One of the hardest parts about true love is what lies at its core: freedom. Freedom is at the core of all healthy relationships because from it we can derive trust, understanding, and harmony. When freedom is taken out of love, it can actually become evil. Love needs to be free to be true.
Let’s look at an example from pop culture: You, a Netflix series based on an obsessive man who lusts after a girl and tries to entrap here. [SPOILER ALERT PEOPLE] The boyfriend and main character in the story becomes so obsessed with his girlfriend, Guinevere Beck, that he seeks to “fix” every problem in her life. He kills her ex and her best friend and eventually traps her into his basement in a cage originally used to store old and rare books (he owns a bookstore). This story is a perversion on true love, masked by a false romantic theme and emotional sentimentality which covers an obsession to control this girl for the satisfaction of his sick desires. This is where love can lead when freedom is taken out of the equation.
Why is freedom necessary for true love? It is because in our choice to consistently choose another person, where we can grow a foundation of trust and build our self-emptying nature. When the self-emptying nature is reciprocated and shared between two people, we can be lead towards salvation and understand a sliver of Christ’s love for us. This comes back to the idiomatic saying, “If you love something, set it free.” If someone tries to control you “out of love,” they are actually satisfying themselves to your detriment.
As Orthodox Christians, we know that all things true and good must come from God. Therefore, pure, good, and true love is exemplified in our Lord’s love for us: His creation. This Valentine’s-Day-appropriate verse from St. Paul’s explanation of heavenly love is the basis on which we should try and base our love for our neighbor in our everyday lives:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. – 1 Corinthians 13:4-7
The love described in the epistle is incredibly pure and self-emptying. This is the agape written about in the scriptures, and this is the type of love we are called to have for each and every one of our brothers and sisters–enemies included. I firmly believe that Love is the most powerful force in the universe. Not atomic force, electromagnetic force, not gravity, but love is the strongest. Love is the Person that brought the Universe into existence and continues to uphold it every moment.
The Lord gave us free will so that we can come to know Him of our own volition. If someone was forcing us to love them, we only push them away further because resentment and asphyxiation grow where freedom ends. Only in the freedom to love one another can we actively make the choice to love and sacrifice ourselves for the sake of the other.
This type of love can hurt in its acquisition but afterwards it can be the most freeing thing you ever experience. It hurts because there is the possibility that someone may not love us back, that the people we love may get hurt, that they don’t appreciate our love, but that shouldn’t deter you. God loves His people, and there are many people out there that actively hate Him. Yet He chooses to love us in freedom, always allowing us to turn back to Him and meet Him. For every step we take towards Him, He takes ten more to come closer to us. God came from heaven to earth out of love. He chooses to love us as we are and sees us for what we can become. Choose to love the people around you.
Many of you are probably wondering, yes that love sounds beautiful and all, but is it realistic? The truth is you have to learn and discern about the state of your relationships. This applies for all the relationships you have in your life from your friends to your enemies. Your love for others deepens as your love for God and your experience of His love for you deepens. This comes with time, maturity, and prayer, so have patience, faith in God, and may the Love that brought you into being illumine your path towards the kingdom.