As I have searched my heart over the last year and a half, the Lord has revealed to me my faulty thinking in many areas. Last night, through a conversation with a good friend, I reconsidered a phrase I've heard many times, especially among Christians in reference to marriage: 'love is a choice.'
Is it? I realized that this sentiment is possibly at the root of some of my misrenderings of what marriage looks like. 'Love is a choice' sounds genuinely burdensome, albeit [self-righteously] noble. If 'love is a choice,' I will consider that I always choose love in spite of the faults of the other person (namely, my husband). Consequently, when I'm not feeling the love, I can easily pass it off, because, after all, 'love is a choice,' not a feeling.
I don't think I believe this line of reasoning anymore. Love is, by definition, an emotion; it is affection, tenderness, admiration, benevolence, attachment, devotion, desire, adoration (Webster). However, we all know that, while love is an emotion--a feeling--it can only be expressed through actions and behaviors. The Bible defines love as patient and kind, neither jealous nor boastful nor proud (1 Corinthians 13:4).
How can we possibly achieve that kind of love for others? 'Choosing' love means that we dictate our actions and our speech to be of the language of love. But in marriage, don't you always know your spouse's heart? For a long time, I 'chose' to love Jarrad. I paid him lip service because I knew in my head that he's a good man. But he knew my heart, and, in my heart, I was forever disappointed in him. I was wrong, and I knew I was wrong. My 'choice' to love him really meant that I pretended to believe what I knew in my head to be true, in spite of the fact that my heart didn't believe it. And I failed. I failed miserably at loving my husband.
When a teacher of the law asked Jesus, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?" Jesus laid out two basic instructions: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength," and "Love your neighbor as yourself" (Mark 12:28-31). When I realized the terrible mistake I was making by looking to Jarrad as my provider (instead of looking to God), I ceased focusing my energies on 'choosing' to love Jarrad. All of my efforts to 'choose' love had failed and left me wanting. All at once, I stopped idolizing Jarrad (treating him as my god), and I began following the first great commandment--to love the Lord my God with all my heart and with all my soul and with all my mind and with all my strength. And all at once, I gained a natural, unstoppable, overwhelming love for my husband that was unlike any love I had 'chosen' in the past.
When we say "love is a choice," I think we are cheating ourselves out of the most wonderful, natural, God-given feeling that we are meant to have for one another. Of course, there are times when I forget myself, and I forget who God is, and I forget to love Him. That's when I fall, and that's when I lose that warm and fuzzy feeling (I'm thinking particularly about my husband). What, then? I do try, in my own strength, to 'choose' love. I hope, though, that in the future, I will catch myself 'choosing' to love and realize that it means I am far from real love. And with that, I hope I will immediately fall to my knees to return to the Giver of perfect love.