After the Altar

The pastor proclaimed triumphantly, “You may kiss the bride;” just as the new couple commenced their long-anticipated Hollywood movie moment with the swelling music and admiring onlookers, the three-year-old ring bearer with a buzz cut—my brother—cried out in a painfully clear voice, “EWWWWW!!!”

Every wedding is unique and comes with its own set of stories (sweet, silly, scary, or otherwise). In the same way, no two marriages are identical; each is distinct with its own ever-growing set of stories, though there are general similarities. Marriage typically starts off with a bang. The wedding plans come together, friends and family celebrate, and there’s a romantic getaway for the newlyweds with high hopes (and expectations). Then, usually at some point in the first year or two, the glow fades and reality sets in. It is at this moment that love rises up and comes into its own. Anyone can have a wedding, but marriage is only for the valiant.

Butterflies won’t get you up in the middle of the night to rub your husband’s back while he vomits everywhere. Unrealistic hopes don’t cause you to bite your tongue when it would be so easy to retaliate to that hurtful comment. Infatuation will not get you far in the doctor’s office as you learn you can’t have children. These instances—and a million, million more—are only for love.

We Americans have turned love into a shallow, heart-shaped, vague notion of happy feelings fit only to be plastered onto one holiday a year and a genre of entertainment which frankly runs the gamut from raunchy to lame. But oh, friends, this is not what love is. It’s not this puny, anemic, laughable excuse for affection we have come to accept.

Love is death.

Good luck finding that on a Valentine’s Day card. Need some convincing?

Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.

(John 15:13)

For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son…

(John 3:16)

But God shows His love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.

(Romans 5:8)

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave Himself up for her.

(Ephesians 5:25)

Hollywood portrays love as a cheaply purchased, easily lost commodity. But love is not something you can walk away from. If you love, you die. You give up yourself, put your own desires aside for the good of the other person. It is a daily, brutal murder of selfishness and ego. We are called to love like Christ, commanded to love like Christ. He didn’t walk away unscathed. How then should we presume to?

This version of love—the version of love presented by the God who is love—is quite jarring. What? Love demands something of me? It’s not about how I feel? It’s not even about me at all? You can see why such a notion would be off-putting to a culture so absorbed with self, instantaneous results, and personal fulfillment.

You can keep the codependent “love” of Edward and Bella, the perverted “love” of Christian and Ana, the immature “love” of Romeo and Juliet. I am loved by the King of Kings with a furious, everlasting, unrelenting, unshakable tenacity that died and rose again and goes on and on and on despite my failures, despite time, despite circumstances, despite opposition, despite anything. This is how I’m loved. This is how I’m called to love.

Set me as a seal upon your heart, as a seal upon your arm, for love is strong as death, jealousy is fierce as the grave. Its flashes are flashes of fire, the very flame of the Lord.

(Song of Solomon 8:6)

Now that’s romantic. Anything less is empty.

P.S. If you’re married and don’t feel like your spouse loves you to this extent, no worries. Christ loves you like this if you belong to Him, and that’s where your identity comes from. No matter how you are treated elsewhere, Jesus is crazy about you. That should offer enough freedom to go out and love others, starting with your spouse, in a way you never thought possible. You’re not you anymore; you’re Christ in you. And He can do anything.

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