Can I admit something blasphemous this Valentine’s Day?…
Loving well is hard.
There. I said it.
Well, or if not hard, at least not our normal tendency in our natural state.
We come out of the womb self-seeking. I mean, we’re babies…all that we know is to need warmth, food, comfort. But at some point (usually around that dreaded toddler stage) we have to be taught that contrary to what our tiny, growing brains think, the world does not revolve around us. We have to learn to be patient, to (gasp) share, to even possibly consider someone else (their feelings, their needs, their wants) before our ourselves.
Argh! Whether two or forty-two, that is a tough one!
(you like how I tried to sneakily imply that I was 42 there?)
And we like to put conditions on our love.
I will love you if…
If you love me in this way, I will love you in that way…
I loved them until they did…
I will love them unless they do…
This was not the example that Jesus set. He said crazy things like: love your enemies! (Matthew 5:44 ) Forgive, forgive and forgive some more (Matthew 18: 21-22). Think of others before yourself (Philippians 2:3). And He had really wild things to say about love in marriage. Seemingly impossible things like encouraging wives to yield to their husband’s authority as God’s chosen leader of the household and, equally impossible, challenging husbands to love their wives in the same sacrificial way that Jesus loved the Church (that’s “church” big C by the way – as in not a building, but US…you and me…the entire body of people – past, present and future – who would come to believe in Him and seek to follow Him. (Ephesians 5: 22-33)
Sidebar: I think we overlook this sometimes. What do those two things look like? Starting with the husband (since God tells us He has chosen him to lead the household), what did it look like for Jesus to love His body of believers? We get four dedicated books of the Bible that demonstrate how He did this on a day to day basis.
Jesus prayed for people. He gave up sleep and food and time to Himself for them. He was concerned for them and showed compassion for them. He met not only their obvious needs, but also their deepest ones. He was patient with them. He sought their greatest good. And, yes, He ultimately, gave up His life for them. For us.
I think that if a woman truly believes that her husband loves her in this way – with God’s help and to the very best of his ability – she will be pleased to submit to his leadership. She knows that he has her best interests – the interests of God – at heart. No, not perfect…never perfect…but, with His help, being willing to be perfected.
And, let’s not miss that God does not only require this of husbands. He calls us all to deny ourselves, take up our cross (implying death to self) and follow him (Matthew 16:24). He also tells us to submit one to another (Ephesians 5:21).
No wonder loving well is hard. It ultimately requires denying our favorite thing in the whole wide world…ourselves.
It requires the willingness to take a good, long, hard look in the mirror every single day and in every single situation and ask: how can I push down what I want and very consciously, willingly offer instead what someone else wants? How can I lay my life down here? How can I be more Christ-like here? (whether I agree with it or not, by the way)
I think loving well doesn’t start with what we say or do, I think it starts in the quietness of our hearts – where we have the opportunity to say first, “God, show me how to love like You love. Help me to see others in the way that You see them. Help me to treat others in the way that You would treat them. Help me to think less about myself and more about the fellow human beings that You allow me to share planet earth with.”
A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another:
just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.
John 13: 34