Friday, April 1, 2011

The Heart of Her Husband Trusts in Her -- Feelilngs and Commitment Part II

Agape Love:

Agape love, sometimes translated in English versions as charity or love, is based on choice. It is a decision to love. It is a selfless, sacrificial love that acts on behalf of another's best interests. It is an attitude of the heart and a way of life. We love not because the object of our love is so lovable, but because we accept God's love and learn from Him to love the way He does.

If emotional feelings are the heart of love, then agape is the bones. Without bones, a body would collapse. Without agape, our emotions of love would eventually collapse. Agape love keeps us standing and walking in love, just as our bones help us to stand and walk. Agape love is not dependent on circumstances, on how we feel in a given moment, or on how the other person responds. Agape love is firm commitment, and it never fails.

Agape love does not fluctuate according to emotion. Yet, if agape love exists between a husband and wife, between a parent and child, or in a godly friendship, it fosters the experience and expression of loving feelings in their time. The marriage which is built on agape love, for example, will experience many wonderful times of passion for one another, as well as many happy times of felt companionship. The couple will truly be able to say of each other, "This is my lover and my friend".

If only one person in a relationship is committed to agape love, agape is still powerful. It pleases God when we demonstrate agape love. Agape gives with no thought of return. Many a married person has won their spouse to a faith in the Lord simply because they kept patiently, year after year after year, treating their spouse with agape love. In the same way, numerous loving parents have helped troubled children.
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When we read I Corinthians 13, we see that it speaks of how we treat one another more than it speaks of how we feel about one another. We can decide in any given moment whether to be patient or to give way to impatient urges. Even though we may feel hurt, we can remember how God forgives us and choose not to keep a record of wrongs against another person. Even though we have our own needs, we can choose to put another's needs ahead of our own.

When my husband and I were in the early years of our marriage, he had a beautiful habit of meditating on I Corinthians 13. If we had any disagreement, he would recite that to himself and respond to me in line with its teaching.

What we must watch out for in our society is the idea that if feelings fade, something is horribly wrong with the relationship. I enjoy movies that are romantic comedies. Even in my favorites, such as "You've Got Mail", however, I see something disturbing. When a romantic comedy opens, we often see that the heroine is often engaged to a man who loves her and whom she says she loves. But, we also see that some of the romance has faded from that relationship. Then, our heroine meets a new man who stirs in her the passion she thought she had lost. She leaves the first man for the second. As viewers, we are supposed to assume that our heroine has finally met her soul mate. As the final credits roll, we enjoy the idea that she will live romantically ever after with her new beloved. But, would she in real life? Or, would she face a time in her new relationship when the feelings are not so rapturous? If so, what then? Would she, as so many people do, move on to yet another relationship, chasing feelings that can not be sustained on a day in and day out basis? Wouldn't a better romantic movie be that the heroine learns to love within the context of a committed marriage? That would be a movie about true mates of the soul.

Commitment to agape love keeps us from jettisoning relationships during times of flat or even painful emotions. If we stick with our relationships, we will find that happy emotions will likely come again and may even be sweeter than ever. Even if they do not, we are honoring a commitment we made before God. That is far better than wrecking relationships in order to vainly pursue satisfaction outside of God's will.

How can we, as women, nourish the commitment of love and the feelings of love? Here are a few ideas:

