Realizing that I was not loved turned out to be one of the hardest parts of my divorce journey.

I’ve mentioned elsewhere that I do not believe Ephesians 5 applies to modern-day marriages any more than Ephesians 6 applies to modern-day slavery. That said, those who do believe Ephesians 5 applies to modern-day marriage seem to spend enormous amounts of time agonizing over what female submission should look like: its theory, its practical applications, its limits.

Seems to me that they ought to spend a lot more time agonizing over what male love should look like. In general, there is far more benefit to be derived by pondering what love is and how it should be applied than there is benefit derived from pondering submission, obedience, and subjection. Jesus said that all of the law and the prophets hung on the commandments to love God and love one’s neighbor (Matthew 22:37-40). That’s how important love is.

Then again, they shouldn’t have to wonder. The same apostle who wrote Ephesians 5 also wrote 1 Corinthians 13, which says:

Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7 (emphasis mine)

In other words, the man who demands that his wife submit to his own will against hers is the man who does not love his wife. Likewise, Martin Luther taught: “Since then all law exists to promote love, law must soon cease where it is in conflict with love. Therefore, everything depends upon a good leader or ruler to direct and interpret the law in accordance with love.”

After she realized her father was gone, my then-7-year-old daughter became despondent. I had never seen her so depressed. She stayed in bed for long stretches of the days, and she was always crying. I took her for counseling and did my best to give her some space. Eventually, the anger at me emerged.

“It’s your fault daddy is gone,” she hissed at me one day.

“Why do you say that?” I asked.

“You’re the one who told him to leave!”

I felt that honesty, broken into the simplest terms possible, was the best policy, so I confirmed, “Yes. I did ask him to leave.”

“See? It’s your fault he’s gone!”

“He didn’t love me, Harley,” I told her, choking on my own tears as I spoke. “Don’t you think I deserve to be loved, too?” But I told her I was sorry I had let her down.

I continued to be the sane and supportive parent, and my daughter eventually forgave me. My ex-husband—who had resisted my accusations of not loving me at the time—now, on a regular basis, tells the women he dates that he never loved me, he only married me because [reasons]. At first I was hurt when I heard this, until I realized there was nothing to be hurt about. I was the first one to say that he did not love me; what did it matter that he had finally come around to agreeing with me?

I know now that I got it wrong when I talked to my daughter that day. I don’t deserve to be loved. No one does. I am broken and sinful and God’s love for me is an act of grace.

Likewise, the love that I have found in my mortal relationships are acts of grace, the human intermingled with the divine. My fiancé’s love for me is an act of grace. My children’s love for me are acts of grace. When Jesus commands us to love our neighbors (and our enemies), he is really commanding us to show grace to others, even those who do not deserve it.

I never would have wished the last 4-5 years of my life on anyone. Yet knowing what a persistent void of love looks like and feels like has left me all the more able to stand in awe of the love God had for us in sending Jesus Christ to die for us.

“The Lord your God is in your midst, a mighty one who will save; he will rejoice over you with gladness; he will quiet you by his love; he will exult over you with loud singing.” ~ Zephaniah 3:17 (ESV)

“For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him may not perish but may have eternal life.” ~ John 3:16

“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” ~ 1 Corinthians 13:4-7

“Hatred stirs up strife, but love covers all offenses.” ~ Proverbs 10:12

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All Bible verses are from the New Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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