“I don’t love him anymore.” My friend’s voice quivered as she spat the confession in a harsh whisper. “He’s my husband, and I can’t even stand to be around him.”
I gaped, tongue-tied, as she gazed into her punch cup. The spark of anger I’d seen for an instant seemed to fizzle just as quickly. She blinked a few times, drew a breath, and sipped her drink.
To anyone else in the crowded room, she was just another young mom trying to remember how to enjoy a night off. That I’d been entrusted with her painful secret was unexpected, and probably ill-advised. I felt my brain emptying of all appropriate responses – its modus operandi in crisis moments.
“I’m so sorry.” Even with a functioning cerebral cortex, what else could I say? Her admission was shocking, but her feelings were not. Her husband suffered chronic pain and depression. It wasn’t hard to imagine how loving him might become a practice in endurance, rather than pleasantry.
But how long had she felt this way? Did she lay beside him at night, regretting the vow she’d taken, for better or worse?
We stood there in silence, drinking our punch. Try as I might, I couldn’t think of another word to say. How do you encourage someone to go on loving, when love is the last thing she feels?
Acting Lovingly vs. Actively Loving
Last week, during a missions training, someone posed the question, “Are you acting lovingly, or are you actively loving?” In other words, are your actions of love outward only, or are they motivated by a deep, genuine desire for the other person’s highest good?
Grammar version: Does your love come in verb form only, or is it also a noun?
I listened to the discussion, once again tongue-tied. This is fragile ground for me. Years after my friend’s confession, I now understand her dilemma on a personal level. Too often love is the last thing I feel, even toward those for whom love should flow with ease.
Some relationships are absolute. Regardless of emotion, connections and commitments must be honored. Feelings of love oil the gears, but those gears must keep turning even when the oil runs out.
In one of my difficult relationships, my lack of love shamed and frightened me. I did everything I could to force it. But sometimes your heart is a petulant toddler. It won’t cooperate, and no matter how you try, you cannot will it to change.
When sheer determination didn’t work, I sat back and waited for love to come. Every now and then I’d catch a little glimpse, hear a whisper, and think, “This is it! It’s finally happening!” Then the moment would pass and other feelings – predominantly unloving feelings – would smother my hope.
With each disappointment, the same questions churned. What is wrong with my heart? Why is it so hard to feel love for this person? How can I be a child of God – the God who is LOVE – and feel everything but love?
Looking for Love in the Wrong Place
I’m not sure that it is best for us, once safe and secure on the Rock of Ages, to ask ourselves too closely what this and that experience may signify. Is it not better to be thinking of the Rock, not of the feet that stand upon in?
The first time I heard these words, they squeezed my heart in that convicting, though not unpleasant, way of tough-loving truth. I needed them. I was hungry for a wake-up call.
I took Elizabeth’s advice. I stopped focusing on my deficiency, and turned my gaze instead to my Savior’s sufficiency. And there, with my thoughts on the Rock rather than the feet that stand upon it, I found rest. And a fragile seedling of new strength.
God is love. No matter how many times I fail to love, nothing in all creation – including my failure – can separate me from God’s love, in which I am secure through faith in Jesus. (Romans 8:37-39).
God is faithful. God keeps his promises (Deuteronomy 7:9), one of which is to provide everything I need to live a godly life (2 Peter 1:3-7). Despite what my deceitful heart tells me, I am capable of a love that endures all things – not in my own strength, but through the power of God’s spirit (Galatians 5:22-24), which lives in me as evidence of his faithfulness (Ephesians 1:13-14).
With eyes on my loving, trustworthy, faithful God, it was easier to see why my attempts to manufacture love had failed. I was…
Waiting for a Noun When I Needed a Verb
“Love is a verb” wasn’t news to me. I knew feelings were not the be-all, end-all of relationships. It’s always worried me to hear someone say they’ve “fallen out of love,” or “deserve to be happy.” In a culture that worships feelings, too many commitments are sacrificed on the altar of personal fulfillment.
So I knew from the beginning the value of love as a verb. It’s no small thing. But was love meant to end there? Shouldn’t our feelings eventually line up with our actions?
Anyway, isn’t there a nasty word for someone who acts one way while feeling another? Hmm…starts with an H, maybe?
Am I a Hypocrite?
“Am I being a hypocrite by staying with him?” My friend’s quiet words almost drowned beneath the chatter around us. “I’m just going through the motions. Washing his clothes, cooking his meals, listening to him complain. I made a vow, and that’s the only thing keeping me there. How can God be pleased with that?”
I leaned into the wall beside her. Out of answers, I voiced another question: “Which is the greater sacrifice: to keep a vow when keeping it is a easy and pleasant, or to keep a vow when keeping it takes everything you have?”
I don’t know, in God’s economy, if one is greater than the other. Certainly it is a divine gift to love with ease, to take pleasure in our work, to pour ourselves out for others and find joy in serving.
But what about when we don’t? Is it any less of a gift to labor in those things? When obedience breaks us, do we not emerge with deeper appreciation for our Savior? Broader compassion for those who struggle as we do?
Let us not confuse hypocrisy with sacrificial obedience. My friend was faithful, not hypocritical. And after years of verb-only love, her husband began to heal. My friend’s smile returned. I see the transformation in the way she glows.
My friend has rediscovered love as a noun. It wasn’t easy, but it was worth it. Obedience always is.
Which is why, when love is the last thing I feel, I look at my God. I look at my friend. And I see hope.
What do you do when love is the last thing you feel? How have experienced blessing through obedience, even when obedience breaks you?