Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Is My Love Unconditional?

"[Love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things."  --1 Corinthians 13:7 (NASB)

Unconditional love. Such is what Paul is describing in 1 Corinthians 13. A love that is patient (long-suffering) and (after all vexation) is kind. A love that is not envious, boastful, arrogant, or rude. A love that looks out for the interests of others; love that does not become provoked, even with repetition; a love that refuses to keep an account of wrongs done. This love never rejoices in wrong, but always rejoices in that which is true. And at the end of it all? This love endures all, patiently. It is committed to trust regardless of how things appear to be. This love joyfully waits with expectancy, and has the courage to hold fast, no matter what life may bring. Love. Never. Fails.

I am pretty good at being polite and kind to strangers. When someone cuts me off in traffic, I hardly even notice. If a store clerk is being rude, I try to be extra nice and not make their day worse. Accidents like someone bumping into me, spilling hot coffee on my new dress, or bringing me the wrong meal at a restaurant hardly even phase me. But that is not unconditional love. That is called being polite and not making a scene.

But what happens at home when I am not in public and not required to keep up my reputation? Am I still kind? Well, that depends. Generally, yes. If my day is going alright and occurrences that frustrate me are not too common, I do a pretty good job of being kind and loving. If things are not going well and my hormones are out of whack, one small thing could push me over to sullenness, frustration, short responses, and rudeness.

My husband and I got into an argument about a week ago. Actually, it wasn't so much of an argument as I was frustrated with myself and was taking it out on him. Then, when he handled the situation differently than I wanted him to, I got more upset at him and he got upset at me for getting upset at him for no good reason. We were at work (cleaning an office building with no people around), and when we finished, I left and walked home without him. (Stormed home might be more appropriate.) About a block away, I texted him to let him know I was walking home and would not be riding home in the car with him. Yes, it was quite rude and entirely uncalled for, but I felt justified at the time. 

Most of the entire situation could have been avoided had I not been basing my love on his. When I was taking my frustration at myself out on him, I expected him to love me unconditionally. I was almost trying to bother him in order to prove that he loved me. And for the first hour or so, he actually was doing a great job, but I felt the need to push his patience, to make sure that he loved me unconditionally so that I could love him in the same way. I expected him to not let it provoke him, to be kind, to look out for my interests, and patiently try to figure out what was really going on. And after all that, I would be able to love him unconditionally, because I would not feel like I was the only one being patient or kind or thoughtful. But what kind of love is that? How is that unconditional?

I cannot base my love of my husband off of his love for me. Yes, he loves me. And most of the time, he makes sure that I know it without a doubt. But what if that is not always the case? What if he forgets? What if he changes his mind? These are continual fears in my mind that try to drag me down. What if? is such an awful question to ask yourself. Nevertheless, what if my fears were to come true? What if he were to mentally check out? Would I still love him? Or would my love be shallow?

Is my love unconditional? Far from it. Try as I may, I seem to be incapable of being patient (suffering long) and still being kind. I am easily provoked. Record of wrongs? I have one. I can be terribly selfish and self-centered. I am rude on a regular basis. When he acts in an unloving manner towards me I almost always respond in kind. This cannot go on. His unconditional love cannot be a prerequisite for mine. Regardless of what he says or what he does or his attitude, I must love. Jesus is my example. Even in the face of total rejection (so much worse than anything I have ever gone through), His love NEVER ends. 

The truth is, neither I nor my husband will ever be able to love one another unconditionally. We can grow together in that area, we can pray for grace, we can try our hardest, but in this life, we cannot love entirely unconditionally all of the time. But our inadequacies and failures from time to time must not deter us from trying. Because although I have not enough strength to love, the One who called me to this is faithful, and he is able to give me the love and the grace I need so that I can love my husband. Unconditionally. 

