Don’t be selfish; don’t try to impress others. Be humble, thinking of others as better than yourselves. Don’t look out only for your own interests, but take an interest in others, too. (Philippians 2:3-4)
This Covenant Weekly is courtesy of Glenn Robitaille, Director, Ethics and Spiritual Care at Waypoint Centre for Mental Healthcare. It first appeared in his weekly message to the staff at Waypoint ahead of Valentine's Day. It aligns very well with what we heard from Bob and Rita Robitaille (who are also Glenn's parents!) on Sunday morning. If you have not yet listened to their story, you can watch it at www.covenantchurch.ca/podcasts/media/2021-02-14-faithful-love.
As a former marriage and family therapist and the husband of one wife for 47 years, I have some personal experience with the dynamics of lasting relationships that weather the storms and evolve in intimacy. True intimacy is, without exception, an evolutionary quality that emerges over time, weaving the threads of shared experience into a rich tapestry. Those who belong to the Greatest Generation and survived the instability of the Great Depression and the Second World War generally married in a climate that supported this evolution. Divorce was not easy in that era (and prior), and the economic realities of a pre-birth-control environment predisposed individuals to working at intimacy rather than to risk facing financial hardship or potential social stigma. That was, of course, both a good and bad thing. It did afford those who valued stability and placed high value on empathy the space that was sometimes needed to work through a snag and maintain a strong connection. Conversely, it also held individuals hostage who were likely a bad match from the get-go. These dynamics continue to exist in settings where religious and cultural values dictate a certain prescription for marital relationships, but it is hardly the norm in the West where individual rights and self-actualization trump everything.
Good relationships, like good wine, require a lengthy fermentation to become a superior vintage. It can be a tough sale in a climate where individuals often stress over the slowness of their microwave. Pop culture offers a steady stream of songs promoting codependency and frame love in the context of infatuation. Intimacy does have a passionate expression that occurs in the moment as an overwhelming impulse and accompanying emotion—what the ancient Greeks called epithumea; but intimacy that binds two individuals together as an enduring unity is less about emotion and more about knowledge, observation, curiosity, respect and forgiveness.
Deep and abiding love is never an accident. Infatuation and lust, however, are easy. They ignite in a burst of heat and longing and often expunge without a remaining smoulder. For many this quick burst of dopamine (an organic brain chemical and neurotransmitter deeply connected to the experience of pleasure) is equated with “falling in love.” Love exists as long as the neurotransmitter is firing on all cylinders and extinguishes when a deeper connection is required. The experience can be quite addictive and, for some, is as much as they seek in relationships. But for those who long for the depths of love, a different path must be embraced; one of true observation, trust and mutuality.
The most common word for love in classical and biblical Greek is agape. Emotion does not feature in this quality, one often translated as charity in early English literature. Agape is the ability to put the needs of another before one’s own. As such, it is other-centred, self-sacrificing and generous. As a couples counsellor I often talked with clients about the agape principle. In good relationships, partners learn what the other needs in order to be fulfilled and happy. They take responsibility to advocate for their partner in ensuring that these fundamental needs are met. When both partners assume this posture, the relationship is not an individualistic tug-of-war but a true union.
Everybody wants to be loved, but not everyone is willing to work for it. Strong love requires couples to observe one another; to understand one another; to support one another, and to do so even when the mood is wrong or it seems inconvenient. It begins for me with a daily observance where I see my wife as she is, as she was and how she profoundly connects with me. She will often see me doing this and ask, “What?” And I will answer, “I’m just thinking about how amazing you are!” Love is nothing mysterious. It is the logical outcome when you engage the other as one who really matters. Love is sustained when they believe they really do.