If you’ve ever read the part in The Screwtape Letters where he picks on someone who disdains everything that is popular, just because it’s popular….um, yeah, that’d be me, but I really care about what is here, so in spite of the fact that it’s almost February 14th I am posting this anyway.
Have you heard about the Five Love Languages? (That’s mostly a joke, by the way, but just in case you somehow have never heard of this 20 year old bestseller, click the link!)
It is totally possible that this book has single-handedly saved hundreds of marriages (according to the reviews). It’s a fantastic concept, and terribly practical – that each of us has a particular way in which we receive love best. According to the author, people can feel loved when lavished with acts of service, words of affirmation, gifts, are physically touched, or spend quality time with their spouse. Armed with the knowledge of what you and your spouse’s love language is you each try to “fill the love-tank” every day in a way the other can appreciate. Do this, and you will live happily ever after. Oh so easy.
If only our selfishness didn’t get in the way.
I’m picking on the 5 Love Languages idea, but really most marriage books and advice fail to effect lasting change. At least they have failed me.
While knowing Carl’s Love Language (aka, knowing what he really appreciates) is helpful, when I care enough, knowing my own has proven dangerous. There is something in the knowing that “Acts of Service” is my love language that has made me feel ENTITLED to being loved this way, especially if I am intentionally showing my love for Carl in the way he appreciates. Eventually our relationship becomes little more than a mutual exchange, a trade-off of love where I could say “you take out the garbage, and I’ll give you praise – I’ll scratch your back, you scratch mine – and we’ll be happy.” Is this really all there is to a happy marriage?
But even if we could, theoretically, come to some sort of negotiated peace, it wouldn’t ever really be enough. Because enough is never enough. For example, I might think that if he just cleaned the kitchen three times a week I would be happy – but I know that as soon as I got used to that I would want more. I always want more. The ugly sin of self-centered ingratitude will grow in me again, and I will never be satisfied – and neither will he.
And what if I am showing more love in his language than he is reciprocating back? Well then bitterness starts to creep in and we are really on a slippery slope.
There has to be a better way.
If we are each in this relationship for our own good, it is never going to work. We might stay together by sheer determination, but we will never be truly happy.
Should I refuse the gifts of love that don’t fill up my love reservoir as effectively – or can I humbly and graciously accept Carl’s love in any form? More than that, can I sacrificially show love even when I’m not feeling loved? There are so many verses I could pull from:
Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends. – John 15:13
Do nothing out of selfish ambition …rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others. – Phil. 2:3-4
I hesitate to pull this verse out of context (read the whole chapter here), because it is planted in the middle of the gospel. If we just try harder to be less selfish and put our spouses first we are doomed to fail. Our efforts must be rooted in the example of Christ, the transforming power of his love, and the empowering of the Holy Spirit.
I love what Tim Keller writes in The Meaning of Marriage
“The reason that marriage is so painful and yet so wonderful is because it is a reflection of the gospel, which is painful and wonderful at once. The gospel is this: we are more sinful and flawed in ourselves than we ever dared believe, yet at the very same time we are more loved and accepted in Jesus Christ that we ever dared hope. This is the only kind of relationship that will really transform us. …the gospel can fill our hearts with God’s love so that you can handle it when your spouse fails to love you as he or she should.”
The reason that speaking each other’s love language will never fully satisfy is because we were made for unconditional love. Giving and receiving love from our spouse alone will always be somewhat conditional – there will always be in the back of our minds some kind of scorecard. We will feel either that the other is in our debt, or that we owe them – and that conditionality taints our happiness, so that the best we can hope for is just a mutual complacency.
The better way is not to ultimately look to my spouse to fill my love needs at all – rather my perspective changes completely. When I am not feeling loved, I can look to Christ who loves me with a never-failing love to fulfill me. When I am feeling loved by Carl, I can thank God for showing his love for me through my husband. Furthermore, in my own small way, I can show Carl how much God loves him by loving him. Our love languages, then, become a way in which we seek to reveal God’s love to each other instead of a way to earn brownie points.
True love, must be rooted in the only True Love, God’s love – then we lay down our lives for one another, because Christ laid down his life for us. …and then we find true marriage.
I would love to write so much more, but instead I’ll tell you to read Time Keller’s book The Meaning of Marriage. It is an eye-opening exploration of Ephesians 5. Get it. It’s worth every penny.