“When is the time in your marriage that you were the happiest?” This was a question that has never left my mind. As I pondered my answer, I realized that my happiest time was not when my spouse was doing everything right, but when I learned what it meant to love without conditions.
My failing marriage taught me how to love. As I went through a lot of personal growth, eight years before the breakup of my marriage, I began to re-evaluate things. There were a lot of difficulties in my marriage, and I had become frustrated. But as I grew spiritually, my bitterness became incompatible with the man I was becoming. I realized that I couldn’t control anyone but myself, and how I responded to challenges.
Previously, I had been blaming my unhappiness on my spouse’s lack of effort. But in a moment of clarity, I realized that it was wrong to place the burden of my happiness onto the shoulders of another person. If I can’t make myself happy, why would I expect someone else to do it for me? I changed my approach to marriage that day. I decided that I would not place expectations upon my wife, but I would look to the growing relationship I was having with the Lord.
There is a scripture that explains that the Holy Spirit pours God’s love into our hearts as a gift of God’s love. As I learned to accept God’s love for me, I found that my heart began to overflow with love for other people. One thing about love is that it only rests contently when it is given away.
As I sat in the marriage counselor’s office, I realized that the happiest time of my marriage began when I started giving instead of demanding. My circumstances didn’t change, but my perspective did. I stopped thinking of love as something I needed to receive, and started looking at it as something I needed to give. My bitterness died, and my contentment grew.
Even though my relationship was irreparably broken, it didn’t change my confidence in what I had learned. Two people trying to meet their needs by sapping life out of the other person cannot work. People can endure this type of relationship, but they can never thrive. God’s ways are the opposite of ours. We think we will be fulfilled if we get enough, but the truth is that love grows as we give more. The reason is that we are receivers of God’s unlimited supply, and the more it flows, the stronger it becomes.
Have you ever watched a dam breach occur? It often starts as a trickle, but the more the water flows, the more the water behind it rushes in to take its place. The more it flows, the bigger the breach becomes. Unless someone intentionally blocks that breach, the flow will become greater and greater.
In a dam, this can be catastrophic, but in love, it becomes life-giving. What I found is that even if my love wasn’t returned, my desire to love continued to grow. Outside of my family, my ministry took on new life. Judgmentalism died, and I found myself having compassion for those I would have once resented. I wanted to love those who were in need. In fact, nearly every sin that mankind commits is a cry for fulfillment, which comes from a deep hunger to experience love. The most self-centered person is actually trying to quench that hunger by demanding more. Unfortunately, taking from others cannot fulfill the longing of the heart.
Proverbs 11 says, “There is one who scatters, yet increases more; and there is one who withholds more than is right, but it leads to poverty. The generous soul will be made rich, and he who waters, will also be watered himself.”
I have found this to be true. Someone who withholds love and tries to take more than is right will have an impoverished soul. The more a selfish person takes, the more needy they become. But the person who gives and waters others will become rich in heart, happy, and satisfied.
Such is the work of love. Human love gives to get, but agape love (which is a gift of God) flourishes in the heart of the giver. Even when love is rejected, there is still no regret, for the act of loving itself produces a healthy heart.
It took most of my life to come to this understanding, but the true joy of loving is not being loved, though we all have this need. It’s the joy of investing into the lives of others that motivates true love. When we are stuck in the selfish mindset of giving to receive, if we don’t receive, we feel cheated. Many needy relationships set people up for failure. The needy soul draws life out of the relationship, and when the resources run dry, the heart suffers, anger is born, and bitterness begins to emerge. This is why the most selfish among us believes they are being wronged. They cannot see the efforts of others because they are focused on their own needs. And the truth is, no one can satisfy the heart of another person. At least not for long.
Love takes pleasure in giving. Serving is the natural product of love. Even when human needs are not met, the flow of love supplies where human effort falls short. There is no happier person than the one who takes pleasure in expressing love to others. There are no conditions. There is no score keeping. The act of loving is pleasing to the soul because the Lord promises to water the generous soul. That promise doesn’t exist for the demanding soul.
Love needs to give. It was created to give. Love takes pleasure in the act of giving, but is the most fulfilled when it is received. Just think about the most popular verse in the Bible, “God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten son, that whosoever believes on Him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
God so loved the entire world that He gave. The Bible says, “God is love,” and since this is true, His love must give. That’s what love does. God loves to give. Yet giving is incomplete without a receiver. Everyone in the world is loved by God, but not everyone will receive God’s love. When the receiver becomes a rejecter, the flow of love is stopped at that person. Love is still present, but it doesn’t complete its purpose until it is received and continues its circuit back to the Lord. God desires to give because He is love, but His greater purpose is to transform the life of the object of His love – which is you and I. God wants His love to produce life.
Because we are His children, we have that same love. I can love someone and take pleasure in showing love, but the greater joy is when the object of my love recognizes it and is willing to receive it. Unless the person being loved believes in that love, it doesn’t add life to their soul. This is true whether we are resisting the love of God, or pushing back the love of a person. Often times we reject love, not because we are rejecting the other person, but because we judge ourselves unworthy. The truth is that love isn’t based on worthiness. In fact, love is revealed in its purest form when the receiver isn’t worthy. That is when we know we are experiencing the power of love instead of earning it. Love cannot be earned.
Why do I love a person? I don’t know the answer to that. It is just the work of agape in the heart. The greatest forms of ministry come from the service of love. The strongest marriages will be built on agape love. The most solid friendships are founded upon agape. When agape is the foundation, failures become irrelevant. How much easier would it be to resolve problems and conflicts when agape is flowing strongly? When love has its proper place, the relationship will never be in danger. Since self is not the focus, the problem is removed from the emotions that create anger and frustration.
Even when agape is the focus, it does not guarantee a relationship will thrive. The giver of love will always thrive, but if the other side cannot or will not receive, you can do everything right and still watch human relationships crumble (not that I have done everything right).
I wish I had understood this as a young man. I’m not sure if it would have changed the final outcome or not, however, even with a failed marriage, I am even more convinced than ever that love is life-giving and outward focused. If anything, my failing marriage taught me how to love without condition. I found peace in the storm, and love has changed my heart in spite of the circumstances around me. It has kept bitterness at bay, and continues to restore what the world around me tries to rob.
According to 1 Corinthians 13, love creates patience, kindness, does not demand recognition, does not behave rudely, doesn’t envy others, doesn’t seek its own, doesn’t think evil, doesn’t rejoice in wrongs, and endures all things.
Of course, we all fall short in these areas, but the answer isn’t to try harder, but receive love, and allow love to do its work within us. Be loved from above, and then try to outgive God. It’s impossible to give love without watering your own soul. That takes all the burdens off a relationship so it can thrive as God has designed.