• Ava Hoffman

it's for you

Friends, my heart for all people everywhere can be summed up in a single word: BETTER. I am a staunch believer in better, friend. I believe there is always better for us to pursue. Better health, better relationship quality, better definitions. There is always room for learning better, believing better, and acting better. Better words, better Truth, better hope.


I relentlessly pursue better, friends. I simply do not know how to be content with less.

January was a crash course in better love for me, friend. I became poignantly aware of a lack in the “love” I was experiencing. In the love I was showing. As I sought to identify the specific failings, the shallowness of how we treat this word, this action, became apparent.


The impact of this knowledge in my life was immediate. While the love inside my marriage reflected the wholeness of love well, my life did not. That was not acceptable to me, friend, and the second I was back on my feet with an ounce of sustained energy, I was out-and-about loving people actionably and tangibly and in the fullness of this four-letter word.


I believe in better for all of us, though, friend. I was not content leaving my January experiences unaddressed, so I sat down with the leadership involved, and I offered my story. I challenged their definitions, their perceptions, and their love. I encouraged deep heart-work, greater concern for those who do not look like them, and the embrace of better love.

 

I do not believe in coincidences, friend, so I do not think it is an accident that my view and approach to love has been flipped on its head in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. This day will never be the same in my house again.


While the origins of this holiday are romantic – we can thank some mating birds for that! – this is no longer the tradition. In the 1700s, valentines were being exchanged amongst friends. Today, we send children to school with valentines for classmates. We have created Galentine’s, Palentine’s, and anti-Valentine’s. We’re not content with honoring one expression of love.


I think we are still missing the whole picture, though, friends! These added days and elements and portions of February 14 seek to expand the scope of love and include more people. But here’s the thing…


LOVE ALREADY HOLDS SPACE FOR US ALL.

A few years ago, a really good guy friend of mine spontaneously showed up and announced he loved me. It sent me into a tailspin, trying to figure out how love in friendship differed than love in a romantic relationship. In my usual fashion, I dove into research, parsing out the various forms of love and how they interact.


I was reminded of those notes and thoughts in the past month. As I’ve poured through them yet again, I am reminded of the wholeness of love. The fullness it carries. The expansive scope it encompasses. Love is foundational, friends, and we’ve treated it shallowly for far too long. It is time we stop short-changing ourselves and remember.

 

As a words person, one of my biggest pet peeves is the English language. It is incredibly meager. We’ve attempted to compact thousands of years and myriads of languages into one. It is insufficient at best and always limiting.


I grew up in a home that believed in hybrid schooling. I went to public school, and my mom filled in and supplemented that education at home and during the summer. Part of this supplementation was an extensive study of Greek and Latin roots.


I spent my childhood connecting English words to their origins, walking away with a deeper appreciation for the word itself and a greater understanding of is definition. It gave me the tools to dig into the basics – I am routinely found pulling up Hebrew, Greek, and Latin etymologies and unearthing language maps.


These two ancient languages – Greek and Latin – built the foundations of most modern languages, and my study of them built the foundations of my own language use, so I was not surprised to learn that our English word for “love” traces back to Greek.


I was shocked to discover that the Greeks had six words for love, though.


These builders of culture recognized there was not one type of love, and they had a word to describe each. Every form of love was so valuable and vital, it needed its own distinctive word and respective definition.


It was a complex emotion with multiple facets, and the architects of language honored this.

We have lost this depth in English, and while I cannot change the entirety of the English language nor educate the entirety of the English-speaking population, I can share this with y’all and hope it broadens your view of this little word.


I truly believe it will enrich your life, friend.

 

Six forms of love. Agape. Eros. Philia. Storge. Pragma. Ludus.


AGAPE.

Unconditional. Selfless. Radical.

This is the highest form of love, friends, and it is perfect.


There is a link to the Hebrew word “ahaba,” which is derived from the even more ancient word and name of God, Abba. It means “Father” and “love.” This is the original love.


Throughout history, this version of love has been reserved for describing how the God of the Bible loves humankind. In both religious and nonreligious texts, this definition retains that meaning. It is consistent - perfect love comes from outside us and is something humankind aspires to.


A friend recently sent me this quote from John Eldredge’s book, Journey of Desire, and I thought it was excellent. “God wants to be our perfect Lover, but we instead seek perfection in human relationships and are disappointed when our lovers cannot love us perfectly.”


