit interested being in a relationship or dating. Growing deeper in love with God was all that mattered—not falling in love with someone else. I squirmed at the thought, “Why would a guy be interested in me?”
Outside in the world, I could not wrap my head around how and why two people would want to spend all their time together, nor how, under God, they could become one. Though from afar, a genuine, caring, devoted relationship was something that I quietly admired.
“I guess I won’t know until it happens to me—meeting someone I feel compatible with and connected to,” I thought.
I was convinced I would not meet someone that I would want to spend time with. My bonds to my sisters in Christ are so deep and satisfying. There is no human relationship like a sister in Christ who makes me feel whole. God is all I need; I do not need a man. Yet a belief that strengthened as I grew closer to Jesus: God will introduce me to the man that I am supposed to meet when our paths cross when we both least expect it.
When I least expected it, I met someone.
It was not love at first sight, no. It took me time. When I walked through the library doors, I saw him, and he saw me; we instinctively knew who each other were although we had never seen each other before. We shared a common pursuit—writing—which was the reason why we were meeting. The more we worked together, as he mentored me, the more we got to know each other and became comfortable with one another.
“I want to say thank you for sharing such a personal piece of writing with me,” he kindly said to me one day.
“Well, I trust you,” I replied.
There was another time when I felt compelled to write about a different personal matter. Not long after he began to read my essay, he stopped.
“I wrote something very similar… I’ll share it with you. It could be helpful for you to use it as an example for structure for your essay.”
I was touched that he shared with me a personal challenge, which is similar to mine. He saw me. He heard me. When I could give my full attention to read what he shared with me, I saw him. I heard him. I believe I was the only person he shared this with, besides the graduate committee whom he wrote this piece for his graduate school application. He was the only one I shared my personal essay with—his eyes were the first to read all my pieces. Our response to one another’s personal yet similar challenges was as if we had gently held each other’s hands to say neither one of us are alone, and we considerately understand and support one another.
Each week, I liked working with him. Our time was composed of an exchange of informational, meaningful and insightful conversations, and of course, laughter. Over the course of time, a moment of realization dawned on me: I likedhim. His old soul, his authenticity, his kind-heartedness, his genuineness, his humbleness, his demeanor of an honorable gentleman. His catching smile and our common interests and values. My heart pounded! It pounded so hard against my chest, as a bird never meant to be caged trying to break free from metal bars. My heart fluttered. My chest tightened. The electrifying excitement tickled within. I was giggly. My feelings for him was like a little gust of wind swirling dirt and sand up off the road. It was the most wonderful, jovial, liberating burst of pure happiness and excitement I have ever felt. Instantaneously every song I was singing and dancing too made sense. I knew the emotion that the lyrics captured—love, being in love.
But my love for God is so different than this love—love for another person—that I was experiencing. God grounds and centers me. God brings me peace, joy, and comfort. God gives me clarity and gives me perspective. “How can this be? How could I love someone else when I love God?” I wondered. “This is humanness. This is not God I’m feeling,” I thought. “What is this?”
I had a burning desire to understand love all over again and I went on a quest. If God is love, then what is this love I feel toward him? It is not the same as my love for God.
In Greek, there are different types love in the Bible: storg, phileo/philla, eros, and agape. Storg is the love for your family. Phileo/philla is love, care, respect for another in a close intimate relationship in a friendship. Eros is love within a marriage. Agape is the highest form of love—love of the Father given to the Son that is given to us as God’s children. I found two specific types of love written in Greek in John 21 that led me to understand love and form my own interpretation.
In John 21, God/Jesus meets you where you are, in this instance meets you where you are with your understanding of love. In Greek, on each account that love is used between Jesus and Peter, love is said and used in a different form with a different meaning. Jesus asks Peter three times, “Do you love me?” In the first instance, Jesus uses agape. Peter responds using love in the phileo form, “Yes, Lord. You know that I love you.” Repeating the question, a second time, Jesus uses phileo. Peter responds the same. It is natural for Jesus to use the form agape with Peter because He is the Son of the Father who transcends His love to us. John shows us that it is a process to love as grand and high as Jesus does—to reach agape. Jesus knows that Peter has not yet reached the highest form of love, so He meets him where he is at with his ability to express and understand love in a strong abiding friendship. In another section of Bible in the New Testament, Peter is eventually able to love in the agape form.
