Recently I was prompted to go back and look for resources that would help me do an extended study on the subject of "Love." We all think we know what love is, right? It's that gooey, warm feeling you get when you meet someone you think is your "soul" mate and then you start to plan your life together.
The infatuation that comes with that first meeting, that "love at first sight" encounter, is nothing but a passing fancy. The first time you hit a speed bump you realize all is not well and perhaps, just perhaps, your "soul mate" really isn't all that and a bag of chips.
Perhaps you survive the speed bump. Things get back on track and you move forward. So you stop worrying about it and life gets back to "normal," whatever "normal" represents for you and yours. Of course "normal" might not mean "healthy" and there might just be festering yuckiness lurking under the covers of your relationship.
Then you hit a bigger speed bump.
This time it's a whopper. You hit the wall at warp speed and this time things get really bitter, really fast.
In our current Hefty Bag culture, the first thing we do when our relationships hit the skids is dump and run. In some cases, that choice is totally justified. If you are in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship, I don't think God is going to condemn you for running away from the abuser as quickly as possible. Forget all the conservative Christian rhetoric about never divorcing under any circumstances whatsoever. If your spouse is an abusive schmuck and he (or she) won't repent, get out of Dodge City and take the next train for the coast.
That's not to say that Jesus wouldn't want us to hang in there and fight for our marriages if we face financial challenges, illnesses, addictions, infidelity, or just plain routine disagreements. I believe God wants us to do some heavy labor to ensure that our relationships have strong, spiritual-based epoxy stuffed into and spread over enough of the possible cracks of our relationships so that our marriages are prepared to handle the routine jostles and bumps of life.
By the way…
I am not suggesting that infidelity is a "speed bump" or a "routine" jostle and bump of life. Acts of betrayal and infidelity between a man and woman are more like what happens when you hit the wall at Daytona Speedway at about 180mph. Major wreckage. Not pretty.
What I am suggesting is that I have seen people who have been betrayed by infidelity work their way back from the brink of divorce when the offendor truly learns to love his/her spouse selflessly and they both come to trust one another all over again. It happens. It's rare in today's world, but it happens.
But back to the story…
As I looked in the mirror the other day I asked myself a hard question…
"What kind of husband am I, really?"
I came to an equally hard conclusion.
I am probably "okay" as a husband and a father, and I take comfort in the knowledge that my wife and I are committed to the long-haul of life together.
I am convinced, though, that I am not "where God wants me to be" on the Love-O-Meter.
I can be rude. I can be tactless. I can be arrogant, insensitive, and abrasive. I often think of my own selfish needs and pains before I think about my wife's. At times I can be a distant, absentee father to my children, leaving them to their own devices as they navigate through a world fraught with temptations and challenges of all shapes and sizes.
When I looked in the mirror and weighed what I saw in light of Jesus' sacrifice for me, I suddenly felt like a world-class, 100% gold-plated, mess. To paraphrase the King of Pop, "I need to make a change."
So I started looking for a source of a practical, day-by-day guide that I could use to make serious, tangible strides toward becoming a better husband, lover, father, and friend.
I wanted to learn how to "LOVE" better.
I wanted to learn what GOD has to say about love, the kind of blueprint for love that I can return to time and time again and take a quick refresher course whenever I tip over the edge into schmuck-dom.
I think I just heard someone say, "Uhhh… how about the Bible, Chief?"
Well, that's a good point. The Bible does hold the ultimate blueprint of what godly LOVE looks like. There are certain passages that are read at just about every wedding that highlight the scope of genuine love. 1 Corinthians 13 comes to mind.
Then there's the unavoidable reality of the unmerited love Jesus showed us when he willingly walked to his death on the cross. As the Bible says, Jesus could have called down God's wrath on the people who beat Him, scorned Him, and whipped Him. Instead he chose the path of forgiveness for his tormenters.
But I was looking for something a little more digestible, a little more tailored to the kind of challenges faced by couples in this post-modern world, something based on the Bible but ready-made for "today's busy lifestyle."
What a cop-out! I almost smacked myself silly when I stepped back and realized that I wanted to make the hard work of learning REAL love "easier."
It's not possible! LOVE TAKES HARD WORK!
For those of us who are prone to arrogance, condescension, bitterness, and general pig-headedness it takes even more work.
Then, through the words of my teenage daughter, I was reminded of a pop-psychology book titled, "The Love Dare." It came out a couple of years ago as a product tie-in with the movie, "Fireproof." These guys aren't psychologists. They're movie makers. Hence, "pop-psychologists."
I'm not a huge fan of pop-psychology. I'm certainly not prone to buy products that get their biggest plug from a movie, even if that movie is a Christian themed movie.
This time, though, I bought it hook line and sinker.
Because it a wrenchingly Biblical approach.
"The Love Dare" is practical and tangible. It helps me take baby steps all the way from routine selfishness to thoughtful selflessness in a series of 5-minute-long, once a day for 40 days, positive habit-building "dares."
Chapter 1: Love is Patient – Say nothing negative to your spouse today.
Chapter 2: Love is Kind – In addition to saying nothing negative to your spouse today, do at least one unexpected gesture of kindness.
Chapter 3: Love is Not Selfish – In addition to saying nothing negative to your spouse today, buy them something that says, "I was thinking of you today."
Chapter 4: Love is Thoughtful – Contact your spouse today and have no other agenda other than asking them how their day is going and whether you can do anything for them.
Chapter 5: Love is Not Rude – Ask your spouse to tell you three things that make them uncomfortable or irritated with you. Do so without attacking them or justifying your behavior.
And so on and so forth.
The "dares" get progressively tougher, building on each prior day's step of vulnerability and act of love.
I don't know about you, but I'm pretty thick. Even though my wife and I have been married for 23 – now going on 24 – years, I know that I still cause her frustration and heartache with far too great a frequency. Baby steps are good for someone like me, who needs old, selfish habits broken and new love-based habits built.
So I'm taking the plunge, one day at a time. I'm not going to share all the intimate secrets of the journey with you, because that is frankly for my wife to have all to herself. If, however, you want to read a really great blog by a couple who took The Love Dare together, check out this link.
What I do hope is that anyone who is reading this blog – married, or hope-to-be-married-someday – will take the plunge with me.
"The Love Dare" is available in paperback or eBook form at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Christian booksellers everywhere. At under $10.00 for the electronic version, you'd have to be dopey not to buy a copy and dig in.