Most of us are really confused about what real love looks like. And Valentines Day is part of the problem.
So is Shakespeare. His sonnets didn’t help. Neither did the start-crossed lovers, Romeo and Juliet. Hallmark and Hollywood are in on the conspiracy. And don’t even start with how pop songs have warped our understanding about love.
So here we are, intelligent men and women living in the 21st century world of Alexa and iPads, with self driving cars on the horizon, and we still think real love is that mysterious uncontrollable feeling that comes over us when Cupid draws back his bow and lets his arrow go…
I’ve experienced those moments of attraction and infatuation. Those goose bumps and shivers. Who doesn’t love how romantic attraction feels?
It happened for me the first time I ever spoke to Mary Ann. It was on February 28, 1975. We were both in college and were away with a group of our classmates for a weekend retreat. I was waiting in line for dinner and having a conversation with the young woman ahead of me.
“What year are you?” she asked me.
“I’m a freshman.”
“You’re just a freshman?” she asked, surprised.
I tried not to smile, but I was clearly pleased. “Yeah,” I answered. And then I went fishing. “What year did you think I was?”
“I thought you were a junior or a senior,” she said.
Right there I decided this was going to be a good weekend.
That’s when the girl behind me in line, wearing a red and white Arkansas Razorbacks tee shirt spoke up. “You’re a freshman, huh?”
“Yes,” I responded. And I went fishing again. “What did you think?”
She smiled her crooked little smile and said slowly, with a dose of spunk “Maybe a sophomore. Maybe.”
I looked at that smile and the shivers came.
And the conversation that began on that Friday evening when Mary Ann smiled her crooked smile at me has been going on now for almost 44 years.
Because of Hallmark and Jane Austen and Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan and the rest, I thought the feeling I had that night was the first flicker of love. I thought that love was an emotion. And I liked the feeling.
In fact, I liked it so much that just before Christmas of 1978, I asked Mary Ann if she would marry me.
Why? Because most of the time, I liked the feeling I had when I was with her. So I married her so I could have that feeling on a regular basis.
Robert Palmer understood what I was feeling. I was addicted to love. Well, not love really. I was addicted to how I felt when someone treated me like I was special. Or laughed at my jokes. Or admired me.
In other words, I think I may have been more in love with how Mary Ann made me feel than I was with her.
Pretty sad to admit, right? Also pretty typical I think.
I think what most of us call love is the grand bargain we make with other people. It’s the “let’s make a deal” kind of love that says “I’m in as long as you’re holding up your end of the relationship calculus. But if I ever feel like I’m giving a whole lot more than I’m getting out of this arrangement, we may have to renegotiate.”
That’s not love. At least not as God defines it. “This is love,” the Apostle John wrote. “Not that we love God but that He loved us and sent His Son as the propitiation for our sins.” Notice the absence of feelings or emotions. And notice the one sided nature of the transaction.
The Apostle Paul puts it this way. “God demonstrates His love for us in this. While we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” How many of us as husbands and wives can say that we regularly demonstrate our love for our spouses by sacrificing for their benefit while they are hostile toward us or opposing us?
Finally, Jesus said “Greater love has no man than this – that he lays down his life for his friends.” In Jesus’ calculus, love = self-sacrifice. Is that how you define love.
A lot of married couples get to a difficult spot in their marriage and they think to themselves “this isn’t what I signed up for.” Actually, persevering through trials, sacrificing yourself and remaining committed is exactly what you signed up for when you promised to love, honor and cherish one another. For better or worse.
So in fact it’s appropriate that we enter the season of Lent, a season where we practice simple acts of self denial that are designed to remind us of the greatest act of self denial ever – the death of Jesus for us – on the same day as we focus on romantic love. Because if romantic love is going to be experienced over a lifetime, it’s going to have to be built on a foundation of real love. A foundation of commitment and self sacrifice.
Here’s hoping you enjoy some moments of warm affection on this Valentines Day 2018. And here’s hoping it’s anchored to a foundation of steadfast, immovable love for one another.
Kids Small Group meets this Thursday, February 15 from 5:45 to 8:15.
If you have any questions about KSG, send an email to Matt Gurney at firstname.lastname@example.org.
And a heads up this week about Sunday, March 18. That morning, we have some special friends coming to lead the music portion of our worship service. We’ll be welcoming the Spencer Family from Kansas to Redeemer. You can learn more about them here.
Also that morning, we’ll have our annual church business meeting following our worship service. We’ll again share a meal after church, and we’ll give you an update on our priorities for 2018. We expect to be able to give you an update on our plans for our new church home at our meeting.
More details soon.
We’re pausing our ongoing study of Romans for a few weeks while we look at what may be the greatest need we have in our country today – the need for a spiritual awakening. But what would that even look like? We’ll begin exploring the subject this Sunday.
See you in church!
Soli Deo Gloria!