“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything.” —Timothy Keller, The Meaning of Marriage
I’ve been dwelling on this quote the past few days because I caught a glimpse recently of what real love looks like when it’s acted out in a relationship. It really does look like how Christ loves us. It happens when all guards are down and flaws are out in the open. Instead of seeing them and running, my boyfriend calls me out in my mess and says he loves me anyway.
God has been working in my heart lately and revealing a lot of things about love that are hard to swallow and take some time to process.
I started reading Timothy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage. Keller makes so many points about relationships that I’ve gotten a taste of over the last couple weeks. I’ve been wrestling with some hard truths about love, and I came up with two I wanted to share.
1. Love is not conditional. My boyfriend lovingly pointed this out to me over one weekend in the middle of conflict. He said he feels like I withdraw affection when I’m angry and give it when it’s convenient. I defended myself, but he was right. Just by observing his actions in conflict, I saw what it really means to love unconditionally.
I shrug off affection when I’m upset and tend to ignore the needs of whoever upset me. My boyfriend, however, still reaches for my hand, opens doors for me, and tells me I’m beautiful when I’m furious with him. Even if I shrug him off, he’s not easily discouraged. He gives me space, but he comes right back. He tells me I’m difficult and hard to love sometimes, but that he loves me anyway.
In his book, Keller points out that people need to love each other even when the emotion of love is absent. He said the emotion will follow when we consistently love with our actions.
“So if your definition of ‘love’ stresses affectionate feelings more than unselfish actions, you will cripple your ability to maintain and grow strong love relationships. On the other hand, if you stress the action of love over the feelings, you enhance and establish the feeling. That is one of the secrets of living life, as well as of marriage.”
2. It’s not about us. I find that when I’m in an argument especially with someone I’m dating, I tend to question everything. Suddenly I’m not receiving love from the other person, so I jump to the conclusion that it isn’t working. But love is a choice. It’s a commitment to work toward the good of another.
“But when the Bible speaks of love, it measures it primarily not by how much you want to receive but by how much you are willing to give of yourself to someone,” Keller says in The Meaning of Marriage.
We’re quick to point out flaws and how the other person fails to love us. But in conflict with my boyfriend last weekend and seeing how he’s able to love me when I’m least lovable, I found myself asking God how I can love him better.
We’ll never date or marry the person who fits our perfect description of the ideal spouse. We all have flaws, but it’s crucial we learn to see who God is working in the other person to become. According to Keller, our job is to help them become that person. It’s not about what we can get out of a relationship but instead what we can give.
I complain often when my boyfriend points out things I need to work on. He should just accept me as I am and stop criticizing, right? Wrong, according to Keller. A man’s job (in marriage) is to stand before God on Judgment Day and present his wife as holy and without blemish. That’s a tall order.
As we date with the intention of marriage, we need to recognize this truth. We won’t stay the same. Our significant other or spouse will challenge us to become more like Christ. We’ll change.
Love isn’t about us. It’s about giving of ourselves to another person and journeying with them to become who God is calling them to be.