We all know the statistics. Is it 50%? 60%? I can’t even keep track of the percentage of marriages that end in divorce. Which is why I was rolling my eyes while I was flipping through the channels and I landed on a show with a very predictable conversation.
“Kids, Mom and Dad do not love each other anymore.”
We’ve all heard it before. My feelings have changed. I wouldn’t be true to myself if I stayed when I don’t love you anymore. You don’t really want to be married to me; you deserve something better. We’ve grown apart. We’re different people now. I just need to be honest.
No surprises here. It was a typical American family conversation coming through the television. Until the little boy asked a biting question.
“But if you stopped loving him, what’s to say you won’t stop loving us?”
That was the best sermon I’ve heard in a long time.
My heart almost stopped. My eyes opened wide. I leaned in to the television screen. What would these parents say to such a profound question?
“Stop loving you?” she retorted, “Oh no, that’s impossible.”
I turned off the television and I’ve been chewing on this ever since. How can a mother possibly make such a promise? How can she guarantee that her “feelings” for her children will not wither like her “feelings” for her husband? How can she promise that she and her children won’t grow apart, become different people, and need to end this relationship?
And then it hit me.
This mother was not deceiving her children; she just needed better vocabulary. She really could guarantee that her love would not fail, because her love for her children was qualitatively different than her love for her husband. You might call this kind of love grace-love, because it has no strings attached. It’s a pure gift. It’s unconditional. It’s what we read about in the oft-quoted wedding Scripture:
Love never ends. (1 Corinthians 13:8)
It is beyond ironic that so many of the same people who choose 1 Corinthians 13 as their wedding theme go on to say that their love has indeed ended. Infatuation comes easy. Attraction is a piece of cake. The average person could probably “fall in love” with 20 different people in their life. It’s figuring out this whole 1 Corinthians 13-love thing that seems to stump us.
Check out verse 7: Love bears all things. All? Even the changing seasons of life? Love hopes all things. All? Even during seemingly hopeless arguments? Love endures all things. All? Even when the “feelings” are gone? Even when both partners change?
I wonder if we’d be better off training couples to love each other by exposing them to truly great parents and saying, “Now go and do likewise.” If our love was as unconditional towards our spouse as it is towards our children, maybe our vows would actually endure til’ “death do us part.”
As I reflected on this great sermon of a television show I realized what the mother really meant: If 1 Corinthians 13 is your measuring stick, you can be at peace, because that is what I choose for my children. It is not a feeling that can disappear; it’s a choice of my heart and my will. I give you my heart. On the other hand, if I use the same standard on your father and I’m honest, I never really 1 Corinthians 13-loved him to begin with. My love for him had conditions from the get-go. I shared with him my heart, but I never gave it to him as a gift.
By the way, this is precisely how bad marriage is like dead religion.
Religious people stay with God because he’s useful. Children of God stay with God because he’s beautiful. Because they love him.
Because he first loved us.
You’ve never been loved better than you were loved on the Cross.