There’s an interesting challenge in loving someone where they are for who they are. You can’t expect them to change, yet when they do change you have to learn to love who they have changed into. We all change as we go through life. Every experience we have shapes and molds us in some way. We are affected by our decisions and by the decisions and actions of others. We are affected by everything that goes on around us. As we change and as we grow we sometimes struggle along the way. Sometimes our growth comes in the form of taking a step backward before we can take two steps forward. The same is true for our spouse. The growth that requires failures along the way can be the most difficult to love, but sometimes it is essential.
When I am sitting at the foot of the cross I hear Jesus saying to me, “Come to me as you are. Come with all your faults, all your failings. Come with all your reservations, all your questions, all your concerns. Come with all your strengths. Come to me exactly as you are in this moment.” He constantly reminds me that he loves me exactly where I am. He reminds me that I do not need to be “perfect” in order to come to him or in order to receive his love – he loves me in my imperfection. This is the first challenge of loving someone for who they are. It is accepting that person exactly as they are in the moment. You can never expect your spouse to be perfect. The idea that we can attain perfection in life is a lie. No one is capable of being perfect. So we must learn to love ourselves, our spouse, our children, and everyone around us for who we are – imperfect people.
You can only ever ask your spouse to be who they are in the moment. You cannot force change in others; you only have the power to change yourself. Instead of looking at the things you do not like in your spouse, take a look at yourself. Maybe there are changes you can make in yourself to better the situation. Maybe some of your frustrations with your spouse would go away if you made a change to respond more graciously and with more patience. Maybe your perspective on one of your spouses’s annoying habits would change if you saw each annoyance as an opportunity to say a quick prayer for your spouse and your marriage. Maybe if you really think about it you would realize that one of the things that bothers you about your spouse is actually the way they react to something you do that bothers them – something you have the power to change in yourself so they wouldn’t have anything to react to. All you can do is love your spouse and pray for God’s love and God’s will to be in them.
The second challenge in loving someone for who they are is in their change and growth. Since we all change and grow, the person your spouse was when you first met was likely different than the person they were when you got married. The person your spouse was when you got married will change and grow over time and throughout your marriage. These changes can be difficult, especially when they are not the changes you imagined would ever happen or when you watch your spouse make a decision that is something you never thought that they would do. Both you are your spouse are constantly changing. This challenge can also bring out the fun in remembering to date your spouse throughout your marriage, because you have the opportunity to continually get to know your spouse for who they are at that point in time. Each time you get to know your spouse and each time that they change is a chance for you to fall in love with them all over again – the new version of them. Each time they grow is a chance to appreciate something new about them.
It’s like sitting on the shore of the ocean, watching the waves come in. Each wave is different and with each wave the ocean changes, but yet it remains the same ocean. Each time the waves hit the shore, they deposit some things on the shore and take others back into the ocean wave’s fold. The ocean both impacts and is impacted by its surroundings. It constantly changes shape as the waves continually roll as well as composition as it gives and takes from the shore. Each person remains the unique and precious individual that God created them to be and while they are on their life’s journey they impact those around them and are impacted by the people and events in their lives. We are ever changing. Unconditional love embraces the changes in yourself and your spouse, encourages growth, and loves in each moment. It seeks to know and understand who your spouse is in each moment and chooses to love that person. It simply says “I love you – as you are.”
“But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8)
Christ not only freely chose to love, he chose to love fully knowing all the times you would hurt, reject, and deny him in your life. Christ as God knew every time you would sin against him. He knew every time you would feel his love yet run the other way. He knew every time you would hurt him. He knew each and every time you would have bad thoughts. He knew all. Yet, despite knowing how many times you would fail to love him and fail to let him love you, he chose to die on the cross to save you. That love is unconditional. That love is based on the decision to love regardless of how the other person treats you, regardless of what the other person does for you, and regardless of if the other person loves you. That love is completely independent of other’s actions.
For us to love as Christ loves, we must also learn to love our spouse regardless of their actions, because this love is a decision, a choice, it is freely given regardless of what the other person does. So often we hear people talk about leaving a relationship because they deserve to be treated better. While we all have immeasurable worth and deserve to be treated with respect, love, and dignity, God’s unconditional love is not based on how other’s treat us. God’s unconditional love says that we should even love our enemies. This love says that regardless of what the other person has done, regardless of how they have made you feel, you should choose to love them and be there for them. This love says that no matter how rejected, how hurt, or how disappointed you may feel you can still choose to love.
When this love seems impossible, when it feels like there is no way you can choose to love someone because of what they have done, you need to only turn to yourself and have an honest look at yourself and your relationship with Christ. Allow yourself to be humbled by all the times you have failed Christ, all the times you have hurt him, all the times you have rejected or denied him. Allow yourself to see your failures in your relationship with Christ. Then ask Christ to remind you how much he loves you anyway. Allow him to show you how much he loves you and let that love cover you and overtake you. Look to the cross and remember that although at that moment he knew of how you would treat him, he chose to love you with all he had until his dying breath. Ask God to give you that same love for your spouse, to give you all you need to love like that. Then resolve to do the same for others – to strive to love them by chose no matter what they have done. Allow your love to transcend their actions.
“Though the mountains leave their place and the hills be shaken, My love shall never leave you nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you.” (Isaiah 54:10)
As Christ was on the cross, He freely chose to remain there out of love. He understood God’s plan for mercy and redemption in the world and His great part in that plan. He understood that love conquers all and that this love must be freely chosen. He is God and He could have taken himself down from that cross, relieved himself from all suffering at any point. But He didn’t. He instead chose to love through the difficult times. He demonstrated for us that love isn’t always about the great feelings – it is about a conscious decision to love through all feelings, good and bad. He couldn’t have been feeling all that great while he was in so much physical pain from the torture he endured. He couldn’t have been feeling supported or loved from all the people, including some of his own beloved disciples, who abandoned and rejected him. In his final moments he even felt abandoned by his own father. However, although he probably wasn’t feeling very loved or filled with great emotions of love for the world, he still chose to act out of love. He chose love.
Too often we hear about falling in love – this great feeling that we can’t control or help. The problem with this definition of falling in love is that all feelings – good and bad – are temporary. Basing your commitment to your spouse, or anyone else in your life, off of a good feeling will only ever produce frustration and problems because at some point that temporary feeling will give way to other feelings. The good feelings may come frequently, but they will never remain permanent. Unconditional love, the love that never leaves, never gives up, and remains true through all challenges must be based on something other than feelings. It must be a conscious decision made continually at all times. It must be a decision to commit to the person you love at each and every moment in your day for all your days, even when the good feelings aren’t there. Love that is based in a conscious decision can withstand the trials that it encounters because it actively chooses to love no matter how difficult life may be.
This love means waking up each morning and determining to love your spouse the best you can in every moment of the day. It means looking for ways you can show that love throughout each and every day. It means that in both the good and bad times, you internally renew your commitment to your spouse. It means that especially in the difficult moments, you actively choose to love your spouse regardless of what your emotions may be telling you. As a spouse this means loving no matter what -loving no matter if you receive love back, loving when you are tired and worn down, and loving when you are rejected, denied, hurt, scared, or frustrated. It means that you love and forgive and never look back. It is choosing love over emotions, and when you choose to love through the difficult times when the feelings may not be there, it allows those amazing feelings of love to return and replace the current frustrations and hurt. Choosing to love is choosing to commit to your spouse no matter what you feel. It is deciding to be like Christ on the cross and commit to loving through the difficult times when the emotions may not be running high. This unconditional love begins with a conscious thought to love regardless of feelings and from that decision and commitment to love come loving actions and loving feelings.