On our first date, my husband Wes and I went to a used book sale followed by shopping at all the thrift stores in uptown Waterloo, Ont. Probably not your typical first date, but it was perfect for us. Upon getting engaged, I looked forward to years of unmitigated bliss with the man of my dreams.
When reality set in, as it always does, I was tempted to believe I married the wrong person. Western culture teaches us that if marriage gets difficult, maybe you haven’t found true love. According to this myth, you need to keep searching for the person who effortlessly completes you – your soul mate.
Similarly, many of us have experienced the blush of excitement when attending (or starting) a new congregation. The worship moves us, we work and pray together and new people flock to join the church. When warts appear – elders fight, sermons get boring or the worship band plays songs we don’t like – we may be tempted to look for greener pastures.
Whether in marriage, friendship, family relationships or in a church community, true love, I believe, is made not found.
A bittersweet true love cake
If I were baking a true love cake, I would combine shared interests, good health, similar intelligence and fun times frosted with plenty of pleasure. But God has different ideas. He asks us to prepare a savoury meal of caring with bitter ingredients like incompatibility, mental or physical illness and suffering.
Fortunately, he doesn’t expect us to do it on our own. God fills us with his Holy Spirit and promises to give us strength to persevere.
Genuine caring is a messy, difficult affair. I’m talking about the broccoli and kale of love that leads to healthy long-term relationships, not the confection of infatuation portrayed in the media. That’s not to say we won’t have plenty of chocolate truffle moments, but they shouldn’t be our goal because they don’t nourish relationships like a steady diet of vegetables.
Our greatest opportunities to express tenderness often happen in the midst of conflict. When anger and frustration boil and everything in us would like to get revenge, yell or even hit the person in front of us, we need to listen for the Holy Spirit’s restraining whisper. I often pray that my mind would be slowed down enough during emotionally intense moments that I can clearly choose between love and “unlove.”
When we refuse to lash out, God enables us to speak words of life. “A gentle answer turns away wrath” (Proverbs 15:1). “Love covers over a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8). “Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Colossians 3:13). Mentally reviewing these truths during a conflict can reduce the heat and preserve relationships.
I may not always feel like I married my soul mate; however, Wes is helping me become more like Christ and together we’re making true love.
I also don’t attend the perfect church. That may be by God’s design – he often places us with people and in situations that help us to face our sinfulness.
In his mercy, the Lord may overload those who are rescuers with needy people until we learn to acknowledge him as the only Saviour and ourselves as servants with limits. When we’re selfish with our time, God might grant our desire for so much “me time” that we become lonely and realize we need others.
The Lord’s goal is to make us like Jesus, so he gives us opportunities to choose loving habits that will be integrated into the sinews of our beings. “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another” (Proverbs 27:17). Working through conflicts, forgiving mistakes and trying again forge a bond stronger than steel.
At times, we may contemplate divorce, ending a friendship, kicking out a teenager or never speaking to parents again. We figure life would be easier if “that person” were not part of it. And though it’s true there are circumstances where a separation, temporary or permanent, is necessary for the safety of all involved, most situations call for more love and prayer.
The one who demonstrated perfect love told us, “In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). And Jesus
According to the book of Luke, Jesus was dreading the cross so much that he sweat drops of blood. He wanted to walk away, to take the easier path. But after wrestling with his will and being strengthened by an angel, he said the words that made true love possible for all of us: “Not my will but yours be done.”
He chose love. And – with his help – we can too.
—Sandra Reimer is doing her best to make true love in Kitchener, Ont., with her husband, two kids, friends, family and church family at Glencairn MB Church.