"Is love enough to make a marriage work?"
That was the question posed to us during our book study recently. As a person of faith, my walk is richer - and invites accountability - when I'm learning about God's plans for us alongside friends in faith. This time up, the book is, I love you More, penned by doctors Leslie and Les Parrot.
The answer to the leader's question was a resounding and unanimous "No." Sorry, newlyweds.
It wasn't how I would have answered the question before I got married. Back in those days I floated in a blissful naiveté, of course. I would stay madly in love with my husband forever. And likely my groom assumed the amorous, fun, carefree and adoring girl he married would never change. Turns out, we were both wrong. Back then we had only fallen in love. We hadn't actually chosen it yet.
February is around the corner, and restaurants and jewelers and florists will bank on us to celebrate love. Or at least the romanticized version of it. Those declarations delivered by way of flowers, candy, cards are fun and I look forward to mine (hint). But they've got nothing on authentic, intentional, working, sacrificing, selfless love. That's the real deal, and it doesn't always glitter as brightly as the contents of a tiny black velvet box.
The kind of love I'm talking about is a verb, not just a feeling; those are fleeting and a bit untrustworthy. Love, especially in the context of marriage and relationships, is an intentional action authored by our Creator, and described in 1 Corinthians 13: 4-7: "Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."
This kind of love is something that we seem to be able to give our children much more easily. Perhaps this is because we offer them "agape" love, or that which is described as unconditional. Agape love is divine in nature; the same one our heavenly father lavishes on us. The primal, aching love I have for my children seems stitched into my DNA; its purpose serves to put their welfare ahead of my own. But when it comes to marriage, we bring strings and expectations. Left to its own devices, love in marriage and relationships changes, matures, simmers, waxes and wanes. We have to teach love how to behave.
Though love is surely described in the Bible in terms of poetry and passion (refer to the book of Psalms for some saucy stuff), it is the words in Corinthians that serve to remind us that real love is truly a sacrificial, active practice. It is a generous devotion to someone else's wellbeing. It's one thing to say, "I love you," but another to put down my book, laptop or phone and really listen. Or hold my tongue in favor of peace. Or move my husband's priorities up to the top of my to-do list. It's not easy, and I often fail. But I'm willing to work for love.
Of course, I'll still welcome any flowers that come my way!
Has your marriage or relationship endured and thrived under a hardship? I want to hear your story. Ahwatukee Foothills resident Diane Meehl worships, serves and enjoys fellowship at Mountain View Lutheran Church. Reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.