Valentine’s Day is a wonderful time to share gifts, time, and experiences to show love in marriage, friendship, and kinship. Yet, we can see that our culture’s definition of love is not a healthy one.
The versions of love we see on screen are usually bad caricatures of authentic love: we see one character either so independent that they are selfish and uncaring, or we see another character so dependent on attention that they make an idol out of their partner. In both cases, the characters want to receive love, and in just the way they please, but are rarely motivated to show authentic love. Sometimes this is due to pure selfishness, most often the character doesn’t realize the true definition of love and believes they are operating in a healthy way.
The mission of Integrity Restored is to help individuals, spouses, families, and communities that have been affected by pornography; to show the goodness of authentic love and expose the dangers of distorted love. Integrity Restored provides education, training, encouragement, and resources to break free from pornography, heal relationships, and to assist parents in preventing pornography exposure. We also train and help clergy in assisting families at the parish level, so that the domestic church truly becomes what it is, the human space in which we encounter Christ.
Definitions of love coming from Aquinas and Chesterton usually sum up like this: authentic love is willing the good of the other for the sake of the other. Distorted love, in contrast, seeks pleasure only and is not willing to sacrifice for the good of the other.
Distorted love can be hidden under the guise of giving, but when distorted love gives something, the ultimate motivation is for self, rather than the other person.
This isn’t to say that authentic love isn’t joyful, that the person expressing authentic love never receives anything in return for their efforts. In fact, when two people genuinely share authentic love, they each care so much for the other that they are almost constantly receiving love in various love languages.
A key difference occurs when things are out of balance. When one partner, for instance, is ill or otherwise unable to meet expectations, is the other partner able to cope? Are they able to pour love into the other even while things aren’t 50/50? A common Christian teaching on marriage is that it’s not 50/50, but 100/100. Each person is giving 100 percent of themselves at all times without “counting the cost.” When both partners commit to that, needs are met and joy is found in loving the other. Authentic marital love understands that sacrifice is necessary to show true love, but doesn’t count the cost because the well-being of the other is more important than self.
This Valentine’s Day, we encourage you to ponder your own capacity for authentic love. How much would you sacrifice for your spouse, your friend, or your family? Consider what limitations you have and ask yourself if they are reasonable (basic needs) or if you’re placing luxury above love. Examine distorted love in your life. Are you trying to fill voids with food, sex, pornography, or money?
This type of self-examination can be difficult, but when guided by the Holy Spirit through professional resources, it can lead a person to a beautiful understanding and expression of authentic love.