If, like many of us, you were raised on Disney movies, you probably imagined that falling in love would look something like this: You’d be walking somewhere, minding your own business (frolicking in the forest with animal friends, maybe), when you’d encounter a captivating stranger, lock eyes, and know that was the person you were meant to be with for life.
Love is a Choice
Years ago, over coffee with a friend, I argued that love was like that—a feeling, something that happened to you. It was a state of euphoria beyond your control. If you felt it, you’d commit to a relationship. If you fell out of love, you’d break up.
My friend argued that love was a choice. If I’m committed to someone, he said, I choose to love her.
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I thought that was ridiculous. How could you choose to love someone for whom you didn’t feel love? Moreover, how could you decide to commit to someone and trust that you would love them for the rest of your life?
Love Is Imitating Christ
Even as adults, sometimes a small, secret part of us still looks for the fairy tale. While—hopefully—no one expects a prince to tumble out of the forest, it’s a common misconception that the person we commit to will fulfill all of our needs. We feel that once we find love, we’ll be happy, and if that doesn’t reflect the reality of the relationship, we’re likely to conclude we’ve failed and give up.
Responsibility for someone else’s happiness is an enormous burden for any fallible human. The good news is that we’re not actually called to pursue happiness. We’re meant to imitate Christ.
In the original Greek, the New Testament uses three primary forms of the word love. Storge is a familial bond, like the connection between a parent and child. Philia describes brotherhood, the love of a dear friend. Eros refers to passion, and though the term doesn’t officially appear in the New Testament, the Song of Solomon and other books refer to this type of romantic love.
But it’s agape that is the highest form of love. Agape is a true love of neighbor, unconditional and self-sacrificing. It means loving unselfishly without expecting something in return.
Agape is how God loves us. He loves completely and unconditionally, whether or not we love Him back. He calls to us when our faith grows complacent. He won’t abandon us, no matter how great our sins. He gives us what we need even when we haven’t earned it.
Love is an Action
The agape love of Christ is active: Feeding the hungry and caring for the sick. Donating food to a homeless shelter or sponsoring a child in a poverty-stricken country. Volunteering at a charity event. Offering someone a ride or buying them a meal. And yes, choosing each day to love your spouse in an active way, even if you’re not feeling particularly loving.
When we love the way Jesus did, we sacrifice our own comfort to make others’ lives better. This does not apply to toxic or unsafe relationships, mind you. But in equal relationships of mutual respect, our love must be an active choice of self-sacrifice.
Love is Commitment
In the years since that conversation over coffee, I’ve learned my friend was right. You can commit to someone forever because real, Christian love is not based on emotion. Eros, the fluttery euphoria of that early connection, is wonderful and amazing, but it’s fleeting. A lifelong partnership doesn’t stand a chance if it relies on those feelings alone.
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Today, as a wife and mother, I understand more deeply what it meant on our wedding day when we stood before God and promised to always show up for each other, no matter what storms came. For our marriage to work, we have to wake up every day and choose to commit to each other all over again. To love unselfishly, as God loves His church.
And when we wake up every day and choose to love God’s way, when we commit to doing His will even when we don’t feel loving, that’s when the fairy tale becomes a reality, because we’re no longer wandering in the forest. We’re living life on the rock.