My husband and I first heard the words “Love is a decision” from a Catholic priest about five years after we were married. It was a bit of a paradigm shift. Even in the pre-marriage class we attended, we could not remember hearing that concept. However, after only five years of marriage, we both knew the truth of those words.
In the early years of our married life, we still relied on "good old-fashioned love.” We figured it would sustain us through the inevitable hard times, and the good times, too. Somehow our hearts would trump our rational brains into believing that love is a feeling that would always be there, always reliable.
But by the time we heard the words "Love is a decision," the honeymoon was over, and the reality of three children (six more would come along), a mortgage, and the everyday stress of life had taken its place.
At this point the decision to love seemed like an idea worth exploring.
The decision to love doesn’t rely on feelings, which come and go with our moods and the circumstances of our life. (Most of us know that the warm fuzzies eventually fade.)
The truth is that while love may produce a feeling, it is not a feeling. Instead, it relies on the commitment that we make to each other. It is this commitment that we depend on when things get tough. It is this commitment that helps us remember that we have made a decision to love regardless of conflict and difficulty.
What We Need To Hear—But Don't
"Love is a decision" is not something we hear often. Christian marriage is based on this concept, but it is still not something we hear often.
Social media, ads, and other images or narratives reveal couples who seem enraptured with each other. After all, the reality of everyday life doesn't "sell."
Yet, while we might already know that what we see in the advertising is not realistic, we are still influenced by it.
My husband and me after the birth of our ninth child, Sam
That is why we need reminders that love is not based on emotion, but on a decision.
Scripture reveals to us what this kind of love is and what it requires:
“Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.”
—1 Corinthians 12:4-8
Let's face it: in marriage this kind of love is sometimes difficult. Extremely difficult! The same priest who shared with us the idea of love as a decision shared something else that I often find helpful to remember: that the Scripture verse above speaks of a supernatural love, one that exists with and through God's help.
This goes along with what we know about Christian married love: that marriage requires sacramental grace, which we really must rely on in making the "decision" to love every day.
What the Catechism of the Catholic Church Says About Love
The Catechism of the Catholic Church says:
"By reason of their state in life and of their order, [Christian spouses] have their own special gifts in the People of God." This grace proper to the sacrament of Matrimony is intended to perfect the couple's love and to strengthen their indissoluble unity. By this grace they "help one another to attain holiness in their married life and in welcoming and educating their children."
Christ is the source of this grace. "Just as of old God encountered his people with a covenant of love and fidelity, so our Savior, the spouse of the Church, now encounters Christian spouses through the sacrament of Matrimony." Christ dwells with them, gives them the strength to take up their crosses and so follow him, to rise again after they have fallen, to forgive one another, to bear one another's burdens, to "be subject to one another out of reverence for Christ," and to love one another with supernatural, tender, and fruitful love. In the joys of their love and family life he gives them here on earth a foretaste of the wedding feast of the Lamb..."
On Valentine's Day, there is so much around us that depicts the "love as a feeling" perspective. While there is nothing wrong with feelings or emotions of love per se, they are not what we should rely on. In fact, as couples trying to live out the vocation of marriage, it is not helpful to base our love on what the world says it is.
Instead we must base it on the decision we made at the altar and the one we make every single day of our married life, till death do us part. That is the kind of love that will sustain us.
My husband and I celebrated our anniversary last month: thirty-two years. The decision to love has been an important one. Through thick and thin. Through sickness and health. Through good times and bad. “Love’s the one thing that can never hurt anyone, although it may cost dearly…love is life’s greatest blessing,” said Sister Catherine Wybourne, a Benedictine nun. How true.
Often love is as easy as taking a breath. We barely think about it. It is so natural.
Other times it is hard. We have to dig deep. We have to remember the decision.
Over time, love becomes the foundation on which the story of our life is built. Sometimes we recognize the building blocks as they are placed. But most of the time, the structure is built outside of our awareness. Day after day after day.
Life Is a Love Story
Recently, while running on a trail near our home one morning, I saw a sweet, elderly couple walking along. They were moving slowly, looking down as they walked, and holding hands. As I approached from behind, I slowed to a walk. They weren’t talking. Just walking. I followed behind for a few minutes, wondering about their story. What was written in the pages of their book?
Similar to when you near the end of a good book and slow down the reading of it to savor the story, I couldn't help but wonder: was this couple savoring the final chapters of their story? I hoped that much of our own story—my husband's and mine—was yet to be written.
I began to run again…suddenly feeling blessed.
Perhaps this Valentine's Day we can pray especially hard for our spouses and for our marriages, asking God to give us the grace to love in the way He loves. Let us seek to love one another in a sacrificial manner so that we might truly "bear all things, believe all things, hope, and endure all things" for love of Him.