Dr. Wall responds to a reader’s questions regarding our last blog on “Loving With Dignity And Grace, Part II.” The reader asks what good is this love if it is not returned? This question really gets at the heart of what it means to enjoy your life vs. living in a private hell.  This the last in a longer series on Living As Roommates.  To see the entire series click here.

If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love. I have told you this so that my joy may be in you and that your joy may be complete. My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

John 15: 10-12

After posting my last blog that we should love our partner by forgiving them, even though he or she doesn’t deserve it, a reader responded:

I understand this completely, but I still cannot find the way into another heart that is unforgiving. Am I judging that person if I offer forgiveness? Can you be forgiven unless you atone or make “the sin right”?  To atone there must be a change, “to make right” must mean that there is something wrong.  So to offer to forgive is telling someone they are wrong? So when a person is accused and they ask for forgiveness does that mean they did something wrong?  How does a person determine truth of right and wrong in the eyes of God? How can you know you are loving with grace and dignity if your love is not returned?  Where’s the magic to this?

There is nothing in the Bible about loving and forgiving those who hurt us so that they will love and forgive us in return. We love because He first loved us. We don’t love so that our loved ones will love us. Often they will, but sometimes they very well may NOT! You love anyway. Jesus was our greatest example and we put him to death! Faithful people of God throughout history have been mocked at minimum and worse:

Some faced jeers and flogging, while still others were chained and put in prison. They were stoned; they were sawed in two; they were put to death by the sword.

Hebrews 11:36-37

No. We love for it’s own sake. In obedience. Because it is the right thing to do. Because we CAN. It is our choice. You have control of this. You can set an example in this.

You don’t have control of your spouse’s heart. You only have control of your own.

Every parent knows this pain, right?You lead your children.You love your kids.You sacrifice great mountains for them.And can they ever love you enough back?How could they ever?There is not enough time in the universe for them to pay it back.Some children spurn it altogether.But you love anyway.All parents know what it is like to be God, The Father, and have lost children wandering the world and not giving the Creator of all His due.We know what that feels like, at least a smidgen.

But any parent worth noting will love his or her children anyway.A child can’t wander far enough away that a loving parent wouldn’t be waiting for the return of the Prodigal Son.Waiting.Hoping.Loving.

You know that story, right?That Jesus told?A son asks his father for his inheritance and the father gives it to him and the son takes his new wealth and leaves and blows it all whoring and drinking and partying and gets so low he’s eating pigs’ gruel.Not a pretty picture.Then the son comes to his senses and comes home in sorrow and repentance and the father joyfully welcome’s him home.

So here’s a question for you.What was the father doing all of this time?Was he sitting around feeling sorry for himself?Was he moping around all day?No doubt he had his time of sorrow and prayer for the soul of his son.But the father’s life did not stop.He has to go on living and loving for another day.If the son becomes a basket case and the father becomes a basket case because the son is a basket case, we have no story!The father must remain intact.Faithful.Responsible.Caring.Loving.And yes, forgiving.

But what about you, oh, spouse? You can only love if your spouse loves you back? Where is the magic in that? Why love if you get no return on your investment?There is no magic other than at least someone in this family is demonstrating to the rest in your clan what it means to be a whole person.Someone is setting an example.At least someone truly loves.

This is where it gets tough, though. You love and get nothing back. What now? How are you supposed to be in a good mood? How are you supposed to not just want to give up or get mad or shut down or withdraw or get all judgmental on his or her hunny? Be careful here. Your love may come across as self-righteous. Or you will look sanctimonious and smug.

When you love your partner and he or she doesn’t love you back, what do you do? You complain or want to talk about it? Your comments will come across as putdowns. You’re inviting your partner to withdraw from you or get really, really mad. If you’ve got strings attached to your love it won’t look much like love. Shut up, already. You don’t have to say everything you feel. This is called self-control!

You lecture? You inform? You tell him or her in no uncertain terms what he or she needs to do to make you happy? You think this will warm the cockles of your spouse’s heart? Are you kidding? You will push him or her away. Your spouse will avoid you like the plague.

You withdraw? That’ll come across as you being all superior. Or you’re pouting? Your spouse will interpret your pursed lips as rejection. If you are the elementary school principle standing at the end of the hallway with a grimace and your arms folded, you aren’t going to invite your spouse to be all chummy.

You love ANYWAY.

You set the example.

You rise to the occasion.

You be the go-to guy or gal.

You are the one reading the blog, right? Then lead your family by being a servant and let the chips fall where they may.

Maybe they won’t love you back (They very well may, but there is no guarantee.), but God will. Your love will not go unrewarded:

Whoever has my commands and obeys them, he is the one who loves me. He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him.

John 14:21

Hey, if you give, it will be given to you. Maybe not now. But who’s in a hurry? If your love has strings and you only give it out to your spouse or children when they are giving it to you the way you think they should be giving it to you, your strings will tie you up and imprison you and you will live in a private hell. Your so-called “love” will not feel like love to anyone. It won’t be an example anyone would want to follow. If they crucified you, it’d be because you deserved it!

Because your love depends on everyone else.

Everyone else is fickle.

No one fulfills their word to you.

You are always hurt.

Someone is always letting you down.

You will be like a boat lost at sea without a rudder blown and tossed by the wind.

Untie the strings. Love freely. Love willingly. Free your loved ones up so that they will have room to love you as they will.

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For the first two in this series on Love With Dignity and Grace:

Part Eleven: Living As Roommates: Love With Dignity and Grace

Dr. Wall continues his series on living as married roommates vs. living as husband and wife by looking at just a few of the consequences of divorce. Married roommates too often divorce without ever learning really how to love.

Part Twelve: Living As Roommates: Love With Dignity and Grace, Part II

Dr. Wall continues his series contrasting two trajectories for marriage: Living as roommates or living as husband and wives, by commenting on the nature of true love. It’s the only way to go. The options aren’t very appealing.

For the larger series on Living As Roommates click here.

Check out these other blogs by Dr. Wall:

The Insult Stops With Me

Dr. Wall looks at how hard it is to be nice to people who look down on us. It’s really the only option, though, unless we want to go to therapy forever.

Spot Removal

Dr. Wall uses his recent skin cancer surgery as a time to ponder that we can’t get rid of our own darkness on our own.

Returning Evil for Evil? Or Not

In this blog from last May, Dr. Wall reflects on God being in the business of turning evil into good.  We’d best be about that, too.

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Dr. Bing Wall is a marriage therapist with a practice in Ames and Urbandale, Iowa.  To set up a time to see Dr. Wall click here or call 888-233-8473.  For more information about Dr. Wall click here.

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bing in Ames, Iowa click here

To schedule an appointment with Dr. Bing in Des Moines click here