Love conquers all. That is the theme of so many romance novels, movies, and just about every fairy tale ever written or told. But in all these genres, you see only a fraction of the action. If you have been in a relationship, married or not, you know that reality is far different than the fairy tale version of love.
Perhaps that is because we have a flawed understanding of what Love is. We may be confusing attraction or fondness or the tender feelings we experience for another person for love. Love is not an emotion or a feeling. Love is a decision to embark on a course of action on behalf of another person. I Corinthians 13, known as the love chapter, outlines the course of action or behaviors that define love.
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 in the truth.
It always protects,
Love never fails.
Now this list of attributes of love seems like something no human being would be capable of. It's unrealistic to expect a real person to behave in this manner all the time. But that is where the decision comes in. The decision to love someone unconditionally means that over and over, you must choose to act in a manner that may be opposite to what human nature dictates. It doesn't mean that this is easy or that you won't fail. We will fail. Miserably. Frequently. Utterly.
Just as a baby learns to walk by falling many times, tottering on legs that haven't mastered the muscle memory that the rest of us take for granted as we stroll across a room, we humans will only master the art of loving by being determined to try again.
Read the list again carefully, slowly, and meditate on how that translates into behavior. Perhaps, you think, you could try to be kind more often, or refuse to boast, and maybe even avoid being rude. Can you imagine what a world we could live in if this behavior was exhibited by even a fraction of earth's inhabitants?
For so many years I struggled with believing that I had fallen out of love with my husband. I wanted him to be different than he was, and I was frustrated that he wouldn't change. It wasn't fair, I reasoned, that I was married to someone who was totally unsuitable and could not make me happy. I was self-seeking. I wanted the perfect mate. I was easily angered, and kept careful track of "wrongs."
The fault did not lie in my husband. Not that he was without fault. None of us are without fault. The problem was that I didn't understand how wonderful marriage can be when you make a decision to love someone unconditionally. I had an epiphany. It took many years of unhappiness to reach that understanding, and I kick myself for wasting so much of the time I had. But I am so truly grateful that I decided to change.
I decided to pretend.
I determined that I would act like I loved my husband. Act like I adored him. Behave as if he was the most wonderful person in the world. Accept him exactly as he was, with no expectations, no criticisms, and no demands. I decided to serve him as a devoted wife. What he deserved was not a consideration. What I deserved was not an issue. I knew that I could only control my behavior, so I ignored my feelings, tried to follow the precepts of I Corinthians 13 to the best of my ability, and I asked God to help me because I knew I couldn't do it in my own strength.
What happened? I began to look at my husband in a different light. I also began to realize how often I had failed in the past to appreciate what a wonderful man he really was. I began to feel a real fondness for him, and enjoyed being around him. I learned how to love him.
It didn't happen overnight. I spent years learning how to make the choice to love. And I changed. I became a better person. I not only gained a new respect for the man I married, I began to feel a lot better about who I was as a person, and forgave myself for being so blind and imperfect in the past.
I had almost 44 years with Tom. The early years were not so great. I am ashamed when I remember my behavior towards a sweet loving and faithful man. But I cherish those later years as I learned how wonderful love can be.