I had a conversation this morning after church. The woman I was chatting to over coffee mentioned that she had thought about whether she should buy a Valentine’s day card for her husband. She decided that she would and so last night she wrote up the card whilst he wasn’t looking.
Her plan was to put it on the door mat so it would look like it had been posted through the letterbox. So whilst hubby was in the shower this morning she crept downstairs and opened the porch door to put her card on the mat.
When she got there she discovered her husband had already got there ahead of her. There was a crimson card and rose waiting for her on the doormat. They have been married for 50 years.Valentine’s Day has an interesting status, doesn’t it? It’s a highly commercialised day where those who are in the greetings card/florist/dirty weekend/restaurant business look to make a killing over this weekend.
It’s viewed as a day for those who are courting, those who are secret admirers, those who are dating. It can be a bit sickly sweet too. Lots of people get engaged this weekend and make grandiose gestures, that may not get followed up for the rest of the year.
So what about those like us, married for nearly 20 years and together for longer? Surely mature and sensible Christian couples like us should be above days like Valentine’s Day, mostly promoted by companies like Hallmark, for obvious reasons.
Actually, not so much…
My wife and I have always marked and celebrated Valentine’s day in our marriage. We don’t make a huge deal of it, but we usually exchange small gifts and in some other way mark the day, perhaps going out for a meal, or having a romantic evening at home.
The reality is, that we have enough of a challenge as a married couple, finding time and space to be attentive to our marriage relationship. So a day dedicated to romantic love, whether or not highly commercialised, is nonetheless a gift. Never look a gift horse in the mouth (whatever that means….).
Love within a marriage can be a challenging thing. After the initial romance and excitement fades into the background comes the hard work of building a relationship between two imperfect and often self centred people who are (hopefully) learning to be less so as the years go by.In our marriage we are definitely a case of opposites attract. We are pretty different at most points of comparison. Obviously we share some similarities: Christian faith, music, singing and a cultural heritage are the obvious ones, alongside a recognition that God lives in the Caribbean. (We’ve since discovered that God also maintains a second residence in the North East of England….).
However, beyond that core of similarities we tend to occupy opposite ends of whatever spectrum there is. In Myers Briggs terms it’s Introvert v Extrovert, Thinking v Feeling, Judging v Perceiving.
I’m grateful that I’m married to a vivacious, generous, opinionated, beautiful, and incredibly large hearted woman. However, what I don’t have is a woman who is like me in obvious ways. This makes for an interesting life and marriage; it means that we often complement each other.
But let’s be real here; it also means that we disagree on all sorts of things. A Lot…But disagreement, even argument, is not necessarily a bad thing. Actually, it can be very constructive. A chance to get stuff off your chest and out there, opportunity to vent frustration and anger. Opportunity for lots of misunderstanding.
Open disagreement and argument are usually much more healthy in the long term than internalising it all. Moreover, once you’ve had the big argument there is opportunity for making up and reconciliation. I’m fully persuaded that make-up sex is almost certainly a sure sign of God’s grace…..
Far more damaging than disagreement or argument, I suggest, is disappointment.
When you have behaved in ways that disappoints your spouse, when you see in their eyes that unspoken but evident disappointment because you have not lived up to your own ideals, never mind any one else’s, that’s when you have hit a low moment in your relationship.If you’ve been with someone for a couple of decades, I imagine that you’ve experienced that at least once, and it’s not a great moment.
It seems to me however, that this what Christian love is about. My wife is not perfect. My job is not love the woman I wish she was, the woman that she will one day become. Nor is my job to mould her into the woman i think she should be. Rather, my job is to love her as she is, despite her imperfections.
Fortunately, my wife does not have to negotiate that challenge, because I am, of course, perfect. I am also always right…. Whenever we have a disagreement it is naturally never my fault. In this universe, pigs also fly…..
The reality is that it is only in the face of imperfection that we discover the true depths of love. If the object of our love really were perfect, we would not truly discover what love is. They are perfect, so what’s not to love?
It’s when we are confronted, as we all are, with someone who is not perfect, someone whose habits are sometimes irksome, with whose decisions we regularly disagree, whose perspective on life is quite different from our own; it is only then that we discover what it means truly to love.
When we get there we discover that this is in fact that love is, Love despite.
Rather than offering love only in response to attractive qualities, Love Despite offers love even in the face of unattractive qualities. DESPITE your flaws I love, DESPITE your betrayal I love, DESPITE your petty jealousy I love, DESPITE the fact that I am very angry with you right now I love, DESPITE legitimate reasons not to love, I love anyway.
Love Despite, unconditional love, is the love that parents have for an unborn child. No parent says if my unborn child is beautiful, well behaved and healthy then I will love them but if they aren’t I won’t. Parents take one look at their newly born child and love them, despite sleepless nights, snotty noses, and nappy changes.The child doesn’t need to do anything to earn or deserve love; we love them unconditionally, even when they drive us to the brink of exhaustion.
This Love Despite is also the love we discover in the God who loves us unconditionally, whether we are good or bad, religious or agnostic or atheist, Christian, Buddhist, Muslim or Hindu.
This unconditional love is the basis of marriage vows: better or worse, richer or poorer, sickness and health. Most married couples I know spend their marriage trying to learn what it means to Love Despite. In other words, we spend our marriage trying to live up to the promises we made at the beginning.
Love is, of course, more than a set of emotions, it is also a choice, in many cases, a daily choice, to love. It is to act in love, sometimes despite our emotions.
It seems to me that this is what days like Valentine’s Day offer to us, particularly those whose marriage relationships are getting long in the tooth. It’s a free pass, permission to be attentive to our relationship. Most of us need it.
Happy Valentine’s Day.