By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another. (John 13:35)
This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. (John 15:12-13)
It seems to me that a lot of people have a very weird understanding of love… what it is, how it works, how to find love, and how to love someone else. I'm sure that the media we frequently consume plays a significant part of that, as does the families that we grew up in. When I hear people talking about love, most often it's as if it were a nebulous emotion that sometimes happens and sometimes disappears. For instance, there's the age old question, "Why can't I find someone to fall in love with?" or "Will I ever find someone who will love me?" We talk of falling in and out of love, usually based on how we're feeling towards a person. We regularly see marriages and relationships break apart because they realized they "just don't love each other anymore".
I think this entire notion of love as an emotion, something that we have little to no control over, is entirely wrong. Love is a choice. Love is an action deriving from internal conviction. It doesn't just happen to us, (although the emotions that do come along with it are quite wonderful at times) it is something that is proved out over the long haul as your heart towards that person is shown.
The reason I've been reflecting on this is because I realized that I messed up my love towards my wife in the last while. No, I didn't cheat on her or do anything dramatic like that… in general I think I have a pretty solid and awesome marriage. (we've been married for 14 years and have worked really hard on it) What happened was that I was experiencing emotional hurt over some relationship dynamics we have and so I decided to withdraw my love and connection from her because of the hurt. In essence, I felt like she hurt me, so I withdrew love. I still tried to treat her respectfully, be kind, etc… because that's who I am. But in my heart I didn't want connection, intimacy, or closeness. I just wanted to be by myself and escape life.
As I was talking with God about this, He convicted me that this wasn't showing true love for my wife. True love doesn't put conditions on how we are towards the other person like "I'll love them if they love me and treat me well" or "I'll love them if I feel like it". True love is sacrificial. It gives even when it hurts to give. It gives with no expectation of anything back in return. My love for my wife isn't a reflection on what's inside of her, it's a reflection on what's inside of me. Will I choose to love her even if I'm hurt by her? If I'm not willing to sacrificially love over and over again then intimacy with her is impossible, because I will constantly be looking to guard my heart instead of give it. I'll be looking to protect myself instead of connecting with her.
I think this is why so many people struggle with relationships. They go into it with a perspective hoping that the other person will fulfill their wants and needs. Eventually, it's guaranteed that they'll be disappointed and the relationship grinds to a halt. Ideally a relationship should have both people sacrificially loving each other and serving each others needs. That's the only way that both can have their needs met, have intimacy, and have an ultimately fulfilling relationship.
This kind of sacrificial love is exactly what Jesus demonstrated and lived for us. He came not to be served, but to serve. He came to give freely and He paid the highest price in order to do it. He was tortured and killed because He loved. Even while He was crucified, His attitude towards the people executing Him was “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34) He was thinking of them, not Himself. As people who follow Jesus, we're commanded by Him to show exactly the same kind of love… not thinking of our own needs but giving and serving others. I must confess that I often fall short of this standard, but I'm pressing on towards it.
We often see evil, hatred, and violence in the world. The answer for this is to love each other. Let's have true love, not loving when it's easy, convenient, or we feel like it. Let's love sacrificially, at all times.