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Love for a Lifetime

February 11, 2008

An old man and woman were driving along a country road in a pickup truck.  They got behind a late model car.  In that car was a young couple.  The boy was driving, and the girl was sitting in the middle of the front seat.  The boy had his arm around her.  This older couple in the pickup truck followed this young couple in the modern car.  After a while, the old woman said, “Pa, I remember when we used to be like that.”  He said, “I ain’t moved.”

We never out grow our need for love. Marital love has no age limit.

In the English language, the word love is one of the most confusing and one of the most important. In forty-two years of pastoral ministry, numerous couples have come to me for counseling.  The conversation often begins with, “I just don’t love him anymore” or “I don’t feel in love way I did when I first met her.”  Can we find a love that lasts?

We have trivialized love. Our conversations are seasoned with the word that is intended to convey the deepest and dearest human emotion. The words, “I love chocolate” or “I love fishing,” hardly express the same sentiment as “I love my child” or “I love the person to whom I am married.”  Naming disposable diapers and pickup trucks Luv further confuses the issue.

The Greek language of the first century makes a clear distinction between feeling in love and being in love.

Eros is the word used for the spine-tingling feeling of love.  Eros was also the name of one of the lesser Greek gods whose Latin counterpart was Cupid.  According to Roman mythology, Cupid fired his arrows indiscriminately.  Once struck by one of his invisible arrows, the afflicted person was supposed to fall in love with the very next person he or she met.  Love at first sight, according to the Romans, was the work of Cupid.  Eros is the love so often referred to by our Valentine expressions.

Agape is the Greek word used in the Bible to describe faithful, committed love. The Apostle Paul defines agape as the love that “bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”  He adds, “Love never fails.”  Agape is not a feeling; it is a decision, an act of the will.

I was driving on a back road several years ago when I saw a sweet autumn clematis in full bloom.  It grew at a forty-five degree angle and gave the impression that it was supporting a power pole.  Of course, hidden by the gorgeous flowering vine, was a strong steel cable.  The relationship between eros and agape is like that of the steel cable and the flowering vine.  Agape, the strong, sturdy trellis of committed love, endures in the hottest drought of summer and holds steady through the icy cold of winter.  It bears all things and never fails.  If the trellis of agape is in place, the fragrant flower of eros has something on which to cling. It can grow more beautiful year after year, even in the autumn of life.  Both agape and eros represent important dimensions of love in a healthy marriage.  One enables us to fall in love; the other enables us to stay in love.

During the past year, I have had the privilege of taking part in eighteen weddings. Most of these weddings were for couples in their twenties.  These young men and women are deeply in love.  No matter how long they have known their beloved, they still have that starstruck look in their eyes.

I request that each couple for whom I conduct a wedding give time to premarital counseling.  A bride and groom may easily invest many hours and much money preparing for a beautiful wedding that will last all of forty minutes.  It is far more important for them to prepare for the lifelong commitment of marriage.  In a society in which a marriage license costs less than a combination hunting and fishing license, the importance of lasting commitment in marriage cannot be overstated.

A young couple stands at the altar to repeat their marriage vows:  “To have and to hold from this day forward, for better for worse, for richer for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish, until death do us part.”  These young people have almost no idea what they are pledging to each other. Those who witness their vows know they will not always feel loving toward each other.  The important question is, are they committed to love each other whether they feel loving or not?  If that commitment is strong, the exhilaration they experience on their wedding day will be a part of their relationship for many years to come.

The commitment to another person in marriage is a covenant that is fully understood only as we live life with the person we love.

An elderly couple sits in a hospital room, hand in hand, one at the bedside of the other.  They gaze into each other’s eyes both knowing that before long one will leave the other in the separation of death.  “I love you,” he whispers.  “I love you, too,” she responds.  They exchange this simple reassurance they have shared many times for nearly sixty years.  Their love is not a capricious feeling.  It is strong and sturdy, deeply committed, and unfailing.  Their love is a love for a lifetime.

It is simply beautiful.

-Kirk H. Neely

© H-J Weekly, February 2008

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