It Takes Love to Make Love
I was just out walking around the workplace which is fairly typical because I have a hard time sitting still. (During meetings I have to concentrate on not moving my knees or tapping my feet.) One of the secretaries is reading a very popular marriage book that started a conversation between us. In the world of marriage improvement books, there seems to be two broad categories of which this book fell into what I will cleverly call ‘category 1’ – books that recommend if you are having some marriage struggles, the best thing you can do is meet your spouses needs. Then they will feel loved and hence begin to meet your needs and you will feel loved. Problem solved and it’s only page 4!
Well, yes and no. It is definitely not a bad thing to be aware of your spouse’s needs. And there is some practical truth to the principle of if you treat others well, they will be more likely to treat you well. A key point that I think ‘category 1’ books miss is motive. Why are you trying to meet your spouse’s needs? If you are meeting needs in order to get a desired response, that boils down to some glorified selfishness. Concern is not really for the spouse’s needs nor for the health of the marriage, but only for how you feel.
Sadly ‘category 1’ marriage books seem to be most generally popular. One reason is probably because they are like a sitcom, and everything is wrapped up and well defined by the end of the book – solutions to your relationship problems in 150 pages or less. Another is desperation, trying anything that claims to work – making the pain go away, (but maybe God wants go to feel the pain). A third is this advice puts you in control of the situation – being your own god.
It is hard to follow the blueprint of these books for very long. Even harder is looking at someone you are counseling, who has been living in a love desert for years, and telling them that the solution is to potentially humiliate themselves for the benefit of someone else who in all truthfulness is probably acting very selfishly also. That is, it is hard if you do not address motive. ‘Category 1’ books put the cart before the horse.
We could summarize the issue with the following logic statement “If you want to feel loved in your marriage, then you must strive to meet your spouse’s needs.” But what foolishness. That presupposes that the highest calling in marriage is to have our needs met. And what happens when when your spouse doesn’t turn it around? If your behavior is predicated upon getting an expected reaction, then what happens when you don’t get what you want? More frustration, more anger and ultimately more distance.
I know because I fell into the trap. Ultimately, my goal was to change my spouse’s behavior not to address what was going on in our marriage. Ironically, this is not what I counseled those who came into my office for advice. It is so funny how God is able to use someone as broken as me while I remained blind to what was going on. When someone would come in to talk about their marriage, there was really only one focus that was possible – what was their relationship with God like, because everything flows out of that. If their spouse was unable to love them, I would use that as a teaching point to remind them that we need to connect with God and let him love us.
I’m not sure why that advice was good for others, but not for me. Well, actually I am sure, I was in a weird catch 21, I knew God loved me if things were going well, so to connect with God I needed things to go well, and onward the spiral would go. One of the laughable things about my situation was how good at pastoral care I was. At my worst moment people would ask of me the simple question “What would you tell someone doing the exact same thing as you?” Good grief. Hard to get out of that one; that’s another blog.
What is it that many of these popular marriage books miss? Motive. What is the motive of our lives. Is it to be happy (a la following expectations of Jesus rather than Jesus)? Or is it to be a faithful minister of reconciliation? I want the latter to be true of me in my relationship. My wife is not a means to an end. Nor is she a problem to be fixed. She is someone to be loved. An opportunity, given by God, to minister in the name of Jesus.
To do that well, my motive must be addressed. So, in order to reflect a biblical motivation, the previous conditional statement needs to be changed to “If you want to feel loved in your marriage, then you must let God love you.” Security comes from experiencing the love of God. He does love us, and demonstrated that through Jesus, and He wants us to live in that knowledge everyday and through everything this world throws at us.
For me, this was the underlying problem. God’s love wasn’t a reality for me. I knew about it. I could explain it and help others understand it. But I wasn’t experiencing it. This wasn’t always my experience. But for a variety of reasons, during my season of duress I retreated to a place of comfort. Love as performance and affirmation. That too will be subject of another blog; that’ll hopefully keep you coming back for more.
How do you let God love you? Great question, and I think the answer varies somewhat depending upon the individual. For me, it starts with connecting – praying, studying, reading. But not as items to be crossed off a list. Embracing who God made me, rather than who I think He expects me to be. Extending grace to myself when I ‘fail’ by not living up to my own expectations. Looking for things to be grateful for. Being very intentional about telling myself how I know I can trust God; not letting my trust be dictated by my circumstance (bad or good). Just continuing to tell my story to myself and others. All of these are components of embracing God’s love for me.
Among the fruit of experiencing the love of God in my life is that my love for people has returned. I’m not so cynical or hardened. As I walk around campus, I am looking for ways to make a difference in student’s and coworker’s lives. Not so that I can receive, but so they can know God loves them.
Most importantly, this is changing my marriage. In my wife I see God’s gift of ministry. My love for her is coming not from having m needs met through her (although I won’t complain!) but from the limitless love that I am enjoying from my savior. Is this easy? No, no, no, and no. I still have moments, but I am more and more able to walk through those moments and process them healthily. I am better able to love my wife, not because of her behavior, but because I am feeling God’s love for me. From that comfort and absence of fear, I am able to more selflessly love my wife.
This is the theme of most ‘category 2’ marriage books. Love for our spouses coming not from what they do for us, but from who we are in Christ. That is a difference I was able to share with the secretary earlier today. From there our conversation turned to how she can overcome her guilt at falling away and turn back to walking with Christ again. I guess there was a reason God gave me restless legs today.