First of all, I want to thank you for your loving and thoughtful cards, letters and e-mail concerning our beloved son, Chip, who went "home" to be with the Lord while jogging on August 1st. We have been overwhelmed by the outpouring of love, and it truly has helped us weather the shock and hurt of his sudden passing. He was 39.
Please continue to pray for his wife, Elizabeth, and our two precious grandchildren, Emily (age 4) and Madeline (age 1). We love you and thank you with all our hearts. God is in control and we already see His hand...
"Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you; not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled..." (John 14:27)
Over the last several months, I have felt compelled to write a few articles on God's Love in our marriages. As I mentioned before, we have been inundated with letters, e-mail, phone calls and personal counseling situations regarding broken and failing marriages. There seems to be just as many Christian marriages breaking up as non-Christian. We have recently heard of several pastors and pastor's wives who have chosen to walk out of their marriages.
This subject, of course, is very close to my heart because had it not been for God's Way of Agape (God's Love) in our own marriage, we would not be together today. In the July and August newsletters, I detailed what led up to our own marriage breakup twenty years ago. (Should any of you have missed those articles, you are welcome to call us and we'll send you back copies.)
The Real Problem
Our failing marriage could have been attributed to many factors: First of all, my Chuck was the typical Type-A workaholic (who worked 12-hour days seven days a week, plus traveling two weeks out of every month). On top of this, our teenage boys were encountering many problems of their own, and our youngest daughter was extremely ill with severe medical problems. Next, we had tremendous financial problems-we have been millionaires and we have lost everything. And finally, the thing that compounded the whole picture was our frequent relocations. We moved 15 times in the first 20 years of our marriage!
Not only did these circumstances create huge tensions between Chuck and me, but each of us had our own way of dealing with these things, which caused even more stress and strain on the family. Both of us were locked in our own worlds of tension, strife, and trauma, and "on our own" would never have moved toward one another. At that point, we had very little communication, no love, and not even a liking for one another.
Our lives seemed to crescendo to an inevitable explosion point. We began to talk of separation and divorce because we couldn't see any other way out of the pain we were both experiencing but to escape and run. Our natural inclination is to get as far away as possible from the person who is hurting us and to seek our fulfillment elsewhere. At that time, we didn't realize there was another option.
In all honesty, I hated the person I had become. The acid of bitterness and resentment does something horrible, not only inwardly to our self-esteem and self-confidence, but also outwardly in our countenance. There is a sourness, a hardness and a harshness to one who is consumed with anger and bitterness and unforgiveness.
So, many times in those first 20 years of marriage, as I saw my beautiful vision of marriage shattered, I would go to God and ask, "Where, Lord, is the abundant Life I'm supposed to have as a Christian? Where is the Love You promise? If You are the Answer, then why am I so miserable?"
Now, I thought I was loving Chuck with God's unconditional Love. In truth, I didn't even know the meaning of the word Love, because I was loving Chuck hoping to get in return the love that I so desperately needed and that's not God's Love at all, but my own natural, self-centered, conditional love.
Actually, most of the ways I tried to save our marriage at that time were things I did out of my own desperate need to be loved. Since I wasn't experiencing God's Love for myself, I was trying to find that love and that security in Chuck. Thus, I was looking horizontally, not vertically, to have all my needs met.
It was only when I got my eyes off myself and onto the Author of real Love (that vertical relationship), that I was able to finally begin to love Chuck the way I was created to from the beginning.
So the real problem, then, was with me, not Chuck! The real problem in our marriage was my holding on to and burying my hurts, resentments, bitterness, anger, unforgiveness, etc., and not recognizing that these buried things quenched God's Love in my heart and prevented it from coming forth. It was sin because I held on to these things, entertained them and mulled them over, rather than giving them over to God.
Matthew 7:3-5 describes me perfectly: "Why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considereth not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine own eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of the brother's eye."
Therefore, nothing in the world could have genuinely saved or fixed my marriage, until I learned how to become a cleansed and open vessel and let real Love out of my heart. Jesus had been in my heart all along; however, I was the one preventing Him from coming forth and manifesting His Love through me, because I insisted upon holding on to my "justified" hurt feelings. These negative things then acted like a wall or barrier over my heart and, thus, quenched His Love.