As human beings, we are designed to search for this kind of love. It is written on our hearts and has been since the beginning of time. We often spend an entire lifetime looking for that “thing” that makes us feel complete, that fills the empty places in our soul.


Enter agape.


This is the love designed to fill our empty places and complete us. It is the love that adores us in our messy places and does not turn away from our tears. It sits in the dark places with us, embraces the scars, and whispers tender peace over our gaping wounds.


This is the love that delights in our broken down, our struggle, our overwhelmed, our uncertain. It’s the love that blesses our weak, our pain, our hopelessness, our inability. Friend, this is the love that sees your hidden places, your falling apart, and your brutal fears.


And friend, this is the love that picks up every fragment of your being and holds it close. The love that sees your aloneness, your personal prison cell, and your pit…and calls you “beloved.”


Agape love fulfills, friend, and truthfully, only One can display it fully.

Perfection is not a character trait of humankind. At best, we can only reflect pieces of agape. This shadow on earth is designed to point us to Someone greater, Someone better. In your search for this agape kind of love, seek Him, friend. He isn’t hiding.


EROS.

Romantic. Passionate. Physical.

The Greek writers consider this form of love powerful and dangerous. It is the sexual form of love, and it takes on a life of its own. Our English word “erotic” and all of its forms come from this word. It characterized by lust and pleasure.


Have you ever thrown a pinecone into a campfire or burned a live Christmas tree? It catches fire instantly and roars to life, crackling and sparking, and impossible to control. The flames reach for the heavens, and the intense heat and unpredictability force observers to stand back.


Many liken this form of love to the “puppy love” of early relationships. The couple burns with desire for one another. They do not shut up about one another. They spend every moment possible together and when apart, they impatiently wait for the next together moment.


Those flames from the pinecone or Christmas tree quickly die down, though. The sparks disappear, and the heat fades. The ashes are many, still steaming with the power of the now-gone flame. It is a short-lived experience.


Eros is the same way – it burns out fast.

We are all familiar with the relationships that fizzled out in a matter of month. The couple madly in love last week but who cannot stand one another this week. The relationship we all admired and longed for is over before we can even blink.


Eros was not designed to sustain or be long-lived.


Our world puts such emphasis on eros. Valentine’s Day is proof. Our TV shows, movies, books, and music are proof. Dating culture emphasized euros. Casual sex culture pursues the highs of eros. Our marriages fail when eros disappears.


The Greek definition notes that eros alone ignites immediately and fizzles swiftly, but when combined with other forms of love, it can be fed and preserved. It becomes attraction-based and characterized by sexual longing. It deepens into an appreciation for another’s physical being and beauty.


We often look at the couples married 40 years and wonder, “How are they still married?! How are they still so in love?!?!” Personally, I think those couples have understood the secret of love in its wholeness. They know eros cannot live alone, and they understand it’s minimal role in the larger scope of love.


Yes, friend, sexual love means very little. If the fullness of love is 100%, romantic love is only 17%.

For all our emphasis on pleasurable love, it means next to nothing.


So if this Valentine’s Day finds you longing for eros, friend – you’re in good company. You’re not alone, and it is okay. Know this, though – love is not about romance. Love is not about sex. Love is not sensuality. All this can play a role in love, and all these can add to love, but love is not only those things.


PHILIA.

Affectionate. Platonic. Friendly.

Philadelphia is known as the “City of Brotherly Love.” How did it get this name? Philia. The Greek root describing the love of friendship.


This is the fondness of best pals. It’s the love that causes men to pound one another’s backs in greeting and women to hug each other fiercely. It’s the love that treats one another with respect, as equals. It is rich in dignity, bestowing value and worth on one another.


All love is relational, but I think perhaps philia exemplifies it the best. It reveals that deep friendship is necessary for our love maps. Love is not complete without intimate friendship.


Bailey Hurley is a blogger, writer, and friendship coach. One of her passions is spurring others on to better friendships. She has spent the month of February celebrating philia love with the goal of “loving on purpose.”


Friends, there is no better depiction of philia than that line. Love on purpose. That is what fondness for one another looks like. It is intentional, pulling lives together, and willing to be inconvenienced for the sake of friendship. It is the knowing of another person, a soul-to-soul bond.


Bailey’s new book, Together is a Beautiful Place to Be, is another stunning depiction of how friendship fits into our lives. In fact, “together” is a lovely addition to the descriptors of philia!


We do not celebrate this type of love often enough or hard enough, friends.


