by Gina Gardner, Steppes of Faith
“Love never fails.” 1 Corinthians 13:8 NIV
Last weekend, my husband and I attended a lovely wedding out in the country. Except for the rainy weather (thankfully, we all stayed dry), it was a very romantic setting, perfect for enticing every couple there to fall in love all over again (aren’t they all like that, though?).
A dear friend of ours officiated for the bride and groom. Per the happy couple’s request, not only did our friend guide them through the traditional vows, he also explained to those of us in the audience what love is: a choice. It’s not just a feeling, it’s a matter of choice.
He was right on.
Love is A Choice
Many couples have walked away from their relationships because they think they’ve “fallen out of love.” It just got too hard, he became too demanding or indifferent, she was too self-absorbed or stubborn, he works too much, she spends too much…any number of infinite explanations that husbands and wives give for breaking their marriage vows. Whatever the excuse, the truth is that when the going got tough, they bailed.
It’s true that we all change over time. It’s inevitable. Things happen, both good and bad, that shape who we are as we go through the years. Our ethics and morals shift, our priorities change, and how we look at life are all affected by our life experiences. So, naturally, it eventually affects our marriage. And, at some point, we have to make some choices.
It’s said that life is 10% of what happens to you and 90% of how you react to it. How we choose to react to the events in our lives play into the ebbs and flows of marriage. We might clam up, we might lash out, we might fall into a level of sadness or depression, we might work more to avoid being home, or we might seek counseling either professionally or from friends. One way or another we react, either positively or negatively. Unfortunately, if we react negatively, Satan steps in to tempt us to leave our spouse with the expectation that the grass is greener somewhere else.
The Grass Isn’t Green, It’s Dead
The “grass is greener” idea is a common (although false) thought among many unhappy spouses. Take it from me, I know.
My first husband and I weren’t completely compatible. We married young and way too prematurely. I was away from God at the time and he had no interest in church whatsoever. Our relationship had a history of mistrust and betrayal, and, ultimately, loss. It seemed that there was nothing that could save our marriage despite our efforts.
We still loved each other deep, deep down, but we had “lost that lovin’ feeling.” That’s when the grass on the other side began to look a lot better. What I found, though, is that the grass on that side of the fence wasn’t green at all. It was dead, and it only added to my troubles. The better choice would have been to water the grass where I was.
Now, don’t get me wrong. God took a sad situation and made beauty from ashes later when I met my current (and last) husband, and I am thoroughly convinced that he’s the one I was truly looking for so many years. I’m absolutely crazy in love with him and I don’t ever want to be without him.
But, that being said, if my first husband and I had made the choice to stick things out, seek help, and to love each other simply by changing our actions, we might still be married today. It’s true that there wasn’t much motivation to change our actions, but it was nonetheless possible even if there wasn’t much commitment at the time.
Life is a series of decisions. We have to make certain choices to experience all that God has for us so that we become more like His son, Jesus Christ. The reality is that there are going to be good times and bad, times of sickness and health, of being richer or poorer. It’s in times like these that we have to choose to love our spouse through the circumstances, not in spite of them. We choose to love no matter what, even when there’s no motivation.
Love is An Action
How do we love our spouse through the circumstances? How do we make the choice to love when what we really want to do is get away? It comes down to our actions.
Our friend who officiated the wedding quoted someone, I have no idea who, that explains how to do it. Are you ready? Because it’s brilliant! Grab hold of this and never let go. Here it is:
“When we do what love does, we feel what love feels.”
Read that again, perhaps several times, because it will change the way you view relationships forever.
Let’s break it down into two parts.
Do What Love Does
First, we ought to “do what love does.” What does it do? God knew a lot of us would struggle with loving others since it is our sinful nature to be selfish and self-centered. In His infinite, holy wisdom, God completely lays out for us what love is in what’s informally called “the love chapter” of the Bible ̶ 1 Corinthians 13.
