When Ike and I were engaged we read a book that my dad had recommended to us called His Needs, Her Needs. Similar to the premise of The Five Love Languages, this book helps couples identify the ways that they feel loved (ie. felt needs) so that they can show one another love accordingly.
In many ways we found the book to be extremely helpful. From a purely practical standpoint, it equipped us with tools to serve and love one another, as well as better understand one another. Three years later, we still refer back to it, and I am grateful that my dad gave it to us.
However, to anyone who reads this book I would offer two cautions. First, the book is written by a marriage counselor whose goal is to stave off marital infidelity. In his experience, spouses often stray when their core needs are not met and another person can meet those needs. And while this cause-and-effect might be true from a descriptive standpoint, it should in no way legitimize infidelity. Just because a spouse cheats, he or she is never justified in doing so. It is not the fault of the other spouse for not meeting his or her needs. The author wouldn’t make this case either, but it is a point worth stating explicitly.
Second, if interpreted incorrectly, one can use this book to justify a false understanding of marriage. Namely, that marriage is about meeting one another’s needs. That is not to say that couples should not try to meet certain needs. On the contrary, we should do our best to love one another in ways that the other finds meaningful. Failing to do so is a sign of either apathy, selfishness, or callousness. However, the marital covenant does not rest on what we do for one another. Neither does Christian love.
Building on this second point a bit further, most of us know on some level that true love, a love that reflects the heart of God, is not based on what we do. I know this in my head. However, pregnancy has tested the integrity of that belief in me. In fact, it has challenged me to acknowledge that I don’t really believe Christian love is so unconditional. Not really.
This first became obvious during my first trimester when I was tired all the time and was utterly useless around the house. Usually Ike and I split the chores pretty evenly, but once I became pregnant the bulk of the work fell on his shoulders.
Over time, I noticed a subtle sense of guilt creeping into my heart. The more I watched him cook dinner, do the dishes, pay the bills, and take care of the laundry, all while I lay on the couch like a sack of potatoes, the worse I felt. I wasn’t bringing anything to the marriage. I wasn’t carrying my own weight. And I was sure, over time, that he would soon resent me for it.
Eventually I entered the second trimester and my energy rebounded. I jumped back into life with a renewed sense of commitment, determined to make up for all the work Ike had done. I wanted him to know he wasn’t alone in taking care of our family, so I was extra intentional about carrying my own weight again.
Enter third trimester. Though not as intense as the first, I now find myself feeling tired again and napping more often. Yesterday around lunch time I slept for 2 hours, a habit that interrupts my day and throws off my entire schedule. Once again, small chores require a lot more than they did before, and although a simple nap re-energizes me enough to bounce back and take care of some things, that old sense of guilt is also creeping in. I can’t keep up with Ike. Plain and simple, he is doing more.
Now if you asked Ike, he would tell you that I am doing a lot. In particular, I am carrying his baby, which is no small thing. Yet regardless of what we both bring to the table, the fact remains that I measure my worth to Ike based upon what I can do for him. Rather than accept his love and service as a gift, I feel guilty and ashamed. I feel a pressing urge to reciprocate.
I think that inclination is a symptom of my broken human nature. In spite of Christ’s sacrifice for me, and in spite of the love I experience in Christian community, unconditional love is still tough to swallow. Something in me is suspicious of a love with no strings attached. That, or I simply feel I don’t deserve such a love.
Of course, the truth of the matter is that I don’t deserve such a love. Not from God, at least. And that is the beauty of His love for all of us. It is based not on what we’ve done or how good we are, but instead upon what He has done and how good He is.
Perfect love is founded upon the perfect character of God, a truth that can comfort us in our faith, but also in our marriages. When tempted to believe that my value in my marriage or my value to God is based upon what I do, I can remember that it is not about me at all.
What makes Christian love Christian is that it reflects the character of God. This means that Ike’s love for me isn’t about me, or even his own will to love and serve me. It is all about seeking after God. When Ike serves me, and when I serve him, we both do so out of love for one another, yes, but we also do so to reflect the person and work of Christ. Our love and our desire to serve one another may change and even waver, but God’s love does not, and that is what enables Christian love to persevere.
In a world where love is rarely unconditional, and in a self-esteem culture that preaches acceptance based on who you are rather than what you do, the gospel is actually an alternative to both. To some extent, it’s not about who you are OR what you do. It is all about God, and that is a more unshakeable foundation than any other.