The Great Competition for Love

How odd is this thing called love.

Philosophers, poets, writers and film makers have for centuries written about it and tried to explain or define it, but the best we can do is tell or show some of the ways it reveals itself.

A young girl was showing grandma her dolls. She talked about each one, then lifted one off the shelf and handed it to her Gran.

“This one,” she said, “is my favourite”.

The doll was old, ragged and well-worn. An eye was missing, and the ragged material had long since faded. Granny was taken aback and couldn’t resist asking why this was her favourite.

“Well”, she said, “if I didn’t love her, nobody would”.

Is this real love?  What makes it so?

People talk about falling in love. Many have discovered after a short while, that they fell out of love just as easily.  What happened? What do we see or experience that can gradually or suddenly change our minds?

Perhaps the most amazing thing about love is, that despite what we may say, we all want it. Everybody wants to feel loved.

On the other hand, love is something we can give to other people.

If we can give it away, and we want it ourselves, why don’t we just keep the love we give away, for ourselves? In that way, we’d all be happy.

That’s silly you say. The love we give is not the same as the love we want.

Then is the love we want, better than the love we give to others, or is it a different kind?

Regardless, we all want to be loved. And that is interesting in itself. We just don’t want to be told we are loved. Somehow, we want to feel it.

Although many marriages begin with both persons feeling loved, it’s feeling unloved that usually brings them into the counselling room. But that’s not what couples say.

In response to an opening question of ‘what brings you here today?” a range of things is usually offered. Typical responses might be…

“We’re not communicating”;

“We’re not getting on that well” or anything else that better describes the symptoms rather than the problem.  It’s not surprising that people don’t admit that they feel unloved.

To feel unloved is a painful thing. To admit it is even harder.

A less perceptive counsellor is then tempted to attempt to deal with the symptoms. But symptoms are not the cause of the underlying pain and sadness.

Many have written about the need to work at keeping love alive. But history repeatedly reveals that love does not suddenly stop. Something arises to take its place.

Perhaps the most common enemy is the stranger who suddenly appears through an open door. A stranger who seems more appealing than the love we already have. The moment we allow that thought to have more than a fleeting second, the seed of excitement germinates in the soil of discontent.

But the alluring stranger is often well disguised.

The inconspicuous enemy is the one that takes hold over time. Gradually, subtly, innocently, almost imperceptibly, something creeps into the sacred relationship. Overtime, it demands more and more attention.

Jane and Frederick sat far apart. The look of abandonment could be felt across the room.

Jane said, “He’s never home. He spends all his time working”.

“Well you wanted the big house”, scorns Frederick.

The big house, the car, the club, the social engagements, the extended work hours, an addictive substance … it doesn’t matter. There is no end of things that begin to squeeze into a relationship. Demanding a slice of time, energy and devotion, they ultimately become the new love of our life.

A commitment to love demands all that we have in our bank. A divided or half-love will never be enough for either party.

How difficult it is to see the early warning signs that intruders are forcing their way into our life. Intruders who don’t care about love, only our attention and a diminishing supply of energy.

How do we recognise when our affections are being divided?

Perhaps the best indicator is when one partner is feeling neglected. But that is not always reliable either, especially when both persons are involved in entertaining intruders.

In situations where the things of life have so taken over, that love has all but disappeared, the relationship is only being held together by a dogged commitment.

The impact of diversions in the relationship, usually appear first as stress. When the reality of what is happening dawns, the mood can be divided. Depressions about the old and excitement for the new. Fear arises, pointing to what the future is revealing.

These times are often accompanied by argument and tension.

The dawning occurs one day when one or both persons begin to realize that the competing things in their world have consumed, not given, and their souls are starving.

The writer of the book of Ecclesiastes, said,

It’s better to have one handful of tranquillity than to have two handfuls of trouble and to chase after the wind. Ecc 4:6

But the ultimate intruder is the devil himself. His single goal is to break up the beautiful relationship we have with God, and he doesn’t care how he does it.

With the established subtlety of a snake, he tempts us with diversions of every kind, even hoodwinking us into believing that the things we are engaging in, are what God wants.

Even the wisest and most mature, can be deceived by his lavish arguments.

King Solomon had great advice when he said,

Above everything else, guard well your heart, because from it flow the springs of life… let your eyes look directly ahead; fix your gaze straight in front of you…  and your ways will be established… Do not turn to the right or to the left;   Pro 4:23-27

But perhaps, as we might expect, it was Jesus who had the most pointed things to say on the matter of division. He said…

“No one can serve two masters, because either he will hate one and love the other, or be loyal to one and despise the other.” Matthew 6:24

But His invitation to us is what we want to hear most… what satisfies our single-mindedness…

Remain united to me, and I will remain united to you. John 15:4

I wonder if you will recognise the intruder standing in the doorway of your relationship?

*names of characters are fictitious and not related to anyone you know

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