I have been thinking a lot about unconditional love recently. After starting off here on this blog with a number of posts, on my other blog, Tosin’s Bible Blog, I have recently written a couple of posts which extend this topic beyond the realm of marriage to cover interactions with everyone, as Christians are commanded to show love to everyone in this way. Well since I am back here now on this blog which is all about marriage and relationships, I am once again going to tighten the focus to think exclusively of marriage!
This is the point of this post: in my thoughts about marriage I have largely been torn between two extremes. On one hand, I have dreamt many times of a marriage filled with love, tenderness, laughter and candid communication. On the other hand, I have looked around and seen other marriages, or listened carefully to what other people have said about their marriages; I have read articles and full length books, watched programmes, attended seminars. From these I have been able to deduce that marriage is very difficult, and in many cases fails to live up to the expectations of love, laughter and communication that the parties involved had equally cultivated before their marriages. This has filled me with great fear and trepidation about entering into this thing.
I have also succumbed many times to anger and resentment about what people expect of me as a woman in marriage, careless assumptions that people make that my only desire in life must be to get married – and the question of submission to my husband. I have sometimes smiled at myself, wondering how I can be angry at something that I am not actually experiencing. Well it is as if the woman I am now has been angry out of empathy for my own future state, just as I am angry at the plight of sweatshop labourers, as if I am imagining myself going through the same thing. I have been angry that things so lovely and desirable as hugs and tenderness and smiling eyes, have to come at such a high possible price. I have been angry at the possibility of being tricked into marrying someone because I think he is an angel, only to be desperately saddened to discover that he is the very opposite. I have felt resentful at the thought of having to give up my precious freedom only to possibly receive less than nothing in return. I have felt resentful at the possibility that my husband will turn from being considerate and caring before marriage, to loudly and insistently demanding submission from me within it, as many Christians preach that men are entitled to demand from their wives. Yes, Christian wives are to submit to our husbands. However this is to go in tandem with servant leadership from Christian husbands. Surprise surprise, when the person preaching is a man, there is (in my experience) rarely as much emphasis given to the husband’s responsibility of servant leadership as to the wife’s role of unconditional submission.
Anyway, while this has been the case, I think that I am now in the place where hope, trust and faith have conclusively defeated these negative things, to the point where I can now get married, and be confident that by the grace of God, and by His empowerment, I can put away my fears, and instead expect excellence.
This is how this all works together in my mind: Firstly I can trust that God will give me the right guy. This is because of His guidance in my prayers and through my prayers and my trust about the way that He will work in my life. There have been many times that I have seen some guy, and started praying fervently that God would enable a relationship between him and me. Many times I have been disappointed when a relationship and eventually marriage have failed to materialise. Now though, I realise that God was probably working through those very prayers to prevent inappropriate unions that may have shortchanged both parties. This is the case even though I was praying for the opposite thing to happen to the way God eventually worked. I believe now that when we pray about a situation, even when we are asking for a definite thing, then in a way through our prayers we authorise God to work in the situation to bring about the best situation, even when that is totally different from what we are actually requesting of Him. Who knows, if I had not prayed as hard as I did about these various guys, I might actually have found myself married to one of them by now! We might both even be happy, ecstatic in our marriage, and in our choice of one another. However, what I might not have realised is that God might have had something even better in store, that might stretch both of us to greater heights, deeper pursuit of Him, more fervent expectation of His power at work in our individual lives, in our marriage, and in the world around us. That might have been with a different partner altogether, or it might still be with the same partner, but at a later time when both of us may have developed further.
So then, when I have prayed all the prayer in the world, and God makes it happen, and it is clear to both of us that this is God working, and the more we pray about it, the more clear it becomes, and the better the interaction between us works, then I can go ahead and marry this guy, and be sure that God has smiled His favour upon our union.
This is the way that unconditional love might work before the marriage: I have recently written a post on my Bible blog where it occurred to me that “unconditional concern” might be a better way to think about this concept rather than “unconditional love”. This might be even more true when dealing with a potential relationship, when you are technically not yet in a place to proactively show actual love to one another, when there is the difficulty about what “love” actually means in that place, and all the possible awkwardness that could ensue… So then this could be the difference between thinking about love, and thinking about concern: concern might be about responding to issues that actually happen in the other person’s life, while “love” to me implies going beyond this to also think up ways to be kind and generous that are not actually related to any particular needs in their life. This kind of spontaneity is essential within marriage itself, I believe. However before marriage then it can create discomfort! I am not going to talk about how far I might have experienced this myself! So if we are talking about concern, then you can demonstrate this to everyone, not just potential spouses, within appropriate boundaries, while praying fervently, perhaps for particular individuals, and waiting to see the one that will eventually emerge from the smoke. Sometimes it might not be that God will specifically identify a particular spouse, and you find yourself in the position of having to choose yourself between equally suitable potential mates. As long as the choice was saturated in honest prayer, I would feel comfortable to go ahead and make that choice!
This is how unconditional love might look like within marriage itself:
Within the actual relationship and specifically within marriage, I think that you are now in the place where you can move beyond reactive concern to proactive and spontaneous demonstrations of love. This does not mean that you simply ditch concern, of course. Rather that to continued unconditional concern you can now add more proactive and spontaneous gestures.
Altogether, this is a very positive and optimistic way of looking at marriage. This is how this might defeat fears about marriage: Thinking ahead to marriage, from where I am now, I can trust that with abundant prayer, my marriage will only happen if that particular marriage has been authorised by God. So when I enter into that marriage and doubts etc arise I can always be sure that this is where God wants me to be.
Just because God has allowed a marriage, even one preceded with much honest and fervent prayer, that does not always mean that things will be perfect. In fact, as Christians who are committed to living out the will of God in every way, we can be sure that the devil will keep thinking of ways to attack us individually and within our marriage, bringing various lurid temptations before us, sowing seeds of anger, animosity and distrust. Because of this, as our marriage was birthed in fervent prayer, it has to be maintained by fervent prayer. However, if I am committed to unconditional love, and I am committed to passionate pursuit of God and His ways through prayer, then I can trust always that even in the most difficult times, God is doing something excellent through this marriage, and I can afford to persevere, and I can afford to keep trusting Him, and I can afford to keep pouring out unconditional love to my husband, no matter how little he may sometimes appear to deserve it! 😉
1 Peter 1v22:
22 Since you have purified your souls in obeying the truth through the Spirit[a] in sincere love of the brethren, love one another fervently with a pure heart,
Penguin image by Karen Arnold at http://www.publicdomainpictures.net
Apparently, most penguins mate for life!