I admit, last week tended to move into the expansive and the divine, leaving us a few planetary systems away from what it might look like when we humans get hold of love. That being said, I was wanting to lay a foundation for how that kind of unconditional love might apply in our own relationships. I admit, it is patently idealistic. But surely the purpose of idealism is to give us something to aim at even if we fall short in the realization. I want to pick from the ideal and apply it in a more human context. Let’s start by looking at that famous entreaty of Paul’s in the letter to the Corinthians
“Love never gives up.
Love cares more for others than for self.
Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have.
Love doesn’t strut,
Doesn’t have a swelled head,
Doesn’t force itself on others,
Isn’t always “me first,”
Doesn’t fly off the handle,
Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others,
Doesn’t revel when others grovel,
Takes pleasure in the flowering of truth,
Puts up with anything,
Trusts God always,
Always looks for the best,
Never looks back,
But keeps going to the end.”
I feel this is a key to the expression of love. I have often heard it said that love is a choice and not just feelings. Most of us know that the first flush of passion or admiration will at some point give way to the shortcomings and negative aspects once hidden from view. I am not in any way diminishing the wonder of emotions and how they play a beautiful part in the proceedings, but for love to flourish long term, it comes down to choice. Realistically, this is not just one choice, but a series of choices made time after time. Last week I majored on the choice our divine author made when choosing us, choosing to allow us freedom and ultimately choosing to become like us in order to rescue us. The letter written above mentions choice after choice in the pursuit of this kind of love.
I believe this is a key to love growing or dying. Talk of ‘forcing ourselves on others’ finds its expression in the person who seeks to possess and control rather than letting go and promoting that person’s freedom to be themselves. I feel the driver behind this is contained in the line ‘Love doesn’t want what it doesn’t have’. This is the desire by one or both parties to a relationship seeking their own happiness and fulfillment from the other and inevitably leads to one person seeking to change the other. Happiness and fulfillment should emanate naturally from a healthy relationship where it grows from mutual preferment but without obligation. I realized after many years that the only person I had a responsibility to change was myself. The irony is that this promoted change in those I loved when it was not demanded or expected.
The notion of preferring the one we love to ourselves and our interests is probably the most challenging of all. Talk of laying down our lives for those we love starts becomes very idealistic and unattainable. However, as I mentioned at the outset, without ideals, what do we have to aim at. There could not be anything clearer than ‘Love cares more for others than for self’, though who can claim to achieve it? My take on this challenge focuses once again on choosing to allow the loved one to be free from our expectations and demands, free from our attempts to possess or control and as much as we are able, to promote the other’s life journey. And yes, for these relationships to be truly fruitful, it requires an interaction on both sides such that growth and dreams fulfilled happens to both parties in the relationship. Where this is one sided, there can still be love, but it will not flourish in the same way.
To finish for this week, I can’t help but draw attention to the permanence expressed in the last 3 lines of Paul’s words. A commitment to stick with it, to see it through when things are not as we hoped is clearly something enshrined in the concept of marriage and the broader context of family. This ideal is not always as easy to live out and when a relationship is unable to promote the kind of love we are talking about here, the letting go and releasing may well be the most loving outcome. This may not be ideal, or even what both parties want, but in love there cannot be formulas and rules. Institutional norms like marriage may be broadly aiming for the right kind of commitment, but every relationship is unique.
These principles, I believe, offer real opportunities for ‘love’ to grow and flourish, but their outworking will be different for every relationship where they operate. Idealistic? Yes perhaps, but I hope it encourages a fresh look at how we can nurture a precious foundation for our lives together.