Over the past couple of years I have been astonished by the sheer number of instances where our enemy, the one who comes only to steal, kill, and destroy, has weaseled his way into a family and home, seeking to bring utter desolation the bride of Christ by breaking up the family. He is gaining ground, and that makes me angry.
I was speaking to my daughter recently and she relayed an experience she had at The Porch at Watermark in Dallas. Pastor JP told them about a study asking people who were of marrying age in the 1960s if they were willing to marry without a feeling of love; approximately 70% said, “Yes.” The same study polled people of marrying age in the 1990s and asked if feeling “in love” was a requirement for them; over 90% said it was required.
So, the predominant statistical response of one generation was, “Love isn’t necessary to get married.” The statistical response of the next generation was, “Love is required to get married.” Interesting shift in just one generation. This made me ponder the definition of love from one group to the next. Words matter, you know, especially if we are using the same word, but really mean different things. I have come to understand that the older generation is less likely to be tied to the romantic, gooshy definition of love than the latter. The difference is defining love as action and love as emotion.
One generation passed before it saw a shift from commitment to emotion, from covenant to feelings. The older generation knew love had to be cultivated, and even if not completely present at the onset, it could be developed over time. They also understood the need to maintain it, work would be necessary. Nonetheless, they apparently believed in the sanctity of marriage, or at least the importance of commitment.
The younger generation, the parents of the ones in The Porch audience, apparently built their relationships on a foundation of emotion. They had to “feel right” and “be happy.” Then he said something that shook the house. “Raise your hands if your grandparents (the older group in the survey) are divorced.” Only a few hands went up, visually telling a bold story. The older group mentioned above, the ones who would marry without love, were statistically pretty successful regarding marriage longevity.
“Now raise your hands if your parents (the group requiring love) are divorced”, he asked. The room was filled with waving hands. A stunning, and tragic, visual testimony to what happens when we live our lives, and build our relationships on the shifting sands of emotion. There are several reasons solely relying on the romantic view of love is destroying marriage:
Romance is an unreliable emotion
Martin Luther once wrote:
“For feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving;
My warrant is the Word of God, Naught else is worth believing.
Though all my heart should feel condemned for want of some sweet token,
There is One greater than my heart whose Word cannot be broken.
I’ll trust in God’s unchanging Word till soul and body sever:
For, though all things shall pass away, His Word shall stand forever.”
Look at the first line. “Feelings come and feelings go, and feelings are deceiving.” When coupled with a culture that sees love and devotion as a weird emotional crap-shoot you get JP’s survey results.
He went on to speak about how we think as a culture that we are so enlightened, that we’ve learned so much. You would think we had figured some things out now that people are so in touch with their emotions. However, in one generation we lost the value and beauty of the very thing we actually sought to protect; the covenant of marriage.
2. Romance is often fabricated
In our day the idea of the “perfect romance” is played out in movie after movie, article after article. You’ve seen it. Boy meets girl, boy dates girl, boy and girl break up, both are miserable but won’t admit it, one of them rekindles a spark with an old flame, flame dies out, boy reunites with girl, the stars align and everything is wonderful.
I believe we are sold a bill of goods where we are told one person fully completes the other. We have traded our covenant commitment and reliance on Christ with the hocus-pocus of “falling in” and “out” of love. When infidelity strikes, we say things like, “it just happened” or “I never meant to be unfaithful.” When the truth actually lies somewhere in the middle between willful abandonment and plain old apathy, fueled by the false narrative that the root of love is some gooshy feeling we get in our stomach, not unlike eating a bad enchilada.
3. Romance can fade
One of the scariest things about reliance on romance is the fact it can fade over time. Then what? If it, and it alone, is the foundation for the marriage, if the “spark” must remain in order for commitment to continue, then the marriage is doomed from the start.
There can be seasons, sometimes years, when the spark of newly found love isn’t quite as bright as it once was. What is it then that keeps us going? What keeps us moving in a Christ-honoring direction where the serious covenant of marriage is upheld? Commitment. Grace-filled, Spirit-empowered commitment. It’s something we lack teaching on these days.
By this point in the post you probably think I’m soured on romance and think it trivial and trite. Not so. In fact, I love romance. I think it is part of the glue that holds us together as married couples, but it isn’t everything. It takes work and cultivation, it isn’t something to just happen, it is something we pursue.
I am very romantically in love with my wife. She really does make the world a better place for me and my family. Her heart and compassion, her grit and resolve, and especially her homemade banana pudding, all make my heart swoon after just shy of 25 years of marriage. When I see her come in a room, my heart leaps and I feel the corners of my mouth turn upwards in shy recognition that I married above my station. She is a gift.
However, these feelings aren’t ever-present, and even if they were to fade, I’ve still made a commitment to her and to God “till death do us part.” There are days I feel less enamored by the things mentioned above. There are days I feel angry, offended, upset, hurt, or forgotten. Not every day is scattered with the rose petals of intoxicating emotion, but every day we get to make a choice. A choice to love.
1 John 3:18 reminds us, “Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth.” James reminds us our love isn’t an unreliable, fickle emotion which finds itself the reluctant target of shifting feelings and whimsy. Love is the thing we make it.
Beauty will fail, love can last forever.
Memories may fade, love can remain to the end.
Romance wavers, love is steadfast.
Love is harvested from the cultivated ground of action. Romance is the bountiful fruit of the harvest. Yes, I still get all twitterpated when I see my bride. Yes, it’s still work. Yes, it’s worth it.