Friday, February 13, 2009

Love by Thomas Lane Butts

Looking at my calendar for the month, I realize that I am scheduled to speak to the Business Women of Monroeville at noon today on the assigned subject of "Love." And, St. Valentine's Day has just slipped by. Hope none of you are in the "doghouse" for not remembering. So let me reflect with you on the meaning of that slippery, kaleidoscopic word: Love.
New Testament Greek, which is rich in synonyms, has words with shades of meaning which English does not have. In Greek there are four different words for love. Briefly, they are: storge (family love); eros (passionate, romantic love); philia (brotherly love, best friend); and agape (unconquerable benevolence, invincible goodwill). Love is a very large word! When we speak of love without some differentiation, what we mean may not be what is understood by the hearer. Be careful. Let us think of the kind of love that leads to the relationship of marriage, with the understanding that this kind of love may have some shades of several meanings.

On St. Valentine's Day our hearts and minds lead us to think of how we can best express an intangible feeling in some tangible form. Perhaps this was easier when we were young and ignorant, and the fires of love were stoked with an abundance of hormones. Do you remember the ecstacy of young love? You thought it would last forever!

Some say that it has. But for more people than you might guess, the fire went out, or at least cooled down to warm embers. And for those for whom romantic love (or its more stable successor) is still alive, you may be sure that it not only took some work, but it has required some changes from how it started out.

Those who thought the fun and feeling of young love would last forever, but who did nothing to adjust to the changes that inevitably come with the years are likely no longer together, and if they are, they are probably somewhat frustrated and unhappy. The myth of romantic love is just that. Unless the myth is transformed by some very practical changes, which pushes love to another dimension, then there is profound disappointment, unhappiness and/or a quick trip to Splitsville, U.S.A.

If you are young (or old) and in love, for heaven's sake, enjoy it. Relish and cherish every minute of it. It is one of the good gifts that God gave to get people together initially. Some may say that it is a subtle (and delightful) trick of nature designed to perpetuate the species.

With whatever words you choose to describe the experience, it is at least memorable. For those who thought it would last forever, or those who fell in love with someone who did not reciprocate, the experience may be remembered with some disappointment.

Wise people savor the taste of romantic love but soon learned (if they did not already know) not to count it as the sole support of a marriage relationship. Romantic love should be remembered with a sense of joy, and occasionally rediscovered with surprising delight.

Some social scientists would say "never marry for love." Those who have spent a lifetime working with intimate human relationships understand that there is a degree of truth in that statement if it refers to romantic love. We would probably more likely say "never marry without love, but do not count on romantic love to solve all of your problems."

Love that lasts changes. If it does not change, it does not last. People change. If love relationships are not adjusted to accommodate those changes, the relationship begins to die.

People often have unrealistic expectations of the person they marry. They want someone who will meet all their needs and in their romanticized understanding of reality, they believe that person is out there - somewhere. When we marry with that exaggerated expectation, in a sense, the person we marry becomes a substitute for someone who does not exist.

In her book Brief Lives, Anita Brookner tells of a woman whose unhappy marriage ends with the death of her husband and her lover. Asked if she missed her lover she said: "Oddly it was not Charlie that I missed, but rather the person for whom Charlie had always been a substitute, whoever he was."

No one person is going to meet all our needs. If we are unable to accept partial fulfillment by someone who cannot measure up to our total expectations, we feel cheated. Because he or she was not perfect and could not measure up to that ghostly composite of a person who never really existed, we often demean that person, despite his or her efforts to meet our needs.

This business of love and marriage is more complicated than most of us realize. Unless we enter into a marriage with willingness to adjust and change, then love disappears into a gap that widens exponentially with the years when it is all about "me" and not about "us."

Hope this does not frighten anyone contemplating marriage! But, do be careful. (You may email Dr. Butts at )

AN ENCOURAGING WORD written by Thomas Lane Butts, Pastor Emeritus, Monroeville First United Methodist Church

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