What Love Does

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  • Everything is an affair of the spirit.  If eating and drinking can be done “to the glory of God” (1 Cor 10:31), KJV) so can everything else. For those who long to follow Christ, “the performance of smaller duties, yes, even of the smallest, will do more to give us temporary repose… than the greatest joys that can come to us from any other quarter” (George MacDonald).

    At a conference where I was speaking about the little sacrifices of love I suggested that if, for example, your husband drops his clothes on the floor and leaves them there, you might, instead of nagging (your views on the subject have been well—known to him for a long time!), simply pick them up.  That sort of suggestion does not go over well these days—we’re terrified of being “walked-on” or becoming “co-dependent” or “enablers.”  One woman’s questions following that talk were:

    1. Why shouldn’t my husband change, and quit dropping his clothes?
    2. If he doesn’t, how do I handle the resentment I feel?

    The first answer was simple: of course he should change, but you can’t make him! God knows you’ve tried. It’s time to leave him to God. I was not talking to husbands!

    The second question pierces to the heart of things. 

    I greatly value Question and Answer sessions, hoping to clarify the application to individual lives of the principles I try to set forth. But having been at this a good number of years, I am more and more aware of the difficulty of helping people to turn their eyes to Jesus. The world is, as Wordsworth put it, too much with us. Has a husband’s careless habit anything to do with my relationship to Jesus? Yes, everything to do with it, since:

    1. It has become perfectly clear that I cannot change him, and,
    2. I resent it. Here the question pierces to the heart my heart, my attitude toward the man, which reveals my attitude toward Jesus Himself, for what I do to one of His brothers, I do to Him—alas!

    As I reminded my daughter Valerie (in the book I wrote as a wedding present to her, Let Me be a Woman), you marry a sinner. There simply isn’t anything else to marry. So the husband sins against the wife and—let us wives not forget—he too, married a sinner. If he sins in being thoughtless and my reaction is sinful, two wrongs don’t make a right.  

    Most questions about relationships can be answered quite simply if we ask ourselves this question: What does love do? 

    Let me start with my love for God. Loving Him means the thankful acceptance of all things which His love has appointed. We learn to love Him as we learn to “frame our hearts to the burden” as Samuel Rutherford said. Clothes on the floor constitute, at worst, a small “burden.” This, if not accepted as soon as we find that we are not in a position to change it, becomes an irritation which becomes resentment which becomes real anger and, eventually, along with all the irritations not accepted for the love of God, full-dressed hatred. “Whoever hates his brother is in the darkness and walks around in the darkness; he does not know where he is going, because the darkness has blinded him” (1 Jn 2:11, NIV). No wonder we lose our way. No wonder we are baffled. Darkness descends because we do not ask the Lord to teach us love.  

    Surely the questioner would protest that she does not hate her husband. But she certainly hates what he does, and marriages break up when “small” things accumulate and resentments build. Love is the intention of unity. Resentment is the destroyer of unity.  

    John S. Dwight (1813-93) said, “Rest is the fitting of self to its sphere.” If in my “sphere” I find things out of place through someone else’s fault, this is my opportunity to fit myself, to give a little, to do the small thing that should have been done by the other. Love is very patient, very kind, never rude, never selfish. And it’s amazing what rest comes from the gentle fitting of self to its sphere.

    Now as to the “handling” of resentment? Again, turn your eyes upon Jesus. Had He good reason to be resentful? Did people treat Him with respect, believe His words, trust His judgment, follow His leading, love and obey Him? Think on these powerful words:

    If you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. To this you were called because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps. “He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth.” When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly… By his wounds you have been healed.

    1 Peter 2:20-24, NIV

    Some things may legitimately be alleviated, others necessarily endured.  May we be wise enough to know the difference.

    “I am soft to myself and slide comfortably into the vice of self-pity and self-sympathy; if I do not by the grace of God practice fortitude, then I know nothing of Calvary love” (Amy Carmichael, IF, p. 29).

    But how trivial our complaints appear in the light of Christ!

    **Excerpt originally published in the Sept/Oct 1994 Elisabeth Elliot Newsletter.