This is the third part to this post. The other parts are available here:
Legitimate self-concern versus “unconditional love” in marriage Part 1
Legitimate self-concern versus “unconditional love” in marriage Part 2
The three parts of this article have now been compiled into a single free ebook, available in a wide variety of free ebook formats.
Because love is about genuinely offering a service to others it is not about forcing them to accept the gifts. Rather we have to accept that everyone has the right to reject our gifts, no matter how lovingly offered, even if we know that the person in question desperately needs this gift. This is how it is with salvation through Christ. I know that everyone on earth desperately needs this gift. I know that God painfully and expensively made this sacrifice for all of us. And yet I accept that everyone has the human right to choose to reject this gift, even though it might mean that they end up in hell forever (sorry to put it so bluntly!) A more gentle example: Perhaps you have spent the whole day preparing the most delicious meal on earth, deliberately choosing what you know your spouse loves to eat. And in walks in said spouse, looking absolutely famished. And yet, for some mysterious, inexplicable reason, they absolutely refuse to eat the meal over which you have lovingly slaved. I think that you would have a right to be upset. However what I am saying is that, instead of trying to force them to eat, or insisting that they should eat, we can take these feelings of being upset to God, and go to complain to Him. In the meantime we can endeavour to continue to love our spouse, putting such painful episodes behind us, doing our best to forget them. It may be that the other person is psychologically not in a place where they can accept your gifts. Love is not about forcing them to that right place, but about being patient with them and where they are at any particular time. (And perhaps using prayer as a time to express our impatience and manage it with God’s help and guidance)
Not going on about it!
This is another interesting part of this issue. Sometimes, when someone does something for another person, they just keep going on and on about it, so that the other person does not have a chance to forget. I don’t believe that this is the genuine spirit of giving. I believe that when you give something to someone, whether it is a tangible thing that you give or whether you do something for someone else, to genuinely be a gift, you have to give it to them and totally release it to them, “with no strings attached” so that you cannot quickly yank it back. I believe that you have to totally let it go, so that you cannot then try to use it to control them or remind them about all that you have done for them. I believe that this will cultivate a healthy atmosphere in marriage. Obviously we want our spouses to appreciate what we have done for them. However I think that if you don’t want to give the gift then don’t give it. It is better not to give the gift than to give it then expect someone to be forever beholden to you.
On the other hand, I believe that while we are to forget the gifts that we give to others, we should remember the gifts that other people give us, remember all the kind words that they have given us over time…
Love also accepts
I think that while we appreciate the rights of our spouse to refuse our gifts, we also have to remember that love is not only about giving our own gifts, but also about accepting the gifts that they also give. I have been in situations where I have invested lots of effort to show care or concern for someone, or a group of people, or to contribute constructively, and no-one acknowledges that effort, or they don’t accept the gift. They just discard it or dismiss it. This can be so painful. I can’t imagine how painful that might be in marriage. I believe that part of love is acknowledging the efforts of people around us, and accepting them, even if they are not precisely aligned with our own needs or requirements. So to go back to the example of the meal above, if my husband spent hours cooking a meal for me, then I hope I could honestly say that I would always eat it, even if he was the worst cook on earth. And I would make up my mind to find that meal delicious.
What if you said this to your spouse (please note, I wrote this myself. However, it is so embarrassing that I think I would melt before I said it to anyone! Unfortunately, marriage is often about embracing and pressing through those awkward moments!)
“No matter what you do, I am going to use every ounce of energy that I have to show you love and kindness. I am going to invest all my effort into pouring out love, tenderness and kindness upon your head to fully meet your needs. Even if you ignore me, even if you throw it all back at me, it is not going to make the slightest difference to me.” (In practice, I think that I would probably spice this up with a little humour to make it a little easier to say!)
And then once you have managed to spit that out, then I would go to God for the sake of praying to Him about fulfilling your own needs.
While yes, I think I would melt before saying this to anyone, I think that I would equally melt if someone said this to me, with tenderness and sincerity resonant in his voice and written all over his face. This is so embarrassing but I honestly think that I would burst into tears, cry-baby that I am! (I know that guys cry too – they just hide it more skilfully than we girls do!) And then if he were to go out of his way to actually behave this way…?
Being taken for granted
This is a fear that occurs to me even as I write this: well if I do all this, am I not simply encouraging my spouse to take me for granted? Well this is the way I am thinking about this: it is about doing my own part. In a way, whichever my spouse chooses to receive my behaviour and relate to it should not direct how I treat them. If they are not responding adequately, or they are using this as licence to take me for granted then I will go to God in prayer.
Should we think a little about that old chestnut – the question of who should go first? I think that technically, if there is a stalemate in the marriage and you have to seek external counselling, then it should be the husband who is advised to go first in taking a stance of unconditional love towards his wife. This is because he is the leader of the marriage, and that is what leaders do – they go first.
However, in an ideal scenario, both the husband and the wife should “go first” because each party’s behaviour is not at all dependent on the behaviour of the other spouse. Because of this, even though the wife is not the head of the marriage, if her husband is not in a good place to show leadership in this type of unconditional love, then it may well be that she goes first, and she continues to take the lead until God eventually turns the hard heart of her husband and brings him to a place where he can finally show leadership in this area.
Finally then, a humorous way of thinking about this: I think that if your spouse gives nothing to your marriage but you give your one hundred percent then at least you will have a 50% marriage. However if you withdraw your own effort because of your spouse’s inadequacy, then suddenly you will be left with a zero percent marriage, (although admittedly that might cause your spouse to sit up and start taking notice…)
1 Corinthians 13v7-8:
7 bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
8 Love never fails.
Sunrise picture by Amateur Pic at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net