Behold the word love! For that word armies have marched, fortunes were squandered, and perfectly normal men and women have made total fools of themselves, often in front of complete strangers. Preachers preach about it. Singers sing about it, in every possible language, and with every possible rhythm. It has inspired operas and rock songs, poems and graffiti, little notes and long novels.
Love has cured people and, some would say, killed others! Love composes the theme of thousands of movies and television shows. Yet much of our acting, singing, writing, and even some preaching, comes from confused and disappointed hearts.
Love and Marriage
In Fiddler on the Roof , a superb musical about a man of tradition and the pressures that threaten his traditions, Tevye, the husband, asks his wife, Golda, “Do you love me?”
Now, they have been married for twenty-five years, and this is the first time the subject has come up. You see, their marriage was arranged by their parents. But after some thought, they discovered that they really did love each other. Love was alive, though the word was never spoken.
Love is the Power of Intimacy
Intimacy is the unique closeness that makes a marriage truly fulfilling. Can we develop the kind of intimacy a marriage needs without love? Never. For love, correctly understood, is the substance of all true intimacy.
To help us understand the link between love and intimacy, let’s consider three different expressions of love. As you will see, each plays a vital role in an intimate marriage.
Marriage has a unique potential for intimacy. It is the only relationship referred to as “one flesh” in the Bible. (See Genesis 2:24) You can’t get much closer than that. However, intimacy needs protection, and that is what this love provides. This kind of love, fence love, has little to do with attraction, or liking, or even sex. It is a love expressed in decisions- a commitment to one another, whatever may come.
True love- intimacy-building love- says, “We want a fence around this relationship. Let’s build it with vows and keep it strong through unselfish sacrifice. Let’s promise that nothing, and no one, will ever come between us.”
What about all the couples who have taken such vows and still have unhealthy marriages? Marriage vows do not create some kind of magical force field around a couple. This isn’t Star Trek we’re talking about. Vows alone can never prevent marital failure, because promises mean nothing without actions. A man and woman must live their vows. A favorite song writer of mine, Don Francisco, describes this dedication with powerful words:
So you say you can’t take it,
the price is too high.
The feelings have gone,
it seems the river’s run dry.
You never imagined
it could turn out so rough.
You give and give and give
and still it’s never enough.
Your emotions have vanished
that once held a thrill.
You wonder if love
could be alive in you still.
But that ring on your finger
was put there to stay.
And you’ll never forget
the word you promised that day.
Jesus didn’t die for you
because it was fun.
He hung there for love
because it had to be done.
And in spite of the anguish
His work was fulfilled.
Because love is not a feeling.
It’s an act of your will.
Now I know it isn’t easy
when you’re trying to stand.
And Satan’s throwing everything
that’s at his command.
But Jesus is faithful,
His promise is true,
And whatever He asks
He gives the power to do.
(Love Is Not a Feeling, by Don Francisco
Used by permission of Brentwood Publishers.)
Don understood that the power to keep promises comes from God. God has been making promise breakers into promise keepers for centuries. All we have to do is allow him to change us.
Within the protection of promises, intimacy grows securely and authentically, and both husband and wife feel safe.
A question. Did you like each other before you decided to marry each other? Most people do. In other words, they marry a friend.
Friendship develops intimacy. Most couples began their friendship before marriage. But the question is, will you continue to develop it within your marriage? Couples who do not maintain a healthy friendship find their marriages become empty.
It’s like the difference between a living garden and a dead one. When you walk in a living garden your soul feels refreshed. Let that garden die, and walking through it will depress you. Marriage without continued friendship is the same.
On a visit to Northern Ireland I had the privilege of meeting a noble old man named James. He and his wife, Sophia, had served God in Africa for almost forty years. Sophia had died some years before I met James. As he told me of their life together- the challenges and the joys- he paused, looked into the distance, and said, simply, “I liked that woman.”
You expected him to say he loved her, didn’t you? He could have, surely. Yet with one profound statement James painted a lifetime of friendship. I could picture them enduring the difficulties of Africa together– laughing, crying, talking, listening– glad to be together whatever happened.
Friendship is the common ground of our marriage relationship. We build it from all the shared joys and sorrows of a lifetime. Friendship develops mostly in the ordinary days and times, not the unusual ones. Companionship lies at the heart of it, and we must, must, make time for companionship. It is so important that it deserves a place on our calendars. In other words, schedule it if you must. But do not neglect it.
It’s an interesting word, companionship. It come from two words that mean, to eat bread together. The table is one place to rebuild friendship or keep it strong. Eat together. Turn off your smartphones. Be there. Share some food and share your lives.
Couples get busy. Life is complicated. Demands are many. That puts great strain on their friendship. Without constant care and planning, common ground will disappear. When that happens, one, or both, will be tempted find their friendships elsewhere, and often their intimacy, too.
Don’t let that happen to you. Keep building that friendship that is yours and yours alone.
At the very center of an intimate marriage, protected by covenant love and enriched by friendship, there lives an expression of love so intense, so involving, that we only safely experience it within the protection of a covenant. When a husband and wife give themselves to one another in mutual, satisfying sexual surrender, they celebrate their intimacy.
God created both man and woman with the ability to give and receive sexual pleasure. We are designed to arouse and to be aroused. Therefore, our sexual relationship can bring pleasure to both husband and wife.
Giving sexual fulfillment to our spouse is both a delight and a duty. A delight, because making love with our spouse stirs us, touches us, and releases us in ways that nothing else can. A duty, because we sometimes need to make love when we do not feel like making love. We need both, desire and duty, to develop a healthy sexual relationship.
Like the rest of marriage, sexual love requires couples to adapt and adjust to each other. Sexual gratification is a gift they give and receive. They learn how to do that in each stage of their marriage, but never let the fire die because of neglect or distraction. They are the keepers of the flame. Only they can ignite it and keep it burning.
In the sequel to George Bernard Shaw’s play, Pygmalion, he describes a feeling that many married people will understand:
“She is immensely interested in him. She has even secret, mischievous moments in which she wishes she could get him alone, on a desert island, away from all ties and with nobody else in the world to consider, and just drag him off his pedestal and see him making love like any common man.”
The woman he speaks of is Eliza. The man is a stuffy, pompous professor named Henry Higgins. Many husbands and wives want what Eliza secretly wished for. They long for times to forget other roles and responsibilities, if even for a few moments, and just be lovers.
Here’s a true story. A husband and wife climb into bed. The wife snuggles up to her husband, hoping to arouse his interest in making love. But the husband, a workaholic, lays there, hands behind his head, eyes focused on the ceiling, puzzling over some work-related problem.
The wife has had it! She pokes him in the ribs to get his attention, then exclaims, “Kick your company out of bed, Mr. CEO. It’s just your wife in here!”
Keep the fire alive! Celebrate your intimacy. You can read more about it here
Three expressions of love– a fence for protection, a friendship for development, and a fire for celebration. God is the author of them all. Ask him to make you a lover, in all three ways. If you do, intimacy will thrive.