What is Love? After 28 years of marriage, our friend Ralph shares the wisdom and knowledge he has gained through his experience in learning to love his wife and family.
When I got married over twenty-eight years ago, I had no idea what I was getting myself into. Don’t get me wrong, I loved my wife then, and I love her so much more now. But I’ve learned a lot about love through my marriage, and I would like to share with you some of the things the Lord Jesus Christ has taught me.
Many people dream about meeting that “special” person and spending their life with them. I was no different. I was fortunate enough that I met that “special” girl in high school, married her after college, and the adventure began.
Let me give you a little background, though. In high school I had seen my father divorce my mother after twenty-seven years of marriage because he said he no longer loved her, and it was no longer good for him. “Wow,” I thought, “that’s what love is? Really? After twenty-seven years of marriage and three children, you don’t love her anymore?” This shattered my faith in love. Certainly there had to be more to love than this, and I was determined to find it.
But it wasn’t too far into my own marriage that I realized it was harder than I thought. I had gone into marriage for what it was going to do for me, but what it was mainly doing for me was showing me how unloving I was. In fact, my wife was a kind of mirror, reflecting back to me my true self as she responded to my unloving attitudes and actions. What I began to see in this mirror was a lot of my father, and it wasn’t pretty. However, I honestly didn’t pay too much attention since I knew I was always right (cough, cough) and used well-crafted excuses to prove it.
I found that a familiar scene would play out for us on a regular basis. I would come home from work after a busy day stressed and ready to unwind. My expectation was that my wife would be willing and eager to listen to me vent and help me relax. But I would arrive home only to find that she had the same expectations and needs. So I would dutifully listen to her for a while, and then quickly solve her problems for her so we could move on to me. But my unloving attitude would only upset her, and my excuses of caring for her by solving her problems would only make things worse. She wanted to be listened to and cared for, but so did I.
Then we started having kids, and it got even more challenging for me. Children are a wonderful and miraculous gift from God, to be sure. But they also required a ton of work and sacrifice, and now I had to share my wife with them. There were many nights after we would finally get our three little ones fed, bathed and in bed, that she would understandably pass out from exhaustion. “Your kidding me!” I would think, “this is married life with kids?” I would try to understand, but I couldn’t help feeling like I was getting the short end of the stick.
As our children got older it became even more demanding with endless homework to help with, things to pay for, activities to drive them to and boundaries to draw. In fact I remember someone asking me what my hobby was, and I quickly responded with a sarcastic smile, “My family!!” I loved my family, but certainly there had to be more to love than this, and I was determined to find it.
I’m a little slow (okay, a lot slow), but somewhere in these experiences as a husband and father I finally started to see the difference between what I believed and how I behaved. You see, before I was married I had come to know God’s love for me in Jesus Christ. I knew Christ’s love was sacrificial, because He was willing to die for me. I knew Christ’s love was selfless, because I’m pretty sure dying on a cross didn’t do much for him. I knew Christ’s love was unconditional and without obligation, because He died on the cross for everyone. And, I knew I was to love others the way Jesus loved me. I knew these things, but this was quite obviously not the kind of love I had in my heart or the way I loved my wife and family.
I eventually admitted to myself that I couldn’t do it; I couldn’t love someone like this, not even my lovely wife! I was trying to be selfless and sacrificial, like Jesus was, — but what about me? What about all the warm goodness I was looking for? What did I get out of it? My wife and kids loved me, but it seemed to me there was a lot more love going out than coming in. Certainly there had to be more to love than this, and I had reached the end of myself and was finally ready to learn.
My problem was that deep down I honestly believed love was all about me, to make me feel good and meet my needs. I had listened to enough love songs and watched enough movies to know this was true. I went into marriage with this belief, though it never dawned on me that if two people got married with this expectation it would be a total disaster. The truth was that my expectation of love was a black hole that no person could ever fill.
Jesus graciously opened my eyes to see that the love I was seeking from others was the love he longed to give me all along. He created me for this, because only His love for me was perfectly selfless, sacrificial, unconditional and without obligation. As I started learning to let Christ love me, I began to experience a deep love unlike anything I had ever known. I always knew there was more to love than what I was experiencing, and now I was finally starting to find it.
I discovered that the more I let Jesus meet my desire for love, the less I expected or even needed those around me to meet them. The more I am filled up with God’s love for me, the more I find I can love others without expectation or obligation. So for example, now after a busy and stressful day, I am learning to pour my heart out to the Lord in prayer and let Him care for me. I try to unwind with Him, vent to Him, complain to Him, and process my day with Him. And when I’m in sync with Jesus like this, I find that I’m much more able to be attentive to my wife’s needs at the end of the day and truly care for her. This has been a very bumpy road for me, and I still have far to grow, but it has truly been life changing.
But here’s the real miracle: I can now honestly say that loving others like Jesus is what fulfills me, not receiving it from others. I can’t really explain it, but somehow my experience of God’s love is magnified when I’m sharing it with others in tangible ways. So when my wife and I celebrated our 28th Anniversary last summer with a week full of fun, romantic activities I had planned, it was a fantastic time for me. As I poured out my love for her with various surprises and activities, I was falling in love with her all over again. I truly love her now more than ever before.
The funny thing is that my marriage did end up providing the love I sought in the beginning, but not the way I expected. It led me to the end of myself and to the only One who could love me the way I always wanted to be loved, and help me love others like Him. And in enjoying His love, I am appreciating and cherishing the love my wife and I share more than ever.
Now I’d be lying if I told you I have love all figured out and that I always love my wife the way Jesus does (just ask her). No, I’m still plenty selfish. But now I know that I have all the love I need from Christ, and I know where to turn when I get off track. I always knew there was more to love than what I was experiencing, and now I know His name is Jesus!
Ralph Moller is a member of Lifehouse Covenant Church, located at 700 4th Ave San Francisco CA 94118. Sunday services begin at 10AM. We hope to see you there!