Love garden in foliage

Loves that last welcome frets and rubs. That’s how they rise to heaven.

We all want that kind of forever-love, that everlasting, never-failing, ongoing sort of love. At the very least, we want to keep our love sweet.

I mean more than married love here. I mean all the “natural” loves.

But as C.S. Lewis wrote, these natural loves—affection, friendship, eros, he called them—are not self sufficient. The grass is greener where you water it.

But Lewis, and we, want to take our loves a notch up. Don’t you want to know how to transform these natural love for our friends and children and mates into supernatural love, into holy charity?

It’s No Disparagement to a Garden to Prune and Weed It

Lewis’ last chapter in the Four Loves is called, “Charity.” Here’s how it starts:

William Morris wrote a poem called “Love is Enough” and someone is said to have reviewed it briefly in the words “It isn’t.” …The natural loves are not self-sufficient. Something else…must come to the help of the mere feeling if the feeling is to be kept sweet.  

To say this is not to belittle the natural loves but to indicate where their real glory lies. It is no disparagement to a garden to say that it will not fence and weed itself, nor prune its own fruit trees, nor roll and cut its own lawns…It will remain a garden, as distinct from a wilderness, only if someone does all these things to it.

—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, VI “Charity,” p. 276

So what is it that keeps love sweet? Not just married love, but friendship love and parental love, too? What is it that turns natural love supernatural, and makes it transcend to heaven? 

I don’t think a monthly coffee date with your girlfriend and family time with your kids or speaking the language of your mate is enough. It’s more than weekends away and gifts and cards every special day.

The “something else” is not what you think.

Frets and Rubs Are Beneficial

The “something else” that keeps love sweet is both easier, and harder, than these.

It is easier because the way up is always before us. We have opportunities to grow in this spiritual grace every single hour of every single day. But it’s harder because it comes at the cost of frets and rubs, of irritation and disappointment and frustration. 

Those frets and rubs are exactly why we need God’s help to transform our natural love. 

The invitation to turn our natural loves into Charity is never lacking. It is provided by those frictions and frustrations that meet us in all of them; unmistakable evidence that (natural) love is not going to be “enough.”

“If only I had been more fortunate in my children (that boy gets more like his father every day) I could have loved them perfectly.” But every child is sometimes infuriating; most children are not infrequently odious. “If only my husband were more considerate, less lazy, less extravagant”…”If only my wife had fewer moods and more sense..” But in everyone, and of course in ourselves, there is that which requires forbearance, tolerance, forgiveness. The necessity of practicing these virtues first forces us… to turn—more strictly, to let God turn—our love into Charity.

These frets and rubs are beneficial. It may be that where there are fewest of them the conversion of natural love is most difficult. When they are plentiful the necessity of rising above it is obvious. To rise above it when it is as fully satisfied and as little impeded as earthly conditions allow—to see that we must rise when all seems so well already—this may require a subtler conversion and a more delicate insight. In this way also it might be hard for the “rich” to enter the kingdom.

—C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves, VI “Charity,” p. 286

That’s it. That’s the Lewisian spin on love for today. Rejoice that we have relationships in which to practice tolerance, forbearance, forgiveness. In fact, be glad that all our love relationships aren’t with people who are naturally easy to love.

Because if they were they’d stay ground level. They wouldn’t force us to let God turn our natural love into holy Charity, into his kind of love. We learn to receive love’s frets and rubs as divine gifts to transform our natural, easy loves into the pure loves of heaven.

So here’s my Love Challenge. Pick an EGR, an “Extra Grace Required,” person and to show him some love today. Wash the caked-on dishes from his bedroom or listen patiently while she explains the same problem again.

Even the godless love those who love them well, who are easy to love. But to love those who rub you wrong is holy charity. This is love indeed.

Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart.

1 Peter 1:22 (NIV)

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