Behold, love! For that word armies have marched, fortunes have been 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. It has inspired operas and rock songs, poems and graffiti, little notes and endless novels.
Love has cured people and (some say) killed others. Yet no word confuses us more than love. In marriage the confusion continues. Do we marry for love? Is love important? It is. But only if we understand what it is. Can we develop the kind of intimacy a marriage needs without love? It isn’t likely, for love is the substance of all true intimacy.
To help us understand the link between love and intimacy, I want to give you three different expressions of love to consider. Each is vital to an intimate marriage, as you will see. In this installment we will look at Fence Love.
Intimacy, the special closeness that is only possible in marriage, needs protection, just like your house. That is what fence love gives it. Love as a fence is a love that has nothing to do with attraction, or liking, or sex, or feelings, or even getting anything in return. It is a love expressed by decision and commitment. “That’s not very romantic,” some of my readers might be thinking. Exactly. Romance is important to marriage. But we live in an age that has made romance a god. Romance adds spice to marriage, but only decisive, committed love sustains it. Fence love promises to love, no matter what happens, no matter what changes. Most mportantly, it protects marital intimacy.
Love like this is in rare supply in these days of disposable marriages and temporary commitments. In the United States we have had, for years, something called a pre-nuptial agreement. Couples who choose one of these weird arrangements pre-plan what they will do with their assets if (when?) the marriage fails. Fence love will have nothing to do with such planning. Fence love does not plan for failure. It plans for success.
As I am writing this, my wife and I are staying with a couple we know very well. The man is 87 years old, still healthy and alert. The wife is 65 years old, but has had Parkinson’s disease for more than 10 years. We have watched the way this man loves his wife. Quietly, patiently, he ministers to her needs, at all hours of the day and night. He has never, not once, looked for a way out. When he married her he promised to love her, whatever happened, good or bad. He would tell you that it is God who gives him the daily strength and patience to love his wife. And his wife? Though greatly limited by the disease that she battles, she loves her husband in many, many decisive, practical ways. Even more, she is at rest in his committed love.
Now, contrast that love with another couple we know. They are in their early forties and have several children. The wife is a lovely lady, slim, attractive, and interesting. But this husband, the fool, has another woman on the side. He knows nothing of fence love. His primary motive is his own lust, and that lust has made him a promise breaker. He is robbing his wife and stealing from his mistress.
When I was a boy I remember hearing a cowboy song called, “Don’t Fence Me In.” That could be the theme song for many modern marriages. 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 married 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 beautifully and powerfully:
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.
Don understood that the power to keep promises comes from God. He has been making promise breakers into promise keepers for centuries.
It is the Christian conviction, based on the Bible, that God’s desire is for one man and one woman to be married for life. Fence love, committed love, protects a marriage and allows intimacy to develop in security. Fence love begins with our marriage vows. We promise to love one another.
Which marriage do you want to have? One that lasts for a lifetime or one that is destroyed by broken promises? Within the protection of promises made and kept, intimacy grows securely and authentically. Will you renew your vows today? Will you remember your promises today? Will you decide to love today? I promise you that fence love, covenant love, will make you a better person and give you a marriage that will last for a lifetime.
Think, Act, Pray
1. In your opinion how important are the marriage vows?
2. Is it possible for a marriage to be satisfying without promises? Why or why not?