“Loving well” is more than a feeling. First in our series, Love & Marriage, Gretchen Fleming shares a hard lesson that we can all relate to. We want to “be nice” to those we love, yet what does that mean, exactly?
I remember the conversation vividly. Although it took place years ago, I still recall that moment of clarity.
Thoroughly exasperated, I called a family member for help. I was at my wit’s end with my marriage. No matter how I tried, I couldn’t make things better. My husband was increasingly frustrated with me and all I could do was try to be nicer to alleviate the tension.
I felt backed into a corner. He got grumpier and grumpier. I got nicer and nicer. I ignored inappropriate interaction in hopes of appeasing him.
Please don’t get the idea that he is the problem and I am innocent because we are equally at fault living in this home. This is just one watershed moment that helped our marriage because God used it to teach me about how to love my husband in his best interest. He has more than loved me in my best interest over the years as he dealt with my wifely needs. This moment, however, helped me understand his need as my husband.
I had tried to act in accordance with what “love” was supposed to do: be nice, no matter what. If he acted angry, I thought loving him well meant that I would turn the other cheek, every time. But something strange began to happen. As I used kindness to alleviate his anger, a pattern developed: he began to take and I began to give — to a fault.
Growing up in church, especially in the South, girls are taught to “be nice”. We begin to learn that loving others means we are to be sweet and kind. Well, this wasn’t working like I hoped.
I phoned this family member out of desperation and she shared a painful experience where someone took great advantage of her. When she asked them why, their response was that they thought she would forgive them. Her anticipated forgiveness of inappropriate behavior was perceived as a green light for that person’s decision to sin.
Well that’s NOT the way it’s supposed to work! Doesn’t mercy triumph over judgement (James 2:14)? Shouldn’t a gentle answer turn away wrath (Proverbs 15:1)?
Yes to both, but that is only half of the equation for loving others well as I soon learned. Matthew 22:36-39 defines it clearly.
“Jesus replied: ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.'”
The word for love is “agapeo” in the Greek and it means to love in the best interest of another. It is how God loves us and how we are to love others as well. It isn’t according to how the other person may want to be loved but rather, what is best for them. It is represented in how Jesus loved us enough to go to the cross for our sins. We weren’t asking Him to do that for our benefit, but He knew that what we WANTED wasn’t the same as what we NEEDED.
The definition of love is found in the life of Jesus Christ, the perfect embodiment of grace AND truth. John 1:14 explains the balance needed for loving others as Jesus did.
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us. We have seen his glory, the glory of the one and only Son, who came from the Father, full of grace and truth.”
It was this difference that I needed in my approach to my marriage. I was trying to love my husband with only half the equation: grace. What I needed to balance this was truth. Jesus taught me through His example that I needed to love Kyle according to his best interest.
What this looked like in our marriage was in the form of boundaries and accountability. I had to draw some boundaries that communicated appropriateness and fairness. In doing so, I also had to be willing to hold him accountable to those boundaries.
For me, accountability meant that I was willing to ask for help from others if necessary (i.e. pastor, elder, friend, counselor, etc.). In doing this, light was allowed to shine in the darkness of anonymity. This willingness fostered motivation to love one another well as we both understood that help was always a phone call away.
In the end, I learned three valuable lessons for loving others well which impacted our marriage, as much as our parenting, through the years.
Being nice isn’t the same as loving others well.
Boundaries are vital in order to love people well.
By holding others accountable, we ARE loving them well.
Nowhere does this mean I’m not being kind and respectful. I still believe we are not allowed to be “ugly” with others. Jesus is our example and He was never ugly.
By balancing grace with truth, we can love others in their best interest, reaping the benefits of healthier relationships for a lifetime.
Which is easiest for you: to speak the truth — or to speak only love?
Does your spouse or friend need more of either from you?
I may overbalance on one side or the other, depending on how much sleep or coffee I’ve had! (Pathetic, I know.) We need courage, grace, and submission to the Holy Spirit to love well.
Prayer for your day:
Father, Thank you for what I know of Your love. You know me best, and love me anyway. Please show me where I need to be more loving, and how to speak truth in love for your sake and the sake of my relationships. Amen.
Gretchen Fleming writes from a heart filled with love for Scripture and she’s my friend. She blogs at GretchenFleming.com. Check out her new book, Press On: Encouragement to Keep You Moving When You Feel Overwhelmed.
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