Saturday, January 19, 2013

On Overlooking Faults and Being a Brat

In the myriad of "before you get married" books that I have read, they all have at least one idea in common, well said by Benjamin Franklin: "Keep your eyes wide open before marriage, half shut afterwards." In other words, notice the faults of the person you're with and make sure you can live with them before you marry him; be logical, not infatuated; keep your eyes wide open. Aside from the insane amount of difficulty in carrying that out, I think it is pretty good advice (or that's my opinion, after my nearly twenty whole weeks of marriage). Nevertheless, I think it leaves out another key idea.

I tried my hardest to simply observe my (now husband) while, and even before, we were courting; to not shrug off any faults I saw in him; to really analyze whether they may develop into something worse once we were married, and if I could really live with them without going crazy; to keep my eyes wide open. By the time he proposed (after almost two years of observation and analyzation, plus prayer, on my part), I was pretty certain that his faults were manageable, and not just because I liked him a lot. What I did not notice, however, was that I had faults too. I overestimated my patience, grace, and ability to forgive, while underestimating my tendency towards being offended, being overly sensitive, and holding grudges. Essentially, I had taken account of his faults, but failed to notice my own.

For example, a major fault that I have is unwillingness to talk about anything that irritates me. If he does something that frustrates me, I try to pretend it did not bother me. Part of that is my aversion to conflict; part of it is that I hate making people feel bad; and another part of it is my fear of him ceasing to love me (more on that in a later post, but it is not at all related to how he has ever acted or reacted, simply my own fear, just so you know ;)

Not talking about things that frustrate me would not be such a big deal if I was able to just shrug it of and truly let it go. I am not, however, able to do this, and generally end up stewing about it and getting more and more upset at him. Eventually, I nearly forget what I was originally frustrated about and instead am fuming about things that he hasn't even done [yet, I say]. The silly thing about it is that it is usually something really small and insignificant that frustrates me originally.

For instance, the other day, he came home from work and before even coming inside, he shoveled the walkway. No problems yet, that was a really nice thing for him to do. But then he came inside, and after saying hello and a bit of small talk, he got out his iPad, sat in his chair and proceeded to read the news. Excuse me? I think with indignation. Can he not see that I have been working hard for the past couple hours cleaning the house? Is he not even going to notice that I cleaned the kitchen and the bathroom, made the bed, and did some laundry? He didn't even ask how my day was! And what kind of response was that when I hugged him when he got home? Does he not like when I hug him?

Eventually, as I continued to fume about his "apparent" lack of desire to be with me, converse with me or help me with chores I think, I don't do all of this stuff around the house so that he can sit and read the news. I do it so that he can spend time with me or relax when he gets home... Wait a minute, conviction from my own mouth. Is he not relaxing? Is that not one of the reasons I do this? Ouch...it appears that my reason for being upset with him even goes against my expectations.

So, do I now realize how silly it is that I am mad at him and repent? Nope. I will continue to be mad at him because he hurt my feelings. And when he asks why I am upset? (Apparent because of the scowl on my face and the clanging dishes in the sink.)  I will say, "Nothing," yet still expect him to apologize for hurting my feelings and never wanting to spend time with me and thinking that I am a horrible homemaker...wait...did he not spend all day with you yesterday and express how much he enjoys spending time with you? Well, yes. Did he ever say that you are a horrible homemaker or even imply it? Well, no. Am I now going to be reasonable and apologize for being a brat? Well, no. I have not finished pouting about nothing yet.

Looking back on that instance, my response to his reading the news and not greeting me how I wanted him to seems entirely ridiculous. I certainly cannot expect the man to read my mind. He is not God, after all. And deep down inside, even in those moments when I am mad at him, I know that I am being unreasonable and need to either say something or quit being a brat, but something in me absolutely refuses--my sinful nature, I suppose. And to surrender, to not be offended, or even to simply admit that he hurt my feelings or that I want to spend time with him, it just seems so weak. But honesty, grace, surrender, humility--those things are not weak. 

