This is an article we love by Pastor Tim Keller of Mariners Church (Pastor to Young Adults, Singles and Couples). This guy has performed hundreds of weddings, teaches pre-marital classes and meets with the before AND after of marriages gone haywire. He is a marriage pro.
What is Pastor Tim’s best advice? CHOOSE to LOVE
Love is a Choice
As a pastor, I deal with relational conflict on a daily basis. The truth is, even though God built us as relational beings, relationships are hard and difficult to navigate.
I often see people in my office who are struggling with singleness, their dating lives, engagement or marriage; not to mention the many difficulties that crop up with family members, friends, co-workers and classmates. I also get the calls when people are experiencing relational crisis.
One of the most common phrases I have heard over the years from people who are headed for relational demise is some form of this: “We have fallen out of love.” In fact, a survey of divorce lawyers in England revealed that “falling out of love” is the number one reason marriages fail.
I have a close friend who got married soon after college. We had many long discussions about why he wanted to get married, and the bottom line was that he felt she “deserved” it. She had stuck with him through some crazy times in college and they had been physically intimate for years. He wasn’t sure he wanted to get married, but felt like it would be inappropriate to dump her after she had put up with so much and given him everything, so he asked her.
They did okay for a while, but their relationship was difficult.
I’m not sure he ever had the feelings he thought he should for the woman he married. Eventually, after settling down in a home in the suburbs and having a couple of kids, my friend called me and confessed. “I think I have just fallen out of love with her,” he declared. “I just don’t feel it anymore.”
After some long discussion, I realized that he was getting attention from a number of other women in his workplace and he began to question if he wanted to be married anymore.
Now I understand how it works when it comes to music or food. A song that we “love” and listen to every day eventually becomes annoying and we say we don’t love it anymore.
We fall in love with the new Dorrito Taco for a week or two, but when we can’t pull hard enough to clasp our belt on the last hole and we can’t get the sauce stain out of our favorite t-shirt, we fall out of love just as quickly returning to the Lo Cal Tofu Caesar Wrap at the local health food restaurant.
But when we are talking about real love, relational love, the type of love described in the Bible, it seems to me love isn’t something we “fall” into or out of.
For all of you Greek scholars out there, there are a few different words for the English word love. There is a word for familial love (storge), a word for friendship or brotherly love (phileo), another word for passionate love (eros), but the word I am talking about is the word Jesus modeled for us and called us to have for one another. That word is agape, or unconditional love.
Our ability to love this way seems to be initiated by God. John talks about this love in 1 John 4. He compels us to “…love (agape) one another, for love (agape) comes from God.” He goes on to say that “We love because he (God) first loved us.” If this is true, it seems as though we are incapable of having this “agape” love unless we have received it first from God.
And what this passage says to me is that true love is not a feeling at all, it is a choice. And as God chose us, we get to choose to love one another. So when a married couple comes to me and declares that they have “fallen out of love” I generally respond with this truth: they have actually CHOSEN to stop loving each other, and fallen out of nothing.
As a pastor, one of my duties is to perform weddings. And at the weddings I perform, I often refer to the words of Paul as he talks about this type of love. 1 Corinthians 13 states: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
When I read this passage, I am confronted with the reality that I don’t fall in or out of any of these things! Remember the last time you were in the express lane at the local grocery store and the person in front of you has 37 items and was trying to find the right coupon for each item? You either seethed with frustration or chose to be patient. Patience is difficult and elusive – something we must choose if we are going to love like Jesus loved us. All of the things on this list are choices. I have never once fallen into patience, humility, generosity, kindness or honesty.
This proves to me that LOVE IS A CHOICE!
After long conversations with my friend, he recognized that if he was going to save his marriage, he was going to have to begin choosing love. And I am happy to report that he did. He stopped listening to the tempting voices of other women, recognizing they were only attracted to his status and income. He did the math on a future separated from his wife and kids, a life of child support, visiting rights and being alone. He began making the difficult daily decisions to be patient, kind, protective, humble and truthful.
And you know what happened? His feelings followed! It didn’t take long for the passion in his marriage to return. Before long, the marriage of my friend who CHOSE to love his wife became a marriage that others wanted. It was full of fun and joy, intimacy and excitement.
Do you believe that love is a choice?