Monday, February 13, 2012

on love, and staying happy together forever

Bear with me - this is kind of a long post. But I felt strongly in my spirit that it was important, and I put it together anyway. Valentine's Day is just around the corner. According to Wikipedia, it's "traditionally a day on which lovers express their love for each other by presenting flowers, offering confectionery, and sending greeting cards (known as 'valentines')". For whatever reason, many people make an effort on this day to express their love for each other by giving or exchanging tokens of affection, yet fail to perform truly meaningful acts of love the rest of the year (there's Christmas too of course, and I think the same thing then).

Now I certainly don't mean to sound cynical by any means. But when I hear a dear friend sobbing her heart out over her husband's infidelity, I just feel sad. Does real love exist? Or are people just in love with love? Why are these heartbreaking stories so commonplace now? Like that song goes, "I wonder why, doesn't anybody stay together anymore?”

I was reading this magazine article on a famous actress whom I'd often thought very pretty and talented. Through the article, I learnt that she had a 19-month old child, apparently out of wedlock, because the article referred to her "fiancé". Then I saw a quote from the actress in a sidebox: "I'm not about to create scandal in my life. The last thing I want is for my daughter to have that kind of legacy". The article mentioned her own parents' divorce when she was a child and her present procrastination about getting married. "I just don't see [marriage] as the only way to sustain a relationship", she said.

It's the norm now, isn't it? Once upon a time this sort of thing would have been a terrible "scandal", but not anymore. We're so used to these scenarios, we're so accustomed to hearing of people getting together and breaking up as if they were changing clothes, or of people divorcing after just a few years, or even months, together (what exactly happens to the kids?) – we hardly blink an eye.

Actually, I don't think marriage is "the only way to sustain a relationship"; I don’t think marriage is a means of sustaining a relationship at all. That's one of the worst reasons to get married. To me, marriage is in fact a solemn promise, confirmation and proof before man – and God – that husband and wife are committed to each other for life, "for better, for worse; for richer, for poorer; in sickness and in health; to love and to cherish until death us do part". But that actress, like many people today, is quite content to be in a relationship – producing children in the meantime – without making any such lifelong, life-impacting vows.

Remember Howard Jones back in 1983? "What is love anyway?" he sang mournfully. "Does anybody love anybody anyway?" Many people welcome, indeed, wholeheartedly relish, the sexual revolution of our age. Jumping from partner to partner, and having sex and kids outside of marriage, has become completely acceptable in our society, and yet many of these same people – while modelling such behaviour – say they wonder and worry about teenage delinquency and pregnancy, crime and broken homes, STDs, and drink and drug abuse. They don't see any connection at all between our lifestyle choices and sexual laxity, and all these terrible social evils with their far-reaching repercussions. The meaning of love seems to have gotten horribly distorted, and chiefly self-centred.

Serendipitously, I'd listened to this Andy Stanley message some time ago, but went back to listen to it again, partly because it's Valentine's, and partly because I was so perturbed about my friend. The 4-part message is entitled Staying in Love, but I believe you can apply much of it to all your relationships, not just your romantic one.

Pastor Andy introduces his message in Part 1; he asks, "Is it possible for two people to be happy together forever?" In his introduction, he refers to the movie Juno, the 2007 film about a teenager dealing with her unplanned pregnancy. Juno says to her father, "I guess I wonder sometimes if people ever stay together for good... like people in love. Dad, I just need to know that it’s possible for two people to stay happy together forever".

"There’s several reasons why it’s so difficult [to stay in love]," Pastor Andy says. "Part of it is what you saw growing up, part of it is what you experienced... the truth is, very few people have ever been around a healthy romantic-marriage-couple relationship... Here's what a lot of us grew up with: do unto others as they deserve to be done unto. Do unto others as they do unto you. Do unto others as your mood would have it. Do unto others so as to get them to see things your way. Do unto others until you wear them down and get your way. Do unto others until you’re ready to leave...

"And then there's another thing which makes it really difficult... our culture has a really low threshold of pain relationally... which means, it doesn't have to hurt too bad, and we decide to get out. Gone are the days where I said 'I do', and I do means I do, and I'm gonna keep doing whether I like it or not... in our culture, the message you and I get every single day is, if you're not happy in your current relationship, it's because you're with the wrong person, you need to re-choose... and if you'll just keep looking, you'll find that soulmate... and if you'll keep moving from relationship to relationship, eventually it's going to happen to you...

"But if you talk to people who've been married 20 years plus, who are still in love, and ask them about that approach, they will tell you: there were times along the way these 20 years that I wondered if I had the right person. But I decided, that the person I chose was going to be the right person, and we’re so glad we worked through those difficulties. Because choosing the right person is part of it; but learning to be and to become the right person is the other part of it...

"Two thousand years ago, Jesus gives us the foundation for enduring relationships... if two people will simply accept this basic teaching of Jesus: 'A new command I give you: Love one another'.

