real love

Love: It’s Not What You Think

Truly, truly, truly love. That’s the most powerful thing there is. Those are the words spoken by UCLA’s legendary basketball coach John Wooden at the age of ninety-nine shortly before his death. Love’s essence can be tough to grasp. Bookstores and shelves in homes are filled with books on what love is, how to love, what love does and does not do. Unfortunately, many miss the mark of real love. If you asked ten adults what love is, you’d probably get ten different answers.

Myths and Misunderstandings About Love

Love is the greatest, but it is also undoubtedly the most overused and underused, misapplied and misunderstood word in the English language. It is overused and misapplied with reckless abandon on most television shows and commercials you watch. Love is also underused and misconstrued in word and deed by husbands, wives, parents, children, grandparents, grandchildren, relatives, friends, and coworkers. Loving others doesn’t mean liking. We can love others without having to like what they do. My wife, Susan, and I, especially when we’re having a disagreement, will sometimes say to each other, “I love you. But I sure don’t like you right now.” What we’re really saying is, “I love you no matter what, but I don’t like the way you are acting right now.”

We apply the word love when we speak of things as well. We say, “I love my car.” “I love their french fries.” “I love that dress.” Sure, those things may be appealing and pleasing to one of our five senses—sight, hearing, taste, touch, smell—but it is not the right application of our love. We weren’t designed to love inanimate objects. Objects are not capable of receiving and giving love; only people are. If we attempt to love things, then, more often than not, we’ll use people and end up with shallow relationships, meaningless stuff, and no one to share it with. But if you and I love people and use things for their intended purpose, we’ll have rich relationships and lasting joy in life.

Genuine Love

So, if that’s what love is not, then what is love? While searching for this Holy Grail definition, you need to know something right up front. Thousands of people over the course of thousands of years have worked to define the word love. There are as many definitions out there as there are grains of sand on the beach. I shared just a few of them with you earlier. Although I’ve spent a lot of time researching definitions of love, I’m not going to rehash all of those definitions. I’ve done the work for you, so let me give it my best shot. You ready? Here is the treasured definition: God is love. That’s it. But I know that definition may not satisfy your curiosity, so let’s dig further into the genuine nature of love.

Picture in your mind a wedding at a church. The young bride and groom are on the altar facing each other, hand in hand. Their sparkling eyes and glowing faces complement the flowing wedding gown and tux. The pastor stands before the excited and hopeful couple and says with confidence, “Love is patient when you feel like being patient, love is kind when you feel like being kind . . .” Right? Of course not. He says, “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”

In doing so, what is he really saying about love? He’s saying love is not just a feeling; it is a decision. Love does not say, “Feel this way.” Love says, “Act this way.” Love is an act of the will to be patient, kind, gentle, humble, sincere, compassionate, giving, faithful and trusting, forgiving, uniting, and persevering. Love is all about serving and giving selflessly and sacrificially to another person. The best way to spell love? G-I-V-E [Tweet This]. It’s looking not only to your own interests but also to the interests of others. It’s doing what’s best for others no matter what it costs you personally.

Love says, “I want what’s best for you! That is why I’m talking to you about this, that is why I’m doing this, that is why I’m making this decision.”

Love says, “No longer will I live my life for me. I will think about myself less and you more.”

Love says, “I’m choosing to be at my best even when you’re not at your best.”

Love says, “What I want isn’t important, but what you want is paramount.”

Sound Off

So now that you know what love is not and what love is, please share with me how you plan to put it into practice and love your spouse, your children and others well.

Mark W. Merrill

Mark is the president of All Pro Dad and Family First , a national non-profit organization. He is also the voice of a daily radio program called The Family Minute.

