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Love Is Not a Bargain

There is no quid pro quo in selflessness

A young bride sniffed and cried. "I don't understand why he's doing this. I don't like it and it's not fair."

Her mom gave her a big hug. "Who told you marriage is supposed to be fair?"

Even when we try to face reality, most newlyweds still hope for the happily-ever-after fairytale. They hope that frustrations, pain, and sorrow will be met with immeasurable understanding and love. At some point all married couples (yes, even me!) subconsciously believe that their spouses should be held accountable for any changes after the marriage ceremony. For example, if she is beautiful, her husband secretly hopes that she will always be beautiful. If he is a good provider, she is trusting that he will always be able to provide.

What happens to the marriage when one person can't fulfill the implicit "promises" made before and during the ceremony? We all hear the words for better or worse, but how often do newlyweds actually visualize the ugly face of worse?

My father, Dr. Ken Crocker, has preached, counseled, and written on the subject. Dr. Crocker explains, "The principle of quid pro quo is taken from the Latin term for 'something for something.' This term is used in legal documents and business agreements. It refers to a business relationship or bargain between two entities trying to protect their own interests and make the bargain fair for both parties. You give me merchandise and I'll give you money. You do this for me and I'll do that for you. Quid pro quo may be necessary for business agreements, but love and marriage is not a quid pro quo search for a bargain."

It's often hard for couples in turmoil to let go of the hurt that stems from an unfair situation. We want love to be fair. We want to believe that love is at its best when all situations are fair. The reality is that love can be pushed out the door when one spouse suffers for years, feeling that the situation will never change. It takes a strong commitment to hang on when personal desires aren't being met.

We aren't talking about abuse here. Real abuse should never be tolerated. We are talking about the unfairness of life. Every married person, at some time, will feel as if he or she is giving or doing more than his or her spouse. Perhaps we need a new way to look at those feelings. Jumping into a fight or running to an attorney may deprive you of the best treasure of marriage. According to Dr. Crocker, even if the years of service to the one you love are never reversed—good or bad—love signs on for the whole trip. Ron and I often quote our own philosophy: "I'm sorry darling. I didn't mean to do that. But we both signed on this cruise together and no one is jumping ship early."

When asked to explain this concept to hurting couples, Dr. Crocker enjoys sharing a real-life story where love was not a bargain. "Dad, how many times have you told the story of Uncle Love and Aunt Alyeen?" I asked him.

"Hundreds of times!" He laughed and looked out the window. "It's a story that floods my heart with wonderful memories of strong true love."

Dad grinned and repeated the story he knew I loved. Aunt Alyeen was a sophisticated lady who had a laugh like liquid sunshine. Her personality reminded me of a sparkling brook singing and splashing its way down the mountain. She was the very picture of warmth, love, and kindness. In the late 1940's she refused a position and insisted it be given to Uncle Love. This decision resulted in their financial freedom. Aunt Alyeen believed in practical Christianity. She rented a building in the poorest section of town and provided help for mothers and children. It was uncommon to see a well-dressed "proper" Christian lady serving dirty children and discouraged parents. She provided clean clothes, fed growling tummies, and shared simple Bible stories. Aunt Alyeen's compassion also provided college tuition for several of her special children.

Alyeen's husband didn't have a first name, just the initials A. B. His last name was Love. Uncle Love (as we called him) was a devout Christian with a reputation as a completely honest investment broker. He was sincere about his faith and often showed kindness, generosity, and love. Yet he could also be stern and demanding. There was a proper way to do things, a proper way to act. He provided a harsh reprimand if you got out of line.

When his tough side appeared, Aunt Alyeen quickly explained that he didn't mean to be unkind. Even when he made her cry, she remained sweet and pleaded for others to understand him. Protecting his brother and surviving a tough orphanage had taught him to fight for his beliefs. "He loves you and just wants to see you do well in life." Her soft eyes pleaded for understanding.

Once in a while she would gently remind him that he was being too hard on others. He stood his ground until her soft heart and gentleness won him over. His gruff "I'm sorry" was enough to gain her smile.

I loved them both but often felt that their relationship was unfair. Aunt Alyeen gave in most of the time. With grace and kindness she always found a way to take the harshness and forgive. She refused to complain about the unfairness and accepted it as one of those things that couldn't be changed.

One summer afternoon a small stroke took Aunt Alyeen's memory. Alzheimer's came in like a thief and stole more memories, and her life began to change.

For months Uncle Love took care of her at home. When the police found her walking down the middle of a four-lane highway, Uncle Love sadly placed her in a nursing home. Aunt Alyeen was no longer the sweet person she had been. Instead she hurled angry accusations and screamed with fear when he came close. He was heartbroken to face the hurt she harbored.

It wasn't fair that he slept on the floor beside her until a cot was provided. He refused to leave her alone even for a day. There was nothing fair about the days that rolled into months and years. He sat by her bedside; patiently fed her; and read the Bible to a silent, sad, and unresponsive woman. Her good looks and attention to style was replaced with the haggled look of a woman who no longer cared. Her hair was short and hung straight around a hollow and colorless face. The beauty and softness had disappeared. It didn't seem to matter. Uncle Love held her hand, kissed her often, and tenderly expressed his love for her.

It wasn't fairness that kept him by her bedside for over five years—it was love. When she passed away he was comforted by the fact that he had never forsaken her or stopped loving her. How difficult yet beautiful that one month after her death, Uncle Love slipped away and joined her in heaven.

Remembering them is like panning for gold. We don't think much about what was fair or unfair. We wash those memories around in the pan until everything disappears but the pure gold of unselfish love.

A bargain of mutual self-interest would never have survived the trials of their life. Their love for each other was strong enough to suffer long, with kindness.

Dad quoted 1 Corinthians 13:4, "Love is patient and kind," and I reached for a tissue.

I stared out the window and thought of all the couples who scream, "It's not fair." If couples make love a bargain, what happens when she gains weight? Is the bargain broken when he doesn't get the promotion and can't buy the big house? Is he allowed to cash in the contract when she loses her job or can't have children? What happens if he's in an accident and can't walk and sex is impossible? Is the contract void when any promised desire can't be fulfilled?

God designed marriage—and real love—to be a strong partnership even when the situation changes or becomes difficult. Without that provision, marriage is nothing more than a business arrangement—a quid pro quo agreement.

Dad's story means even more to me because I've watched it played out in my parents' lives as well. Their 65-year ministry presented challenges that most people would think impossible to survive. Yet mother wrote 25 songs and Dad has a long resume that includes pastor, missionary pilot, and author. Along with the wonderful accomplishments, they have also faced tragic situations. As they age, I see love erasing the need for fairness. It's not a matter of what's fair in their lives. Instead their goal is to take care of present needs no matter who does the serving. They recently celebrated 60 years together. Tears dripped off my cheeks as they looked into each other's eyes and said, "I love you."

Every marriage will encounter situations that seem unfair. If you refuse to let love be reduced to a bargain—a quid pro quo—in the end love will be your most priceless treasure.

Dr. Ken Crocker has been married for 60 years. He is a minister, missionary, author and can be found at www.pastorken.com

Debbie Jansen is an author and a speaker who has been married for 37 years. www.debbiejansen.com

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

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