If you’ve ever been to any wedding, you’ve surely heard quotes from this part of the Bible. It’s one of my all-time favorites, and it’s found in 1 Corinthians 13:4–8, which says,
“Love is patient. Love is kind. It does not want what belongs to others. It does not brag. It is not proud. It is not rude. It does not look out for its own interests. It does not easily become angry. It does not keep track of other people’s wrongs. Love is not happy with evil. But it is full of joy when the truth is spoken. It always protects. It always trusts. It always hopes. It never gives up. Love never fails.”
God plainly tells us what love does and does not do here. Each one is an action, not a feeling. There’s a big difference.
The Action of Love
Each action dictates how we relate to others whether it’s our spouse or not. Since the basis for everything God does is His great love for us, then we should seek to act out of love with everyone we meet, and especially so with those closest to us.
We must do what love does if we honestly want to protect our marriage. We must perform the actions of 1 Corinthians 13:4–8 in and through every situation that comes our way by being active and guarding our marriage against every enemy.
It’s not always easy to do, though, let’s be honest. There are times when we wish our spouse would just go away. But do we really want them to go away or do wejust need a break? Do we truly want a divorce or do we just need to make some changes?
Often, the change needs to begin with ourselves and our attitude, not with our spouse. What and how we change is all based on what God told us to do in the first place, but we must make the choice to do it. We must choose to do what love does.
Feel What Love Feels
The second part tells us that if we do the first part, we will “feel what love feels.” Feeling love is entirely dependent on our love actions. Without choosing to do what love does, we cannot feel what love feels.
Love on its own is not a feeling no matter what the romance novels tell you. Oh, it might be what first pulls you into a relationship with your future spouse, but from there you have to do what love does- perform those actions- or else you won’t feel what love feels 50 years later. Our actions keep the love alive, in other words.
You may have heard your pastor or priest, or even a counselor, tell you that we can’t base our decisions on feelings. Feelings on their own will lead you to sin and disappointment every time. So let me ask you, how many times have you said, “I just don’t feel like it?” How many times have you not felt like exercising or sticking to your paleo diet or going to church? How many times have you given in to laziness only to pay the price for it sooner or later?
I’ll never forget a bit of advice my mother gave me one time I told her I didn’t feel like going to church early on in my walk with Christ. She said, “It’s when you don’t feel like going that you get the most blessing.” Boy, was she right!
What’s so great about this advice is that it applies to everything in life. Whenever you don’t feel like doing something, you’ll probably miss out on something good. In our marriage, if we don’t feel like loving our spouse anymore, if we’re not “feeling it”, then we’ll miss the blessing of growing old with the one person who knows you the best and cares for you the most, and everything in between.
Love is not a feeling. It’s a natural consequence of our actions.
Keeping the Spark Alive
Life is a series of decisions. Loving your spouse is no different. When we choose to love even when the flame has become a small spark, there is hope. Our daily decisions to do as love does as outlined in 1 Corinthians 13 naturally keep the spark alive. Then, before you know it, the spark has become a flame of feeling in love again…and staying there.
Yes, it takes effort. Yes, it takes commitment. Even for mature Christians who take their marriage vows before God very seriously, choosing to love can seem more like work at times. But with small, daily efforts, the load becomes lighter and loving gets easier.
So, what can we do to keep the spark going? What actions can we take? All it takes are simple things like:
Messages of love on sticky notes tacked onto the bathroom mirror
- Softly caressing your spouse’s arm while you watch TV
- Bringing out a cold glass of lemonade to your husband while he cuts the grass
- Listening attentively when she speaks
- Lending a hand when he needs it
- Saying “I’m sorry”
- Deliberately saying “I love you” as you look into her eyes
A good shoulder or foot rub is nice too if you’re so inclined.
Don’t give up or give in to temptation when marriage gets tough. Keep doing what love does, and soon you’ll be feeling what love feels again. Maybe even more so.
Has staying in love with your spouse been challenging sometimes? What have you done to keep the spark alive? How has God helped you to do it? What did you learn? Please share your ideas with us here. Let’s help each other to stay on this side of the fence.