Nearly 16 years ago I exchanged marriage vows with my husband. They were traditional vows, promising to love each other no matter what. Yet, I didn't know what love was at that point in my life.
Although I had been a Christian for several years and tried to live my life like Jesus, I bought into the world's view of love. I believed love was more of a give and take. As long as my husband was meeting my needs, I loved him.
We went to a Christian marriage retreat weekend the first year or two of our marriage. The speakers reminded us not to buy into the world's view of marriage. The world's view of marriage is that it should be 50/50 - fifty percent of the love and responsibilities should be covered by the husband and the wife should assume the other fifty percent. The problem with this is that someone will always be coming up short, likely leading each other to frustration and disappointment. Instead, we learned that God calls us to be 100% the spouse that we can be. When we are both giving 100% of ourselves to our spouse, never asking for anything in return, that is when marriage works according to God's plan. This made perfect sense to us, and we tried to live this way in our marriage. Still, I don't think I had opened my heart to the fullness of this message. I understood it in theory, but unfortunately it didn't "click" with me until much, much later.
The world's understanding today seems to be, "as long as my spouse makes me happy, I will love him/her". But this isn't true love at all. At it's very core it is self-seeking. Me, me, me. And a marriage will not work if the object of my love is me.
I've been reading Theology of the Body for Beginners by Christopher West. This is crazy good stuff (and from the title it apparently gets even deeper after you've grasped the "beginner" part!) West describes how original sin twisted our hearts and the focus of our love. God made Adam in his image. God is self-giving, so Adam was designed to give himself to another human being. Yet Adam had no other human to whom he could give himself. So God made Eve. Adam and Eve were made naked and were not ashamed. Their passion for each other was pure and mirrored God's perfect love. They gave themselves freely to each other. Along came sin, and they immediately covered their bodies. Their nature and hearts had changed. They went from self-giving to self-seeking. Instinctively they knew they could be used as objects, and they had to cover themselves to protect themselves from being used and hurt.
I was self-seeking in my marriage. I wanted it to please me, to make me happy. I got married for my "happily ever after". One day God revealed to me that my life was not meant to just be about me, me, me. If I were to truly live out the way I was designed to live, I must give, give and give of myself. Jesus gave himself fully to us in his Passion. We beat him. We mocked him. We betrayed him. But he loved us anyways. Not only is his Love patient and kind and gentle, but it also is perfect in giving no matter what.
I am called to love like Christ. Once I allowed this reality of what true Love is, I became a better wife and a better mother and better person. My attempts to love are not perfect by any means. Loving by giving of myself is one of the hardest things for me to do. When it's late in the evening and I've finally sat down after a day full of chores, my body aching for some rest, and one of the little guys asks for some milk - love gets back up out of the oh-so-comfy chair and gets the glass of milk for my son. When my husband and I have a disagreement, love doesn't insist on being right. Love embraces humility and gives from the innermost depth of ourselves. Love does for others instead of taking from others.
What would Love do? It's not easy, but then again being a slave to self-seeking desires is a prison in and of itself. So it's not easy, but it brings peace and joy that we were intended for.