Usually in the early stages of love, we perceive loving others as this delightful, sentimental feeling of ecstasy. Nothing can compare to the wonder and exhilarating joy when all is right in the world. Just the thought of the other person brings smiles and a gentle tug to the heart. There’s this glow that illuminates all around us. The violins are playing and there’s always a hint of euphoria and an ever present twinkle in the eye.
As time and experiences of everyday life pass, reality sets in and the beautiful, mystical, longings now face reality. The practicalities of developing interpersonal skills to embrace and accept the other person based on commonalities, differences, idiosyncrasies and diverse communication patterns begin to rise to the surface. Eventually, there is the recognition of the need for something more in addition to romantic love, like the meaning and need for unconditional love. The variances in personalities, worldviews, family backgrounds and spiritual beliefs become more apparent. Regardless of how compatible two people may appear to be initially, time brings about a change in the level of acceptance, tolerance, forgiveness and willingness to sacrifice in the relationship. Sometimes couples forget that in the early days, differences were elements that made loving so precious, so valuable and so rewarding.
Opposed to popular opinion, love is not something that we fall into, happen to stumble upon, or discover through whatever source we may use. Favorable, instantaneous reaction to physical stimuli is not love. There was a song years ago with the phrase, “looking for love in all the wrong places.” Today, there are chat rooms, speed dating, popular match making websites, even some Christian websites that encourage users to “take matters into your own hands, to find the mate that God has for you.” Love at first sight has been debated over time and the jury may still be out, as to whether or not the theory is substantiated. I read a book many years ago by Gary Smalley, Love is a Decision, that provided great insight on our ability to make conscious choices about relationships. Love is a deliberate act to follow principles set before us in the Word of God. Love is a decision to trust and obey God in His divine wisdom to send the person He has for us. He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord (Proverbs 18:22 NIV).
At some point from introduction, to when there is a consensus that continuing the relationship is the common view of both parties, the decision is made in words and actions to nurture the partnership. Without divine intervention from God, love will not last. What may remain is some semblance of love, some shell that masquerades as love, which may look beautiful only on the outside and completely decayed on the inside. Many years ago while in college, I had an instructor who gave me this advice, “Never date anyone that you would not marry.” I never forgot that statement and always tried to pass it on to others. While we may accept certain patterns and behaviors, believing that the other person will change, it becomes apparent later that love does not change simply because we want it to, or because there’s a promise of change. People only experience lasting change if the Creator performs an extensive heart transplant, which He does without making an incision. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 11:19 NIV).
The other day, I received an email that informed me that I had used 90% of the available gigabytes on my cell phone. Before completing a task I was involved in, I received another email stating I had gone over the subscribed usage by over 100 megabytes. After an extensive conversation with a very helpful customer service agent, I understood I had to change my service plan, so I would not continuously be charged an additional fee. He compared the usage situation to an election, maintaining there is a preliminary vote count, but the final count does not occur until the polls are closed and the rest of the votes are tallied. Love may appear a certain way at one point in time, but the true measure of love is not confirmed until it is misunderstood, questioned, tested and strained far beyond the imagination. Love will be confronted with the responsibility to be redefined, upgraded, rebooted and expanded, or we may pay a higher price. Even our love and commitment to God will often need to be upgraded, confirmed, restored, extended and revived, beyond what we once may have perceived as adequate.
Whether love is between parents, children, siblings, friends, or a man and a woman, at some point, love will be challenged. In a conversation on yesterday with a friend she stated that, “Love is a gift from God.” People who love each other will be misunderstood and have opposing views in many areas of life, as well as experience feelings of hurt, disappointment, rejection and abandonment. Allowing the hurts and pains of love to become dormant, may only magnify unfavorable results. Ask the single moms and dads, divorced couples, those who have been separated for years, or those who have lived together without the benefits of marriage. Ask the couples who have been married over twenty, thirty or even fifty years who may live under the same roof, but have lived separate lives. Ask their children, their love ones and friends who have suffered with them through their ordeal. You will find that love is not experienced without a cost.
At some point, we may have to decide how much are we willing to love and how long. After reading I Corinthians 13, I have literally wept at my own insufficiency to love. I shudder at the thought of my lack of ability at times, to demonstrate patience and kindness. I struggle to respond without envy or being boastful. I am convicted and hurt when I have been rude, self-serving, easily angered and unable to forget the wrong that has been done to me. How can I always resist the thought of getting revenge, but rejoice with truth? I have asked myself, “Is it possible to “always” protect, trust, hope and persevere? Do I truly believe that love never fails? Who has the ability to love like that?
In the book Walk with God, by Chris Tiegreen, the devotion entitled Unlimited Compassion states, “We want God to define for us the limits of our love and compassion and mercy. God will not define limits for our love because His love has no limits.” He continued by saying, “The vastness of His compassion, however, is enough to cover every person on the planet, and He calls us to be like Him. That means loving in the extreme, forgiving in the extreme, and sacrificing in the extreme. Can we do that? No. But He can do that in us and through us. ”
Love is not based on feelings; it’s a decision to believe, trust and obey God. Love takes…standing firm, letting nothing move you. Always giving ourselves fully to the work of the Lord, because we know that our labor in the Lord is not in vain (1Corinthians 15:58b NIV). Love takes being completely humble and gentle; being patient, bearing with one another in love, (Ephesians 4:2 NIV). Loves takes commitment to follow God no matter how we feel, what we want, or how things appear. Love…takes…courage!