Love is often a misused word—especially considering that in English, we have only one name for a wide range of feelings. We may claim to love chocolate, our cat, or a beachside stroll. But what does love mean when it comes to another person, and how can we love authentically?
Without getting into a discussion on the different types of love—eros (romantic), phileo (friendship), and agapé (spiritual, sacrificial)—I want to focus in this article on our closest, most intimate relationships and the necessity of detached love.
What does “detached love” mean? Aren’t we supposed to be emotionally bonded to our loved ones?
To a degree, yes. However, there are times when we need to discern between an authentic bond and a toxic attachment. Something has gone awry if we become attached and dependent in unhealthy ways: if we enjoy a relationship for selfish reasons, seek others only for comfort or to make ourselves feel good, or if we anxiously depend upon them to keep us safe in all ways (emotionally, psychologically or materially).
The key to remember about authentic love is that it never consumes our true selves. When we love authentically, we don’t allow the behaviors of others to dictate our feelings or moods. We surrender everything to God—especially the difficult moments in our relationships—and we let Him work through all situations. We live in our Christ-centered mind, not purely in our emotions or, on the other end of the spectrum, our rationality.
Authentic charity—detached love—is loving with the heart of Christ. And the heart of Christ is always that of peace.
“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give to you; not as the world gives do I give to you. Let not your hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid.”
If our relationships cause us to lose our peace, we aren’t loving with the heart of Christ. If we’re off-balance, agitated, irritated or upset, we’re experiencing the emotions of a human love—even if our intentions are pure.
“It is normal to be profoundly touched by the suffering of another who is dear to us, but if, because of this, we torment ourselves to the point of losing our peace, this signifies that our love for the other person is still not fully spiritual, is still not in harmony with God. It is a love that is still too human and, without doubt, egotistical, whose foundation is not sufficiently based on an unshakable confidence in God.”
(Fr. Jacques Philippe, Searching for and Maintaining Peace)
In these instances we need to recenter—and that’s always done within the Sacred Heart of Christ. To recenter ourselves in Christ is to allow His peace to be the central focus of our lives, to allow His will to dictate the outcome of all situations, and to release the fierce emotions that aren’t serving us so they can be transformed into Christ-focused, Spirit-enriched emotions.
To detach is to release our desires—desires for a specific outcome to a situation, desires for how we want others to act or think or feel—and to allow ourselves to accept the present moment. This is particularly true when the present moment is difficult or has taken an unexpected turn. It’s in these moments that it’s particularly crucial to recall the need to step back, away from any agitation and negativity we may be feeling, and to filter the situation through the peace of Christ.
Our love must be based on His peace, not our fear.
How can this be achieved in particularly volatile or difficult relationships?
Again, it takes the power of Christ. It takes prayer and discernment. It takes recognizing the reactive emotions triggered by difficult situations and sinking into the Christ-centered mind.
The next time you’re overcome with fear, anxiety, anger or impatience, don’t allow the situation to overwhelm your senses. If possible close your eyes and breathe deeply. Breathe in the love of Christ, breathe out your agitation.
Remember the sacrament of the present moment.
In this present moment, what is Christ calling you to do? How does He want you to love, and to react? Perhaps attempting to peacefully moderate an altercation is the right thing to do, or maybe you need to engage in self-care by removing yourself from the situation.
There are as many options as there are circumstances; the key to discernment is to allow God’s peace to wash over you. Let the Holy Spirit fill you with the gift of intuitive grace—to speak to you in that “still small Voice” (1 Kings 19:12).
And then respond—rather than react—accordingly.
Authentic, pure love is a gift—as Pope St. John Paul II puts in in his masterwork, Theology of the Body, it’s a “disinterested gift of self.”
This “disinterested” gift has no attachment to what it might receive in return, no interest in selfish self-will. It’s a mutual self-giving, because one-sided self-giving (such as in the cases of abusive relationships) is a perversion of intimacy and friendship. Detached love is a dance between individuals as they reflect the image and likeness of God back to each other, without expectations or attachments.
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I find this article most helpful, and I thank you for it! I am presently forced to read this on my phone which is difficult for me. As soon as I receive my new computer, I intend to read it again and meditate on it.