Recently I learned that two young married couples I know, each of which has a toddler at home, have separated and are headed toward divorce. In one marriage, the husband says he no longer feels anything for his wife; in the other, the wife says she no longer loves her husband. While the circumstances differ in each case, in both a root cause of the breakup is a superficial understanding of love that reflects the confusion of our culture.
Some time ago another couple asked me to speak at their wedding. As I prayed I felt inspired to compose the following dialogue about “True Love.” I believe it supplies an antidote from the New Testament to some of the inadequate understandings of love common even among practicing Christians today.
One day two disciples were walking down a dusty road with their Teacher, and the conversation turned toward marriage, and how the only enduring foundation for marriage is true love.
“Teacher,” one of them asked, “please tell us, What is true love?”
And the Teacher said to them,
“If a man and a woman find joy in one another’s presence,
if they can scarcely keep themselves apart,
if to her,
He is like the sun rising in its strength and beauty,
if she loves to hear his voice, to look at Him and to feel his arms around her,
and if to him,
She is like the moon and ten thousand stars shining on a summer’s night,
or like the fragrance of roses at dawn….
if her touch is like magic and her kisses sweeter than wine,
if they love to laugh together, sing together, dance together, cry together—
this is a gift from God, it is good.
But, I tell you solemnly, this is not true love;
it is changeable, and you cannot rely on it.”
The disciples were amazed that so beautiful a love still fell short of true love, and they walked on, waiting for him to finish. After awhile, he spoke again.…
“Ah, but if a man and a woman appreciate and respect one another,
if they talk about everything and learn to listen to one another,
if they dream the same dreams,
pursue the same goals,
and hope the same hopes,
yes, even if they share as much as any two people on earth—
and such communion is rare and very good—
still, I tell you, this also would not be true love.
By now the disciples were very amazed and perplexed. And as they followed their Master along the road, they were sure that his next words would reveal the secret of true love.
After awhile the Teacher spoke again,
“Ah, if a young man and a young woman have a common vision,
if they pray together,
if they serve the poor and homeless,
if they work side by side,
if together they share what they have,
indeed, if they are willing to pour out their very lives in service to others,
no, I tell you, even that is not true love,
and in the long run, it could fail them utterly.”
At this the disciples were completely astounded. Grabbing his arm, the young man and the young woman stopped him, and implored him: “Teacher, keep us in suspense no longer! Tell us then, what is true love?”
Looking from the face of one to the other and gazing into their eyes, he said,
“If a man chooses to love his wife as Christ loves his Church,
if like Christ, he lays aside his pride and sacrifices himself for her—
putting her needs before his needs,
her happiness before his happiness,
if he will care for her and take thought for her,
if he chooses to keep loving her
when their interests diverge,
when her youthful beauty fades,
when she doesn’t speak sweetly
and when he doesn’t feel ‘loving’….
“And if a woman chooses to put her husband first,
to follow his lead as the true Church defers to her heavenly Bridegroom,
if she is patient with his failings (those he sees and those he does not),
if she encourages him and forgives him,
if she respects him even when his faults are obvious or she must pay the price for his mistakes,
if she has the courage to tell him the truth in love,
yet stand by him through it all….
“And if neither wife nor husband will let the sun go down on their anger,
but if each will race to repent and reconcile,
and if both determine to let nothing on earth divide them
as long as they both shall live,
there, I tell you, is true love,
and that marriage shall never be shaken.”
“But Lord,” the disciples said, “This is impossible! If that is how it is, it would be better not marry.”
But Jesus said, “Do not be afraid, only believe. With man this is impossible. But with God, all things are possible.”
From “The Testimony of Peter,” a pseudonymous apocryphal work reflecting early Christian perspectives on love and marriage.