Last year, I began to write on the Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23): “Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
I am currently reminded these days on how LOVE CAN BE HARD WORK, and that in most marriages, there are some times, some seasons, when it is harder. Seemingly impossible.
Galatians 5:22-23 has long been one of my memory verses. My pneumatic is to recall 9 fruit: 3 one-syllable, 3 two syllable, 3 three syllable.
This is handy verse to commit to heart because there are tons of situations in which you find yourself dragging it out to gain some power from the Holy Spirit when your own seems weak. And even if you are praying “just” for patience (or peace or kindness, etc), you truly need them all to help you exhibit patience, and especially love.
Love anchors Galatians 5:22-23, possibly because it is required for all else. And, because while it seems so simple in principle, it can also be so, so hard.
You know what I like? I like the FEELING of love. That feeling that washes over you and makes you giddy and happy. Adorable babies and puppies elicit this feeling. Fun times with good friends. New love and the passion it evokes. A piece of amazing chocolate cake. So many things can bring on that flood of “loving emotions.”
But it’s just not so simple, is it? What about loving that fussy baby when he/she’s been crying for hours, or pooping green stuff? That snarky teen? Or, that puppy that just chewed up your favorite shoes and/or left deposits in them? Sometimes by the last bite of that rich amazing chocolate cake you possibly feel miserable (not to mention unhappy at the numbers on the scale).
There definitely are times in a marriage when all love threatens to just dry up, wither, and die, especially when we allow it to only be a feel-good feeling. Without intentional care and nurturing, even hard work, it can become nothing but dust before you know it. Sometimes it is just a discipline to love, give love, act loving, speak love.
The Greeks had several concepts/words for love, and four are used in the Bible:
There is Phileo, which is brotherly love, the kind of love, affection, or fondness we feel for close friends.
Closely related is Storge, a kind of love is what a sister and brother for one another, strong feelings between family members. This love is one that most people have in family relationships.
Eros refers to the passionate and sensual love of lovers, husbands and wives, usually manifested with sex (however sex alone can be Eros, but it is often a fleeting love when it stands alone). This word is used in Song of Solomon, one of the most erotic books in the Bible (and many want to call it allegorical instead of the lyrical love poem it is). Some may say there is no spiritual aspect to Eros, but I disagree. The loss of this erotic love is often where many couples decide “it is over.” And while erotic love should not be ALL there is in a marriage, it is very powerful, which is why the loss of physical affection and intimacy can really tank a marriage.
And there’s Agape love. This is the highest form of love or charity, the love of God for man and of man for God. It embraces a universal, unconditional love that transcends, that persists regardless of circumstance. This translation of love occurs 320 times in the New Testament.
Agape love isn’t always easy. It’s seemingly practiced less and less these days, and it’s absence in social media is noticeable. It’s the one we all need to work on, and which many of us don’t want to work on. It’s the “why should I be nice/loving if he doesn’t…” It comes up many times in popular verses of love in the Bible, but most famously in the 1 Corinthians 13 “Love is…” passage.
Love always perseveres.
Jesus was agape love. He truly introduced the concept. And of course, we want to be like Jesus, but we’re just not always good at it. We don’t feel like it. We get discouraged. We fall short of the mark (a human condition). We live in a world that has taught us to ask, “what’s in it for me?”
I have a confession: there are times when I don’t feel loving in this marriage of 25 years. I may feel grateful, lucky, blessed, safe, indebted, guilty, duty-bound. There are times I try to tell myself (or is it the devil?) that because I don’t feel love (especially eros or storge), why keep trying?
These are the times I need to be in prayer. I cannot do it all on my own power. I need to recognize and acknowledge that no love beyond God’s is perfect, and no marriage is perfect. Love just doesn’t “happen,” but I need to make it happen. It’s not a one-way street, but rather how I AM love and GIVE love. Unconditionally. Unearned.
Conditional and earned love was the MO of one of my parents. I never was quite sure if I could “earn” or “deserve” love. It could be taken away or withheld indefinitely at any time. So, I personally had a lot to learn about love, a lot to heal.
As a parent myself, I had to reverse what I learned as a child and decide to love my children unconditionally, no matter how they faltered, sinned, or got on my nerves. I never stopped telling them I loved them, and I assure them that I will ALWAYS love them (even if at times I may not agree with their choices).
In a marriage, I have to decide to love my husband. We have both made a Covenant, a promise, to love in a whole range of circumstances. We don’t get to choose love, we just DO IT. No matter if it is deserved, or how it might hurt, no matter how we feel. (Clearly there is another complicated matter of abusiveness in a marriage or relationship; so safety always is paramount; you can walk away from abuse and still pray to love the sinner).
And why does anyone deserve unconditional and unearned love? I’m sure glad that Jesus didn’t ask that question as I do sometimes.
Love is not easy. Love is often messy. It is hard work in a marriage.
And I know that the only way I can humanly do this hard work is with the power of the Spirit of God.
And LOTS of prayer!