In the Greek language, there are four words for love: agape, phileo, eros and storge. Each of these different "loves" encompasses a different type of relationship—agape is total love, eros is sexual love, etc. But in the English language, all we get is one little four letter word. Yes, it's understood that when someone says "I love cheese puffs," they're not referring to the same love as when they say "I love my boyfriend" (unless they have some issues they're working through, but that's just weird and I'm going to stay away from that). Still, that tiny, simple word, is incredibly powerful. The depth of meaning behind it is enormous. Think about it. Humanity is centered around the need and desire for love. We are constantly searching for fulfillment in relationships—family, friends, significant others, spouses—unless you're a monk (and even most of them don't live in complete solitude), you find some sort of satisfaction in at least one other person. But what really is love?
Love is sacrifice. It's giving of yourself when you have nothing left to give. It's not keeping score. There's a cliche that says we accept the love we think we deserve, but is that really even love?
Love is not proving your worth. It's not proving that you deserve it.
No, real love, love in its truest form, is unconditional. It is given freely and not taken back, no matter how much or how little it is deserved. You can't earn love. Acceptance, yes. Friendship, sometimes (though it would likely be a shallow one). But love? Never. It's a decision, a daily one, to give patience, forgiveness, time and self. It's a repeated devotion to grace. Love does not judge. It does not condemn. Love sees a person, with all their flaws, all their brokenness, and says "What can I do for you?"
Love is not physical attraction, though I think sometimes our society thinks that. Romantic love is usually evident through physical actions, but that does not mean those things are love. Hugging, hand-holding, kissing and even sex are side effects of love. But they can also be side effects of lust. There is a massive difference between the two. While love sees the soul, lust struggles to get past the body. It's selfish. It's dangerous. It can destroy relationships because lust sees a person and all of their physical features and says "What can you do for me?"
Love is also correction. It's having the guts (and sometimes, the hard words) to tell someone they're wrong. It's caring enough to tell someone they should stop being stupid, but understanding enough to know how to say it. Love, when it is reciprocated, is a constant push-and-pull of strengthening each other's character. It's challenging someone to be the best that they can be. Love is not accepting of mediocre attempts. It sees potential and pushes for it.
As a Christian, I have found that the only source of perfect, unconditional love comes from a perfect, eternal God.
"But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved—" Ephesians 2:4-5
I'm just as messed up and broken and confused and lost as anyone. I have done nothing to deserve any form of love. And yet, I am loved and chosen and saved by a God who knows my flaws better than I. That love, the kind that says "You are mine, for whom I have a perfect and wonderful plan" is the love that has put me through countless trials and hardships. I have been overwhelmed by it in moments of peace, but also moments of fear, moments of grief, moments of complete and utter emptiness. For, in being emptied of myself, I'm filled with a love I could never have on my own.
My God is a God of love. The God of love. I am broken and flawed, but my worthiness was not and never will be a factor. I have been saved by sacrifice and by grace, and I am constantly being put through trials so that I can grow stronger. That is ultimate love.