When I was young, inexperienced and foolish, I had a very cloudy concept of what love was. In my search for the meaning of love, I didn’t realize I had to first experience it in order to understand it.
My concept of love gradually clarified and grew as I worked my way through a succession of girl friends, until I finally met the young woman who would become my wife. My feelings for her were like none I had ever experienced before. The emotions were intense. I was totally distracted from other things going on around me.
Love felt great. I became totally immersed in the emotions. I smiled almost all the time. Friends at work would tease me when they spotted me smiling while doing tiresome tasks. “He’s thinking about her again,” they would groan. But is this all that love is meant to be, some euphoric roller coaster ride? What is true love? What is the truth about love?
Now that I’m older and full of wisdom (that’s a joke – I’m still foolish), with help from God I believe I finally know the truth about love. I no longer look upon love as a goal, but rather as a journey. And I see two main stages of this journey.
The love of my youth was the first stage of the journey. As much as I am reluctant to admit it, the love of my youth was selfish love. Even the love for my wife was initially selfish love. Yes, I was very considerate and did any kind thing I could possibly think of. I so wanted to make her happy. But in digging down deep inside my self, I now realize that my foundational motivation was all about me. Making my wife happy makes me feel good. My love for her was actually rather self-centered.
Yet on the journey of love I believe it’s a very short step from this selfish stage, to the next; the self-less stage. True love, love as God would have it, is other-centered love. How might a relationship look with this kind of true love?
Image a relationship where the motivation behind each person’s actions has to do exclusively with the welfare of the other person. The husbands’ only focus is on the wellbeing of his wife. And her only purpose is looking after his wellbeing. In this way, they take care of each other’s needs. I don’t need to be concerned about my self; my wife is doing that for me. Can you imaging any better relationship? This kind of love feeds on itself, gradually and continually growing, for each person is constantly giving, rather than taking.
Paul saw this and defined it quite clearly in his first letter to the Corinthians:
“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, 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. Love never fails.” (1 Corinthians 13:4-8 NIV)
This is other-centered love. This is a love rooted in humility. This is true love.
Looking at the last line in the verse above, the divorce rate would have us believe that love indeed fails. Yes, selfish love fails. Why do people get divorced? Because, “my needs are no longer being met by my spouse,” as someone once told me. Selfish love breads divorce.
But true love, the love that is focused on the other, that love that gives rather than takes; this never fails. God’s love never fails.