So, the first thing I needed to learn was "how" to become an open vessel, so God's Love could freely flow through me. In other words, what's the practical application of giving my self-my negative thoughts and emotions-over to God? How do I do that daily?
In the Old Testament, there was a ritual that the priests went through in the Inner Court of Solomon's Temple in order to deal with their sin and be reconciled with God. I believe these are the actual steps that God has laid out for us in Scripture, to help us each time we quench His Love in our hearts. The steps are:
1) Recognize, acknowledge and experience the negative thoughts, emotions and desires that have just occurred. Don't vent these feelings and don't push them down. Get alone with God so you can give them to Him.
2) Confess and repent of the things that God shows you are "not of faith" and choose to "turn around" (repent) from following them. Choose instead to follow what God is telling you.
3) Give all these things over to God (not only the conscious thoughts and emotions, but any root causes that God has revealed).
4) And finally, read God's Word and replace the lies with the Truth.
Going through these four steps every time we are confronted with a hurtful remark, painful situation, pride, fear, doubt, anxiety, bitterness, resentment-whatever "is not of faith"-is the only way we can stay cleansed and open vessels so that God's Love can continue to flow through us.
True Meaning of Loving God
Interestingly enough, these four steps are exactly what it means to love God. In Scripture, the Greek verb agapao (to love) means to totally give ourself over to something. So, to love God the way He wants us to is not an emotion or a feeling. It's not raising our hands in church or having some sort of religious experience, but simply knowing how, moment by moment, to totally give ourselves over to Him, so that His Love can come forth from our hearts.
I never equated loving God with John 12:24. And yet, this is exactly what it means to love Him: "Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone (it will have none of God's Love); but if it die (learns to yield), then it will bring forth much fruit (God's Love).
As God began to show me how to love Him and how to become that cleansed vessel, He began to do incredible things in my life. As I learned how to continually give my "self" (all my hurts, my unforgive-ness, my bitterness, anger, etc.,) over to God, He literally removed these things. So much so, that when I tried to remember them, I couldn't-it was absolutely incredible!
Then, He began to give me a supernatural Love, compassion and tenderness for Chuck that enabled me to love him right where he was and in spite of what he was doing.
Now, when I say "loving in spite of what he was doing," first of all, I'm talking about normal husband and wife relationships. And secondly, I'm not talking about being a doormat. So many women are petrified of being taken advantage of, of being stepped on or walked all over. And, I understand this completely, because that's exactly how I felt with the way of submission.
When we submit out of our hurts and bitterness and resentment (without God's Love in the picture), we will feel just like a "doormat." However, when we give our hurts to God and submit to that other person out of God's Love, then we'll feel more like a powerhouse, because we know it's supernatural-it's not us doing it!
And the other unique thing about God's Love is that His Love has two sides to it (not only a merciful and long-suffering love, but also a strict and discipline Love). So in those particular cases where "tough" Love is needed, God will show us exactly what guidelines to use and what restrictions to put up. In other words, God will not only show us how to love, He will show us how to love "wisely."
Jesus was the most powerful being on earth and yet He chose to love like this. Should we be any different?
Loved Once Again
As God began to show me how to give Him my hurts, resentments and unforgiveness and how to extend real Love to Chuck, my life began to change dramatically from the inside out.
Chuck, obviously, noticed right away that something was very different. And he too responded in love. (It's hard to resist real Love.) Eventually, after much courting and time to get reacquainted, we "fell back in love."
As I learned how to stay an open vessel so God's Love could continue to flow, my life became so exciting and so packed full of adventures, that I decided to keep a diary of all the things that were happening. The following are a few of my favorite entries:
August, 1975 - (3 months after I began The Way of Agape) "Chuck called me today, while away on a business trip, and said, 'Honey, the only thing wrong with our new marriage relationship is that it's no fun to travel anymore.'"
How many times I had pleaded, cried and begged Chuck not to travel so much. But nothing ever made a difference until God's Love became a real part of our marriage.
