You’ve Lost that Loving Feeling…

As a pastor, part of my job is to give encouragement and hope to those in relational conflict.  Even though God created us as relational beings, most relationships at some point face a trial or obstacle that seems insurmountable.

I see people struggle with their dating lives, an upcoming engagement or marriage; not to mention the many difficulties that crop up with family members, friends, co-workers and classmates.

But the most common phrase I’ve heard over the years, from people hurtling towards relational demise, is some form of this: “We have fallen out of love.”

Sounds like the familiar song from Top Gun, (remember Maverick and Goose belting it out to the blonde beauty at the bar?) “You’ve lost that loving feeling, now it’s gone, gone gone…wooa wooa woah.”

But is love a feeling to be won, accidentally found or somehow lost?

A recent survey of divorce lawyers in England revealed that “falling out of love” is the number one reason marriages fail.

I have a close friend who got married soon after college. We had many long discussions about why he wanted to get married, and the simple truth was he felt she “deserved” it. She had stuck with him through some crazy times in college and they had been physically intimate for years. He wasn’t sure he wanted to get married, but felt like it would be inappropriate to dump her after she had put up with so much and given him everything, so he asked for her hand.

They did okay for a while, but their relationship was difficult at best. I’m not sure he ever had the feelings he thought he should for the woman he married. Eventually, after settling down in a home in the suburbs and having a couple of kids, my friend called me and confessed. “I think I have just fallen out of love with her,” he declared. “I just don’t feel it anymore.”

After a long discussion, I realized he was getting attention from a number of other women in his workplace, which led him down the path of questioning if he even wanted his marriage anymore.

Now I understand how it works when it comes to music or food. A song we “love” and listen to every day eventually becomes annoying and we say we don’t love it anymore.

We fall in love with the new Memphis BBQ Six Dollar Burger from Carl’s Jr. for a week or two, but when we can’t pull hard enough to clasp our belt on the last hole and we can’t get the BBQ stain out of our favorite t-shirt, we fall out of love just as quickly returning to the Lo Cal Tofu Caesar Wrap at the local health food restaurant.

But when we talk about real love, relational love, the type of love described in the Bible, it seems to me love isn’t something we “fall” into or out of.

For all the Greek scholars out there, there are a few different words for the English word love. There is a word for familial love (storge), a word for friendship or brotherly love (phileo), and another word for passionate love (eros); but the word I want to discuss is the type of love Jesus modeled for us and called us to have for one another. That word is agape, or unconditional love.

Our ability to love this way is thus initiated by God. John talks about this love in 1 John 4. He compels us to “…love (agape) one another, for love (agape) comes from God.” He goes on to say that “We love because he (God) first loved us.”

If this is true, it seems as though we are incapable of having this “agape” love unless we have received it first from God. And what this passage communicates is that true love is not a feeling at all, it is a choice. And as God chose us, we get to choose to love one another.

So when a married couple comes to me and declares they have “fallen out of love” I generally respond with this truth: they have CHOSEN to stop loving each other, and fallen out of nothing.

As a pastor, one of my duties is to officiate weddings.  During the ceremony, I often refer to the words of Paul as he describes this type of love. 1 Corinthians 13 states: “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.”

When I read this passage, I recognize I don’t fall in or out of any of these things! The last time I was in the express lane at the grocery store and the person in front of me piled thirty-seven items on the conveyor belt with a corresponding coupon for each item, I and only I, decide how to react (or overreact).  I  can choose to churn with frustration or move towards building patience.

Patience is difficult and elusive – something we must choose if we are going to love like Jesus loved us. All of the things on this list are choices. I have never once fallen into patience, humility, generosity, kindness or honesty.

This proves to me that LOVE IS A CHOICE!

After long conversations with my friend, he recognized that if he was going to save his marriage, he was going to have to begin choosing love. And I am happy to report that he did. He stopped listening to the tempting voices of other women, recognizing they were only attracted to his status and income.

He did the math on a future separated from his wife and kids, a life of child support, visiting rights and being alone. He played out the movie in his head and shuddered at the ending he was moving towards.

Then he began to make the difficult and daily decisions of kindness, protection, humility and truthfulness. And you know what happened? His feelings followed!

It didn’t take long for the passion in his marriage to return. Before long, the marriage of my friend who CHOSE to love his wife became a marriage others wanted. It was full of fun and joy, intimacy and excitement.

Do you believe that love is a choice?

–Tim

Sources: http://www.guardian.co.uk/money/2011/aug/31/divorce-family-finances

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