This is the love that builds communities. It is the foundation of neighborly love, brotherly love, and friendship love. It helps clean homes, build swing sets, and deliver meals. It sits in coffee shops, hospital lobbies, and living rooms. It shows up on basketball courts, around campfires, and in local restaurants.


Philia seeks opportunities to serve, to love tangibly. It goes outside of ourselves and sees other people. It links arms with the person, the friend, next to us, and it walks arm-in-arm through life.


It is encouraging, kind, and authentic. It wants the best for another person. We are drawn to those displaying philia, and we can respond by extending philia back. This authentic compassion draws others in and encourages each to show up as their best and most genuine self.


Friends, if you are feeling lonely or isolated regularly, check the level of philia in your life. Social media is not philia. A community online only will not satisfy the philia needs in your life. Perhaps you yourself need a crash course in being a good friend. We’ve all been there, and quite honestly, we will be again.


Philia is a need, friends. It is good and it is right and it is worth grand celebration.


STORGE.

Familiar. Kinship. Natural.

We learn the most about this kind of love from our families and from the Greek opposite, actually. This love is the protective nature of a father, the love of a mother.


The opposite (astorgos) means no understanding, no love, no mercy. Therefore, this type of love is characterized by understanding, love, and mercy. It is connection based. It is a natural and instinctive affection we have for those we label as “family.”


The beautiful nature of family is that we choose family. Blood may tell us who we are biologically related to, but in my experience, blood actually means very little when it comes to love. Family is who we bond with and to.


Family is who checks-in without prompting. Family sends cards because it is Tuesday. Family drives six hours for a meal together for no other reason than they miss being together. Family mourns together, celebrates together, and has gratitude in the mundane together.


Family comes naturally, friends. Natural doesn’t mean no work. It means work worth doing. People worth fighting for. This kind of love is full of heart. If we are drawn to others via philia, this is what grows over time. Storge.


The exquisiteness of storge is its inclusivity. We choose family. No matter what our history with that word, storge is available for us all to experience. When family is hard and complicated and awful, well…that isn’t storge, friend. Knowing that frees us to go find family. To make our own storge.


And friends, that is worth celebration every single day of the year.


PRAGMA.

Enduring. Mature. Patient.

A few months ago, I was sitting in my infusion chair at the medical center when an older man cheerfully wheeled his wife into the room. He got her situated, helping her take her sweater off and making sure she was as comfortable as she was gonna get.


She and I chatted through the rest of my infusion, and she was an absolute delight! Her story was heart-breaking and her current situation deeply painful. Her grace in character was humbling. Her strength in weakness was amazing.


When I left, I ran into her husband. I felt compelled to share with him how deeply I had enjoyed his wife’s company and how profoundly her softness had touched my soul. Friends, he was delighted to discuss their love.


I learned they had been married for almost 45 years, and he was more in love with her than the day they got married. Despite the intense sorrow their story contained, his love for this woman was infectious. Regardless of the severity they were currently living through, he described their relationship as “fun.”


Friends, that is pragma.


It is mellow, soft and sweet and well-matured. It is love made gentle and compassionate. It is the love developed over time and with age. It blossoms in the familiarity cultivated over many seasons. It is relaxed, at ease, and genial.


It is borne from years of compromise, settling disputes and agreeing on the middle. It is the desire for relational growth and the result of equal efforts to love the other person better.


This is the love of time, friends.


The embrace of classmates at their 50-year high school reunion. The letters of childhood friends spanning a lifetime. The hand-holding of a couple married for 60 years. The club of retired men eating breakfast at the local greasy spoon. It’s the college friend group who meet up once a year, no matter where they are located.


It more than survives the years – it blossoms through them.


Suffering, tension, adversity, and difficulty strengthen this love. They refine it into pragma. It focuses each party on the long-term best interests of one another. It shows patience and resilience.


I used marriage as a primary display of pragma, but this type of love isn’t limited to marriage. This is love for the ages. For any friendship or relationship that has traversed time.


Invest in storge. Pursue philia. Strive to better reflect agape. Pragma will come.


LUDUS.

Playful. Infatuated. Flirty.

This is the crush. The fascination with one person. The toying of emotions and vying for their attention. This is what has us walking a different route in the hallways or across campus. Putting more thought into how we dress or how our hair is done.


It is the love that acts on said crush. It’s the love of a fling – casual and sexual and exciting and absolutely zero obligations. Uncommitted. The one-night stand. The booty call. The sex-with-no-strings relationship.


