How many church pews have you sat in, watching a bride and groom gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes, listening as the pastor recites this familiar verse?
Love is patient, love is kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never ends… Faith, hope, and love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love. 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
And have you ever happened upon the uncomfortable scene months, or maybe only weeks after witnessing these vows, of the happy couple at a dinner party fighting. I mean really fighting – about the toilet seat or the cap on the toothpaste or _____. Doesn’t it make you wonder if anyone really knows what these verses are supposed to mean, and why they are spoken at nearly every wedding?
My own marital experience encompasses 14 years, 9 months and 25 days. And I’m going to admit to a hard truth: Being in a marriage had no impact whatsoever on my understanding of what love is supposed to be. In my own marriage, love became selfish; a matter of grabbing what was mine – on both sides. My feelings were tread upon again and again by him, and I became an expert grudge-holder, complaining often about his beard shavings in the sink and other small foibles. A hope-filled journey morphed into distrust, complacency and boredom. The more we hurt each other, intentionally or unintentionally, the less we loved – and the more room there was for dysfunction. These simple but powerful words from 1 Corinthians, carefully chosen and lovingly spoken at my own wedding, quickly faded into memory.
It was only after falling out of love – and subsequently ending my marriage, that God opened my heart to these five truths about love:
- Love is patient. Patience waits. I hold my tongue when I am frustrated. I wait to expose the fault of my spouse when I’ve been wronged. Girlfriends, you know what I mean here right? We’ve all been in book club and the truth about all our husband’s faults and foibles comes spilling out on the table and there it lies in one gooey mess in front of 7 of your best girlfriends. Patience keeps quiet all the awful things you want to reveal about your husband, because “dealing with it” isn’t the same as sharing it with every woman willing to listen.
- Love is kind. Kindness is sacrificial giving. It’s submitting to one another, a contest if you will, to see who can serve each other the best. Kindness is smiling when he walks in the door. Kindness is holding the door open for me. Kindness is telling him you are proud of him – even when he leaves the toilet seat up for the one-thousandth time. Kindness listens.
- Love does not insist on its own way. This is code for “controlling.” Every. Single. Marriage. is two broken people trying to make one whole piece. Your husband will have junk in his trunk that you will want to fix. It doesn’t matter how much your husband’s choices upset or bother you, you have no control over his behavior. You cannot demand that he be exactly what you want him to be. Please hear this: your husband’s behavior is his to own. His choices are in no way a reflection of you. If you don’t like a behavior, a hurt, habit or hang-up, pray about it. Pray for him, pray for you. You have hurts, habits and hang-ups God wants you to work on, too. Truth: God did not intend marriage to make you both look better to the world. God created marriage to make God look better to the world.
- Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, and endures all things. Oh, sweet girlfriend. I know you. I know you watched Cinderella when you were little and thought, “When I find prince charming my life will be perfect and beautiful and wonderful.” I know this about you because that’s the dream I had, too. Marriage is hard. We are going to hurt each other. That’s a fact, jack. The beauty of love is when we really believe what God is telling us, he gives us grace to bear all things, believe all the best in our husbands, hope for the best in our marriages and endure all the hurtful things we say to each other. I consider the hurtful and rude things I’ve done to God – yet he shows again and again me how he bears, believes, hopes and endures all things in me, and he continues to love me unconditionally.
- Love never fails. We believe love is a feeling: I will do all the things listed here if I feel like it and as long as he doesn’t hurt me. Truth: Love is a demonstration. Love is bearing and believing, kindness and patience, even when he has wronged me. Even when I am hurt. And love doesn’t have a checklist. Imagine love as a ripe, juicy peach. You hand your husband this divine piece of fruit, even though you are tired and angry (and maybe you are hungry, and it’s the last peach in the bowl!) Imagine your husband walks away from the fruit and it falls toward the floor. God will always be there to catch it, even if your husband doesn’t. God rejoices when we love well. God rewards those who love well.
I used to think being outside of my marriage was the freedom I was hoping for, but now I know: loving well is freedom. It frees us from carrying unnecessary baggage and hurt. Love frees us from feeling guilty and hurting others. Love frees us to see the very best in our spouse and put blinders to the drinking-milk-straight-from-the-carton kind of moments, or the sideways glance he gives you when you are telling a story all wrong at a party. While I am no longer “in love” with my former spouse, I’ve learned much on this side of divorce about how to continue to demonstrate love to the father of my children. Divorce isn’t the end of love, after all. For me, it is the beginning of understanding that God’s love never fails, never gives up and never runs out – that kind of love will never leave me.