  • Jim Bard

    There isn’t much that can be said after that daily life living devotional! You hit the heart of every soul with this powerful scripture backed package. A true literary masterpiece that should convict us all to stop for a long break today and reevaluate who we are, claim to be, live, think, act, and speak. I feel like a ton of bricks is just sitting on my shoulders and also even on my chest. I have failed to supply the love I promised to give to my most cherished people in my life. I failed my wife who has now filed for divorce. Most of my children don’t want anything to do with me. There is so much evidence against me that I have not grasped the concept of love in my past and even into the present. I see that selfishness, anger, and pride still have a hold on some of me. I do not want those character flaws in my life. They hurt my family in the past and got me nowhere. I need my Lord and Savior to teach me, mold me, transform me into who He needs me to be. The daily battles of my families hurt and betrayal always being in my thoughts are ways that satan keeps attempting to hold me down with heavy burdensome chains.
    Father, I pray that you break those chains from me. Free me from that bondage of sins. Forgive me of my failures. Please grant your wisdom, knowledge, and understanding. Your Love is great as is Your Faithfulness. I am not deserving of Your Love, but I guess that is why You are who You are and I am not. My God and King, Your graciousness is astounding and beyond comprehension. I falter and stumble in humility just at the thought of You and bow at Your feet and Throne. Please help me Father to know how to live in, show, and teach Love to those in my life. May others be first in my life in front of myself. May I be the servant You personally have shown me to be. Amen

    • TripleArcher

      I am in year 3 on the other side of where you are. In spite of your apparent condition, I will pass on to you the words spoken to me at that time in my life that made little sense until later. Many men would give a great deal to be where you are. He spoke of brokenness and surrender.

      You have recognized the problem. Pride, lust of the eyes and lust of the flesh run deeper than character. They are heart issues. Stay on the path you are on. God is love. Pursue him relentlessly, seek true intimacy with him and your other relationships will transform.

      Your marriage is far from over. Surrender to the good work that God desires to do in your life. Establish a new course. Let Him do his work and you do your part. Then once fruit of his spirit comes forth, you will be the man your wife and family needs.

      Don’t fear starting over. Look at it as an opportunity. Not a loss. A chance to start over with your wife with a foundation that will last.

      This will take a lot of commitment, intentionality and WORK. For years. But you will come out a new man with a new marriage and most of all be a vessel of the Lord who can be used. You may find that one of the ways He uses you is to speak to others who are experiencing the place you were delivered from.

      It is worth it! Focus not on where you have been but the next step the Lord is directing you to. He is able. And through Him you can do this.

      • Jim Bard

        Thanks for the encouraging words. I wish I had the faith in my marriage like you have faith in my marriage. I hear her words of “being done” and I lose all hope. I know I still have my Lord to rely on and will.

        • TripleArcher

          My faith is not in your marriage, but in the Creator and Sustainer of it. Although your mind wants to tell you otherwise in your current perspective, your marriage is not beyond hope.

          The mountains between you and your destination are not impossible to travel. It is a long journey, yes. There are many hard lessons to be encountered and truth to be learned along the way. You are in a weary place, though, unable to envision the hike or make it on your own. You need guidance from people who know what they are doing, and you need Godly fellowship to support you. People who have traveled that range before.

          As high of a calling as marriage is, to me the most important aspect of my own journey has been what God has worked in ME. Regardless of where the trail takes you, don’t let this season pass you by without growing from it. It carries a heavy price regardless of how it works out, does it not? Don’t miss the spiritual growth, brother.

          Consider starting over at the beginning. That’s what it took for me, a supposed lifelong Christian. Who are you? Why are you here? Who created you? Why? How can you know Him? Do you know Him? Not OF Him, but KNOW HIM? What is His purpose for marriage? What is oneness in marriage? What does love look like in marriage? What does a properly functioning, life-filled marriage look like and what can God accomplish through it?

          Answers to questions such as these lead you to places very different from what the “world” says. They lead you to LIFE. Jesus paid such a dear price that we may live. While shifting the focus away from selfishness, at the same time these questions and answers lead you to true fulfillment, in Him.

