“Love is not a feeling, Mr. Burns. It’s an ability…”
Single father Dan Burns ponders Marty’s words as he sends him away. (Marty and his teen daughter are secretly dating. The two lovers have just been caught by dad.) Next, the taxi departs with Marty on-board. Left behind is Dan’s heartbroken daughter. She’s livid. Finally, with all the seething vitriol she can muster, she turns to her “merciless” father and screams, “YOU ARE A MURDERER OF LOVE!” Later, she claims that Marty will always have her heart. Her love is unfailing.
One thing is for sure, this scene from the movie Dan in Real Life never fails to win chuckles and giggles from my family. The movie brings up two contrasting ideas about love. First of all, there is Mr. Burns: “Love is a dangerous feeling.” Opposite him is the teenage boy, Marty proclaiming: “Love is an ability.”
Who is right?
Last week, our church hosted a marriage conference led by Mark Gungor, who is absolutely hilarious. At first, Dave and I struggled to understand if this guy was a pastor or a stand-up comedian. We laughed hysterically. At other times, we blushed and looked at each other as if to say, “He just said THAT? In church?” And yet, in a subtle, comedic way, Gungor spouted off profound zingers.
According to Gungor, Marty would win. When it comes to love, Gungor claims that feelings are irrelevant. Furthermore, Gungor claims that our obsession with our feelings is destructive to marriages:
Good grief! Successful people aren’t successful people because of feelings- successful people are successful because they do what is right.
Using the analogy of work or school, Mark reminded us, “Sometimes we don’t feel like getting up to go to work. And yet, how successful would you be by not showing up?” Frequently, despite not “feeling” it, successful people rule over their feelings. They go to work. This same concept applies to marriage.
Successful marriages are not ruled by feelings.
Rather successful marriages are ruled by doing what’s right. So, things like love and respect come down to choice. We choose whether we will make the effort to love and respect one another. This is not easy. Because as much as we hate to admit it, there is no such thing as unconditional love. Often, we dole out love and respect when we feel loved and respected. Therefore, if we feel unloved, we withhold love. This pattern is destructive.
No doubt, some marriages face severe hurdles to overcome. However, more often than not, it seems like the destructive cycle of withholding love begins with the littlest offenses and builds from there.
While teaching marriage classes, I’ve heard the complaints: “If only he would take out the trash.” “So, if only he would pick up his laundry.” “If only he would use some table manners.” “If only…” and the list continues. Every woman seems to have her bone to pick. Perhaps every man does too? Generally, perhaps he is quieter about it?
A quarrelsome wife is like the constant dripping of a leaky roof. Proverbs 19:13
Better to live on a corner of the roof than share a house with a quarrelsome wife. Proverbs 21:9
Better to live in a desert than with a quarrelsome and nagging wife. Proverbs 21:19
Ugh! Talk about murderer of love! There is not much life in a desert.
Gungor encourages both men and women to be kind with their words and their actions. He makes it seem like it is not too much more work to be nice. Kind of a funny thought.
Rather, God calls us to a different kind of love:
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, 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. Love never fails…
I Corinthians 13:4-8
Because we could spend a lot of time picking apart this verse, I’d like to zero in on verse five:
Love does not dishonor others,
Is not easily angered,
Keeps no record of wrongs.
So, what would marriages look like if we followed this one verse alone? What would my marriage look like?
First of all, love does not dishonor others.
I like how the NIV Study Bible describes this: Love does not act “contrary to the conventions of decent behavior.” So why do we treat our spouse or those closest to us in ways we would never treat others? I’ve often shared with women that I have a “look” that I would never, ever give to one of them, but I can instantaneously unsheathe this dagger for my hubby. Why? Something is not right about that.
Next, love is not-self-seeking.
Again, I kind of like the description that the NIV Study Bible offers: Love is not “narcissistically fixating on oneself and one’s own advantage.” How easily I get caught up in “self!”
Also, love is not easily angered.
Our family pastor recently talked about the privilege of being a “light turner-offer.” He inherited the pattern of becoming angry over light bulbs being left on unnecessarily. Like his own dad, he was routinely losing his cool over what would amount to pennies. “How ridiculous!” he challenged.
Because I’m the light turner-offer in our home, this hits home. Really, how difficult is it to “flip a switch?” Or take out the garbage? Toss the dirty clothes into a hamper? Love refuses to be irritated or provoked or resentful over such slight things. Love chooses to simply “flip the switch.” It’s no big deal.
Finally, love keeps no record of wrongs.
Isn’t that how we first treat our spouse? How easily we overlook offenses when first “in love!” While dating, I am sure that I would not have given turning off a light switch a second thought. So, why would I choose to be provoked over that now? How silly! Furthermore, to correlate not turning off the light switch, or not taking out the trash or any other little offense as not loving me is ridiculous. It’s an untrue thought. Philippians 4: 8 exhorts us to think on “whatever is true.” Love chooses to overlook offenses.
As if it were yesterday, I remember sitting on the other side of Pastor David Schaeffer’s desk. While spreading out a long sheet of paper, he pointed to an intricate graph. Where I had peaks, Dave had valleys and vice versa. As a result, the graph created a stunning design! Consequently, Pastor Schaeffer looked at us quite seriously and noted, “Here are many potential areas of conflict.” Yet, as clear as day, I remember thinking this a silly idea, laughable! If I didn’t say it, I thought it, “Why? These are all the things that I love about him!”
And it’s true. Those are all the things I loved about him. So why change that way of seeing? Rather than put on the negative glasses, why not see all that is positive and good in our spouse? Because the more positive we see, the more positive we will see.
Maybe we reap what we sow:
Whoever sows sparingly will also reap sparingly, and whoever sows generously will also reap generously. II Corinthians 9:6
Perhaps the better attitude we choose and the more we do what is right, the better our ability to love and respect one another. Not only applicable to marriages, but throughout our society! As Gungor exhorts us to be nice, Paul encourages us to put on kindness.
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Colossians 3:12
If love is an ability, I can do better. Perhaps we all can?
Pray with me?
Oh Lord! Thank You for seeing me through Your kind eyes and heart of unfailing love in Christ Jesus. Whether married or not, please give us Your eyes and Your heart in order to see others as You do: beloved by You.
In Hosea 10:12, You exhorted the Israelites to turn back to You by saying, “Sow righteousness for yourselves, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unplowed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until he comes and showers his righteousness on you.”
So Lord, I seek You. Please come and shower Your righteousness on our marriages and our relationships. Where ever our hearts have hardened towards one another, please break up that unplowed ground. Instead, sow Your righteousness.
Lord, help us to honor one another. Rather than looking at everything from our own vantage point, help us be more self-less. Instead of being so easily provoked, help us rise above to live in kindness and forgiveness. Rather than focus on offenses and differences, help us to focus on the person, a person created in fearfully and wonderfully made in Your image and loved by You.
As God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, may we be clothed with Your compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
Please grant us Your ability to love and love well.