207,557 people on Facebook viewed the offer of the “spiritual bracelet for men,” a hand woven bracelet that “promotes feelings of spiritual well-being.”
I find that fact disheartening. Imagine what kind of “feeling of spiritual well-being” would be fostered if these 207,557 people gave $1 a month to the efforts to rescue children from abuse or disease. Imagine if these 207,557 people each did one kind deed a day for the next year. No, I’m afraid that they would rather seek some non-involved way of fostering spiritual well-being for themselves. The horrific assumption of this offer is that I can find spiritual well-being apart from acts of hesed.
This brings me to a common subject. It begins with a question similar to the assumption of the offer for this “amazing” bracelet. “Why shouldn’t I get what I need out of the relationship I seek with some other special person?” Bear with my comments and observations:
1. The idea of romantic love, invented in the Enlightenment and perpetrated by this culture, is false. It is worse than false. It is a lie – a powerful, seductive lie that twists relationships into contractual (spoken or unspoken) exchange agreements. Rather than finding a partner whom we can serve with delightful enrichment, we look for someone who can serve us! And the predictable result is that we find what we are looking for – self-serving inwardly focused narcissism – only to discover that the one we thought would be so invested in us isn’t what we wanted – because the focus has always been on what WE wanted, not what we are able to give.
2. God does not punish us for these mistakes. We take care of that by ourselves. There are consequences for every action – even if we think we can avoid them, delay them or modify them. So, choosing to measure our relationships by what they do for us has consequences. The scars of guilt, the wounds of lost trust, the remorse of life not given away, the pangs of constant fear of rejection. It is an unfortunate consequence of living that we often don’t realize these things until many years afterward. Then it is too late to repair the damage. Since we ignore the advice of those who have already suffered such errors in judgment, believing, of course, that their mistakes do not apply to us, we march blindly toward our self-serving goals, not recognizing the eternal wreckage we leave along the way.
3. In the end, life is about friendship. Loves come and go. Friends last. The reason they last is because we make a commitment to them regardless of their behavior. Of course, sometimes the behavior destroys the friendship, but that should never happen because we caused it. Since friendship is the real objective, making friends is the paramount goal of relationship management. It is an inevitable and unfortunate consequence of human behavior that sexual attraction often interferes with this goal, altering a friendship into an exchange for common self-serving benefit. But the bottom line is this: until you make a friend of the one you wish to love, and keep that friendship, you have nothing more than a series of self-seeking encounters. The end of the road of self-seeking is loneliness – a deep sense of never actually being loved for who you are, of being unacceptable as you are. This is almost never the result of the other person’s inability to love. It is almost always the result of our unwillingness to seek the best for the other person even at our own expense. In other words, if you have experienced loss in important relationships, there is a very good chance the cause is your own desire to make the relationship meet your needs rather than acting as if the relationship is an opportunity for you to serve and whatever way possible the needs of the other. Friendship is the solution, not romance. Where romance breeds pseudo-friendship, self-seeking brings broken hearts. In order to be loved, one must first be a friend – and a friend never gives up caring for the other person.
4. Friends are friends even if they don’t agree. Lovers become enemies when they don’t agree. You can measure the degree of your friendship with another person by your willingness to honor his or her life even when you disagree. Exchange relationships are built on the necessity to receive equal value. Friendship doesn’t care.
5. In the end, marriage should be the common union of two deeply committed friends. When it is not, it is simply a convenient barter agreement. If your marriage now has the characteristics, however subtle, of a barter exchange, then you must decide to make the other person your best friend – or face the inevitable consequences in #1 above. You can do this. It is not that much different than making any other person a friend. But to do this you must stop counting! If you find that you are acting in ways that would not promote friendship with anyone else, you must stop doing what you are doing no matter what the cost. In the end, all that you give up is seeking your own ends – and of what value is that if you end up alone?
6. Real marriage is commitment, not love. Love (not romance) comes as a result of a lifetime commitment. Love is the end of marriage, not the beginning. Love must be developed, nurtured, cultivated for a long, long time before one day you look around and say, “I guess I really do love her.” Love is longevity. Romance is fireworks. And fireworks explodes into nothing but the dark night.