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  • Amber

Words for Love

I enjoy finding words in other languages that do not translate well into English, words that describe a feeling, like the Danish word “hygge” (hue-guh) which is best described in English as a “strong feeling of coziness where you feel utterly content, secure and comforted.” It’s interesting to see what feelings other languages prioritize into their own words, but one that truly frustrates me that English does not have more and better words for love.


In our society, typically the very first thing that comes to mind when someone uses the word ‘love’ is the romantic love of two intimate partners. The other most common usage is familial love, the love between blood relatives. And of course, as Christians, we often see love used in associate with God and Jesus.


While we have the one word, ‘love’ to cover all of these, the Greeks have six different words for different types of love shown to different people.


Eros (air-os) – Named for the Greek god of fertility, this love is that of sexual passion and desire, which wasn’t seen as wholly a good thing, and that it could actually be scary and needed to be kept in check.


Philia (phil-ia) – This is a word for deep friendship, which is one of the words I wish we had in English. Some people find it very hard to express the love they have for their friends because of how it’s tied so strongly to romantic love. The love of friends is important and should not be made to be any less than romantic or familial love.


Storge (stor-gay) – This means “love and affection, especially of parents and children.” This word is almost exclusively used to describe family relationships.


Philautia (phil-ow-teea) – This one means “self-love,” which has two different sides to it. One being the narcissistic side of loving oneself too much, but there are many people that do not love themselves nearly enough and is more about self-compassion.


Xenia (zee-nia) – A more casual type of love, this one covers the concept of hospitality. The love and care that a host should show a guest, showing politeness.


Agape (ah-gah-pay) – The word for unconditional love. This is the type of love specifically stated in the bible as God’s love for us. This is the love that is to be extended to all people be they family, acquaintance or stranger. The love that is asked you show your neighbor. The Latin translation of the word is caritas which is the root of the English word charity.

Agape love is hard. In Richard Beck’s book, Unclean, he delves into the idea that the further a person is from you, the less likely it is we’ll care about them. The people closest to us, family, close friends, get the most consideration. Friends and community members may not get as many favors from us, and those we have no connection with are sometimes lucky to get a thought from us. At worst, those people may not even be seen as people. But agape love calls us to care for them, no matter who or where they are, or what they’ve done.


There is always a level of care we can extend to people, no matter their circumstance or ours. We may not be able to solve their problems, but we can offer what we can, even if it’s simply kind words.


What if we approach agape as looking at our own life, seeing what good we have, and then wishing that good to others as the minimum. As a starting point for them. Jesus started at heaven as wished that for all of us, what more can we offer people if we start there with our best.


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