- By Gretchen Potma
“Love is patient and kind. Love is not jealous or boastful or proudor rude. It does not demand its own way. It is not irritable, and it keeps no record of being wronged. It does not rejoice about injustice but rejoices whenever the truth wins out.
Love never gives up, never loses faith, is always hopeful, and endures through every circumstance.”
I Corinthians 13:7 NLT
I think everyone would agree that these verses about love are beautiful. Who doesn’t read them and desire to experience love like that? Who doesn’t read them and realize they fall short both in loving and being loved by any human like this ideal?
We most often think about these words in the context of marriage, and I’d like to tell you a true-life story about three marriages in their last days. (This isn’t meant to leave out single people because you and society also benefit when marriages stay strong through love like this, so keep reading). The first two married couples are my parents and my husband’s parents. Both of our moms were caregivers for their husbands for many years. My dad had Parkinson’s disease and my husband’s dad had Alzheimer’s disease. I don’t need to describe for you the care required and the patience and faith and hope and endurance that our moms needed in those circumstances. They stuck with the hard jobs they had been given until our fathers passed away and neither of them have any regrets. They loved with a triumphant fortitude; “not with dumb resignation but with holy joy; not only with the absence of murmur but with a song of praise.” (William Barclay)
The other marriage is that of an older couple we became acquainted with several years ago. In fact, they were the same generation as our parents. When we met them, they were warm and outgoing, eager to talk about their children and grandchildren, to share stories from their past, their community and church involvement over the years, the trips they took together, the house and hobbies they shared. Not much different from our parents’ lives. They seemed like a couple not planning to do anything but live out their lives together. They were genuinely interested to know what we meant when said that we were missionaries and we worked on finding ways to tell them more about Jesus. During the last few years, while we were in Prague, things changed for them. We heard that the husband had some severe health difficulties and her existing health problems got worse. Adult children even moved in with them to help out. After we returned to Windsor last summer, I had a couple of opportunities to talk to the wife, outside of course. She wanted me to know exactly where things stood with her and her husband. Health issues had taken a toll, as well as years of unresolved hurts and misunderstandings and she was done with it. In her loneliness, she had found someone else through an online game she liked to play. She traveled to meet him and then she went to live with him for a few months and now was making plans to make a permanent move to another city. “It’s weird, Gretchen,” she said, “the way life has turned out. I never went looking for it, never thought this would happen.” She had come to the conclusion that her husband never really loved her during their 60 years of marriage, at least not in a way that met her need to feel loved (and she made sure I knew he was an awful grump to live with too) and now not even the grandchildren really needed her. So, she was wrapping her marriage and going to someone who would hold her hand and call her sweetheart. Enough of loneliness and heartache, that was not how she was going to live the rest of her life.
The conversation was a shock. I did my best in the moment to tell her without being judgmental that God wanted her to feel loved, but that her new friend’s love, as good as it felt now, would someday fall short too, but God’s love would last. I spent a lot of time in the following weeks pondering what to say that might help her stick with her marriage, but I only saw her once more before she moved away a few months ago and the conversation was about her cataract surgery rather her marriage or her eternity. A few weeks ago, we were surprised and saddened to learn that she had passed away suddenly in her new city.
But, I can tell you what I pondered and hope that I can encourage someone to not give up, to not lose faith, to have hope and to endure. What would keep me going if I were in the same situation? What kept our moms going during the last years of their husbands’ lives? It has to be the hope of heaven and meeting Jesus. The world and even this lady’s own children applauded their mother that she was “true to herself.” It’s true we can easily imagine that her last days on earth were happier with the new man than they would have been with her cranky old husband, but as believers, we have the hope of far greater satisfaction and eternal happiness that outweighs the temporary pleasures of earth.
God motivates us to feel and to do what we should by calling to our minds (Lamentations 3:21) the way he has shown love to us in the past and his promises of future love, near and distant.
We look back and are motivated to love as we see how God has loved us in forgiving us through Christ (Ephesians 4:32).
We look forward to the next day and are motivated to love by the promise that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Hebrews 13:5).
We look forward into the distance and are motivated to love and to do what is right because our reward is great in heaven (Matthew 5:12) and we will be rewarded at the resurrection for our costly love (Luke 14:14).