We are married now, and coming up on nine months in. I still love her very well, and she would tell you the same. But without a doubt, the responsibilities of life are elbowing their way into our relationship and trying to force out the romance we share. Now obviously, the primary goal of the next 50 years is to make sure they don’t – to do all that we can to keep that from happening in ways that undermine the beauty of what we are together, and what we have together. But many couples have failed. Many couples have not been able to invest in their relationship as much as they did at the onset, and it has had devastating results. Admittedly, I’m scared of that happening to us as well. This fear isn’t paralyzing, nor does it weaken my ability to rise up and do what I need to do…it’s just a healthy concern that prompts a real mindfulness about it. I just flat out don’t want it to happen.
I guess one of the things I’ve seen around me is that relationship partners start to see the other person as less thoughtful, patient, compassionate, loving, and romantic as in the past (when they were dating or early on in their marriage, for example). And this allows a certain cancerous thought creeps in:
“What have you done for me lately?”
I hate that. I hate it so much. But I get it. I realize that all of us have the tendency to not see the log in our own eye, and easily fixate on the speck in someone else’s. I recognize that it’s a self-protective maneuver to justify ourselves, to defend ourselves, to get ourselves off the proverbial hook for our role and contribution to any problems at hand. And I understand that we naturally struggle remembering the good times of the past when we are mired in the bad times of the present and any foreseeably awful times in the future.
As a consequence, the relationship becomes infected with unfair expectations, comparisons, obligations, and other malignancies. It starts off slowly, perhaps, but it quickly snowballs. Both start to act in ways not marked by unconditional love but by judgment, condemnation, suspicion, and – ultimately – hatred. And both parties pull away and put up walls. And intimacy gets broken. And each starts to think they don’t need the other person. And everything becomes diseased and ravaged in its wake. And the love that burned so brightly before flames out, and now dissipates in smoke and embers.
Rachel cares about the Chiefs and Cardinals and Spurs because I love my favorite sports teams. She supports my personal and individual goals she knows they matter to me. She keeps her feet clean because I’m big on clean feet (that is my only weird “thing”!). I’m grateful for all of this and so much more – for all the things she does for me. But I want to be more grateful for who she is.
Rachel just wants to be loved. Regardless of what she does or does not do. And honestly, I just want to be loved, regardless of what I do. It can’t always be about us “doing” things to validate our love. That makes a person feel exhausted, like he always has to prove his love over and over again. And that is not a safe place in which to live – it is a tenuous, eggshell-laden space.
Of course, this doesn’t mean it’s okay to ease up completely and just coast when it comes to being thoughtful and romantic and loving. That is not okay. But we don’t want to feel the obligation and pressure to do so. Rachel doesn’t want to be like, ah crap, for Sameer and I to be great, I need to constantly amaze him with awesome and new ways to tangibly show him I love him. I don’t want to be like, ah geez, for Rachel and I to be great, I have to keep coming up with unique date nights and epic ways to show my affection. This is draining even to think about.
Love sourced in obligation instead of desire isn’t love at all. God taught us that when He gave us free will back in the day, and didn’t pressure us to love Him back.
I just want Rachel to know me, and trust my heart, and give me the freedom to love her any way I choose – with no strings attached. And she wants the very same thing: for me to know her and her heart, and trust her, and give her the freedom to love me how she chooses. We all know what it’s like when we feel obliged to do something special for someone else. It kind of sucks out all of the specialness from it, and it’s a crappy experience for you (the giver) and oftentimes for the person (the receiver) because they can tell. But when you do it because you deeply want to do it – more than anything else – it makes it so much better. It makes it absolutely great for both parties.
Love should be more about the person than what you can profit from them.
So then I started thinking about how I am with God. Honestly, though my words to Him don’t express it, my attitude toward Him often betrays the same egocentric sentiment: what have You done for me lately? It does. Not in a harsh, direct way, but in a subtle, backhanded, defiant way. And if I stare at it, I can see that it is tinged with disappointment, hurt, and sadness. I’m let down and bummed out about something in my life, and I put it on Him, as if it’s His fault. And the way I interact with Him is greatly affected.
I don’t say it out loud, but I have suggested to Him in quiet, pouting ways that it doesn’t really matter all that He’s done for me in the past – I just need Him to come through for me now. And I question and protest why He hasn’t. And I just don’t get it. It baffles me. And it makes me bitter. And I get more sad. And frustrated. And I can’t change anything. And I wonder why He won’t either. And it pulls me in the direction of self-judgment, self-condemnation, and suspicion of His goodness and His love. I ask myself, if He really loved me, why doesn’t He give me what I need right now? And still, nothing happens, and nothing keeps happening. And I spiral into hopelessness.
And here is where I am prone to pull away from Him, and put up walls. And my intimacy with God gets broken. And I start to think I don’t need this, I don’t need Him. And my entire relationship with Him has the very real potential to become diseased and completely ravaged. And the love I had for Him that burned so brightly before flames out, and dissipates in smoke and embers.
God just wants to be loved. And just like I don’t always want to have to be tangibly proving my love to Rachel, I am pretty positive He doesn’t want to always have to be proving His love to me. He has loved me so well, and in countless ways. He’s saved me, rescued me, protected me, and blessed me beyond my wildest dreams. And most of the time, He just wants me to know Him. He just wants me to trust His heart towards me, and give Him the freedom to do what He needs to do in my life. He just wants me be in relationship with Him, and do life with Him – without condition.
But yet, I come up with conditions all the time. I have so many expectations of what I want Him to do for me, what I need for Him to do for me. And my stubborn will silently demands Him to come through for me in certain ways as a test of whether He does truly love me. And it’s messed up. And in those moments I forget that while He doesn’t love me out of obligation, I am not open to allowing His own desires to channel that love along His timeline and in His preferred ways. It is childish, and self-centered, and controlling. And clearly, I am prone to do it in my other relationships.
“What have you done for me lately?” is not a question that belongs in our relationships. It’s a toxic way of thinking, and it will corrode the most valuable parts of our lives. Love is allowing others the freedom and grace to be, and not demanding them to do. Love is remembering the best from the past, and using it to inspire the present. And love is always believing that their intentions towards you are as pure and noble as your intentions are towards them. This is really what it is all about – to me, to Rachel, and to God.