Marriage images the kingdom – it was called good by God before sin was in the world. Jesus calls himself the bridegroom and the Church his bride. The scriptures return to the theme of marriage throughout, ultimately climaxing at the wedding supper of the Lamb, the day of restoration we all long for. Of course this reminds us just how great the Father’s love is for us, but it also reminds us that the love between a husband and a wife is a beautiful thing.
And the odds are good that you’ve thought a bit about that kind of love lately – as the stores fill with chocolate and pink hearts and the diamond ads attack you from every screen. It’s a fitting time to reflect on what love really looks like. It’s so easy to define love by how we think it looks – a passionate romance, a great sacrifice made for the sake of another, a lifetime commitment till death do us part. These things are, of course, pictures of true love. But actually, they are the bird’s-eve-view. If we only knew New York City by its shape on a map, we would never know if we were actually in it. The same is true of how we see love.
What does marital love look like from the ground, or in the day to day interaction? In the hours, minutes, or even seconds? Paul reminds us of the character of love in the oft-quoted 1 Corinthians 13.
“Love is patient and kind, It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”
I’ve heard this passage so much that it’s easy to only remember it as a list of lovely abstract ideas about love, rather than a standard and a call to obedience. “Always perseveres” sounds so lovely, but persevering in marriage doesn’t always feel all that great.
Here are a few examples of what this kind of love might look like in your everyday life.
Love is patient
Love does not complain when eating dinner late or when the laundry isn’t done.
Love is kind
Love finds little ways to say “you’re doing a great job” when some encouragement is needed.
It does not envy
Love doesn’t get jealous or mad when your spouse has a good day at work and you haven’t even had time to shower because the kids have been a terror.
It does not boast
Love picks up the slack when your spouse has a hard day, and doesn’t ask for recognition or reward.
It is not proud
Love never compares or competes.
It does not dishonor others
Love doesn’t gossip. It doesn’t make itself feel better by looking down on other marriages.
It is not self-seeking
Love gets up at night when the baby is crying, even if it’s not “your turn.”
It is not easily angered
Love let’s it go when you’re both late getting out the door because your spouse slept in too late.
It keeps no record of wrongs
Love forgives – love can discuss present problems without dragging in past ones.
A lot of the love stories that our culture celebrates gloss over the every day. Have you ever noticed that in stories like “The Notebook,” the crazy beginning and the sweet end of the love story are all that make it in the movie? Somehow the raising kids, the cooking dinner, the Monday mornings, and the dirty dishes all get left out. But it’s in these ordinary rhythms that love is nurtured and grown, that virtue is hammered out in our hearts.
Those beautiful bird’s-eye-view pictures of love we long for are forged in the days. The scriptures give us the ultimate bird’s-eye-view of love – of a Bridegroom who laid down his life for his bride, and will come for her in glory and victory to make the world right. We should always keep that view in mind. It is precisely that glorious picture that propels us on to live well each day at a time. This is exactly the lesson that many in the early church were learning through the apostles letters – so much more than an abstract picture of love, Paul is challenging the Corinthians to change how they live. “If I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing.”
As we approach Valentine’s Day, let’s keep in mind another season that’s observed this time of year – Lent. The beginning of Lent signifies a time of sacrifice and anticipation, reminding us to long for the day to come when Christ returns for the church, his bride. Let us live well each day, loving those we’ve been given to love, and hoping in the return of the bridegroom.