Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Unconditional Love

Written by: Conrade Yap
Date: 19 Jan 2011
Note: This article is the second of a 2-part series on the call to unconditional love in marriages.
“It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.” (1 Cor 13:7-8a, NIV)

MAIN POINT: Romance is merely a spark. It is Unconditional love that fuels any marriage. Such love is made possible in the Christ Jesus.

Marriage is not for the faint-hearted. Weaklings, please do not apply. It is not a competition, combative athletes please do not participate. It is also not a relationship to be easily entered into. People with less than 100% commitment, please walk away immediately.

Saying “I DO” marks the beginning of a journey of unconditional love. Before God, before a multitude of witnesses, before each other, the marriage vow is a declaration that two bachelor selves end in order for ONE united couple to begin. What God has joined together, let no one put asunder. Two has become one flesh.

The Unity Candle
One of the most significant marriage rituals is the lighting of the unity candle. I remember that day well. Three tall candles visible in front of the altar inside the beautiful Methodist Church. Before the bride walks in, two candles on the sides are lit, while the center candle remains unlit. After saying our wedding vows, my wife-to-be and I take a lighted candle each, and pass the flame to the third candle together. This third candle is called the unity candle. Once this is lighted up, we blow out the candle in our hands and are subsequently pronounced husband and wife.

A) Danger: The ‘Bachelor’ That is NOT Snuffed Out

The snuffing out of 1st and 2nd candles represents the extinguishing of our old bachelor selves.

Husband: "I no longer belong to me. I belong to each other in the Lord."

Wife: "I no longer belong to me. I belong to each other in the Lord."

The lighting of the 3rd candle represents the beginning of a new married life. The biggest danger in many marriages is that our bachelor selves have not ‘died.’ We forget our new identity. We see marriage from self-seeking eyes instead of the unity perspective. This leads to an unbalanced expectation.

We want the excitement and privileges of marriage without all the challenges. We want the juicy fruits but not the hard work needed to cultivate them. We want things fast and easily get impatient when things do not turn out according to our bachelor schedules and expectations.

A monk once remarked to a couple celebrating their 40th Wedding Anniversary.
“Mamma mia! 40 years of martyrdom.”
Incidentally, that celibate monk knows more about marriage than most couples today. Marriage is about dying to our bachelor selves, and living married wholes. It is about saying goodbye to our old selves, and resolving to build a new identity TOGETHER. It is to grow a new tree TOGETHER. It is to build a new home TOGETHER. For Christian couples, marriage is about affirming one another and to build each other up in the LORD. The French actress, Simone Signoret, says it very well.
“Chains do not hold a marriage together.  It is threads, hundreds of tiny threads which sew people together through the years. This is what makes marriages last - more than passion or even sex!” (Daily Mail, London, 4 July 1978)
This unity candle represents the desire of the couple to continuously and unconditionally sew threads of love to hold the marriage together. When we retain our bachelor self, we see our commitment in marriage like a chain. We feel trapped. Chained-in. Imprisoned. We seek to be liberated from such chains. We see ourselves having to do all the work. We carry within ourselves a 50-50 tendency. I will only put in my 50%, IF my spouse puts in his/her 50%. This tit-for-tat behaviour stunts rather than build marriages. A person still living his/her bachelor self will behave in such a calculative and transactional manner. Romance is important, but it is only a spark. We need real fuel to keep the unity candle burning.

Depending on romance as fuel is dangerous. Like food, we cannot base our marriages on the sugar of romance. We need solid food of hard work, creativity, and commitment. A Christian marriage is entered into unconditionally, and should be continued unconditionally. Romance is at best a spark. It is the giving of love that fuels any marriage. The aim for every married person is to give until it becomes a natural way of life. Make our expression of love for our spouses be another thread to sew the marriage together.

B) Warning: Romance is only a Spark, not Fuel

I have heard so many times about people lamenting the loss of romance in their marriages. While I do not disagree with the importance, I caution one against using romance, ecstasy, or emotional highs to describe a 'good marriage.' Romance is merely a spark. Something else is needed as solid fuel.

