I’ve learned a lot about love this year.
My wife gave birth to our first child in April, and life will never be the same. I’ve slept less, changed hundreds of diapers, and my wrist and back hurt from carrying around a child who is in the upper 90th percentile for weight.
I love it.
Service and Sacrifice
Raising children is a funny thing – your life is no longer your own. I sometimes feel bad having conversations with people because the only thing I seem capable of talking about is my kid (who can’t even talk yet himself). You clean up after them, feed them, bathe them, and in the process, give up your own personal sleep and free-time.
In The Meaning of Marriage, Tim Keller describes the situation this way:
“You make enormous sacrifices in your life, and yet the child, for a very long time, gives you nothing in return. After eighteen years of this, even if your child is an unattractive person to everyone else, you can’t help but love her dearly.”
This could sound harsh, but my son doesn’t currently serve any real utility in my life. He can’t clean dishes, he can’t mow the lawn, he can’t make me dinner. Mostly, he just creates a lot more work for me. Granted, I do love when he smiles or laughs for me (and fortunately, he does this a lot), but other than smiles, I don’t receive much from him. This isn’t a criticism, he is less than a year old!
There will come a day when he can help more around the house, but it would be rather sad if I didn’t develop any love for him until he was old enough for chores. Fortunately, in all of this, we find one of the keys to growing your love for others: it is done through service and sacrifice.
Despite receiving nothing from our child, my wife and I have a love for him that seems to grow daily as we feed him, change him, and hold him (for the record, she does these things a lot more than me). There are days where this is incredibly hard work, but still our love seems to keep growing.
Loving your Spouse
The same principle can also be applied to romantic relationships. One of the best ways to keep your love growing for your spouse is to serve them.
This is contradictory to a culture that says, “marry someone who makes you happy.” This attitude can put the responsibility of service on the other person, where we expect them to do things for us. As long as they make us happy, we’ll make the effort to make them happy.
But this is not the Biblical model, nor is it the one we just saw with children – it’s quite the opposite. Again, Tim Keller puts it this way,
“While the parents treated their relationship with their children as a covenant relationship—performing the actions of love until their feelings strengthened—they treated their marriages as a consumer relationship and withdrew their actions of love when they weren’t having the feelings.”
In other words, if you want to grow your love for your husband or wife, don’t wait around until they make you happy. Instead, choose to serve them, today and every day, and then watch how your feelings for them grow. It won’t always be easy, of course, but your love will grow. The great irony is that by choosing to serve the other first, you most often find the most happiness.
This principle isn’t just true for loving your children or spouse, it’s also true for everyone else. Ever wondered what it looks like, practically, to love your enemy? Choose to serve them. Trying to figure out how to love the people you work with? Choose to serve them.
As you do, you’ll develop a heart for others, just like Paul did for the many churches he planted. When you read the words in his letters, like I Thessalonians 3, it is clear he loves the people he is writing too. This is because he spent time among them, serving them by preaching and teaching the gospel. He is desperate to see them grow in their faith in God and love for others, because he loves them himself.
A Firm Foundation
Growing love through service is just one way to do it, but it is pretty reliable. Ultimately, our love for others is founded in the love God has given us. As 1 Thessalonians 3:12 says, “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love for one another and for all, as we do for you.”
Serving people is not easy, and to do it with the right attitude, it typically requires divine intervention. So if you’re wanting to grow in love for someone, spend time in pray, asking for God to increase your love for them, and then get to work serving them.