September, 1975 - "Chuck has begun to come home from the office at noontime now, because he misses my company and wants to talk."
Chuck was a total work-aholic and he would never have taken time off for anything, let alone, lunch hours with me! In the past, Chuck always had a difficult time sharing his real feelings, but all that changed when God's Love entered our relationship.
And the last entry is the most precious of all...
December, 1975 - "Chuck asked me today, if I were single again, would I marry him." He just wanted to make sure I was happy with what I had."
There are volumes of examples of how God's Love began and continues to work in our lives, as we stay open and cleansed vessels. Our whole married life has now become a series of "out of the ordinary," supernatural adventures. We are not just "existing" anymore. We are learning what real Love is and as we choose daily to remain open and yielded to God, that Love continues to work freely through us. God's Love not only saved our marriage, it's the glue that continually reconciles and maintains our marriage.
Focus On Jesus
When I stay that open channel for God's Love, and I keep my eyes squarely focused on Jesus to meet my needs for love, then three important things happen:
1) I'm able to stop strangle-holding and suffocating Chuck to meet my desperate need for love.
2) I'm able to stop trying to conform Chuck into "my desired image" for a husband and able to accept him as he is.
3) And, I'm able to stop being a Holy Spirit "nagger" and trust God to fix what He wants fixed in Chuck, in His timing and His way.
There is so much freedom in this way of loving. I am no longer responsible for how Chuck thinks, what he says, or what he chooses to do. I am totally aware of the areas that need changing, and will continue to pray earnestly about them and will share them with Chuck, as God leads.
But, my responsibility is not to try to control and fix those areas, but only to be a conduit for God's Love and love Chuck as he is. However, the minute I stop looking to the Lord to meet my needs for love, I begin to grab hold of Chuck, and once again, we both sink.
A New Way of Love
The wonderful thing about God's Love is that once it becomes the foundation of a marriage, then all the natural, human loves that have died in that relationship have a chance to be restored and rebuilt. How special it is, after 41 years of marriage, to be in love, to be best friends, and to be affectionate partners, besides having God's Love as the foundation of our marriage.
We're not perfect by any means; we haven't arrived; we're just like you-we're learning. But, we've found a way that "works," that's lasting and that has changed our lives. The gift of Love that has been restored in our marriage is revolutionary and something, I believe, many people know nothing about.
I know without a doubt, had we not found The Way of Agape twenty years ago, we would not be together today. God's Love has not only saved our marriage, it has turned it around to where it's a hundred times better than it ever was-even when we were first married.
Talk about hope for marriages, hope for relationships and hope for families! God's Love is the answer. Jesus Christ in our hearts is the answer. See, all the things that we have been talking about (all these principles) will not work, unless Jesus Christ, who is God and who is Love, dwells in our hearts.
Now, certainly God loves us and is constantly drawing us to Himself before we personally ask Christ to come into our hearts, but in order to have the kind of Love that we have been talking about here (on the inside of us, changing us from the inside out and flowing through us to others), we must have Jesus in our hearts because He alone is that Love!
So, think of The Way of Agape as a triangle. As we totally give ourselves over to God (love Him and become that open vessel), He then can love His Love through us to others. And, prayerfully, that other person will eventually return that love.
Maturity in Christ is not knowing a bunch of Scriptures, going to church regularly, attending prayer meetings, leading Bible studies, writing books or being on T.V., but simply knowing how, moment by moment, to love God. Then, we can go on and love others the way God intends.
God's Love through us is the only thing that will bring our husbands, our children, our relatives and our friends back to the Lord. It's His lovingkindness, in spite of the circumstances, that is going to draw them.
The Way of Agape is not just for marriages. Wherever there is a relationship, we need God's Love-with our children, our families, our in-laws, our friends, our bosses, our neighbors and with all those we meet every day. I don't believe there is any trial too big, nor any difficulty too hard that His Love cannot be the full and complete remedy.
"No man hath seen God at any time. If we love one another, God dwells in us and His Love is [completed] through us..." (1 John 4:12)
* * *