It is rooted in fun. The butterflies in our tummy, the giddiness when you catch a glimpse of said crush, the rush of hormones that cause excitement about life. Teasing, sensual dancing, and seducing are all displays of ludus. Oftentimes, ludus takes the form of conquest – a notch on the bedpost.


While ludus is supposed to be undemanding and uncomplicated, it often is mistaken for or becomes a deeper love. This development is often what leads to messy ending of casual flings.


However, when ludus joins forces with another type of love, we see a unique dimension. Friendships are infused with spontaneity. Romantic partnerships are capable of lightheartedness. The cheeky child-like spirit remains even in the longest of relationships.


Ludus, while it can exist by itself, needs other forms of love for depth. It needs stability to thrive. It is capable of enriching relationships, but it depends on love outside of itself.


It is intimately entangled with the rest of the loves.

 

Leading up to Valentine’s Day, everything I’ve seen about love and about this celebration of love has been irritating. The commercialization of this very real human need feels like a gross violation. Idolizing eros and exalting romance seems hollow, short-sighted, and narrow-minded.


My January revealed to me how deeply I need all forms of love in my life. I required agape to sustain me and see me when no one and nothing else would. I wanted the depth of mature eros to remind me to appreciate my body. I needed the authentic friendship of philia to encourage and strengthen me. I longed for the local family I have cultivated to love me with storge – to pursue together because I was missed. I desired my suffering and sickness to be a place where pragma could be built, and I would have loved the playful ludus of friendships to lighten and restore laughter.


Agape. Eros. Philia. Storge. Pragma. Ludus.


We need them all, friend. The entanglement of these forms is the beauty of love. We need all of them to live well, to love better. They do not exist singularly, and their co-existence is the fullness of this emotion.

It is easy to feel excluded in celebrations of love, friend. The love we are presented with is not the whole story, though.


I know eros hits us hard, especially at Valentine’s Day. It is easy and natural to be swept away in the totalitarian mindset we have with this feeling. We each have expectations and desires and longings that may feel especially hard right now. Friend, this doesn’t go away, not even with a relationship. I’m married and eros is (still) complicated!


Take heart – it was not meant to be everything. It was not meant to sustain nor give life. Its completeness depends on every other type of love first. Celebrate those and pursue those first, friend. Perhaps one day, eros will come knocking. A firm and holistic grasp of love in its completeness will enable you to answer as a healthier, more healed, more flourishing you


Friend, you were designed for this emotion. You were shaped to desire love. You were made for love, by love, and with love. Your pursuit of love is not in vain, nor is it silly or ridiculous. You were fabricated with a love-sized hole in your heart.


Agape is intended to flow over your soul, friend, filling that hole crying to be quenched. This is the perfect love you were designed to crave. The fulfillment of purpose and meaning find their answer and root here. This is the love that paid everything for you – it is accessible, readily available, and never hidden. Fill that hole with perfect love.


This is the most inclusive, impartial, universal emotion, friend, and it is meant for you. To know, to feel, to experience. You are seen, you are known, and you are loved. Fully.


Love is built on three foundations – agape, philia, storge. These are the three that deepen and provide stability. Without these roots, the others cannot be fully experienced, fully lived, or fully displayed. These are the three that must remain for they are the greatest.


Eros, pragma, and ludus cannot exist and/or persist when those three are lacking. These expressions of love add to our experience of this emotion, but they do not form it. They are incapable of being the base on which our love rests.


Today is February 14, friends. Valentine’s Day. And you are loved. No qualification or relationship status needed. You have a heartbeat. Your lungs breathe. You, friend, are deeply loved.

Celebrate that.


Celebrate agape, the love that never fails. Celebrate philia, the love of friends committed to meeting one another where they’re at. Celebrate storge, the love that knows another well and considers them family.


Celebrate that love.


And should you also have occasion to celebrate eros and pragma today, know that it is built upon and depends on all other forms. We cannot celebrate romantic love without celebrating the three foundations, too.


And we can all be included there. We can all celebrate that.


Today is February 14, friends. Will you be my valentine?! I love you ❤






Notes!

While much of this has been formulated on my own and through my own notes, these links may be helpful if you're seeking more information.

https://www.etymonline.com/

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/hide-and-seek/201606/these-are-the-7-types-love

https://www.wellandgood.com/greek-words-for-love/


If friendship is something you are pursuing, I seriously recommend checking out Bailey Hurley (@bailey.t.hurley), her blog, and her book!

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