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CAPTURING THE BIRD OF PARADISE
On a recent television program a handsome young man was talking to an older man about whether or not he should get married. After a number of comments concerning the young lady in question, the older man finally asked, "Do you love her?" The young man replied, "Oh yes! I'm madly in love with her." "Then by all means marry her," said the older man. Most people conceive of love as a feeling that is like a mysterious bird of paradise. We do not know where it comes from, why it comes to some, or why it leaves others. But somehow this mysterious bird flaps its wings, floats down on two people, and they are "in love." What a glorious, marvelous experience! When two people "fall in love," they often get married. Then two years later, they wake up one morning and decide the bird has flown away and taken paradise with it. No one knows why, but the bird has gone; and the once-happy couple has "fallen out of love." So they get divorced and wander through life, waiting and hoping the mysterious bird will descend from the skies and once again bring them a touch of paradise. This secular view of marriage has created devastating consequences. Statistics indicate that one out of two marriages in America ends in divorce. That means the chances of remaining in paradise are only fifty-fifty -- very discouraging odds for any venture, much less one that can leave permanent scars and a long trail of heartache. I read in a magazine about a Hollywood actress who was getting married because she was in love. This time she believed it was going to work because she was really in love. The other three times she thought she was in love, but she had been wrong. This time she was sure. This flaky view of romantic love has penetrated the church to an alarming degree, and the result is an increasing number of divorces among Christians. I have counseled young couples who, before they were married, boldly professed their love and made assertions of an undying concern for one another. After two years of marriage, I have seen them axing one another to death in a divorce court. What happened to the undying love that was going to last until the stars burned out and the mountains fell into the sea?
Most people would say that love and romance are the foundation of any successful marriage. This is a beautiful sentiment, but it is not true. In fact, many marital problems result from an erroneous concept of what love is. Dr. John W. Drakeford, in his book, How to Keep A Good Thing Going, describes the characteristics of romantic love He says that being in love is preeminently an experience of the emotions that causes irrational behavior and often immobilizes its victims. No Wonder so many marriages fail. Some of the confusion about love comes from the different ways the word is used in the English language. "I love my new Honda." "I love baseball." "I love your hairdo." "I love chocolate." Remember the song that says, "What the world needs now is love, sweet love"? The world quickly adopted the songwriter's ideas, and now we have more "free love" than ever before -- or free sex, as it should be called. Many people use the word love when they really mean lust or sex. The word "love" is also used to describe the feeling of infatuation or what we call "puppy love" -- so named because it lasts about as long as a puppy remains a puppy. Unfortunately, many couples get married on the basis of infatuation and then wonder why their love doesn't last until the puppy is grown. "Infatuation" comes from the Latin word infatuare, whose root meaning also forms the English word foolish. Anyone who builds a relationship, especially their marriage, on infatuation is foolish indeed. When I was a teenager, I often sang these words from a popular song: "Will I ever find the girl on my mind, the one who is my ideal? Or will I pass her by and never even know that she was my ideal?" Today, I'm wise enough to know that is a bunch of hogwash! Many single people delude themselves into thinking that if they find that one soulmate -- Mr. or Miss Right -- then they will experience the pitter-patter in their heart, hear the flip-flap of the bird of paradise, and sail off into the sunset. Reality, however, portrays a different scenario. When one spouse or the other loses the feeling of love, the bird falls like a dead owl, and someone is left out on a limb all alone.
Learning to Love
This feeling that people call love is not what the Bible means by love at all. According to Scripture, love is not a feeling; love is a way of acting. True love, as God's Word tells us, is a way of treating other people. Notice in the following Scripture passage that there is not one tingle of emotion-not even a palpitation! 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 -- I Corinthians 13:4-7, NIV When a young man and woman are dating, they are extremely patient and kind with one another. They never say anything rude or demand their own way. Angry words and actions are seldom exhibited. They defend each other and trust one another explicitly. What happens, then, when these same two people get married? Why do their actions change? For thousands of years (and in some eastern countries today), the majority of marriages were arranged by parents. The young people involved sometimes never saw each other until their wedding day. A young lady from India was to be married to a young man whom she had never met. One day she received a letter from her fiancé in which he tried to begin a relationship and get acquainted prior to the wedding. The young woman, however, returned the letter unopened, saying she believed love should be developed after marriage and not before. In explaining her view, this young Indian woman said, "When we are born, we cannot choose who will be our mother and father, or our brothers and sisters. Yet we learn to live with them and to love them. So it is with our husband or wife." In societies where this philosophy is accepted, divorce is almost nonexistent. I am not suggesting we go back to the practice of arranged marriages, but I am saying that romantic love has little to do with a successful marriage relationship. If two complete strangers meet and treat one another according to I Corinthians 13, after a while the feeling of love will also come. On the other hand, no matter how crazy head-over-heels in love you have fallen with someone, if he or she violates the love principles in God's Word, romantic love will fly out the window -- and so will the feeling. Love, according to the Bible's definition, involves two aspects: doing and enduring. We can understand this better by looking at Jesus Christ. The life of Christ is divided by theologians into two parts: His active obedience and His passive obedience. The active obedience of Jesus was everything He did. Jesus went about doing good. He healed the sick; He fed the hungry; He forgave the sinner; He comforted the mourner. Christ's passive obedience (from which we get the word passion) involves the things He endured: mockery, insults betrayal, injustice, emotional turmoil, sorrow, physical pain separation from His heavenly Father. Jesus Christ was the perfect embodiment of love as it is defined in I Corinthians thirteen. Doing good and enduring evil-that is what love is all about.
A Rose by Any Other Name
Some time ago a lady came to me and said, "I don't love my husband anymore, and I haven't loved him for a long time. There is no love in our home. I think we should get a divorce." "I am sorry to hear that," I replied. "Tell me about it. Did you ever love him?" "Oh yes. When I married him, I loved him very much. He was so kind and considerate. But after we were married, he became indifferent toward me. Then he started treating me badly and saying nasty things to me, until I lost all love for him." She paused a moment and then continued, "You know, some years ago I was very sick and had an operation. While I was in the hospital, my husband brought me flowers and candy, sat on the bed, held my hand, and read to me. It's the strangest thing, but I began to love him again at that time." "Oh, really?" I asked. "Yes, but it didn't last. After I got out of the hospital, it wasn't long before he was ignoring me again."