Twelve pairs of dusty feet stood awkwardly on the wood floor of the upper room. The table was set, the food was ready, water had been carried from the well, and clean linen towels had been folded neatly on a bench. But someone was missing. Eyes avoided contact, elbows nudged, someone coughed nervously. But no one wanted to do the work of a servant. No one was willing to kneel at the feet of his friends. No one was humble enough to wash away the dirt from two dozen dusty feet.
They all stood proud and tall--except Jesus, who quietly picked up a towel, poured the water, and knelt on the ground to show His love. For three long years He’d shown them that true love kneels to serve and is willing to make sacrifices. For three long years He’d shown them that true love puts others first. But they still didn't understand.
Years later, Paul wanted to help Christians love each other with a heart like Jesus. So he shared what he'd learned about love in a letter to the Romans. His practical ideas for healthy relationships are as relevant today as they were two thousand years ago.
LOVING DEEPLY AND PURELY
Romans 12:8, 9
Jesus' love for us is deep and pure. In its depth He is totally forgiving, and in its purity He leaves no room for anyone to doubt His love.
- How deep is your love for your husband or wife? What do you need to forgive, and what do you need to say you're sorry for?
- How pure is your love? Do your words or behavior ever prevent your spouse from experiencing your love as pure and transparent?
LOOKING FOR THE DIAMONDS
Make a list of your partner’s special gifts, qualities, and strengths. Write down as many as you can, and add more when you notice them. When we focus on positive qualities, we help each other to blossom and grow.
- How can I show appreciation for the spiritual gifts and character strengths of my spouse?
- How can I develop my own spiritual gifts and character strengths, and what positive effect might they have on our relationship?
Love needs to be expressed in warm words, eye contact, smiles, gentle touching, time together, thoughtful gifts, or helpful support. Different cultures and families express affection differently, but the important thing is to love others the way they like to be loved, not just the way we want to love them.
- Ask your husband or wife to write down ten times when they felt especially loved by you and three other gestures that would make them feel loved. Then spend at least five minutes a day doing whatever makes your partner feel loved. Notice the differences it makes to your relationship.
Jesus was happy with his friends when they were happy, and sad when they were sad. When something amazing happens to your husband or wife, celebrate together! And when your spouse is sad, just sit and be sad together. When our partners don’t share in our sadness or joy, we can feel very alone. But when we share in each other's emotions, we strengthen the love-bond between us.
- How can I be more responsive to my partner's emotions so htat we can strengthen the love-bond between us?
Connecting Your Partner
When Jesus met people who felt downtrodden and rejected, He lifted them up and showed them how valuable they were to Him. Healthy relationship are based on mutual respect. When we place our spouses a little higher than ourselves, we're both lifted up. When we look down on our spouses and act superior in some way, we're both dragged down. See your partner as a unique and amazing creation that God has made just for you. Honor your spouse as the king or queen of your home. Discover what makes your spouse especially happy, do it for them, and watch what happens to your own joy.
- What can I do to honor my husband or wife and to show them how valuable they are to me?
When Jesus knelt down to wash His disciples' feet, He wasn’t only being humble but also hospitable. Hospitality is doing whatever it takes to make someone feel comfortable, welcome, and special. It’s pouring a glass of water for your spouse on a hot day, setting the table attractively, turning the heated blanket on to warm their side of the bed, or doing anything else to touch their heart with a smile.
- How can I show warm hospitality to my partner today?
Loving like Jesus means creating a peaceful atmosphere where people feel safe, forgiven, accepted, and heard. It means going the extra mile to make sure conflicts are resolved by listening to the other person’s concerns and by exploring their ideas for a win-win outcome. It also means letting go of your desire to win the argument, to get your own way, or to have more power than the other person.
- How can I prevent an argument by putting my partner's needs and wishes first?
Devotion--listening to the heart
Jesus listened to the heart. He wanted to hear the real needs in people’s lives. When your partner is hurt, tried, angry, disappointed, afraid or sad, respond to their unspoken needs rather than reacting to their frustrated words. See the difference it makes!
- When does my partner most need a hug, a helping hand, some time together with me, or some appreciation, respect, or encouragement?
Doing whatever it takes
When we love with a heart like Jesus, we do whatever it takes to show the other person how much we love them. Jesus laid down His life for us so that we'd never have to doubt His love for us.
- What sacrifices do I need to make for my partner's happiness?
Spending time with Jesus
In order to love like Jesus, we need to spend time with Him studying and praying, learning about His love, and listening to His heart for our partners and for us. This is how we are transformed by the renewing of our minds (Romans 12:1,2).
- Which aspect of my life most needs to be renewed so that I can love my partner more like Jesus does?
Sidebar: Here are 30 extremely serious questions to ask about the health of your family relationships:
1. Does every single member of your family feel valued?
2. Can they trust you with anything?
3. Do you care about the small things, the details?
4. Do you make yourself available to them?
5. Do you make it easy and safe for them to say, "I'm sorry" or "I was wrong"? Or are they made to pay for it with "I told you so's"?
6. Do you lift up, or put down, your family members in public?
7. Do you nurture and support their passions?
8. Do you humilitate or embarrass them, either privately or in public?
9. If they were to come to you with a problem, even a shameful problem, would they find in you a lecturer or a listener?
10. How would you make them feel if they made a mistake? As if it were the end of the world, or just as respected and valued as before? And do you tell them that? Remind them?
11. Do you hold old mistakes over their heads?
12. Do you point out their strengths and talents?
13. Are you enabling them to become the best people they can be, or are you inflicting a controlling, possessive nature on them?
14. Are you telling them it's OK to cry, or urging them to "always put a smile on it," as if faking it means real strength?
15. Do you teach that struggles are in direct correlation to their spiritual state, and that if they struggle in life it's a sign they need to "make things right with God"? Or do you support them in their struggles, as God does for us?
16. Is the name of God brought up in the context of encouragement (the true kind) or in the context of shaming and guilting? How do you think this might affect their relationship with God?
17. Is faith something you can openly share together, or is "talking theology" a way of avoiding real, personal conversations?
18. Have you, perhaps unknowingly, labeled a family member? For example, "The Rebel," "The Procrastinator," "The Messy One," "The Bossy One." Do you point back to this label again and again, so that with each action they seem to be "confirming" the accuracy of the label?
19a. Do you constantly insist that your way is the only right way?
19b. Do you empower yourself by hoarding information and using it as a tool for manipulation or power?
20. Do you let family members make their own mistakes, while serving as a safe place to return to (only if they want to!)?
21. Do you believe you have more of a right to influence and decide for them than you actually do? (Even children need a sense of independence.).
22. Do you make the mistake of needing to be needed, therefore creating situations in which you stunt their growth?
23. Do you allow your family members to explore possibilities, even if that means going through "phases" or "looking silly"?
24. Do they know you're on their side, no matter what? And are you really?
25. Do they feel loved as much as you tell them they are? Do you know their love language, and are you speaking it? Have you asked if they feel loved?
26. Do you punctuate excuses for ill behavior with the words, "I only did it because I love you"?
27. Are you a friend?
28. When you feel afraid or make a mistake, do you admit it honestly, or turn to shouting or aggressive/controlling behavior?
29. Do you acknowledge that people change and aren't statues--and therefore need to be rediscovered and re-known by their loved ones? Or do you assume the "same old answers" because you haven't checked to see if anything has changed?
30. And, finally, are you aware of how deeply you can leave scars or inspire strengths in your family members?