Summary: If you were to ask me what was the most important lesson I’d learned about marriage in my (ahem!) years in the married state, I’d give you my answer with no hesitation at all: love is a choice, not a feeling.
“During the marriage ceremony the two become one - on the honeymoon they discover which one.” – I quoted from guy who seems to be a deep-thinker. But I think this is rather the result of some personal frustrations, rather than a generic truth.
Maybe it’s the age I’m getting to, but I’ve noticed over the past couple of years that a number of my friends seem to be celebrating silver wedding anniversaries. I’m puzzled because I knew them young, and I know me young… Silver… I came across with a list: wedding anniversaries symbols:
1st Paper 2nd Cotton 3rd Glass 4th Linen, 5th Wood
6th Iron 7th Wool, 8th Bronze 9th Pottery, 10th Tin,
15th Crystal 20th China 25th Silver 30th Pearl 40th Jade
50th Gold 60th Diamond 70th Platinum
Last year someone from our church send us a card with the following words: ‘Love is ninety-nine percent persistence; you two are the most persistent people we know’.
I think it was on to something there. Obviously, I know that there are lots of conditions that complicate things.
But I also know that if you were to ask me what was the most important lesson I’d learned about marriage in my... ahem... years in the married state, I’d give you my answer with no hesitation at all: love is a choice, not a feeling.
Of course, there is a feeling we call ‘love’, and it’s a wonderful feeling, too. People write songs and poems about it; Tom Hanks and Meg Ryan star in movies about it, and it sells millions of dollars worth of magazines and paperback books and songs.
But I’ve noticed something: Yes, there are lots of songs about falling in love, and there are lots of songs about falling out of love, but there are not many songs about just being in love. With all the ups and downs of it with the point: how you make it last for life.
I think the reason there aren’t too many songs about how you make it last, is simple: in order to make it last, you have to go beyond love as a feeling. Go to love as a choice.
The truth is that the Christian understanding of ‘love’ is very different from the popular version, and this is illustrated by a subtle difference in the wording of the wedding vows Vera and Adelin will make to each other today.
In movies, when a couple get married (usually it happens in a Catholic Church – it’s more spectacular…), the words they say to each other are: “I do”.
“I do” is an answer to a question about your feelings: “Do you feel love for this person?” I do… Now, I don’t have to ask them that question today: I know they love each other! That’s why they’re here!
But all of us who have long-term marriages know that, sooner or later, the intensity of our feeling for each other begins to fade. When this happens, some people get terrified; they think their love for each other is dying.
This is the point at which many people bail out; “Pastor, I don’t love him/her any more”, they explain. Which means: I don’t have the same intense feeling for him/her that I had when we first fell in love…
So I obviously married the wrong person, and I need to get out as fast as possible and find the right person… Before I become too old and hormones saying goodbye to my body …
But the truth is that the declining of those high intensity feelings is normal; it doesn’t signal the end of a relationship, but rather the beginning of the next phase of the relationship. That next phase is about learning that love is a choice, is a decision.
This is signified by the promise Adelin and Vera will make to each other today, which is not “I do” but “I will”.
This is not a question about their feelings, but about choices. The word ‘love’ in the Bible very rarely refers to feelings; it usually refers to actions. To love someone in the Bible means to serve them, to bless them, to do good things for them, day in and day out, whether you feel like it or not.
And the good news about marriage that I want to share with you is that when couples make this choice, day in and day out, something deeper and far more lasting grows inside.
It’s different from the early feelings of romantic love that bring us together; it’s deeper, stronger, more steady – it’s the experience Jesus talks about in our Gospel for today when he says “The two shall become one flesh” (Matthew 19:5).
As a naturally selfish person I’d far rather be loved than love; I’d far rather be the main character in my own play than be a servant in someone else’s.