Love, selfless love

    agape – selfless love of one person for another without sexual implications (especially love that is spiritual in nature)

I recently read a book review of the new book, “Marriage and Other Acts of Charity,” by Kate Braestrup, in which Braestrup is quoted as saying there is too little of one sort of love in most marriages, that of the agape sort. I admit, I had to look it up.  I’ve used the word agape in other ways, such as “mouth agape” in describing a sort of wonder and awe. But what exactly does agape mean in describing love?

I think I have an inkling.

As a mother of eight children, you would think I would know a true selfless love, having lived through breastfeeding eight children for a total of 18 years. Is there anything more selfless than turning over a good portion of time and your body to the needs (both nutritional and emotional) of a demanding human being? How about caring for sick children in the middle of the night? Smoothing back their hair and wiping their face with a cool cloth as they throw up into a bin, despite your own fatigue,(because doesn’t it always happen in the middle of the night), and then dumping the container and cleaning it out, over and over, has to be considered somewhat selfless. And how many professional haircuts or new dresses did I give up as a mother so that I could purchase things for my children instead? Yes, I would say a mother of many often does practice some sort of selfless love with her children.

But for one’s spouse? I am afraid I failed dismally at this for most of my marriage. Maybe it was partly because of a constant financial struggle, or the sheer number of hours I spent caring for young children. Or perhaps is was how little time I had to spend alone with my muse.  Whatever it was, by early 2006 I seriously wondered what would be left to our marriage by the time all our children were gone. Most days I just shrugged that feeling off, assuming that anyone who had been married for any length of time and had several children would feel the same way.

Then in June of 2006, an intruder in our life changed everything. That intruder was cancer. At the time of my husband David’s diagnosis I can’t say we were actively seeking a divorce or even considering it.  Instead, our marriage felt stagnant and lifeless. 

I became David’s caregiver after an invasive surgery that left him voiceless for eight days, then during his regimen of chemotherapy and radiation. Watching this robust man who was the father of our eight children fight for his life triggered something inside me, something that I can only describe as a kind of love I had never felt for him before. It was a selfless love that prompted me to do things like rub his feet, or hold his head to my chest as he fell asleep, gestures I had never made before in our marriage.  I did much more than simply care for his physical needs (and there were many, like changing bloody dressings, cleaning wounds, setting up tube feedings and doling out medications). I began caring for his emotional needs as well.  In the process, we fell in love all over again.  Since then, we have enjoyed a newly revitalized relationship, one that surprises and amazes me with its intensity. 

I continue to tend to David’s needs, but as a partner and a best friend, not as a caregiver. He does the same for me.  We wonder sometimes if we have discovered the secret to a content marriage. We just thank God we have each other and, mouths agape, are in awe of  the agape love we are experiencing.

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