For me and many of my friends from high school, when we were ready to launch into our adult life, the plan was to surround ourselves with what we were calling love. We were to find someone special to love, be special enough to be loved, to have a special job we loved, and to be so saturated with the stuff that we could not help but be bursting at the seems with a passionate, exuberant happiness so wonderful that people would think we were on a permanent (and yet not debilitating) high. Of course, to accomplish this, we had to be special, to find someone special, and to do something special. Anything less would mean we had given up the quest and decided to settle for something less.
The problem is that this quest for “love” is based on many wrong assumptions. The most important one is that it assumes that love and appreciation are the same thing, and they are not. Appreciation is a feeling generated in me by the performance of someone else. My desire to be appreciated is me hoping that my performance can invoke positive feelings in someone else. This is the meeting of two very unstable things: performance and feelings. If my quest for happiness is grounded in performance and feelings, my quest is doomed to fail, because nobody can perform forever (especially me), and feelings are affected by too many things.
God does not appreciate me. He loves me. His commitment to me is not based on my ability to stir up appreciation in Him. His commitment to me is based entirely on the power of His own heart. This is good news, because if the power of God’s love was dependent on my ability to stir it up I’d be in big trouble. We would all be in big trouble.
Our love for others is to be the same, by the way. A loyal husband’s love for his wife is not dependent on her ability to stir it up in him. A loyal husband is one who had decided to love his wife, with a dependence on the power of God to help him do it, no matter what comes, “’til death do us part”. People that love each other do so because they have decided to, not because they appreciate each other, but in spite of the fact that many times they do not appreciate each other. It is this love that gets folks through the times where appreciation is missing, while both folks grow or heal or just adjust to becoming someone different than who they used to be.
I do appreciate my wife, by the way, but for different reasons than I used to. Since our relationship is based on love and not appreciation, though, she can change tomorrow without worrying about me bailing on her. In the end, maybe what we’ll both appreciate most about the other is that we were committed enough to love to stick it out for several decades, even when appreciation wouldn’t have been enough.