We need to be careful not to be overly interested in the ‘orgasm’ (quick-fix) of marriage. Instead, we need to develop the organism (slow intentional growth) of marriage TOGETHER. The former (orgasm) concerns itself with the results, and the thrills of a relationship, and quickly dispenses with the process and hard work of improving the organism. Self-help mechanisms tend to focus on how to get something fixed quickly and superbly, and how to reach an ‘orgasm’ or a high point. It is geared toward achievement of one’s end: Self-love again.

An organism on the other hand is a contiguous living system. In marriage, it is two becoming one flesh. It contains both the good and beautiful as well as the bad and ugly. This is why in many marriage vows, the words make it clear:
“ (Bride/Groom), take you (Groom/Bride), to be my (wife/husband), to have and to hold from this day forward, for better or for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and in health, to love and to cherish; from this day forward until death do us part. “
Read it forward, backward, or sideward. The key point is UNCONDITIONAL LOVE.  This is the true fuel to sustain marriages. Romance is only a spark. Unconditional love is the fuel for sustaining marriages.

Married couples enter into this relationship willingly for better or for worse. In self-seeking love, we want the better without the worse. We want the richer without the poorer. We want the health without the sickness. We want the beautiful without the ugly. The tough truth is that we willingly enter into the WHOLE PACKAGE, and we must see it through. In a nutshell, the vow is an unconditional pledge to take each other as husband or wife. It is a commitment to love regardless of whether one is loved or not. It is a covenant made before a Higher Authority amid a multitude of witnesses. Only the LORD can snuff out the 3rd candle when the couple leaves this earth.

C) What About Troubled Marriages?

Remember the TIP. A marriage is a ‘Transformation-In-Progress.’ Are you doing it alone or in prayer with God as your help? Are you bitter about your marriage hobbling on only one leg, in particularly your leg? If there is one tip I can give, it is this. It is far easier to change yourself than it is to change your spouse. In fact, I will venture to say that if we spend more time trying to be the best spouse we can be, we will have LESS time to pin-point our partner's faults and errors.
“Success in marriage does not come merely through finding the right mate, but through being the right mate. “ (Barnett Brickner)
It is because marriage involves two parties, it can never be a single effort. The American psychiatrist, Rudolf Dreikurs’s suggests that couples see every single problem as a COMMON task.
The most severe predicament which may befall a married couple does not necessarily endanger the union; on the contrary, it frequently knits them more closely together. Everything depends solely on the ability of the mates to stick together when confronted with a difficult task.” (Rudolf Dreikers, The Challenge of Marriage, NY: Dutton, 1990, p165)
Just because one spouse does not want to do his/her part, does not exempt us from doing OUR part. Unconditional love again. Focus on being the best spouse we can be, and pray to God to help our spouse do the same.

KEY POINT: Every problem, no matter how small needs to be seen as a common task. There is no place tit-for-tat reactions. No exceptions.

D) Unconditional Love, Unlimited Love

Let me share an encouragement. True love always perseveres. There is always a brighter side. For every one trouble, there is also an overcoming of that trouble somewhere. It is not whether a marriage works or not. It is a married couple working together to overcome any trouble, with God’s Help. Each challenge can be seen as an opportunity to strengthen the marriage. For every negative thought, follow it up with at least 2-3 positive affirmations of your spouse. Prefer a baby step forward, than a giant leap backward.

Unconditional love is not natural to the earthly person. In fact, two imperfect persons coming together does not make anyone else more perfect. Rather, it reveals how much each person has to willingly surrender his/her ideals for the partner. It is not longer yours or mine, but OUR marriage. Not yours or mine, but OUR children. Not yours or mine, but OUR home, OUR future, and OUR love. We need each other. We need God.

The marriage vow is not a one-off deal. It is but a beginning of a relationship of helping each other become better selves IN the LORD. Remember that romance is only a spark.

Perhaps your marriage has lost its romance. Perhaps, your marriage needs another spark. Whatever the challenges, work at it from the eyes of God. Work at it together as equal partners. Work at it unconditionally to present each other to God, beginning with ourselves. Demonstrate your desire for a better spouse, by first being a better spouse yourself. The sparks of romance are depressingly temporal and short-lived. The perseverance of unconditional love will fuel the marriage for the long haul.

Love unconditionally. This is the fuel that will sustain a marriage. Any marriage.

Thought: "A journey is like marriage. The certain way to be wrong is to think you control it." (John Steinbeck)


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