Many years ago when my brother got engaged, I remember him telling me that he didn’t always feel in love with his fiancé. “Love isn’t a feeling, but a choice”, he told me.
At the time, I thought it was the most unromantic thing I’d ever heard. I distinctly remember thinking that, unlike him, love for me would be so absolutely blindingly obvious that it’d never have to be a ‘choice’. Love would choose me.
Years later, and it’s ironic to find myself repeating my brother’s words as advice to an engaged friend. Only now, after years of my own marriage, I can see what he meant.
There are times when feelings of love rise up easily; when things are going well, when you’re gelling happily with your partner, or life is generally good and that positivity spills over into your relationship. And then there are times when, sometimes with no seemingly obvious explanation at all, you just do not feel it.
Now I know that I love HF, but I can promise you that knowledge is not based on a barometer of my consistent feelings towards him. Yes, a lot of the time I feel happily ‘in love’ and all is well. But there are also many times when my love-radar is on holiday, and I don’t feel particularly enamored at all; indeed sometimes my dominant emotion towards him is more along the lines of irritation than anything else.
At those times, choosing to love someone feels hard. It can also lead to all kinds of anxious thoughts, questioning whether it’s time to throw in the towel, or taking it as a sign that you made the wrong choice in your partner. So what do you do when, in the words of Top Gun, “you’ve lost that loving feeling”?
Well, let’s consider another area of life where feelings come and go: faith.
There are times when we feel fired up for God, willing to go the extra mile for the gospel and to lay down our lives for it. At other times we don’t feel it so much; life plods along and we might continue on in our prayers and church-life through more of a sleepy haze. But we still choose – we choose to persevere in our faith even when we’re not spiritually on fire, when we’re tired or sick, and even when we don’t feel like God is near. We choose to believe, to know, that he is there and worth pursuing. Faith, like love, is a choice.
Probably one of the most destructive modern concepts is that falling in love just happens to you; like falling into a puddle. Films and novels can have us believe that unless we’re constantly skipping along together hand-in-hand and goey-eyed, that there’s something wrong. ‘Love shouldn’t be hard’, culture tells us; ‘it’s easy when it’s right’.
But that is utter nonsense. Like with faith, we have to keep choosing love – especially when we don’t feel like it. That’s what makes a relationship, whether with a partner or with God, go the distance. It’s when we stop choosing it that it stops working.
Ironically, I think this is when we see love at its most beautiful. When it’s difficult to love someone; when it doesn’t seem like there’s much in it for us, but we choose to love the other person anyway despite them being tired, stressed, grumpy, or ill – that’s the gritty, hard, beautiful love that Jesus is all about.
And even more ironically it’s usually when we show love, in spite of our feelings, that it really blooms. Loving actions often lead to loving feelings; a joyful side effect.
It turns out that my brother is quite the romantic after all.