Did not Jesus himself, the very definition of strength, exemplify those qualities? Then why do I think that I am above them? "A slave is not greater than his master, nor is one who is sent greater than the one who sent him." [John 13:16] If Christ said this after doing the most humbling task a Jew could do--washing the feet of His disciples--how can I still be prideful and so easily offended? How can I still refuse to surrender, refuse to be humble, refuse to give grace? I have no idea, yet I do those things still. I can relate with Paul when he says, "For the good that I want, I do not do, but I practice the very evil that I do not want." [Romans 7:19] Who will set me free from this body of death? Only the power of God. 

Oh Lord, help me. I cannot even handle the small things on my own. May I look to You in all of my struggles, never giving up the fight against my flesh, even in things which seem insignificant. Be my strength when I am weak because I am trying to avoid weakness.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Good, but Not Easy

"How's married life?" they ask. It doesn't make a difference who, it seems that the majority of people ask me that since I got married in September. It is an obvious conversation starter, since I am newly married, and marriage does happen to be one of the most important events in one's life. "It's good!" I respond. Perhaps not the best response if you are trying to continue a conversation, but what else am I going to say? The conversation fizzles out quickly and with a, "say hi to your husband for me!" we part ways. As I have this conversation more and more times, however, I become dissatisfied with my response. Not necessarily for the lack of encouragement of conversation, but the lack of depth and meaning. It's simply too surface-y, and seems a bit misleading. After a while I feel like I'm saying: "Perfect! Married life is perfectly perfect! Both of us are always loving and kind, and even when we do have disagreements (which hardly ever happen) we always forgive and ask for forgiveness right away. We have spontaneously become fully sanctified, so marriage is a breeze." So untrue. Don't get me wrong, I think my husband is great and marriage often is really good. But "it's good!" leaves out so much of the story. 

Yes, marriage is good, but it is by no means easy. It is by no means perfect. And it is not always wonderful. Yet I think many times married couples mislead others (entirely unintentionally) by saying "it's good!" when people ask how they are. Almost everyone is willing to give out marriage advice, admit that their marriage is not perfect, and even tell others what worked for them to resolve an issue that they used to have, but so often, we lack people who will share what's going on right now. We need--I need--someone to tell me, not only that their marriage isn't perfect, but what they struggle with, what God is teaching them about that, or even the fact that they don't really feel like listening to what God is teaching them and would rather pout or get angry or continue in whatever it is that God is proding them to give up. 

Prior to getting married, I had no idea that marriage could be this hard. Sure, I knew that there would be difficult times, but I never expected to see so many faults in myself, so many fears, insecurities, frustrations, offenses, sins. Nor did I anticipate finding so many faults in my husband, or rather, I expected to find lots of faults, but the ones I found I was not expecting, and they bothered me more than I thought they would. 

I know a lot of newlyweds. Many of my friends have gotten married in the past couple years, and we have chatted some about marriage. I've asked the oh-so-common question, "How's married life?" and gotten the response, "It's good!" And for whatever reason, conversations about marriage don't go deeper than that. Maybe I haven't done an amazing job encouraging conversation, and to be certain, marriage is not an entirely public affair. Nevertheless, I am certain that many engaged and newly married couples would benefit from knowing that the marriages around them are not perfect, and that newlyweds are not beaming with happiness all the time as the stereotype, and even some people they know may lead them to believe.

That isn't to say that I think married couples should go around talking about how bad their marriage is, or every little disagreement that comes up, but I do think that it would benefit others to be a bit more open and honest about our struggles. But then, that is one of the reasons that I am writing this blog: to share honestly about our marriage, not only the good or what we have learned, but the struggles as well. Because EVERYONE struggles in marriage--even (maybe especially) newlyweds.

My new answer to that oh so common question is still not a great conversation continuer, but it is more honest. And even though it may not share specifics of life right now, it opens the door for conversation about it, if one chooses to ask, and clearly admits that our marriage is not "perfectly perfect," yet is good. How is married life, you ask? It's good, but not easy.

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