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What is Love?

By Julie Bruce

What Is LoveFor some “love” might feel more like one of those four-letter words we aren’t supposed to say. For others it might feel more like the Disney concept of singing forest animals and “happily ever after.” The truth is we can swing from one end of the spectrum to the other based on what is going on in our lives and marriages. Some might be grateful just to land somewhere in the middle. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to settle for somewhere in the middle. I want God’s best for my marriage! So let’s look at what God has to say about love.

First, We love something or someone when we are devoted to its good or well-being. Philippians 2:5 says, “Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus.” What was the mind of Christ? To follow God’s will and plan for his earthly life and sacrifice His life in our place. There is no more devotion to our good or well-being than that! We can be devoted to God, our “neighbor,” our job, our children, a hobby, our finances, or our spouse.  I have heard friends say they love their spouse but yet they spend more time involved with friends, or hobbies or their job and their spouse gets whatever they have left over to give. Sweet friends, your spouse should get your best (after God!) not your left overs. You can’t be devoted to his or her good or well-being when all you give them is the left overs. Your left overs are the moments when you’re too tired to give anything more or the moments when the “goodbye kiss” is more ritual than an act of love.

So what actually qualifies under “devoted to my spouses well-being?” Anything we do to show our care and concern. It includes those “expected” duties such as doing the laundry, keeping a clean house, and being financially responsible, but it is also the things that we go out of way to do or they unexpected things we do. When my husband asks me, “How was your day?” Its because he truly wants to know. He doesn’t ask and then tune me out as I start telling him the difficult or exciting parts of what I do at work. He genuinely wants to know. I always say, “If you’re not really interested in hearing about someone’s day, then don’t ask.” People know when you tune them out! When you tune them out, then you eventually will get the response of “fine” and everyone moves on. Your spouse knows if you really want to know or not.

Another example of being devoted to your spouse’s well-being might be calling them in the middle of the day just to say, “I love you” or if you know they have a particular challenging day or important meeting or interview. You should be the one person who your spouse turns to as a source of support and encouragement.  However, there is an element of your spouse needing to be able to trust you with what’s important to him or her. If you belittle the things that are important to your spouse, don’t expect them to talk about those things with you. It comes down to what’s import to his or her well-being is what’s important to his or her heart. It isn’t about what you think about those things. Because the issue is important to your spouse it should be important to you because your spouse should be important to you.

Overall, I think Ephesians 4:32 sums up what it means to be devoted to your spouse. In this verse, we read, “Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.”

Second, love involves empathy. Empathy is the ability to understand and share the feelings of another. It is different than sympathy. Sympathy is feeling compassion, sorrow, or pity for the hardships that another person encounters, while empathy is putting yourself in the shoes of another. Throughout the Bible, we see Jesus showing great empathy for the sick, deaf, blind, the hungry and more. The Bible is full of instructions on how we are to humble ourselves and look to the interests of others. Romans 12:15 says, “Be happy with those who are happy and weep with those who weep.” When you take the time to put yourself in the shoes of your spouse you are more likely to understand where they are coming from or why something is important to them.

Third, love involves respect. You cannot respect your spouse if you put them down, make fun of them or abuse them in any capacity. It’s treating your spouse as you would want them to treat you. The Bible says, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31). When you respect your spouse, you acknowledge their value and worth. Respecting your spouse means not manipulating to get your way or take advantage of him/her. Respect involves allowing your spouse to be who they are rather than attempting to conform them into some image you have for him/her.  It includes listening when they talk to you. Not just going through the motions of listening, but really hearing them. You can also demonstrate respect by acknowledging their opinions and ideas and giving true consideration to them. Another area of respect involves allowing your spouse some private time. Yes, as a couple we should be one, but we all also need time to ourselves or time to enjoy a hobby or craft without being made to feel guilty for it. However, as a couple, you should also have things that you enjoy doing together as a couple. You can also demonstrate respect by being mindful of your words. Words are incredibly powerful. They can build up, encourage, and motivate. Words can also tear down, hurt, and cause horrible scars. Words can hurt…sometime unintentionally and other times intentionally. The Bible reminds us that “Life and death are in the power of the tongue, and those who love it will eat its fruit.” Proverbs 18:21 (HCSB). Choose your words carefully, especially in heated moments. Once they leave your lips, you can never put them back in again.

Love is also selfless. The Bible says in Philippians 2:3, “Do nothing from rivalry or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves.” Our world has become so self-centered. The average mentality is: “It’s all about me.” If you want a guarantee that your marriage will fail, then this is the mentality you should have. If you want a Godly marriage than your mentality needs to be “It’s all about you.” Granted, both the husband and wife need to have this mentality. Otherwise it will not take long for the one demonstrating this trait to feel taken advantage of and used. 1 Corinthians 10:24 says, “Let no one seek his own good, but the good of his neighbor.” Marriage is not the Disney idea of singing forest creatures and happily ever after. It is work! It is a constant act of sacrificing self so that you can be devoted to your spouse’s well-being. It’s a servant’s heart. One way to begin to grow and develop this in your marriage is to start out each day asking your spouse, “What is one thing I can do for you today?” Look for ways to step in without being asked and help your spouse with daily chores. Maybe take the time while your spouse is away to do a chore that you know they enjoy doing the least or one that you know is on his or her “to do” list for the day. Just remember that doing these things is not for the purpose of “ok, I did this for you, now what are you going to do for me.” Do it out of love…without expecting anything in return. Only then is the act selfless love for your spouse.

Fifth, love involves trust. Your spouse should not doubt your loyalty to him or her in anyway. But trust just isn’t about loyalty. Your spouse should be able to trust you with the VISA card or bank account. He or she should trust you with his or her emotions. There should be trust when your spouse shares a confidentiality. Your spouse should be able to trust you with their body and not fear you in any way. There should be trust in the bedroom. Your spouse is the person you live with day in and day out. Its the person that sits at the dinner table with you and shares a bed with you. The Song of Solomon is an entire book of the Bible that talks about the marriage relationship. In Chapter 2, verse 15, we read “Catch the foxes for us, the little foxes that spoil the vineyards, for our vineyards are in blossom.” That might sound like an odd verse, but if the fox (secrets, lies, deceit, other people, etc) creep in and spoil the vineyard (your marriage), you risk losing the entire garden. If your spouse cannot trust you, there are serious problems that need to be dealt with!

Lastly, love involves compassion. I think one of the first people we think of when we hear the word compassion is Mother Theresa. Certainly Jesus is the greatest demonstrator of compassion The Bible says that Jesus went about doing good (Acts 10:38).  Galatians 6:9-10 says, “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up. So then, as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith.” How would you define a person with compassion? Take a moment and think about the characteristics that person of compassion would have. Make a quick list of those. Now go back circle the characteristics you demonstrate to your spouse. Now go back through the list once more and draw a square around the ones that you feel would be important for your spouse to demonstrated to you. Take a few moments and compare your list with your spouse, if you are reading this together. If not, just begin to work on the areas you feel you need to improve or grow in so that you are a compassionate spouse.

What is love? There is no better example than the love Christ demonstrated to us even while we were sinners. He expects us to follow his example. John 13: 34-35 says, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.” What is His love like? It’s unconditional. It does not depend on what I do or don’t do. He offers His love freely, even when I don’t deserve it. There will be times when your spouse will not deserve your love. In those moments, remember that you do not deserve Christ’s love…yet he gave it freely. Go and do likewise to your spouse.

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