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For many years I’ve been reflecting on the topic of love within marriages, families and friendships — and my profound conclusion is this: Love Fails!
“Forstrom’s a heretic!” the Bible scholar will contend. “He’s 180 degrees off-base! 1 Corinthians 13:8 clearly instructs us that “Love never fails.”
Others will call me a pessimist. “Shouldn’t he be upholding unfailing love as the foundation on which to build healthy relationships? What’s gotten into this guy?”
Let me explain.
Unconditional, pure, selfless love is certainly the biblical ideal — and at times it is achievable — but it’s never sustainable.
Human love always falls short. It’s unreliable. Limited. Lacking. Temporary. Incomplete. Eventually, love always fails.
This is important to understand because if we don’t concede that others’ love will inevitably fail us, our expectations of them will be unrealistic and we will be needlessly — and perpectually — offended.
Let me illustrate from our own lives with reference to Gary Chapman’s “Five Love Languages.”
- I am very aware that Cindy’s primary love language is “Acts of Service”, and yet here I am blogging instead of scrubbing the shower. In fact, I’m ashamed to admit that I spend an average of about 23.5 hours a day not doing acts of service for her!
- As for me, my primary love language is “Touch” — and you can be sure that I have made my wife Cindy very aware of that fact! But at this moment as I write this she is not touching me. She’s working on her “pile.” She could be rubbing my shoulders at this very moment but she’s not — to my chagrin. In fact Cindy spends about 15+ hours every day not touching me. (Note: I’m giving her full credit for all the time we spend sleeping–we share a “super single” sized waterbed so not touching me is not an option for those 7 or 8 hours!)
The point is this: Cindy and I will never love and serve one another as much as we could. There will always be one more honey-do project I could have done today. Every backrub she thinks to gives me could have lasted 1 minute longer. Or an hour longer. Our love for each other always falls short of what it could have been.
Of course loving others involves much more than Touch or Acts of Service — there are multiple expressions of love. But the reality is that the time and effort we spend intentionally and actively loving each other is quite often interrupted by other things. Plus, we’re forgetful, we get distracted, we get overloaded, we’re unaware of needs, we lose momentum, we lose focus, we misprioritize, we run out of energy, and sometimes we get lazy.
Many people live their whole lives perpetually offended by this.
Instead of wallowing in feelings of neglect and resentment let’s put the failing love of others in perspective. Here are seven ways:
- Cut them some slack. Concede that others are simply human and prone to fall short. Except by the grace of God, there go I.
- Recognize that life pulls people in many directions. As I blogged about earlier we shouldn’t require others to do their best all the time. Let’s not expect them to do as much for us as they could, instead let’s keep our expectations realistic.
- Admit that we’re not the only recipient of someone’s love. We have to share our loved ones with others. To not share them is to be controlling, manipulative, and selfish. It it important to remember that we don’t need them.
- Recognize that our felt needs do not necessarily define what is best for us. If Cindy gave me backrubs 16 hours a day the bills wouldn’t be paid, the house would be in disarray, etc. If I did acts of service for Cindy around the house 16 hours a day I wouldn’t bring home a paycheck and we would no longer have a house! My felt needs are not all that matters.
- Humble yourself and admit how much you yourself also fail at loving others. When I start to feel neglected by others an instant cure comes when I recognize how much more I’ve neglected them. Take the log out of your own eye first, adopting the attitude of Brother Lawrence, “When I fail in my duty, I readily acknowledge it, saying, “I am used to do so; I shall never do otherwise if I am left to myself.” (The Practice of the Presence of God).
- Remind one another that your love is guaranteed to fail them. Make it very clear that they can expect this from you. Not that you’ll willfully harm them or spitefully neglect them, but that your love will ultimately fall short of all it could be. “I promise to neglect you,” is a phrase they ought to hear you say, knowing that this will never be intentional, but that it will be inevitable.
- Trust in God’s unfailing love rather than man’s. Allow the failings of human love to be useful in giving us a thirst for that love which never fails.
Guaranteed to fail you,