1) Remember that God showed his love to us by sending Christ to us when we were still powerless, ungodly and His enemies. Romans 5:6-8. Decide to love as He loved us. Read the gospels Follow Jesus' example. Notice how He talked to people and how He loved people.
2) When feelings are in sync with godliness, praise God! When they are in conflict with His will, choose His will and His glory over feelings. Luke 14:27; the book of I John.
3) Remember that our positive emotional feelings of love are stronger at times than at others. Decide that you will be committed to love no matter what your temporary emotions are.
4) On a daily basis, nurture feelings of love through actions and words. For example, set aside periodic times for romance with your husband. Read Song of Solomon and decide to be a lovely and loving wife. Send cards to a friend. Remember birthdays. Put these little things in your calendar and regard them as being as important as appointments. Little kindnesses and little moments of loveliness inspire relationship. This is even more important for your own heart than for the recipient of your kindness. Our feelings often follow our commitment and our action. The perfume of happiness lingers on the hand of someone who gives a flower to another.
5) Unspoken conflicts can put emotional distance in a relationship. Identify and work through any conflicts that might be sabotaging closeness.
6) Not spending enough time together can put emotional distance in a relationship. So, too, can having your priorities out of order. Make sure that you do spend time with the people who are closet to you. Having said that, we must balance this by encouraging and supporting our loved ones in things like ministry, work, hobbies, etc. We all need some time to develop in our own right. Likewise, it's not healthy to put our family ahead of God's righteousness and His kingdom. We need to continually pray about and get advice about the balance so that we are living according to God's priorities and investing in relationships.
7) Both men and women need respect and love. However, women generally look to love and feel respected if they are loved. Men generally look to respect and feel loved if they are respected. Men are advised to live considerately with their wives, which is a form of respect. (See I Peter Chapter 3) Women are also advised to learn from older women how to phileo their husbands or, in other words, how to express a kindly and affectionate love toward them. (Titus Two). Yet, in the marriage instructions in the Bible, we often see that men are told to love their wives and wives are told to respect their husbands. This is partly because men have a greater leadership role in the marriage. In order to carry out their mission to love their wives as Christ loves the church, they are supported if their wives respect them. The wife also fulfills her role better if she is loved and if she respects her husband's leadership. Yet, even above the need to fulfill important roles in marriage, men generally need respect from their wives. One of the greatest mistakes a wife makes is to underestimate the power of her disrespect to destroy her husband and her marriage and even to cause problems for her children. Likewise, it's a mistake to underestimate the power of a wife's respect to build up her husband, her marriage, and her household. Sometimes, women will not give respect unless they deem that their husbands are respect-worthy. Yet, I Peter 3 tells us that we are to respect our husbands even when they are not obeying the word. We have the power to do this because we trust God to take care of us. It's ultimately God to whom we are showing respect.
8) As women, we generally love to talk about, analyze and read about relationships. Our high interest in relationships is a gift for which we should be thankful. Yet, while men are also interested in good relationships, they are generally not as excited about analyzing them as we can be. Sometimes, we can wear our husbands out by always wanting to evaluate our relationship or by asking them to read book after book, instead of simply enjoying time together. If we are continually bringing up little annoyances or expressing concerns about our relationship, we can send to our husbands the message that we are both unhappy and ungrateful. This can greatly burden a husband, for most men desire to give their wives happiness and feel they have failed if their wives are unhappy. There is a time to speak up if we see that things are not right. However, if we see that our husband's eyes glaze over the moment we say, "Honey we need to talk...", likely we are over-doing it. There are times when we would all be wise to use fewer words and to practice more loving actions. The wise couple will pray and plan regular times to ask questions, such as "How do you think our relationship is going?" or "I've noticed you are quiet lately. Is there something the matter?" The wise couple will also foster an atmosphere in which each spouse feels free to open up about things on his or her heart. However, again, this must be done with lots of prayer and love and with a sense of healthy balance. Deep intimacy also can't be demanded; it must be given. The wife who grasps for emotional intimacy might see it slip away, while the wife who patiently and prayerfully plants seeds of love and respect will find it.
8) Keeping a sense of humor and spending time just having fun together helps to build healthy relationships.
9) Expressing gratitude on a regular basis fosters love.
10) In the gospel of John, Jesus links obedience and love, as well as obedience and a knowledge of the truth. Setting our hearts to do God's will makes all the difference in our intimacy with Him, and it also helps us to love others well. A good study is to read through the book of John and examine every passage in which Jesus talks about love, obedience, and faith.
11) Read the book of James and study the difference between sin and temptation, as well as feeling and attitude. Look at the difference between worldly wisdom and God's wisdom. Note the cause of conflicts between people and the cure. Decide to live by the royal law of love. Also take note of Proverbs. Truly, any book of the Bible contains lessons about how God loves us, how to love and trust God, and how to love other people.
12) Memorize the traits of love in I Corinthians 13 and recite them to yourself often.

Happy Home Keeping!

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