When my wife (Tammie) and I attended pre-marriage counseling, the couple counseling us told us that the first thing we needed to always remember was that, “Love is a choice, not a feeling.”
I thought to myself, “Bologna! I don’t control how I feel about people. I love them or I don’t. End of story.”
It was 10 years later before I came to understand what they meant. It’s true—I don’t control how I feel. What I didn’t realize back then was that it’s never my responsibility or within my control to be loved or to make sure I felt love. My responsibility is to make sure I love, no matter how I feel.
I had always thought the feeling of love just existed or it didn’t. But I’ve since learned that love really is a choice to put what’s best for others before yourself. The fruit of the choice to love is the feeling of love. And this is not only true in marriage: It’s true in all relationships.
A Real-Life Example
Have you ever been so focused on finishing a task that you don’t want a single distraction, even if the distraction may benefit the people around you?
One night, I decided to tackle a home improvement project. On top of everything happening at the time, I thought, “This is the night to finally check this project off the to-do list.” It had been a long day in the midst of a long week and a long month. I was regularly staying up into the middle of the night to work on a new book. I was exhausted, but I needed to get this project done, and I needed to get it done quickly.
I knew Kennedy, my son, would want to help with the project, but I also knew any project with a 5-year-old’s help would take three times as long. So I quietly gathered my tools and slipped down the hall to start the job. I think Kennedy has a sixth sense. As soon as I started working, I heard him run into the garage to pick up his tools and head toward me down the hall.
Daddy, I came to help you with my new tools!
I really wanted to say, “Kennedy, listen. I love you very much, but Daddy doesn’t have time for you to help right now.” But I knew love always seeks the truth no matter what. When I considered the truth, it was obvious that if I love Kennedy more than what I wanted to accomplish in a short amount of time, I had to choose to let him help me.
So we worked together, and it did cost me more time, but we also grew closer together and my son felt loved by his dad. That’s how love works.
I learned a long time ago that I can’t say, “I love you,” and still put myself first, but I still have trouble living it out every day.
God’s Lesson on Love
John 15:13 says, “Greater love has no one than this: To lay down their life for their friends.”
I used to think this meant dying for another person. What I have since learned is that I can and must lay down my life for others, even as I live, in order for love to rule my life. I can’t do it to get anything. I must do it just like Jesus did it for me, expecting nothing in return.
What you eventually learn though, is that you can spend your whole life chasing what you want and never find it, or you can put God and others first and find that what you want chases you down.
How do I live this out in my own life, as a friend, as a co-worker, as a parent and as a spouse? It all starts by making Jesus first in my life. In Him is the power to love. Without Him we can do nothing.
Even with Jesus, love is hard work. I have to push myself to think about other people. With Kennedy and our home improvement project, I had to willingly choose to take more time and practice patience in order to show love to my son.
Finishing the Project with Love
When I was working on the A/C vent, despite my feelings to the contrary, I said, “All right Kennedy, what do you think we should do first?” He located the screws holding the frame in the wall and started slowly pulling each one out. I held the work light while my 5-year-old son removed the frame from the wall.
After we pulled the frame off the wall, he looked at me and said, “You can put the new one in,” and he ran off to play with his sisters.
Working with Kennedy did take far longer than if I had worked by myself, but we grew a little closer on that short project.
Living a life ruled by love often means making hard choices. Love will always cost you something, but not loving will cost you more. Love requires sacrifice, and the only person we can ever lovingly sacrifice is ourselves.