The Heart of Love
Written by Rev. Bill Rap, MRE, PSAT & Caroline Smith, MS, LPC
God's Word calls us all to experience the most beautiful thing in the world; it simply calls us to, "...love one another deeply, from the heart" (1 Pet 1:22 NIV, emphasis added). That word 'deeply' is rich with meaning: Deep love is always from the heart, deep love is always passionate, deep love never gives up! Is that not what every one of us longs for: To be deeply loved by someone and to share that love in return? That is unquestionably true for me, and I believe it is for you too. This brings us to Valentine’s Day, a day designed to celebrate: The heart of love.
As humans, all of us can struggle with serious "heart conditions" at times. And because our physical health is dependent to a large part on our emotional health, routine "heart health" assessments are imperative. Clients often use the following words to describe their symptoms; a shattered heart, cold heart, black heart, bleeding heart or bitter heart. When emotional heart health goes unattended, bad things happen. An amazing example of this is a story involving a couple from Texas. All was well until one day the husband got upset with his wife for supposedly spending too much on sugar at the grocery store. So, he proceeded to take a saw, cut the house in half, and nail some boards on to cover the exposed part of each half. He then moved his half of the house behind some trees on the back section of their lot. And for the next 40 years this man lived by himself in his half-house refusing to speak to his wife. At first reading, this story sounds unbelievable or even humorous, but it is only one example of how couples emotionally divorce. Without compassionate understanding and effective relationship support, the loss of a loving heart is progressive and painful.
For many, Valentine’s Day is a reminder of what once was or what is currently longed for. The upside to any holiday, whether it be Thanksgiving, Christmas or Valentine’s Day, is that we get to spend time with people we care about in a wonderful exchange of heartfelt love. The downside to any holiday is when relationships have grown cold, distant, quiet or bitter, unpredictable and explosive. Spending time with people we care about can be a painful reminder of what’s missing in our relationships: a heart of love. If you identify with the downside to this Valentine’s Day, please be encouraged. There is tremendous hope for you and your marriage because of our loving God and Savior, the ultimate marriage counselor, Jesus Christ!
In fact, at the very heart of our ability to love and receive love is our loving God. According to God’s Word His love is: 1) Everlasting: Jer 31:3, "I have loved you with an everlasting love..." It is, 2) Permanent: Rom 8:39, Nothing "...will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." It is, 3) Perfect: 1 Cor 13:8, God’s kind of love, "...never fails." And, it is, 4) Available to us all: 1 John 4:7, "...let us love one another, for love is from God." God is the Author and Giver of His extravagant, permanent, perfect love. And the amazing thing is, God's passion is to see His love flowing in all of our hearts and in all of our homes.
Think that’s impossible in your situation? If so, maybe its time to challenge your thinking, engage in some meta-cognition (think about your thinking). Your thoughts have a direct impact on your feelings and your feelings influence your behaviors. Binging on a diet of critical thoughts toward your spouse is guaranteed to produce emotional distance, an unloving heart, and an increased risk for engaging in love-defeating behaviors. If negative thoughts become chronic, the result will be a slim chance for God’s kind of love to flow. That’s how King Solomon went from telling his little sweetie, "You are altogether beautiful, my darling, and there is no blemish in you" (Song of Solomon 4:7)... to, "It is better to live in a desert land than with a contentious and vexing woman" (Prov 21:19). His thoughts dictated his response, and they resulted in a loss of heartfelt love! What wounded relationships need most is a renewal of the mind.
We get our word relationship from the word relay, which carries the idea of running a race with another person and passing a baton at key times in the race. We often think that the baton exchange is the crucial part of the race, but in reality the most important part is what the runners are thinking about before the exchange, because those thoughts determine the quality of the exchange. So it is in relationships; what a couple thinks about while they are apart impacts them the most when they are together. Thus, if the little irritations and big hurts inevitable in any relationship are not bravely and truthfully discussed, distance and disconnection result. A heart of love can only flourish when two people commit to living a lifestyle of sincere confession, compassionate forgiveness, and reconciliatory resolution. Philippians 4:8 provides instruction in this matter; "Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things."
If you find yourself in a relationship struggling with "heart problems," or if you simply want to keep your marriage moving forward, we offer these thoughts as a starting place for learning to love deeply from the heart:
For deep love to flourish in your heart and home, first turn to the ultimate marriage counselor, our Lord Jesus Christ and ask for His help to be more loving, regardless of what your partner does. For it is the Lord alone who can "...cause you to increase and abound in love for one another..." (1 Thess 3:12). Remember, God is love and all love comes from Him. He is the One who has called us to love one another, and He is the One who can help us do it.
Then, "tend your garden". As a wise person once said, "The grass is not greener on the other side of the fence, the grass is greener where they water it." The fact is beautiful gardens take a lot of work, so it shouldn't surprise us that beautiful marriages do too! Your marriage garden needs two things from you every day: 1) Weeding: pulling things out of your life that harm your relationship. Things like selfishness, busyness, inattention, self-righteousness, blame and unforgiveness. 2) Seeding: cultivating things in your heart like humility, honesty, confession, repentance, forgiveness, understanding and tenderness. Actively notice the good things about your spouse and verbally express your appreciation. Research on marriage satisfaction suggests five positive partner statements per day. If we see marriage as an opportunity to excel in love, it won't matter how difficult the situation is. It will be our chance to learn to love like Christ.
Whether you are expecting the upside or the downside this Valentine's Day, if you find yourself longing for more, be encouraged: there is. You and your loved one can learn to love deeply from the heart. You have God's Word on it!