Gosh, I just realised something – I think I inadvertently told a few lies when I got married!! I’d better tell my hubby and apologise (it’s been over two decades of deceit, hope he understands). I seem to remember that I promised to love him UNconditionally, for better or worse, ’til death, or something to that effect.
Truth is I’m only very good at being loving when I feel loved back. I’m great at being nice and kind and loving, I totally believe in unconditional love and happily ever after. But I totally don’t seem to behave as if I do! My love has a bunch of conditions, that start with ‘if’ and contain a ‘then’. Like: if you are nice then I’ll be nice, if you do the dishes then…, if you never forget our anniversary then…
Now, just so that I’m not creating the wrong impression, I am married to a great guy who is kind and loving and we are not in any danger here, in spite of our imperfections. But what if I had based my whole marriage on that false sense of love – that I will only love him when things are going well and if he’s a nice bloke all the time? That’s not love, that’s just mutual admiration. Hardly very satisfying!
Aren’t we surrounded by so many brilliant examples of true love in our Western pop culture? Mmmm? I did a Google search for love images and this is the first one that came up:
Sooooo pretty isn’t it? Yes, but a totally rubbish explanation of what love is.
Imagine though, on the eve of your wedding, some old aunty who has been married for 100 years comes up and tells you that UNconditional love is exactly that – with NO conditions. No ifs, ‘if you only have clean underpants’ or ‘if you never disagree with me or point out my flaws’. I think I would have batted her away with my heavily mascara-ed eyelashes. How unromantic she is!
I collected ‘Love Is’ stickers in an album when I was a girl, they filled my head with all sorts of great ideas about what life had in store for me one day as a married woman. I couldn’t wait, especially as I had cold feet.
How many times have you said, or heard people say ‘I’ll do it when I feel like it’ or ‘I’m just not feeling it anymore’? Of course we are constantly encouraged to live by our feelings, just switch on the radio or hang out at the cinema and it’s so easy to believe that love is something ‘I feel in my fingers and toes, you know I love you, I always will, my mind’s made up by the way that I feel’.
But the problem is our feelings are fickle, they disappear faster than the Irish summer sun.
Once upon a time, in the book of Ecclesiastes chapter 4, there was a man who was all alone and miserable. He worked hard and was wealthy but asked himself why he was working so hard, why he wasn’t content and why he wasn’t enjoying his life. It was all meaningless, all just for him, all on his own.
Then the story goes on to say he finds a friend/partner. Now the two of them could work side-by-side more productively, pick each other up when one falls down, keep each other warm and protect one another from danger.
Finally he finds something else besides a companion because the last line says:
A cord of three strands is not quickly broken.
Together they had something extra that bound their relationship so strong that it would not be easily broken. What was that third strand?
Some people would say ‘Love’ and if that’s your response then please explain? How many couples can you count who have married one another, deeply in love at the time, only to have ended up separated and divorced. What type of love were they ‘in’, and what type should they have found instead, in order to have an unbreakable cord type marriage? It would seem to me that love is so much more than feelings, it’s more like the doings. Surely a better way of love is by demonstrating it, even when we don’t feel it?
You could search Google Images ’til you are blue in the fingertips and still never have a clue about what it really means to love unconditionally – how to DO love. Probably the best thing is to ask an expert, someone who already got it right. On a scale of 1 to 10, how good are you on the unconditional love score? Maybe you are a bit better at it than me, but I have to say I have only heard of one person who has ever got it 100% right and this is what I read about him:
My beloved friends, let us continue to love each other since love comes from God. Everyone who loves is born of God and experiences a relationship with God. The person who refuses to love doesn’t know the first thing about God, because God is love—so you can’t know him if you don’t love. This is how God showed his love for us: God sent his only Son into the world so we might live through him. This is the kind of love we are talking about—not that we once upon a time loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to clear away our sins and the damage they’ve done to our relationship with God.
My dear, dear friends, if God loved us like this, we certainly ought to love each other. No one has seen God, ever. But if we love one another, God dwells deeply within us, and his love becomes complete in us—perfect love! 1 John 4
That’s it – perfect love = sacrifice. In other words, no ifs or buts, no conditions at all, just doing the loving thing even when it means it hurts us. Of course it’s not easy, that’s why we need to be bound together in something stronger than us. That passage about the three stranded cord in Ecclesiastes above is sometimes used at wedding ceremonies to describe how a couple who have the strength of a shared faith in the Lord Jesus as the third strand in their marriage, would have an unbreakable bond in their union. If God is love, then the third strand is Him – pretty strong I’d say!
Eugene Petersen says it nicely:
We can act our way into a new way of feeling much quicker than we can feel our way into a new way of acting.
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