I got into a fairly involved conversation this past weekend at a candle party.
The wife of a friend of mine was hosting one of those parties where the salesperson comes and shows the myriad of uses for candles in your home. My buddy was going to be the only male in attendance, so I volunteered to come up and represent the gender.
During the party I met about a dozen women in their late 20s and early 30s. Most of them were married, most either had kids or were getting ready to. And most were shockingly negative.
They went around the table for hours discussing how one’s love life comes to an end once you marry or have kids or buy the house or whatever. They talked about how you should enjoy life while you can, because once the young ones come around you’ll be poor, tired, bored, busy, out of shape, stupid and lonely.
It was a sad prognosis, but one that appears to be extremely common among women in our country. They were talking about the staggering number of housewives who have become meth addicts, about the number of housewives who cheat on their husbands, about the number of wives who are diagnosed with depression.
What in the world is going on here? Why is marriage the cause of such destruction?
Before I got married, I spent a long time thinking about what it meant, what my vows that day were truly about. It didn’t really occur to me until a few weeks before the wedding how big a commitment it is – I mean, I knew it was important, but I don’t think it penetrated the core of my being.
When most of us talk about marriage and what it means, it tends to be pretty surface level. We talk about someone who we enjoy hanging out with. We talk about someone who is beautiful and intelligent. We talk about someone who has similar interests or ideas about the world. We talk about how “in love” we are.
I’ve written about this before, but the Greek language has four different words for love. The most common is the word eros, or erotic love. It’s that euphoric feeling we get when we most often talk of love. I’d be willing to bet it’s the only kind of love that most of us have ever felt. And sadly, it’s probably the only kind of love that exists between a great many couples who decide to take the plunge.
There’s another kind of love called agape – and it’s love from the soul. It’s the kind of love that characterizes Christ’s love for the church, and it’s the kind of love that he calls husbands and wives to share for each other.
It’s a love that is about much more than ‘good feelings.’ It isn’t about being ‘in love,’ about the things that so many of our movies and songs and poetry are preoccupied with. It is a lifelong devotion that surpasses all other things in this world. It is very literally considering the life of the other person as being more valuable than your own, and doing whatever it takes to ensure that their life is cherished and cared for and treated the way God would want it to be treated.
I honestly believe that there are many marriages out there that lack this love. They lack the fundamental foundation that defines a solid marriage – indeed, they lack the purpose for which marriage was created in the first place.
It’s the only explanation I have for why “life” is allowed to get in the way. I know all about the demands of work, and I do feel as though I can understand in some way the demands that having children and mortgages and the like can have on a couple.
But for a marriage that is based on agape, none of those things could ever upset that balance. They could certainly cause stress or concern and would likely involve discussions that are sometimes heated when trying to come up with solutions. But as powerful as a house payment or a child crying in the next room or a three week sales trip is, it is not strong enough to overthrow the power of agape.
Agape means that regardless of the situation, no matter how stressed out I am at work, I will still make it a priority to let my wife know that she is loved. I will go out of my way to make sure her needs are cared for – not just financially, but physically, mentally, emotionally, interpersonally, vocationally, spiritually.
Agape means that when there is a conflict, I will do whatever I can to make sure it gets resolved constructively and mutually. It means that I will not get bitter or angry or say something that I don’t mean. It means that I will happily compromise instead of digging in and holding my ground for the sake of holding my ground. And it means that if an impasse is reached, I will consider her needs above my own, make her needs my needs.
Agape is completely and utterly selfless. It is perpetually tuned into the needs of the other person. It is the surest way I know of to keep a relationship happy and healthy.
Some would say that they’ve never seen agape, and certainly have never experienced it. Some would even argue that it goes against our basest human desires and needs.
I agree – while in one sense it is something that requires a lot of work to acheive and maintain, in another sense it is something that we can never possess or feel by working at it. I believe it is a grace that is given to us, something given out of love from the One who understands agape in all its fullness. It’s not human, never was. It’s a gift.
Marriage isn’t about fuzzy feelings or being in love or about forming a family unit or about tax breaks. It’s about being given the immense privledge of trying to practice agape in our little ways. It’s about being able to see a small echo of what it’s like to love someone the way God loves us.
It’s about having agape, that fire of divine love, and doing everything in your power to keep that flame alive. Like a candle.
Or like a cheesy, contrived metaphor.Follow @intentionally