A Tested Love
As Valentine's Day came and went this year God kept reminding me of an interaction I had some years back. I was working as a hostess when an older couple came into the restaurant. I noticed that she was having some trouble walking so I seated them near the front. He lead her slowly, gently holding on to her arm as they went. He walked at her pace and helped her sit first. He cared for her needs before he paid any attention to his own. It was clear that he adored her but she seemed a million miles off. Then about halfway through their meal she panicked and started screaming.
What I didn't know then is that they were once regulars, always coming in together. Then she was diagnosed with Alzheimer's. The day that they came in, he had decided that he wanted to bring her there one last time. It was a heart-wrenching sight. Helplessness was written all over his face and I desperately wanted to do something. So I walked over to their booth and asked if I could pray with them. I don't fully remember what I said except that when I opened my eyes there were tears in his.
Before he left that day he approached me and asked if he could give me a hug, which of course I happily accepted. Then he said something so profound to me that I still remember it to this day. He said, “The true test of love is when you love someone that cannot love you back.” I was so moved by his statement that it was now my turn to fight back tears.
See the thing that he couldn't have possibly known was how badly I needed to hear that right then. While my situation was vastly different from his I knew what it was like to be holding desperately on to someone who could not possibly hold me back. My husband at that time was in the grips of severe drug addiction and I was fighting tooth and nail for what remained of our marriage. Now I know that Alzheimer's and drug addiction are not comparable on any level except for one: they both are without control. I loved a man who was incapable of loving me back, not properly, not in any way that would make for a good rom-com or novel, there were no butterflies or batted eyes. He was selfish and lost and destroying everything that held value and yet I was called to love him anyway. That day, through that beautiful man, I was reminded of the truth, I was called to love him even if he couldn't love me back.
“If you love only those who love you, what reward is there for that? Even corrupt tax collectors do that much”
- Matthew 5:46 NLT
I learned countless lessons in the years of difficulty in our marriage, but I believe that this one was one of the biggest. Love is a choice, not some force of nature. We've been so brainwashed by media and culture to believe that love is a feeling that we have little power over—that we are helpless to fall in and out of it as circumstances change. That, my friends, is not love. That is self-serving and single-minded, that is “I love you...do you love me?” Real love is not a response to how you make me feel or what you do for me. Real love, agape love, has nothing to do with me at all. That was the hardest lesson to learn.
I came into this marriage starry-eyed and bushy-tailed, believing all of the Hollywood fairy tales. You know the type, that “you complete me” nonsense. I fell for it all hook, line, and sinker. But when push came to shove and the addiction started to rear its ugly head, I realized that I was not in fact completed. The disappointment and disillusionment started to settle in and there I was, a failure again—holding on to another broken thing that I couldn’t possibly fix.
Time went on and God started to get a hold of my heart and I started to pray. I would pray things like, “God come and fix this because I don't know how much longer I can take it,” or “God you're going to have to do something because I'm sick and tired of hurting,” or “God intervene here because I'm tired of this cycle.” It was all about me, the impact on my life, and the hurt that I was feeling. I wasn't praying for him, I was praying for me. Jesus told us to pray for those who persecute us, not for ourselves in persecution (Mat 5:44). I had it all wrong and yet I felt vindicated in my actions. I was a good wife. I was praying. Why wasn't there breakthrough?
I can't say that the profound statement from my newfound friend was the catalyst of change in my marriage (though it would be a totally epic story if it was) but it was a life preserver that I held on to as Jesus guided me through that difficult season. Over the years there were many times that God delivered me beautiful truths, though at the time many of them were gift wrapped in conviction that needed to be accepted before the beauty could be manifest. Conviction isn't something to run from, it is the hand of a loving Father guiding and molding us into what we've been created to be.
It's a basic human need to love and to be loved. We love because He first loved us, that takes care of the “be loved” bit, so it's our job to now love. The problem is that we often look to the object of our love as the one that is to also fulfill our need for it. This, beloved, is not the way that God intended. We love from the fullness of His love in us, not as a response to the love of others. Jesus told his disciples that the world would know that they belonged to Him because of the way they loved (Jhn 13:35), not the people they raised from the dead or the demons that they cast out! This is our highest priority: to love as God does!
I believe we are all familiar with 1 Corinthians 13, the Love Chapter. This is what our love is supposed to look like. This is what I am supposed to look like: patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not proud, not dishonoring, not self-seeking, not easily angered, keeping no record of wrongs, not delighting in evil but rejoicing in the truth, always protecting, always trusting, always hoping, always persevering. That kind of love never fails! Never.
But how? How can we possibly live that way? Romans 5:5 tells us that “the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.” I don't have to do it on my own. In fact, I can't do it on my own. But through the power of the Holy Spirit, I can love with the love that He has poured out into me. No matter the circumstance, no matter the hardship, no matter the disappointment. We must love!
“There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.”
-John 15:13 NLT
Maybe I’m the only one but sometimes I wonder how I would react in some life and death situation. Like if there was a live grenade, would I jump on it to protect someone else? I hope so. That’s normally where my mind goes when I read this scripture. But that’s not what Jesus is talking about here, not exactly. I hope that I would put myself in harm's way for another, but am I willing to allow my feelings to get hurt in pursuit of the soul of another? Am I willing to suffer for doing right? Do I lay down my comfort, my expectations, my feelings in the name of sacrificial love? Do you?
I get that this is a tall order. Trust me when I say that I must first feel this, sit with it, in order to write it to you. So I have one more verse to leave you with before I go. 1 Peter 2:21, 23 says, “God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left His case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly.” As always, Christ is our example and God is our defender. It’s not for you to figure it out. Leave it in His hands just like Jesus did. He is a good Shepherd and the Guardian of your soul.
If I've said it once, I've said it a million times, just because it's simple does not mean that it is easy. Simply love. Even when your heart is being ripped out from inside of you. Simply love. Even when your world is falling apart. Simply love. Even when you've been betrayed. Simply love. Even when it is the hardest thing to do. Simply love and leave the rest up to Him.
Written by Amanda Strauser