Reading John 21 and learning about the different types of love in the Bible, God revealed to me that I had reached a moment in my life, based on His time and preparation, that I was ready to discover and find that I can love someone and experience the emotion of love within a friendship built on trust in the phileo form of love. The amount of compassion and understanding I gave to myself—learning to love and accept my whole self over time—brought me a new confidence of knowing myself that I never had before. Having gained this confidence and understanding of self-love through my relationship with God, God opened my heart to love in a new way. He opened my eyes to see Him through another person and has brought me closer to Him through someone who has wholeheartedly supported and encouraged me to fully apply myself through my gift of writing. God allowed me to experience what a true partnership can be like.
It is God’s gentle will for us to work toward being able to love in the highest form. As John shows us, it’s a process. Like Peter destined to reach agape, God met me where I was, and He showed me my ability to love through the phileo form of love within my friendship with my writing peer and mentor. I reached a new level of maturity—which brought me a little closer to the level agape— that unveiled my ability to deeply care for a gentleman and want, in return, to wholeheartedly support him in all of his endeavors as he had done for me thus far. Supporting him has recently meant not standing in his way and letting him go— letting go of a poignant and soulful journey of falling in love for the first time and enter into a place where I can have closure with this remarkable experience.
I have been told, “It is better to love than not love at all.” When this was first said to me, it had no meaning. I did not have any experiences to draw from—not until this moment in my life where I discovered my ability to love in a way that I have never had before. I was worried my love for God was being divided and diminished due to my acute attention on this new type of love I was feeling for someone else. This type of love—enamored of my writing mentor and peer—kindled wonderment about my capacity to love. On my quest to extinguish my burning desire to understand love, I was reassured that none of what I was worried about was true.
I unwrapped the truth that my heart is a gift from God. During the time when I was searching and longing for an unidentifiable power of Love, God filled my empty heart and revealed a glistening sparkle in my reflection that I had not seen without His guidance. Inviting Him to be present in my life, I formed a personal, intimate relationship with God, and the spark grew and became a flame. I envision the flame revealing a passage—the passage of loving and accepting myself—to one of the chambers of my heart for me to unlock who I am meant to be. With God’s timing and preparation, I was ready to venture with Him to the next passage—the passage of falling in love—where I came to discover my capacity to love an honorable gentleman and a trusted confidant.
My capacity and ability to love is a gift in itself. Pope Francis has said, “We need the Lord to continually renew this gift in our hearts, through the experience of his infinite mercy.” My ability love in the phileo form has been renewed by the Lord and I have been transformed. I am better to have loved than not have loved at all because my soul has expanded and reached a new height. I learned more about myself and matured, stepping a little bit closer to achieving agape.
Closing this chapter of my journey of falling in love for the first time, I know deep down inside myself that now is not the time for me to be in a relationship. I have more self-exploration and self-knowledge that I need to attain. As my heart circulates the source of life throughout my body, God is circulating me back to the first chamber of my heart. I must be patient and trust in the tender work of God who is gradually forming a new spirit within me and trust in the good graces that He will bestow upon me. All the Father wants is the best for me, as any father does for their child. I am sincerely thankful to God for this human experience of falling in love. I would not want to change one part of it and I now know that I do not have to be ashamed to love someone else.
“Let love be sincere…love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another showing honor,” St. Paul writes in his letter to the Romans. The phileo form of love I felt and showed to my writing mentor and peer was sincere and respectful because my ability to love is real and true when I am united with God. He is the Author who has etched love on our hearts, and He will always give us the grace to follow His command to love as He loves, raising us to a Truth about ourselves and beyond which sets us free.