Is Love Just a Choice?
Sarah Jennings, Crosswalk.com Family Editor
Dear children, let us not love with words or tongue but with actions and in truth.
1 John 3:18
"Love is a choice."
"Why drag a relationship out? Just commit!"
"People today wait too long to get married. They need to find someone in their early 20's and just tie the knot!"
As a single woman and in my role as Crosswalk's Family Editor, I've heard relationship advice like the statements above more times than I can count.
This kind of advice stems from a very real concern in Christian culture: young people today are waiting until their 30's to marry more than ever. This trend pulls an entire decade of adulthood away from family life and some serious issues have arisen as a result. Pastors, cultural analysts, and everyday well-meaning people have stepped in to say, "Enough! Make a commitment!"
I have a problem with this advice, though.
10 years ago, as a 19-year-old just stepping into adulthood, I sat in the passenger seat of my father's car while we drove home from a weekend conference. After mulling over the relationship advice given at the conference, I finally blurted out, "Dad, if love is just a choice, than why not just marry someone walking by on the street? They criticize us for analyzing our dates too much or having high expectations, but by what criteria are we to choose a spouse?"
We didn't come up with any satisfactory answers that day.
Years passed, and while I appreciated the fact that typical Christian relationship advice was more solid than the mainstream "just go with your feelings" message, a piece of the puzzle remained missing for me. Is it really godly love or "God's will" when a young couple high on emotions gets engaged and married within a matter of months? Does simply "getting married" solve the problems we're hoping to solve?
During our marriage prep, my husband and I have found greater clarity on some of these questions as we work through Fr. Karol Wojtyla's book Love and Responsibility. Fr. Wojtyla writes that biblical love isn't merely a choice but a choice based on truth. Wojtyla states:
"Only true knowledge of a person makes it possible to commit one's freedom to him or her." This is because, "True love, a love that is internally complete, is one in which we choose the person for the sake of the person - that in which a man chooses a woman or a woman chooses a man not just as a sexual ‘partner' but as the person on whom to bestow the gift of his or her own life."
Translation: We must know the truth of the person to whom we're committing and also know ourselves in light of God's truth, otherwise love is "blind" and not love at all. This is because we don't just marry a generic man or woman, but a unique, complex person created with dignity and in the image of God.
Fr. Wojtyla tackles the issues that come with rapid commitments in this context. He affirms that while emotional warmth is important to a relationship, the emotional and sensual highs often present in the early dating days can actually obscure the truth of another person thus hindering love from flowering. Later, this couple will experience disillusionment as the fantasy fades. Fr. Wojtyla writes that love for a particular person requires time to unfold and allowing for this time isn't the same as fear of commitment or avoidance of responsibility.
Wojtyla writes from a scriptural foundation. In the Bible, we see that love and truth are intertwined. We see God's love is a very personal love, beginning in the womb (Psalm 139: 13). He has knowledge even of the hairs on our heads (Matt 10: 30). God has no romantic illusions of who you are, yet He chooses you - and cherishes you. This is genuine, unconditional love that brings lasting happiness for all including the warmth of emotion we so desire.
Thankfully, true love does not depend on our flawless execution of it. We've all failed in some capacity. Fr. Wojtyla comforts his readers by reminding us of God's work in the lives of those who seek Him: "There is no need to be dismayed if love sometimes follows tortuous ways. Grace has the power to make straight the paths of human love."
Intersecting Faith & Life: Are you single and dating? Honor that person by taking the time to get to know them for who they are. Have you already committed? Fr. Wojtyla writes that the marriage commitment creates a lifelong "school of love," giving spouses unique opportunities to develop mature love as they grow in truth and grace. Ask God for ways you can grow in your love for your spouse.