A year before I was married, I was sitting in a Christian education class when the professor quite dramatically started to philosophize about life. Commenting on the home, he said, “I want you students to know that love is hard work.”
I leaned over to my classmate and whispered, “I wouldn’t want to be married to anybody who goes around telling everybody how hard it is to love me.”
He said, “I agree with you. Why don’t you ask him about it?”
Like a fool, I did. I stood up and said, “Excuse me, sir. I am not quite comfortable with your categorization of love as ‘hard work.’ “
The professor stared at me, evidently not taking too kindly to my challenge, and demanded, “Zacharias, are you married?”
When I responded, “No, sir,” he said, “Then why don’t you just be quiet and sit down? You don’t have a clue what you are talking about.” I sat down.
One year later I was married. Now, after being married a few decades, I can unblushingly say, “He was right.” Love is hard work. I would carry it one step further. It is the hardest work I know of, work from which you are never entitled to take a vacation. You take on burdens and cares. You inherit problems. You have to feel beyond yourself. You have to think of things other than yourself. Your responsibilities are now multiplied, and you are trusted with greater commitments.
To make marriage successful, you must be intentional about loving your spouse and serving him or her.
Determination to love
We often exaggerate the separation of the emotion and the will as two distinct faculties of operation — some kind of misshapen two-headed monster. Think, for example, of the caricature we make of one of the differences between men and women. We seem to think that women are more emotionally driven and men more cerebrally driven. If that caricature were true, why is it that more men fall into infidelity after marriage than do women? If women are more emotionally driven, should it not be the other way around? I think it more appropriate to say that women in general recognize the emotional ramifications of their acts better than men do. Yes, men feel emotion, but they do so selectively and fail to face the consequences of reality. I believe that a legitimate understanding of what is happening here can preserve the grand union between emotion and will.
Without the will, marriage is a mockery; without emotion, it is a drudgery. You need both.
Commitment to serve
Chivalry in love has nothing to do with the sweetness of appearance. It has everything to do with the tenderness of a heart determined to serve. That is the first hard lesson to learn. You do not act under the impetus of charm but out of a commitment to make someone’s life the joy you want it to be. In the early days of marriage, joy precedes the act. Tragically, as the years go by, joy can be severed from the act until finally, the act itself is no more. This ought not be. Over time, it is the companionship that brings joy, and service is the natural outworking of the joy of commitment. Failure to act kills it.
But this kind of commitment does not come easily. Only if it is taken seriously does it become a sheer delight of the heart. I will also add that this kind of commitment is not seen much in the times in which we live. The reason we have a crisis in our male-female relationships is not that we are culturally indoctrinated but that we would rather be served than serve. We would rather be the head than the feet. The Christian faith stands unique in pointing out that the Son of Man came to seek and to save that which was lost. The Son of Man came to serve. This means that the service He gave to humanity was given even when we least merited that sacrifice. There is a joy in service that transcends emotional temporariness.
When your will is committed to God, He carries you when all else seems spent, to rescue what you had invested by your dedication.
Ravi Zacharias is a well-known Christian apologist and the author of I, Isaac, Take Thee Rebekah, from which this article is adapted.