One of the great delights of running marriage enrichment retreats for couples, is hearing all the amazing love stories. From beginning to end, every one of them has mystery, radical self-sacrifice and epic persistence in some capacity.
We often joke that our own love story is more akin to a soap opera than real life but after hearing hundreds of love stories ours is really not that remarkable, though we are very aware of the loving hand of God in bringing us together… and keeping us together which is even more miraculous!
In all these love stories, the common ingredient is passion.
Passion is at the very core of why we got married. It was our passion that brought us together and underpinned our decision to marry – we wanted to share all that we had with each other; our dreams, fears, feelings, sorrows, laughter, and yes, our bodies too.
Our passion for each other led us to pledge everything we had including our future, to each other on our wedding day… an impossible commitment without the grace of God to sustain us, especially in the current culture of throw away relationships and sexual liberation.
Passion needs defining and protecting. There are so many ignoble causes that have hijacked this word that it is easy to get the wrong idea when we use it. So let us be more specific.
Firstly, we are not just talking about an intense emotion when we use the word passion. Passion involves more than the emotions; it involves the entire person.
Passion is a desire for union and communion; to be one with each other in body and soul.
In other words, passion is a desire for intimate knowledge of and connection with another in our whole personhood, not just physically, not just emotionally, but spiritually as well.
Secondly, it’s not just about sexual desire. Passion is often confused with lust, but it is very different. Lust is a self-centred desire for another in order to fulfil my needs. It is a purely self-focussed thing.
On the other hand, passion is completely other-centred and unselfish. It is willing to self-sacrifice for the other. It leads us to personally forgo our own interests so that we can serve the other. It leads us to take more delight in the other’s happiness than in the fulfilment of our own desires.
We talk about the ‘passion of Christ on the cross’; it was a complete outpouring of love, even to the point of death. Christ’s passion was totally other centred and self-giving. Passion also leads us to a self-sacrificing love; to self-donation to the one we love.
Finally, passion is not something that comes and goes over which we have no control. Passion is something that we can cultivate and indeed need to cultivate and nurture in order to keep our marriages vibrant and strong.
Most of us would generally agree that although being good friends is a great start in a relationship but it’s not sufficient reason for getting married. A couple needs more, they need to have an element of passion, an urgency, a sexual spark for each other.
They need to be, what we would call, ‘in love’ and that’s really what ‘passion’ is all about. Being ‘in love’ is foundational to marriage. It is a prerequisite, and the same principle should apply after the wedding as well as before.
The special ‘chemistry’ that worked to attract us to each other in the first place is more integral and central to our continuing relationship than we are often aware.
If we are not passionately ‘in love’, marriage becomes too much work and we easily become exhausted.
When our passion is low, we tend to be measured in our love for each other. We put limits on it and unconsciously keep score. ‘He’s only doing so much, so I won’t do anymore than this much’ or ‘It’s her turn to take out the garbage/make the bed/straighten the lounge room’ and so on.
Without passion, our self-talk becomes selfish and focused more on protecting our own interests, than on wanting to see our spouse flourish.
When passion is strong, our whole disposition towards each other is different. Instead of keeping score or putting limits on our love, we think only of what we can do to love our spouse. Moreover, we do it joyfully, willingly because it is no hardship for us; we are motivated by desire rather than duty, by passion rather than obligation.
While we may be doing the same action, for example working to pay a mortgage, or cleaning up the garage or doing the laundry, the experience is totally different. Instead of feeling resentful or hard-done-by, we feel blessed. It’s not the action itself, but the why of it that is different.
Passion transforms our motivation and the way we perceive our obligations and responsibilities, making the every day tasks of building a home and supporting family more life-giving and rewarding. It inspires us to be generous towards and grateful for the other, rather than critical and self-piteous.
Passion is what makes love easy and joy-filled. It transforms our marriage from just a convenient living arrangement to a mission – a mission to love this man, or this woman, with everything we’ve got.