Valentine’s Day is upon us, which means cloyingly sweet treats and cards with even more cloyingly sweet messages of undying love have lined the registers since the Christmas decorations departed. For weeks now, every time you bought groceries, you were assaulted by visions of cheery pink and red tins of candy, bright flowers, balloons and cards practically shouting at you: “Buy me, you dutiful slave to consumerism, or incur the wrath of your significant other for not validating this Hallmark holiday wrapped in glitter. Buy me!!!! Buy meeeeeeeeeeee.” *The final “Buy me” in a low, gravely, menacing tone*
And that is romantic love in a nutshell. At least the way it is packaged. Glittery on the outside, but full of empty calories and hot air on the inside! Do I sound like a cynic? Maybe. But I know that when love settles, it looks different. I know that when love says “I do,” it means “I will” endure all things. And that is a different animal altogether.
If you are married, you’ve probably walked some messy roads with your spouse. And you, too, are aware that while that brand of love doesn’t sell so well in stores…it IS the real thing.
It’s easy to love when everything is shiny and new. What effort does that really take? But to love when it hurts or requires sacrifice…now that is much harder.
A friend recently shared with me her sadness over hearing several stories of infidelity among married couples she knew. “I think it’s our age,” I responded. “Our season of life…we’re not fresh off the boat anymore. Most of us are no longer newlyweds. Many of us have kids. It’s hard work. And some people look for ways to escape when things get tough.”
What happens when the landscape of your lives shifts? One income looks different from two. Your thirties looks different from your twenties. Life with children is different from life without children.
But if love is to last, it must survive through all seasons, not just the easy ones.
Real love, the kind that survives the years and decades of life’s changes and challenges, feels like work sometimes. It’s laundry and dishes, caring for kids, working long hours on little sleep, discovering and rediscovering your spouse’s weaknesses, feeling shock or betrayal or, at times, loneliness. But it is loving regardless.
The other day, I had an anxiety attack. If you struggle with anxiety, you know these are paralyzing. It had been a while since I had been so consumed, but like a sudden terrible and oppressive wave, it covered me in darkness. My mind raced, my fears burst open like a sky full of storm clouds. My fight or flight response lit up. I lost hours to panic. Hours. The day ended, and my body ached. My heart ached. I felt ashamed and empty.
A few days later, sitting on the couch across from my husband, I looked into my lap and told him…”I’m scared. I have so much doubt about so many things. Being a good mom. Taking care of my house and my family…” The list went on. And then Sam did something we don’t always do…because like so many people, we want to reason our way through the difficult times. This time, he offered to pray. His prayer was a powerful prayer. Truly. And his words, along with God’s Spirit, thawed away the sadness and shame I was feeling. I recognized this as one of the greatest acts of love my husband could have offered me.
He could have easily said, “Woman, you are being unreasonable. You are wrong. You’re making my life difficult. Get over yourself.” But he didn’t. He came alongside me and prayed for me.
Sometimes I hate that love is so messy. I would rather be a princess from a childhood fairy tale after the prince has rescued her and taken her for his bride. I don’t want to tend to the wounded. Or be wounded myself. It is humiliating.
I don’t want to wait for miracles. Or give more of myself when I feel exhausted. Or make dinner…again. I want love that is effortless. I want things my way. I want perfection.
One of my favorite photos from any wedding is the one where the couple, declared husband and wife for the first time, nearly dance down the aisle arm and arm on a cloud of happiness. It is an image, beautiful and full of joy. But it is also a fragile veneer. Because while they turn to face the world as two people newly united and shining with promise, they aren’t yet aware of the adversity, temptation and disappointment they will face over the years. Sometimes they will feel like a shell of what they once were. And that is when they will discover they are only as good as their unwavering commitment to God and one another in the best AND the worst of times.
Whatever you do for Valentine’s Day, remember that “Greater love has no one than this: to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.” (John 15:13) It is our real sacrificial love for one another that bears the image of God’s infinite love for humanity. That happens when we stay…despite the desire to flee. It’s when we give…despite the overwhelming urge to take what feels rightfully ours. It’s when we love at a time love feels like the last thing we want to do.
Real love doesn’t always sparkle. But it can shine. It can produce brilliant, beautiful things from the pit of our deepest, darkest failures. Real love stoops down to dress our wounds and comfort our bleeding hearts. Real love gets messy. Real love has grit.
Put that inside your Valentine’s Day card, Hallmark.
Thank you, Jesus, for your real love.
And to my Valentine, Sam, thank you for weathering the storms of life with me. May we always know and value real love.
Photo credits: href=httpswww.flickr.comphotosepsos6180907719epSos.dea via a href=httpphotopin.comphotopina a href=httpcreativecommons.orglicensesby2.0cca