"Jesus takes a word that we normally use as a noun, and he makes it a verb... [Jesus says] I know love is something you fall into like a pool, and out of like a high chair; I realise love is like a noun. But I'm making it a verb... You [complain], 'She does this, she does that...' and Jesus would look at you and say, 'Well, are you loving her? You're confusing noun and verb, you’re saying you’re not 'feeling it'. You got to do it, and then you feel it.

"Your relationship started off 'feeling it', and then the feeling went away, and you're trying to get the feeling back, and you're thinking, the only way to get the feeling back is to meet somebody new... Jesus says, Here's how it works... the foundation of staying in love is to make love a verb.

"The goal isn't to recapture a feeling... in the relationship, the feeling is the kaboose of the train; it ain't the engine. It starts off as the engine, but then it goes to the back of the train... When two people actively love one another, it rekindles and continues to kindle and enrich and make better the 'in love' part of the relationship...

"But He doesn't stop there... 'As I have loved you, so you must love one another' [John 13:34 (TNIV)]... He says, I don't want you to take your cue from culture... or your parents or your in-laws... when you think about what does it mean to love like a verb, I want you to take your cue from Me... I will teach you how to love – not how to be in love – but how to stay in love...

"Years later, the apostle Paul comes along, takes this same idea and says it in a different way... he just uses a different word than love, but it's the very same thing: "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ (Eph 5:21)... It's the same as 'love one another'... The bottom line for people who are going to stay in love is mutual submission.

"Mutual submission says, 'In our relationship, you're the priority'... It's a decision you make... I am choosing to place myself under you, and you are choosing to place yourself under me... You stay in love when every single day you decide, and he or she decides, 'Today he's first, today she's first’... And when you do, that thing that's so wonderful about meeting and falling in love can be maintained; it can even get better".

In Part 4, Pastor Andy talks about the "magic formula" of how happy couples stay in love: they've learned what to place in the gaps between expectations and reality. "Everybody who's in love makes this kind of choice almost every single day," he says, "and the habit you have, the way that you approach this choice, will have a lot to do with whether you're able to stay in love".

Then, he refers to 1 Cor 13:4-7, the famous "love chapter": 'Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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'.

"Paul is getting at one of the most important habits or practices in a love relationship... In every relationship, there is a gap between our expectations and how people behave... here's the choice you make all the time: in every one of these gaps, we put something. We either choose to believe the best, or we assume the worst - every single time...

"We begin to develop an attitude when there's a gap... We all put something in that gap, and what we put in that gap begins in our minds, and eventually comes out of our mouth, or out of our behaviour...

"People who stay in love learn to believe the best... which means they are generous, generous in their explanation [as to why there's a gap]"... When you choose to assume the worst – every time you choose to go negative – you have contributed to the demise of your relationship.

"Let me tell you something about your fiancĂ©, the person you love, your spouse – the last thing they want to do, is disappoint you. I don't care who you are – no one wants to disappoint the person they're in a relationship with. When you go negative, what it communicates is this: no matter what you do, no matter how hard you try, you will never measure up, you will never hit the standard, you will never get to where I expect you to be.

"And every time you overtly or covertly or subtly communicate that, you push them further and further away... When you choose to believe the best, even when there's a pattern of the person not being everything you think they should be, it creates margin, and a healthy person responds to that margin and begins to move in your direction.

"If you have consistently assumed the worst, they're afraid of you, they dread the response, they're scared to death of what you're going to do and they put off [facing you] because they don't want to disappoint you, they don't want to be made to feel like they can't measure up – nobody wants to feel that.

"When you believe the best, by choice, what you communicate is, 'I trust you'. Trust in a relationship means 'I accept you'. Acceptance means 'you have not disappointed me'... Our hearts are drawn toward environments of acceptance... Here's how Jesus summed the whole thing up: Do to others as you would have them do to you (Luke 6:31)...

"Let me tell you why all this is so important. Yeah, it's important because we want to have happy relationships, happy marriages... the other reason is because those of us who are adults, have coming up behind us a generation of kids, many of whom may have never seen and may never see a great relationship; they won't even know what they're shooting for when they become adults. We have the opportunity to model a brand new kind of relationship... But there's something that makes this even more important. There will be nothing that speaks louder to our culture about Christianity than our marriages".

As you're wrapping your roses, and boxing your chocolates, I strongly, strongly encourage you to take some time to listen to Pastor Andy's entire message. You can find it here. Interestingly, in Part 1, he mentions a study that had been done to find out what it takes "for a child to grow up in a very nurturing environment and to leave adolescence emotionally-equipped to engage in long-term relationships.

"Here's what it takes – you need to grow up in a home where you get respect – and this is like massive doses of all of this – respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection". Let's bear this in mind every day we raise our own little Valentines.

1 comment:

Dawn said...

Janice I like the concept of love as a verb. Have never heard of it referred to as this. God has so much love for us, I often think about how he gave us jesus. Could I give my precious child and watch him be tortured? I don't have children so I have to compare my sacrifice to my little timothy winter kitty..sorry if this seems silly but I love him unconditionally as a mom loves a child that she has a bond with. A comittment to marriage suddenly seems so much easier
Heave a great day darling janice


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...