Thursday, February 14, 2019

What’s Love Got to Do With It?

Do you know what today is? If you have a spouse or “significant other,” you’re in trouble if you don’t. Because it’s Valentine’s Day, the day appropriated by retailers to help fill the gap until Easter (which some people treat like a springtime Christmas, without a tree), Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, and then the six-month buildup to the next Christmas.

But let’s consider Valentine’s Day for what it’s supposed to be, at least in theory. It’s when we pause for special consideration to the one we love, whether it involves flowers and candy, cards, jewelry, a special dinner, or whatever works best for demonstrating our affection and admiration.

My wife and me in Capri,
Italy last year.
The symbol for the day, of course, is the heart. And we generally agree it’s a celebration of something called “love.” The question is, what exactly is…love? We hear that love is something folks fall into – and out of – even married people. Sounds kind of like emotional gravity: “I’ve fallen into love…oops, something’s tipped, so I’ve fallen out of love. Sorry ‘bout that.”

There’s love according to “The Bachelor” and “The Bachelorette,” only skin-deep, but that’s supposed to be okay. As long as the hormones continue racing, and you don’t have enough time or opportunity to genuinely get to know one another, love can survive.

Then we have the Hallmark Channel view of love: Boy bumps into girl (Hollywood’s “meet cute”); boy dislikes girl and/or vice versa; boy and girl start to build a bit of chemistry, despite obvious differences; they sense a strong attraction, almost to the point of kissing; conflict arises, nearly ending the potential romance; and then, at long last, boy and girl realize they’ve meant for each other, seal it with a kiss, and (presumably) proceed to live happily ever after. All within the span of about a week. (Obviously, I’ve seen enough Hallmark movies to know the script outline!)

But is that what love really is? Just physical attraction and raw emotions – which can alter dramatically over time?

I believe there’s no greater authority to consult about love, even romantic love, than the Scriptures. Especially the passage often used during wedding ceremonies that hardly anyone really listens to; it sounds nice, it’s found in the Bible, so let’s include it. I’m talking about 1 Corinthians 13:4-13, what some have termed “the love chapter.” We could all use a refresher, so here it is:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails…. And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.”

I’ve read this passage many times, in different translations, and not once has it mentioned things we typically associate with love – warm and fuzzy feelings, getting all giddy and giggly, not being able to stop thinking about how the other person makes us feel. It does, however, emphasize things like patience, kindness, humility, selflessness, forgiveness, goodness, protection, contentment, being slow to anger, truthfulness, trust, and perseverance.

This isn’t to say that emotions, or physical and sexual attraction, aren’t or shouldn’t be part of the love equation. Certainly they should. God inspired an entire book of the Old Testament, The Song of Solomon, about that. But our contemporary notion of love moves too quickly to outward appearances and feelings. We would be wise to first consider “Do I like this person?” before asking, “Do I love this person?” Because as Proverbs 31:30 observes, “Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting, but a woman [or man] who fears the Lord is to be praised.”

Have you noticed in many wedding ceremonies, traditional vows are replaced by the couple’s unique sentiments toward each other? There’s nothing wrong with that. It’s their wedding, after all. But the words, “for better or for worse, in sickness or in health, for richer or for poorer,” serve as an instant reality check. Because the “happily ever after” of fairy tales and Hallmark movies doesn’t translate to real life. 

Successful marriages have lots of good times – as my wife and I can attest after more than four decades. But hard times are also a necessary part of the package, and the sooner we accept that – even as a couple pledges themselves to each other – the better.

Perhaps the most profound Scriptural admonition concerning love is found in Ephesians 5:25, which instructs, “Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” How did Jesus love the Church – His believers and followers? He died for us, sacrificed everything for our benefit – atoning for our sins to provide redemption and reconciliation with God. 

Being a husband myself, that’s a constant and sobering reminder of how totally I should give myself to my wife. I don’t always succeed – too often I fail. But that’s the goal, the calling the Lord has given to me and to all husbands, one we can only achieve through Him. Happy Valentine’s Day!