A few weeks ago our family said goodbye (for now) to my wife’s beloved grandfather, Horace Fitzpatrick—known to all of the family as simply “Pa.” Nearly two years ago, Pa’s oldest son—my wife’s father—David was tragically killed by a drunk driver while bicycling near his home. When I spoke at David’s funeral, I made note of David’s loving devotion to his wife:
After his relationship with his creator and Savior, David was most devoted to his wife Margie. This was clear to all of us who knew him best. This is perhaps his greatest witness. Of course, David witnessed this devotion in the life of his own father. Thank you for that, Pa.Pa’s funeral was the best “end-of-life celebration” that I’ve ever witnessed. His generous and loving life made for a powerful end. (We were especially close to “Granny and Pa,” as they played an important role in the debt-free manner in which we built our home.) Four men spoke at the funeral, including Pa’s son Roger. Roger made special note of Pa’s love for his “Beautiful, Sweet, Toony.” Horace and Bertie-Mae were married for 67 years. My wife’s parents, David and Margie (Papa and Mimi) had been married for 46 years when David was killed in 2015. My own parents, Edsel and Carolyn Thomas (Poppy and Nonny), have been married for 48 years.
In other words, I’ve had several excellent examples of what true and lasting love looks like. In today’s sex-crazed, fornicating, adulterating, divorcing culture, such examples were (and still are) immeasurably impactful. With 19 years of marriage already under my belt, I certainly hope to continue such a tradition.
I say all of this with Valentine’s Day in mind. Several years ago, I wrote the following to help paint a picture of “the most excellent way.” I provide it again to remind all of us what it really means to love. (Thank you to all of my family and friends—but especially Granny and Pa, Nonny and Poppy, Mimi and Papa, and Michelle, Caleb, Jesse, Caroline, and Noah—for all the love you’ve given me.)
The Will to Love
I believe that the one most revealing, the most essential characteristic of our Creator is love. By His love He made us, and because of His love He redeemed us. We are closest to His nature and what He created us to be when we are living our lives according to His idea of love.
He also told us that His entire law can be summed up with one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” What does that mean? What does it mean to love your neighbor as you love yourself?
First of all, who is our “neighbor?” Most of us have heard of “The Good Samaritan.” Through this parable, Christ taught us that our neighbor means more than those who live near us, or those within our circle of family and friends. In effect, what He was saying was that loving our neighbor also means loving our enemies.
Secondly, how do we “love” ourselves? If we are honest, we should all admit that there are times when none of us is particularly loveable. In fact, most of us have probably been pretty disappointed in and disgusted by our own behavior, and thus, in ourselves. We may even have seen ourselves as downright nasty.
Therefore, loving our neighbor does not mean always having pleasant feelings about him or being happy with everything she does. As C.S. Lewis put it, it does not mean “thinking them nice either.” In fact, love in the Christian sense isn’t a feeling at all. It is a matter of the will.
As Lewis put it, “It is a state not of the feelings but of the will; that state of the will which we naturally have about ourselves, and must learn to have about other people.” In other words, do not bother so much about how you feel towards someone; act like you love them. In other words, do and say the things that true love requires. Feelings and emotions come and go, but our will can be forever unwavering.
Consider 1 Corinthians chapter 13, where the Apostle Paul reveals to us what true love is.
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.Patience, kindness, a lack of envy or boasting; humility, politeness, and controlling your temper; keeping no record of wrongs, and so on—these all are matters of the will. As soon as you do these things, Lewis notes, “we find one of the great secrets. When you are behaving as if you loved someone, you will presently come to love him.”
Jesus said that the greatest act of love is to lay down one’s life for another. What is that if not an act of the will? No one “feels” like doing such a thing. Jesus even prayed that His act of sacrifice, if possible, would pass from Him, but His will was surrendered: “Not My will, but Yours be done.”
Of course, romantic love can generate a torrent of emotions within us. Almost all of us have been tied in knots over one person or another in our lives. But, even in the strongest of relationships, these feelings don’t last—and thank goodness! How would we function day to day and year to year with such emotions?!
Yet popular culture has chosen to highlight this brief and passing aspect of love and held it up as the ideal. Of course, popular culture has also made love synonymous with sex. This is especially true with our youth. They enter relationships—even marriage—with their hearts and minds full of the wrong ideas about love.
Thus, the most important relationship on the earth—that between a husband and a wife—often rests upon a very shaky foundation. If a marriage rests upon this feeling of “being in love” alone, it almost certainly will fail. Couples need to understand that when this feeling subsides, it does not mean that we should stop loving. Love in this deeper sense is about a promise or vow that nearly every couple makes upon marrying. And keeping this promise is a matter of the will.
However, Christians know that, left to ourselves, our own will is not enough. On our own we cannot love as we should. The selflessness that true love requires runs very contrary to our born nature. That is why, in order to love truly, we must look to the One who is love.
Happy Valentine’s Day!
Copyright 2017, Trevor Grant Thomas
At the Intersection of Politics, Science, Faith, and Reason.
Trevor is the author of The Miracle and Magnificence of America