Charity is a complex subject that could be discussed for weeks while just barely scraping the surface of what it is and what it looks like. One of the most difficult aspects of love is that the word has so many layers of meaning.
Most people use the word love without thinking about the significance of the word. You might say, “I love pizza,” and in the next breath say, “I love my children.” Loving pizza is quite different than loving another being. Linguistically, it might sound the same to someone who doesn’t know your intent or have the same understanding.
Psychology Today lists seven different types of love:
- Eros: Passionate or sexual love between adults.
- Philia: Friendship, or shared goodwill.
- Storge: Familial love, especially that toward younger children. The unconditional love adults have for their children.
- Agape: Universal love, similar to altruism or concern for others.
- Ludus: Casual and uncommitted love, such as flirting or teasing. Both parties should be mature to participate.
- Pragma: Practical love that isn’t based on eros, but on shared goals and working together. This is the kind of love that keeps people together when sexual attraction fades.
- Philautia: Self-love, but self-love can be healthy when it’s accompanied by an honest opinion of your abilities and accomplishments. When you place yourself above others or are arrogant and haughty, you promote conflict and enmity with others. Healthy self-love is probably akin to self-esteem.
The definition of love largely depends on what or who is the object of your adoration. God’s love could be described as sacrificial and selfless, closer to a combination of agape, storge, and philia.
What Is Selflessness in Love?
When you love someone, you want to make them happy. If you’re a parent, at one time or another you might have said, “I love my child. I’d do anything to help him or her get ahead.” Selfless love is doing for others and having an interest in their well-being. Mother Teresa was a great example of selfless love. She gave her life to the poor and needy.
As a virtue, charity is that type of love. Charity motivates a person to do what is necessary for others to be happy. That is probably one reason charity is considered a theological virtue. The motivation for charity comes out of a love for God.
Selflessness Leads to Sacrifice
Sometimes, making another person’s happiness a priority means that you don’t get what you want. Scripture says, “No one has greater love than this, that he lays down his life for his friends.” The ultimate sacrifice is giving up your life for someone else. But selflessness in love can mean that you suffer to serve someone else. It might mean that you end up doing chores one weekend so that you spouse can go be with friends. Sacrificial love could be going without a new coat to make sure your child is warm.
Does Selfless Love Mean We Can’t Love Ourselves?
Charity almost demands that you stop focusing on yourself, but you are allowed to set boundaries on what that means for you. There may be times when you do give sacrificially by spending time with estranged family members. Then there may be times when you have to take care of yourself.
Charity prevents people from becoming selfish members of society who only think about themselves. Personal fulfillment is nice. You should take time to pursue that which makes you happy. Just don’t forget about others. Love completes a circle between you and another person.
Plato said, “He whom love touches not walks in darkness.” Plato thought of love as a philosopher, not a god. It’s an interesting take on the complex feeling.