A reader asked me recently how it is that I’ve figured out the answers to all love’s questions. How can it be, he wondered, that for all eternity, people have struggled with how to love and be loved, and yet here I am explaining it all? How amazing is that, he asked? He implied sarcastically that if everyone would just sit at my feet and listen, the mysteries of love would fall into place.
Wow. And ouch. I’d like to pretend I’m immune to sticks and stones, but if I’m honest, every criticism stings a little. And there’s probably some truth in it. Maybe I’ll reread some of my posts to see what elicited such a bitter response. Are there places where I’ve sounded smug or self-righteous? I need to know. Meanwhile, I’d like to speak to what he said about love being a mystery.
First of all, I agree. I’d be the first to tell you (except my husband might beat me to it) how little I understand about the mysteries of love. Why is it that on some days, loving my husband and daughters comes fairly naturally, and on others, I’d rather cut off a finger than do something that’s all about them? Or apologize? Or forgive a hurt? Sometimes their simplest requests may unleash a tsunami of resentment. Yet I love them all enough to die in their place. Mystery.
Who can explain the mystery of attraction, and why we’re drawn to people who are our polar opposites? My husband and I fall into that category. When we’ve taken personality tests, he and I could not be more different. Sure, I’ve read the scientific explanations for how dopamine and pheromones and seratonin all come into play when we’re in love. But of all the people in the world, why did we choose each other to share our lives with? Does anyone really understand sexual chemistry, and the way God wired us to respond to each other with body, mind and spirit? Mystery.
Here’s a mystery I’ll never understand: why is it that an act of love frequently has to precede the feeling of love? Shouldn’t it be the other way around? So often for me, it’s that sacrificial act that produces the very feelings I wished for in the first place.
Recently I’ve really been wanting a new bed. (This is related.) We’ve been sleeping on a mattress and box springs on the floor for almost a year now, so it’s past time. A couple of weeks ago, my husband and I had planned an outing to IKEA – an hour away — to pick out and buy a bed frame. When the day came, he said he was too stressed at work for that to sound appealing, and he cancelled our date. This is going to sound really selfish, but I can’t explain how disappointed I was. What a baby, right? But we don’t get many options for outings of this magnitude, and I didn’t know when we’d get another chance. I could’ve pushed to make it happen and he probably could’ve booted up. But I decided to put aside the disappointment and spend the evening helping him de-stress instead. For him, that means staying in, eating a home cooked meal and just chilling. I cooked a menu I knew he would love and even decorated the kitchen with candles and Christmas tree lights. He was so pleased, and so appreciative. And somewhere in the process, I began to feel this warm glow of affection. But it wasn’t the feelings that prompted me. They came after, or somewhere in the middle, as I chose and kept choosing to love him. I wish I could rely on my feelings to motivate me, but more often than not, this seems to be the way love works in the real world. Especially when you’ve been married decades.
The next week my husband got his chance to practice the love dance. He cleared his afternoon schedule and actually took time off work to go with me to IKEA, one of his least favorite places in the world to shop. I think it’s because he knows what’s in store for him once we get home with the boxes. Sure enough, we bought a bed frame, packaged in four or five cardboard boxes, and brought it home, only to open it up and find it also contained a hundred and fifty-eight various types of hardware and an 18 page manual with pictures, but no words. This is his worst shopping nightmare, the kind of thing that tests a marriage. I honestly think he’d rather have a root canal than assemble furniture. But he did it, for me – the woman he chose to love. Three grueling hours later, the bed frame was assembled. I was grateful, he was relieved. I got to be the recipient of this labor of love. Who knew love looked like a Scandinavian platform bed? It really is a mystery.
I hope I never sound like I have love figured out. I know that even after a lifetime of marriage, I will never fully know or understand my husband. In some ways, part of who he is will always be a mystery to me. As far as that goes, maybe I’ll never fully plumb the depths of my own soul. What if our souls weren’t meant to be understood as much as accepted and loved the way God loves us? Maybe that’s the point. And also, it’s not about me. I forget that one. As much as I might try to understand it, love will always remain a mystery. But I know the One who is Love, and that helps. May God teach me as I try to live into the questions.