I wake up some days, almost in disbelief, that I have been married for more than 13 years. Not only am I not a kid anymore, but I have a slew of kids of my own. Does anyone else feel this way? And these kids…they have to be fed THREE times a day, EVERY day! Sounds simple, but sometimes the simplest things in life can seem overwhelming. And too often, I fail to seek the potential for daily delight from the greatest blessings in my life.
I’m sharing this piece for my friends who might find themselves in the same place as me. This is also for my friends who are newly married. Really, this post is for anyone who loves someone – family, friends, or romantically. Because love isn’t as easy as it looks. This is for my friends who love Jesus. And this post is for my friends who just love to love. This post is for me…or I wouldn’t have written it in the first place.
The butterflies have left the building.
Recently, my husband traveled for work all week. I missed him a ton. I imagined how painful life would be without him. I was lonely. This past week, he was back. But instead of making lots of personal eye contact and giving him spontaneous kisses and hugs here and there, I unloaded the dishwasher. I changed the sheets. I often let the busyness and exhaustion of our days pull me down. And I sat there and wondered where the butterflies went.
Ryan and I started dating when I was 18…no doubt my first and only true love. I remember when I could barely concentrate on speakers or in church if he brushed his fingers on my arm or hand. In those days, any time he touched me, my entire body felt like it was on fire. If he liked a certain food or song, I certainly was going to do the same. And I quickly decided I didn’t need Alanis Morissette if he didn’t like her music! Maybe not the most independent stage of my life, but I was newly in love, and the butterflies were irrefutable.
Now, almost 18 years later, I still love when he puts his arm around me and holds my hand. But sometimes I forget to crave it. We have grown to naturally appreciate many of the same foods and songs. But truthfully, the butterflies are long gone. I can even concentrate on a speaker when he puts his arm around me:-) Ryan is my best friend and an amazing husband and father. But just this past week, I wondered where the butterflies went and if he felt the same way. I wondered if I was in trouble if I couldn’t feel butterflies after only 13 years? After all, I hope to be in this thing for another fifty years or so! But with no butterflies?! I couldn’t help but wonder if I was a dud of a wife.
And then, on Sunday, I heard a brilliant sermon on sloth. SLOTH of all things! Had I known this was the sermon topic, I might have suggested a morning at the beach or Sea World instead. After all, a mother of four young children and an incredibly hard-working man who is endlessly devoted to his family didn’t need this sermon. We are lucky to put our feet up to watch an episode of Breaking Bad before 10pm. (And he’s lucky to stay awake through the whole episode!)
Many of my thoughts from here on out are based on the words I heard in that sermon. They are not my own original thoughts. But, friends, I have to share them with you. Sloth, the young new assistant pastor, Jonathan Kerhoulas, at Redeemer Pres in Encinitas told us, is best expressed – NOT by a lazy attitude, but by zeal over petty matters! How about insisting on loading the freaking dishwasher or other household chores to the point that I don’t look up to make eye contact, give a gentle kiss, or receive a hug from the most important person in the world to me. How about being short with him because I insist on being right. Sloth is a pre-occupation with things that don’t matter. And one of the worst ways that sloth can rear its ugly head is when we become lazy to the demands of love.
In any relationship, we are called to never act out of selfish ambition. But instead we should put the interest of others before our own. These are the demands of love. Not getting household chores finished. Not being right. Not responding only to the butterflies. We must not allow ourselves to be zealous over petty matters. This past Sunday, I was reminded of the fact that we cannot afford to be lazy to the demands of love, even when (maybe especially when) the butterflies are gone.
“If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married,’ then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships? But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit…this quieter love enables them to keep the promise. It is on this love that the engine of marriage is run: being in love was the explosion that started it.” -C.S. Lewis
I am still ‘in love’ with my husband. But I believe the distinction here that C.S. Lewis is referring to is the butterflies. The flutters in my heart and stomach gave me the guts to commit to him for the rest of my life. But this ‘quieter love’ – ‘strengthened by habit’ – gives me the assurance that we will desire each other for that long.
Yet sloth can so easily sneak up on us, right?! Jonathan told us that sloth is the sin that says, ‘whatever’ or ‘who cares’. For me, sloth tempts me to give up on the passion when the butterflies have migrated. Sloth sabotages the beauty of life and the ‘quiet love’ that fuels healthy, passionate marriages. When given in to the temptation of sloth, our wise young pastor said, we may feel completely full – yet we are still starving.
I am reminded that I must not give into the slothful spirit of ‘whatever’ just because the busyness of life seems to fill me up. 1 Thesalonians, Chapter 5 tells us to “rejoice always” and “do not quench the spirit”. The Greek word used here is actually the same as the word meaning ‘to not put out a spark or a flame’. Paul was writing about the Holy Spirit. But his words also make me think about how the spark in our relationships shouldn’t have to be diminished when the butterflies are gone.
But true love, life long love, does take a bit of effort. We must continue to remind ourselves to serve one another, to not be zealous over petty matters, and to rejoice regularly in our quiet love. And then, only, then can the spark continue to fan the flame.
What drives you to meet the demands of love? To make that extra effort on the days when the butterflies are long gone? I was reminded by this fascinating sermon (the one I didn’t need?!) that the best way for me to understand how to show love is to look to the only person in history who met the demands of love perfectly. When I look to Jesus, when I let His love shine on me, the demands of love don’t seem so daunting. And the butterflies don’t seem so necessary either.
Since they day Ryan and I were married, we became ‘one’. But it’s our individual personalities that pull us towards each other. Oswald Chambers wrote that “our individuality is to be rendered incandescent by a personal relationship with God.” Incandescent is defined as red-hot, aflame, passionate, ardent, and fervent. Gosh, who needs butterflies?!