          On a practical note, I am amazed at how marriages have been turned around even where there is extreme division, strife, hatred, abandonment, infidelity, and abuse. There was a time when my wife and I truly hated one another for wrongs on both sides. Very serious wrongs. All was lost, so we thought. It took reaching the end of ourselves before we truly understood who God is and what He can do.

          Do you want to know Him? Get up, dust yourself off and walk. One step at a time. Eyes on Jesus. It won’t always be in the direction YOU want to go but follow Him anyway. Be thankful that your entire life was not lived in a dead marriage relationship as so many are in. Be thankful that you have a chance to change, and an opportunity to invite your wife to walk with you. To truly lead!

          You spoke of the condemning evidence against you in your failure to love. You have seen the end result of that. Now that you know the truth, begin to walk in it and create NEW evidence. Fruit of the spirit! I believe you will understand me when I say that you are at a place where words mean nothing from either of you to the other. So stop talking and start doing. She WILL see. God will soften her heart in ways you would not have believed would ever happen.

          Father, I pray that you renew Jim’s strength. Fill him with your Spirit and open his eyes to the great plans you have for him. I bind the thoughts of condemnation and loose peace and thoughts of redemption and who Jim is in you, Lord. Place the right people in his path to help and support him. Reveal the truth and fullness of your love with him as his heart is open to you to receive it. Thank you for walking with Jim and all of us in times of trouble and for leading us through it. Thank you in advance for the glory that this marriage will bring to you. Praise you! In Jesus’ name. Amen.

          • Jim Bard

            God is good! He has been gracious to place many amazing, Godly people in my life and I can now include you in that group. The Holy Spirit has granted you the words of wisdom, knowledge, and understanding in order to speak truth and mercy to my spirit. I always hear Him speak to me when I am feeling like quitting, but then know by His conviction upon me, that I can’t dishonor God and His amazing gift and purpose in the institution of marriage and what he has plans for it to His Glory. Although my failures are always thrown back in my face by the accuser, I ultimately know that I am forgiven and I carry on by Christ’s side because His strength lifts me up. I will press on and finish this race He has for me to run. Thank you for being a part of God’s message of refreshing my resolve to follow His urging to honor Him in my life and marriage.
            Thank you brother for your prayers!

            In Christ,

            Jim Bard
            In Springfield Ohio

  • Garth

    You can turn it around by learning and demonstrating new relationship habits. Look up Mort Fertel, Whatever you do, don’t see a therapist. Psychology puts individual needs first, but marriage needs for the spouses to put each other first. It’s a dangerous myth that it takes two to save a marriage, because then each spouse is waiting for the other to change. Marriages in crisis need leaders to demonstrate a new way of being. There is no one silver bullet, no one dramatic event, and you certainly won’t talk yourself o

  • Garth

    ..of a situation you behaved yourself into. As Mort Fertel says, say little, do much.


  • Jim Bard

    I agree and have started that by reading two marriage relationship bad habit breaking/good habit forming books to help me understand her and myself better. What each others needs are and the importance of placing her needs first no matter what just as Christ did, our Father God did, and The Holy Spirit desires us to. I have completed them and going through a second and third and fourth…. to always pick up on the things i missed the last time. I guess it is just as reading scripture, you never see the same thing because of always being in a different season of life. I truly love my wife and kids, but am terrible at showing it. I want “act like men(a man)” as James McDonald wrote in his book and will pray that The Hoy Spirit will guide me ease step of the way. My wife is the most amazing person I have known. Her heart and spirit are emense and full of compassion, especially for little ones. She is the perfect mother for our children. I can only hope and pray that God will help restore this marriage, but if not, I will still serve Him, for He is Good and Faithful. Thank you all again for you love and encouragement. I need brothers in Christ to get me through this time and Jehovah Jireh knows that. He provides all we need at the right time. Peace and blessings to you all. Amen!

    Jim in Springfield, Ohio

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