By Kasey Van Norman
Ah, yes. The “Honeymoon” phase—a beautiful cohabitation that leaves newlyweds staring passionately at one another with drool running down their chins muttering, “Baby, Honey, Sweetie-Pie.”
My husband and I had the privilege of partnering with a young couple during their engagement to mentor and counsel them on their upcoming marriage. I would often meet with her to discuss more private subject matter. One day, as we sat side-by-side on a local park bench, I asked: “What exactly do you want in a husband?” She told me of her desire to have a husband who would talk to her all night long about their dreams and plans for the future.
As she looked longingly into the distance, she began to recite a list of expected husbandly duties that sounded as if it had been cooking in her brain for years. She continued, “I want a man who pursues me by taking me out on dates, writing me love letters, and sending me flowers just because. I want someone who can’t get enough of me; a man who is not scared to tell me I’m beautiful and wants to hug and kiss me publicly because he is so proud of me.” As I reached my hand over and rested it on her leg in a loving attempt to bring her back to planet Earth, I looked straight into those big brown eyes of longing and said, “Honey, you don’t want a husband—you want a Disney character!”
As I think back to that moment with this precious young bride-to-be, I chuckle under my breath at my own love-drunk ideas that filled my head when that sparkling diamond hit my left hand. Of all my many marital expectations, none was higher than my belief that my soon-to-be husband and I were perfect for one another! It seemed we had all the same hopes, dreams, and plans for our future. We enjoyed the same hobbies, had similar interests, and even finished one another’s sentences from time to time.
But as years passed, somewhere amidst new career callings, the construction of a home, a sink-load of baby bottles, a gazillion loads of laundry, and trash bags full of dirty diapers, the young newlywed couple who once spent hours talking on the phone just to hear the sound of the other person’s breathing soon transformed into two very different people, going two very different directions. He was the insurance salesman who paid the bills, played with his kids every moment he was home, faithfully took out the trash, and crashed in the recliner no later than eight o’clock! She was the cleaner, decorator, cook, and bottle-making mom who cried everyday as she stood in the middle of a four-foot pile of dirty laundry, who would then crash by nine o’clock, only to wake up three hours later to feed a crying baby.
Attention all married couples—the fuel of passion will eventually run out. It is not sufficient enough on its own to carry a lasting, God-glorifying marriage. True love for another person is making a choice to value and care for the other in a way that makes you “less than.” It is entirely motivated by service, and ultimately empowered by the Holy Spirit.
As you continue to read, whenever I mention the word “love,” I want you to read it as an action, not as a feeling! (Trust me—this is no easy task for the “hopeless romantic” and “love at first sight” people out there. I should know; I am one of them!)
Before we can look at what loving our spouse means, we need to look at some important truths about love.
1. We must understand that love originated with God. Do you really believe the Maker of the galaxies needed a human being in order to make Him any more divine, any more holy, or any more omnipotent? A resounding no! “Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son (Eph. 1:4-6, MSG).”
Regardless of humans’ acknowledgement of God as their Creator, they are only capable of loving through the inborn hardwiring of God’s loving image. This love is called agape love. Agape love is an “action.” It is an “expression” of God through us to others. Therefore, it only makes sense that this love must begin with God.
2. As humans, we are incapable of expressing this love to another human without the complete indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This verse is the foundation of this agape love in action: “For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (Jn. 3:16).
In fact, Romans 5:8 tells us this is exactly how God demonstrated His love for us! He did not gaze “love-drunk” into our positive qualities and exclaim, “You complete me!” Instead, He stared straight into our filth, our flesh, and the many dark corridors of our hearts and minds, and said, “Because I delight in you, child, I will sacrifice my own Son to be condemned, beaten, bloodied, and killed on your behalf. His death is My love in action. It requires nothing on your part, except to believe in my gift.”
Do you think God felt “butterflies” and “heart-flutters” as He watched His perfect Son die in agony on our behalf? No—it was a choice, an action. This love is completely selfless and beyond the deepest realm of comprehension for human beings. The way Christ loves us is unthinkable, because we rarely think to love another human in this same way.
3. We must remember that the person with whom we stand at the altar will most certainly not be the same person we wake up to ten years later. Both man and woman are evolving creatures. We are constantly changing. Through every birthday, death, circumstance, good book, and captivating sermon, we are growing.
Throughout life’s changes and challenges, a couple can either choose to grow together or to grow apart. Through open and honest communication and intentional, or agape, love, these couples will find their marriages stronger and more satisfying than at any other point in its history.
4. The key to a happy, joyful, and successful marriage is choosing to demonstrate agape love to your spouse, regardless of how you may feel about him! When I had reached the end of a long day of feeding kids and cleaning house, tripping over my husband’s pile of dirty laundry in the middle of the bedroom floor did not make me feel loving toward him. And there were most certainly days when my dramatic ramblings pushed my husband to the brink of questioning his love for me as well!
However, when I finally allowed the Lord to break my heart of my own selfishness, my marriage was no longer about how I felt toward my husband! My marriage was a gift, an opportunity to glorify and worship God through service to my husband and children.
There is no greater thrill than allowing the love of Christ to overflow into your marriage. It can heal even the deepest damage. But in order to be filled with this unexplainable love, you have to first empty yourself and your own desires. Begin to ask God to grant you His eyes with which to see your spouse. As you think about your spouse, consider how the Lord would respond to him, and choose to act accordingly to His response, not your own.
Oh – and back to the feeling of love. It is certainly possible to thrill to the touch of your spouse throughout all your years of marriage! The ability to feel love is an incredible icing-on-the-cake gift from God. If you seek to re-ignite the newlywed passion in your marriage, choose to begin with the action of love and let the feeling come on its own. Take it from me: the goose-bumps are not as far away as you might think!