Thursday, May 7, 2009

How Can Two People Stay In Love for 62 Years?

Beginning his series "Staying in Love", Andy Stanley's first message, "the Juno Dilemma", opens with him saying, "I'm always hesitant to mention movies...but how many of you have seen the movie, 'Juno'?" It's about a teenage girl who gets pregnant and has to decide what to do. She lives with her father and stepmother and she eventually decides to give the unborn baby to another couple as an adoption. But as the story progresses, Juno begins to learn that this other couple has problems to. About 2/3's of the way through the movie, there is this tender conversation between Juno and her father where Juno asks a profoundly important question that sits atop our modern society. "Dad, I just need to know that it's possible for two people to stay happy together forever." Don't we all ask this to ourselves?

The reason this is such an important question is because, despite all that we've seen, the state of our current or previous marriage, what we've seen in our parent's marriage and what we generally see in society, there's something in all of us that thinks this is STILL POSSIBLE. There is a glimmer of hope in us that we can be in a life long love story. "I think that is a little bit of the image of God in you... and in me." We know the world out there and we know that it isn't probable that we will have this kind of a lasting marriage, but we have the hope that we will. We have the hope that, by some miracle, our lives will reflect the love story.

We would all like to know that there is that one special person who we sense is out there that we could live happily with all of our lives. Early on, we begin looking for the person to whom we'll fall in love. "We need to spend about 10 seconds talking about 'falling in love' because that's all it really takes...if we have a pulse" There's people out there that make our hearts flutter. "It's so easy to fall in love with all the new forms of communication and ways of meeting people, but it's never been more difficult to stay in love." Few people have ever been around a couple that remains romantic and maintains a healthy "staying in love".

The laws of relationships in our society are so wrong, but yet we've adopted them making it impossible for us to stay in love:

Do unto others as they deserve to be done unto,
Do unto others as they do unto you
Do unto others as your mood would have it
Do unto others so as to get them to see things your way
Do unto others until you wear them down and get your way
Do unto others until you are ready to leave

Sometimes we see that people stay together, but we usually also see that they aren't happy. We, as a society, are completely ill-equipped to know HOW to live happily ever after. The other thing that makes it so hard is what we felt growing up. "A bunch of smart people got together and found out what it takes for a child to grow up in a nurturing environment to be emotionally equipped to engage in long term relationship." Here is that it takes; massive doses of respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection. Sounds like the family we all grew up in, right? So, if that's what is required for us as adults to have a long term relationship, how difficult is it then to meet someone else who has had the same experience? "When we get married, are you going to constantly demonstrate to me respect, encouragement, comfort, security, support, acceptance, approval, appreciation, attention and affection or are you just cute?....or do you just have a good job?" Over time, our relationships turn into strangleholds trying to squeeze these attributes out of each other.

The disturbing statistic is that 40% of the children in our society today are born without a dad. We can argue all day long about supportive single mothers, but if it takes all of these characteristics for a healthy long term relationship, these children are really going to struggle!

Another thing that makes this extremely difficult is that our society has a really low threshold of pain relationally. It doesn't take much before we decide to get out. The message we get every day is that, if we are unhappy in a relationship, it's because we haven't met "the right person". "You chose poorly and you need to re-choose." But if you ask someone whose been happily married for 20 years plus, they will tell you that there were many times when they asked themselves the question, "had they married right person?". Choosing the right person is certainly a part of it, but becoming the right person is the hard part and that's the part where we get little or no help in our culture. The odds are against us in our society. It is possible, but not probable.

But into all of this chaos, Jesus speaks to us the foundation for enduring relationships. What he says to us is so counter intuitive but it works. "Don't take my word for it, just ask someone who has a long term relationship....Here is what you are going to find..." In John 13:34, Jesus says, "a new command I give you." In this passage, the Greek word for "new" means extraordinary, hidden and discovered, remarkable. He says, "love one another." But listen to what Jesus does in this sentence. He takes a word that we normally use as a noun and uses it as a verb. It's an imperative. It's a command. People say they are in love, but Jesus might say, "no, no, no. You used to noun. Now I want you to verb." We can't feel it. We have to do it.

Jesus says if we want to foster love and help it grow, we have to choose to do so. The foundation for staying in love is to make love.... (it's funny when Andy pauses here) a verb. The feeling is like the caboose of the train, that is no longer what it used to be, the engine. "The more you make love a verb, the more you will make love". Love is something you do. When you actively love one another, it will enrich the relationship. But Jesus doesn't stop there. He says, "As I have loved you, so you must love one another." In other words, Jesus was saying He doesn't want us to take our queue from society or even from our parents. He tells us that He will teach us to love.
Years later, the apostle Paul put it another way, but he uses a word that is offensive. It just sticks a little harder. But it is a powerful word that helps us understand HOW to love. In Ephesians 5:21, it reads, "Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ". Paul says the foundation of marriage is mutual submission. We should make each other the priority. If we have ever seen this in a relationship, we can see love is alive and well. This is a choice we have to make. We might think it doesn't make sense, but it is the key to staying in love.

"One of the greatest things about being a pastor is...we get to see a man or woman who both grow up in a dysfunctional home...they come to know Christ...they choose to accept the principles that Jesus gives us...and they choose to incorporate these things in their home...and then these two meet...they then marry...but their marriage is reflective of not of what they experienced growing up, but of the way they understand Christ loves us." They take the cue from their Heavenly Father. In learning to submit, they take their queues from Jesus who submitted to us. "It is a privilege to see these people genuinely in love after years of marriage."

(Fran & Marlo Cowan (married 62 years) playing impromptu recital together in the atrium of the Mayo Clinic. He turned 90 in February.)

That thing that is so wonderful about falling in love can actually be maintained and can even get better! But it's not because you chose or picked the right one. It's because you did the right thing. You chose EVERY DAY to make your love a verb. That's a lot different from saying, "You are so good for me. I need you. You have what it takes." Do you know why most romantic comedies are so short? It's because not long after the funny ending, it gets serious and problems start arising. They have to end the movie before it gets bad.

What does it mean to truly live in a marriage of submission? Andy saves much of this for his next message, but he encourages us to practice focusing on what it would look like in our current relationships to regularly submit to one another.

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