"Love That Lasts" is based off the teachings of Rev. Adam Hamilton and his work "Love to Stay." This sermon uses his teachings as a framework, working my own stories into the mix. I'm grateful for Rev. Hamilton's work and hope you are as blessed as I am with this series.
What She Wants, What He Wants May 6/7, 2017
Scripture: Philippians 2: 1-5
Today we are continuing our look at marriage and relationships with our “Love That Lasts” sermon series. Last week we looked at one of the foundational stories of the Bible, the story of Adam and Eve, which reminds us that God’s idea of relationship is best described as two people coming alongside each other to bless, lift up and encourage. This type of selfless less love, which we call agape, is strong way to build the type of foundation for a relationship that will last until “death do us part.” And today we’re going to continue that conversation by exploring ways to truly understand what our partner needs and values.
I’m not sure when the realization hit me, but at some point in time I learned that men and women are different. Maybe it was as a fourth greater at Cherry Run Camp, when a girl about my age said she wanted to get married. So what do two elementary students do when they feel they are in love? They put on a fake wedding! We had a “minister,” (Jeremy, who was several years older) and bridesmaids and groomsmen. We even had well-shaken cans of Pepsi that we sprayed on each other like champagne. That was the happiest I had ever been in my 10 year old life. But we quickly grew bored of each other. She had her friends. I had mine. She had her family; I had my own. And she was an artist and I was an athlete. And quickly that elementary romance fizzled out. We were just too different people. Now that I’m a bit older, I know that no two people are exactly alike. We have varying interests and different ways of communicating. We root for different teams and hold different memories deep in our hearts. But when we choose to enter into relationships, those differences come to the surface and can no longer be swept underneath the rug.
Recent data suggests that we haven’t quite figured out how to handle our differences. Long-lasting marriages used to be a staple in our society, but today only 7% of active marriages have lasted longer than 50 years. And so if we want our marriages to break that trend, it’s important to remember why we started the relationship in the first place. We were created for community (God says it’s not good to be alone) and God has a mission for us: to bless the other person. In marriage (and I think this is a good bird’s eye view for all relationships), we agreed to a covenant. First, we agreed to seek to honor and love God with everything we do (“In the name of God…”) and to honor one another. This calls for a love that goes beyond speech (although our words are important), but a love that is activated. As some like to say, love is a verb. It’s an action we take with our hands and feet.
So if honoring the other is truly an important part of every relationship, then this means we need to know what the other person values. Our goal isn’t to change the other person, because that probably isn’t going to happen. Our goal is to cultivate a new way of thinking. We spend a lot of our time thinking about our own personal values and asking the question “How will I know when Mr. Right comes along” when the all along we need to be asking a different sort of question: When God brings people into my life, how can I be the right person for him or her? Scripture invites us to wrestle with just this sort of question. As he’s reflecting on the life of Jesus, the apostle Paul writes these words in Philippians 2: Do nothing out of selfish ambition, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Isn’t that beautiful? That’s the example of love modeled by Jesus. When I read that, I find myself shouting, “Yes, that’s how I want to love. Yes, that’s the type of man and husband I want to be!” But you and I both know such a love is not easy.
Remember we said that relationships require hard work? That’s because we are invited to consider the needs of others before our own, which isn’t natural. I’m reminded of the story in the Gospel of John where Jesus shocks his disciples by washing their feet. That was a job reserved for the house servant, but since there isn’t a house servant in the story, one of the disciples should have picked up the towel and basin and completed the act of hospitality. Instead, Jesus does the dirty deed, and he does it with self-less love. By nature we are self-aware, and if we’re not careful, self-awareness can easily morph into self-centeredness. When I wake up every morning, I’m well aware of my needs and plans. Because I spend every second of my life with myself, I’m tuned in to my feelings and emotions, my desires and needs. I know how I feel when words are spoken in certain ways. I know how I respond when decisions go my way. But I don’t have that personal knowledge of others. And what’s more, we live in a culture that has made “self” a shiny god. This is your life, so do whatever makes you happy. You only live once, so just go for it. But Jesus shows us that it’s possible, even worthy, to live with another mission in mind, to give our hearts away so that others are blessed and lifted up.
Now, even if we know this and desire to be a self-less person, we’re often not sure how to do it. A friend recently reminded me that relationships change every six months, which makes this mission even more difficult! Once you think you know somebody, life happens and changes everything! Needs change when kids happen, don’t they? Values change when retirement sets in or the pink slip arrives. But despite a constantly changing life and world, considering the interests of others remains our relationship’s mission. And if we want to be the spouse or friend God has called us to be, we need to start by being intentional.
One of the tools you might find helpful in building intentionality is a book by Gary Chapman called “The Five Love Languages.” In this book, Chapman suggests 5 different ways people experience love and are valued. They are Words of Affirmation, Physical Touch, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Acts of Service. According to Chapman, every person has a primary love language. You can go online to 5lovelangauges.com and take a short questionnaire and discover the actions that make you feel most loved. My primary love language is words of affirmation. Long after I’ve forgotten the nice things people have done for me, I still remember their words. Last week I had a particularly rough day and Joanna, understanding my love language, spoke words I needed to hear: words of encouragement, reminders of identity and so on. But there’s an important caveat. Joanna and I have different love languages. If I try to love Joanna by using my preferred love language, I’m still not meeting her needs. I know she genuinely appreciates those efforts, but more than anything, Joanna would rather have me shut my trap, make some popcorn and put in a movie. Her primary love language is quality time. Understanding our partner’s love language goes along way towards blessing them. Anyways, I thought you might find a helpful resource.
Finally, there is another tool that can helpful in figuring out how to best help and understand your partner. Treat and view your relationship as a lifetime investment. Investments require a long-term strategy where you continue to build up over a lifetime. Dr. Bradford Wilcox, a professor at the University of Virginia, calls this commitment, “Marital Permanency.” With marital permanency, divorce isn’t an option, which, says Wilcox, is important because even the happiest of relationships aren’t always happy. Every relationship will have its moments, but investments are designed to carry you through the ups and downs.
In a recent online survey, which 59 people completed across our parish, you indicated four ways you are most likely to feel loved and valued. The top way you gave was when your spouse shares thoughts and feelings. What this means is every time, men, you decide to do more than grunt when your wife asks, “How are you feeling,” your making an investment in your marriage. The second answer you provided is when your partner spends times with you. Ladies, every time your husband asks to watch the game and you do it even if you’d rather be doing anything else at that moment, you are making an investment in your marriage. The final two ways you said you feel most loved are when your partner shows you affection and takes time to listen to you. Every time you put the phone away and listen to your wife rattle off the grocery list, or every time you listen to the same story from your friend that you’ve heard time and again, you are making a lifetime investment and considering the needs of others over and above your own.
There are moments in every relationship where you’d rather take your ball and go home. And sometimes that’s what needs to happen. Some relationships will never be healthy and they might actually be dangerous for one or the both of you to continue. But while that is true of some relationships, most are worth fighting for. As financial advisor Dave Ramsey likes to say: You have to live like no one else now in order to live like no one else later. Choosing to put aside your own needs and to focus instead on the needs of others might not be the cultural norm or the “in” thing, but if you end up as one of the 7% of marriages that last 50 years or more, it will be well worth it. Just ask Bill and Anne, who have been married for 56 years. When asked the age-old question, “What’s the secret to your marriage, they playfully ribbed each other before summing up the not-so-secret secret: Respect, love and being there for each other. That’ sounds like a winning formula, and it sounds like Paul’s reminder to us, a reminder that would be well-worth committing to memory: Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others.” Let’s pray. Amen.