Valentine’s Day is generally a fun holiday. It evokes images of red-candied hearts, small-winged Cupids, and white-laced cards proclaiming never-ending love. Children give and receive little notes of affection; parents and children exchange cards and “goodies”; friends and work colleagues tell one another how much they’re valued. It’s a day that love and friendship are celebrated.
Perfect love, of course, is found only in Jesus. No earthly love can begin to compare to the matchless love of Christ and His gift to us of eternal life. Neither are we able to fully comprehend it. If we reflect on love in human terms, however, what does that word mean?
When a man and woman first fall in love and marry, the romantic side of love is paramount. As time goes on, however, the focus of their thoughts often shifts somewhat and becomes more absorbed in day-to-day events and challenges. The small annoyances and frustrating habits of a spouse begin to test fortitude and commitment, and “compromise” is the order of the day. Does this mean that love has lessened? No, not at all! In reality, it likely has grown.
As I reflect on my own marriage of 38 years, I realize that learning how to give and take, to adjust, to be flexible, are skills that helped us to grow both as individuals and as a couple. Making it through the rough times, the tough times, and coming out the other end not unscathed, but wiser, more patient, more understanding, helped us to comprehend love more fully. Seeing what’s not quite so good about a spouse and loving them anyway—knowing they must do the same for us—is what draws out and reinforces the love for that special person in our lives. Not giving up on the person, believing in them, supporting them, and receiving those things from them in return help keep a marriage strong and stable.
True love is commitment. It’s the knowledge that your partner cares for you and “has your back.” Our emotions are involved, but they can’t be our only criterion for love. It’s also based on principle—which leads to action in small ways as well as large.
These seeming platitudes are often easier to say than to do. Marriage is hard work and must be based on a solid trust and reliance on God. Both parties must be committed to the marriage, and developing a growing love and respect for each other is a high priority.
Ellen White describes it well:
“True love is not a strong, fiery, impetuous passion. On the contrary, it is calm and deep in its nature. It looks beyond mere externals and is attracted by qualities alone. It is wise and discriminating, and its devotion is real and abiding. God tests and proves us by the common occurrences of life. It is the little things which reveal the chapters of the heart. It is the little attentions, the numerous small incidents and simple courtesies of life, that make up the sum of life’s happiness; and it is the neglect of kindly, encouraging, affectionate words, and the little courtesies of life, which helps compose the sum of life’s wretchedness. It will be found at last that the denial of self for the good and happiness of those around us constitutes a large share of the life record in heaven.”*
Putting your relationship with your spouse first and foremost above everything else (other than your relationship with God) is the secret to attaining a happy, long-term marriage and discovering true love. It may not be the way we first envisioned it would be—instead, it will be better.
* Ellen G. White, Testimonies for the Church (Mountain View, Calif.: Pacific Press Pub. Assn., 1948), vol. 2, p. 133.