The dimly lit church grows quiet. The families of the bride and groom have all been seated. The groom is nervously standing, self-consciously shifting his weight from side to side, waiting . . . and sweating. The preacher is too, standing under the hot stage lights illuminating what is left of his hair, silhouetting it against the backdrop of his otherwise balding head. There is a strange, almost awkward silence and then the organ springs majestically to life. All the people scramble to their feet. Here comes the bride! Every head turns to follow her movements until she finds her place next to the groom.
The preacher solemnly opens the great, black book and proceeds to intone, “Dearly Beloved: We are gathered here today in the sight of God, in the presence of these witnesses, to join together this man and this woman in holy matrimony . . .” The preliminaries continue as a woman near the front emits an audible sob and all around the up-turned faces with blurry stares look on, eyes misting over with the tears that threaten to spill down the cheeks and onto the impeccably plush carpet beneath.
In this bittersweet moment, the preacher continues (addressing the man), “Do you, John Doe, take this woman to be your lawfully wedded wife? Do you promise to love her, cherish her, comfort her, honor her, and keep her for better or worse, in sickness or in health, and forsaking all others until you no longer love her, or find someone who is more attractive than her, or it is no longer convenient for you to love her? If so, say, ‘I do.’”
Turning to Jane, “Do you Jane Doe, take this man, to be your lawfully wedded husband? Do you promise to love him, honor him, and keep him for better or worse, in sickness or in health, and forsaking all others, keep yourself only unto him until you no longer love him, or find someone who is more attractive than him, or it is no longer convenient for you to love him? If so, say, ‘I do.’”
“I do,” comes the timid reply.
Of course not. Hello. Reality check. And yet how many marriages operate on this assumption? How many people get married because they have that neat little feeling, only to wake up one morning and to their dismay realize that it is gone? What’s wrong? Is love somehow different in the twenty-first century? Did it kind of fizzle out as time went on? Somehow I don’t think so. What is love—true love? Is it an emotion? What do we know about emotions?
We know that emotions come and that they go, yet we do not often know from whence they come and to whence they go. We know that every emotion has its ups and its downs. Is love an emotion? If so, it must be a very fickle thing indeed. What is love—true love? It is
something more than just a fickle feeling, isn’t it? Then what is it?
What happens when you decide to do something fun, something that you really probably hadn’t ought to do, something you know that you will have to pay for later? How would you describe your emotions the next day? How about when you decide to be mean to people you really don’t like, but really don’t have any real good reason not to? Do you like them more? Do you think you would grow to like them more by being mean to them, or by being nice to them? What kinds of emotions do you feel when you do something bad that makes you feel good in a mean kind of way? What kinds of emotions do you feel later? Do you feel happy? sad? contented? guilty? What do you feel?
What happens when you decide to do something nice just because you decide to? What emotions do you feel? What happens when you decide to make a wise decision that will help you out in the future, though you are turning down an opportunity to have fun now? What emotions do you feel? Do you feel happy? sad? contented? guilty? What do feel?
So you think that you feel more positive emotions when you do something wise or kind or caring, huh? How come? I thought you turned down some positive emotions that would have made it fun for the moment. What? Self-discipline!
What planet are you
Yes, self-discipline. If self-discipline makes for wise choices, then self-abandonment, the opposite of self-control, must make for foolish choices. And long-term negative emotions—guilt, depression, shame, remorse—tend to follow foolish choices. You can always spot these kinds of choices. They never count the cost. They never consider the consequence. They just do what they do because it feels good now
But self-discipline—self-discipline makes for wise
choices. And long-term positive emotions—happiness, fulfillment, peace, satisfaction, a lasting, warm glow—tend to follow wise choices. You can always spot these choices. They count the cost. They consider the consequences. They put other people first, or at the least on equal footing. They take determination. They take discipline and self-control.
So what about the feeling of love? Ah. What about
the feeling of love? Strange you should ask. Where does the feeling of love come in? Does it just happen on its own? Does one just happen to fall into love? Or would infatuation be a better word . . . the falling in love with the feeling of love as psychologist and author Dr. James Dobson defines it.
When you see that special someone and you feel all warm and fuzzy, who are you thinking about? You say him or her? Then why are you so concerned with how you
feel? Why do you picture yourself showing him or her off to your all of your friends, indeed to anyone who will turn their head to look? Why are all your heart-felt needs suddenly being met with the romantic fantasy you envision in your mind? What about the other person’s needs? Are you thinking about the other person’s needs right then . . . or are you thinking about your own? Who are you really
So warm feelings follow wise choices and frigid feelings follow foolish choices. Then if you make a commitment to this person you are certain you are going to spend your life with—will you always
feel love? Will you delight in the smell of the other’s breath or armpits when you wake up next to him or her in bed in the morning? Will you always enjoy putting up with those annoying little things the other will do once you really
get to know him or her? Honeymoons don’t last forever, you know. And people are people. But wise decisions aren’t based on emotions. They are based on an act of the will. That is why they are called decisions
The preacher asks, “Do you promise to cherish and love him (or her), for better or worse, in sickness or in health, until death do us part
? If so, say, ‘I do.’”
Now think carefully. This is not just an emotion. This is a decision. Will you say, “I do”? Have you considered what this decision will mean? You are not promising to stick with this person only until the feeling dies, or until someone else comes along that makes your heart flutter more, or until it is no longer convenient. If you say those two simple words—“I” and “do”—you are promising to stay with this person until one of you dies, regardless
of whatever might happen. Don’t make this decision too fast. Don’t be fooled by feelings, because feelings have a mind of their own. But so do you. Use it.
Wise decisions require self-control. They sometimes require you to say no now, because they consider a later. Wise decisions lead to positive emotions in the end. Are you looking for a love that will last? Then always remember: Love is more than an emotion. It is a choice. What is yours going to be?
“I do,” she said, her voice barely a whisper. “I do.” And you know what? I honestly think she meant it! I honestly do.
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