We watch people love our whole lives--whether it's healthy or not. We absorb tidbits all day long of how to love people; from the people who love us, media, strangers, life experiences. We take that data and our brain makes agreements about what the concept of love means, and how to play it out in our own relationships.
In our world of broken families, tragic representation of marriage on our screens, negative attitudes, and lust as a cheap substitute, I think it's hard to untangle the mess, and have a healthy understanding of what the lasting kind of love ACTUALLY is. As a believer, scripture paints a pretty clear picture:
This is quite a list. If I were to have used that list as a checklist early in my relationship with Brad, I may have been tempted to walk away, observing: "I must not love him, because we are basically the opposite most days"...Some of us use it as a checklist still. Here's the problem, I think it's not supposed to be a checklist as much as a to-do list.
Recently I heard a couple from another country share their story. They were in an arranged marriage. He shared his opinion about the difference between our cultures. In America, we spend a lot of our time trying to make sure we are marrying 'the right person'. We put a huge emphasis on getting to know each other in dating relationships, then we get married--as more of the final goal. Then we settle into trying to live out the American dream. In his culture, they often didn't know each other until their wedding day. They make the choice to honor the marriage commitment by spending the rest of their lives getting to know each other. See the difference? Not that I think we should start arranging our kids marriages, but the mentality is profound.
We are so selfish by nature. Even the process of 'finding the right person' is 100% me focused. I need to make sure they check my boxes. It's not unwise to date that way, but if we don't shift our mindset in our marriage, it's destructive. It never stands a chance to be the kind of love 1 Corinthians describes.
I have spent my whole life watching my parents learn to love each other. As their child, I saw it all. I saw them figure out how to balance responsibilities. I saw them over-commit, stress about it, then settle in and work together to knock it out. I saw them disagree about how to spend money, but ultimately settle on putting relationships first. I remember the year we decided to eat out less and buy less, because they chose to help a family that didn't have electricity instead. I watched them hash it out, then make a decision. I'll always be thankful that they taught us to count the cost, but to choose the joy of sacrificing. I watched them fuss, then make up. I watched them quietly do chores outside of their normal ones just to help each other. I saw the way that made the other one light up. I saw them pull late-nighters, working together to create props for our children's musicals. I saw my daddy rub her feet and scratch her back every night. I saw them mellow each other and motivate each other. I saw them pray and read scripture. I saw them laugh. A lot. I saw them conspire with secret plans and I saw them share joy with the light in their eyes when we were surprised. I knew they were a team.
I saw them slowly, over time look more and more like 1 Corinthians 13. It was a process that only worked because they decided to work towards it. Like a to-do list. Love is a choice. Each one of the descriptions of love in Corinthians involve us making a decision about how we think and how we act. None of us have perfect marriages. None of us lived under perfect marriages. But we all have the ability to decide today to be kind. To chose to no longer cling to the record of wrongs--to let it go. To not be self seeking. Here's a big one--to not dishonor--the power of life and death is in the tongue. To choose to hope again, even if it sounds reckless.
HOW? How do you take a marriage that may be in knots, may be in a rut, may be in shambles, may look ok on the outside, may actually be ok, you may hate, and hope again? Look at this list. God's list. Pick one and try it out for a week. Then pick another one and choose it. Who cares what your spouse does? Who cares if they notice? Do everything as if it is for the Lord. He sees it. He notices. He smiles. He gets excited. Because He sees the deep repair living His way does to your heart.
To those of you who aren't married yet, what if you throw out your expectations of what love should look like, and try this strategy instead. Run your race. Do what God created you to do. Do it with all your passion and energy. Then start to look around. Who is always there running beside you and around you? They very well may be the person you should choose to grow in love with. This world makes it scary to commit because the enemy of your soul KNOWS what kind of damage a pair of believers that are bound together with the cord of Jesus can do. Live your purpose with a partner equally passionate. A marriage that is committed to giving God glory and making disciples-- THAT is a happy marriage. Let THAT be your relationship goals.
What if this Valentine's is a day of re-commitment, refocus, rejuvenation. What if we decided to lay down the burden we drag around full of issues we hate in our marriage and spouse, and decided to change our purpose--hopefully together, but by yourself if you have to. What if we remember this quote from Timothy Keller that has changed my mindset completely : "a life that is all about you and the meeting of your own needs will never be a great life, as it can never get any bigger than you". Make your life matter. You have been given a partner--remember that! You are a team!
This picture is the perfect way to wrap this blog up. I snapped it of my parents, daddy fresh out of brain surgery, slurring his words, future suddenly unknown and so different from 2 weeks before the wreck. Yet there they were, holding hands. Walking slowly around a hospital wing, shifting responsibilities, expectations, dreams. Laughing and talking. Settling in for the unknown together because they have spent their lifetime learning to trust each other. They've spent their years fighting for their marriage even when it just sounded like fighting. They're comfortable with the hard times because they know each other, yet they still like learning more. This is my goal. This is what I want to grow into. This is why I repent of anger and try to work towards not being quick to anger. Because I want to know love like this.