Good love

Its nature

I am sure that everyone in their personal relationships wants to experience some good love. That would be love that is really sincere. Paul cites it this way in his teaching for Christians: “Let love be genuine” (Romans 12:9). The Greek word for “love” in that statement is “agape”. The apostle John uses that same word, “agape”, in this teaching statement about “love”: “Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love” (1 John 4:8). This means that most of us human beings are wanting “genuine” “love” in our human relationships that matches the quality of “love” that is present in the basic character of God. Wow! That is a quality of “love” that is totally unconditional, non-manipulative, unselfish, and dependable. That is the quality of “love” that Jesus demonstrated for human sinners when He surrendered His body to be crucified and accepted the shame and pain of being crucified to justify God’s price for the bloody sacrifice of an “innocent” life to enable Him to redeem sinful rebel human beings from their personal rejection of God’s righteous and wise will for their personal lives in this world where they were subject to the “evil” influences of Satan and their own selfish desires.

Its absence from most human relationships

As children grow up in various situations of living, they have the opportunity to experience various qualities of love in their relationships with their parents, other relatives, neighbors, friends, and associates from different groups of daily contacts. They learn that all of the experiences of “love” that they have in these various relationships are not of the same quality and few of them, if any of them, are really totally unconditional and consistently unselfish. When they personally reach the stage in their lives when they can become personally independent in their choices, they often seek a personal mate with whom they hope to experience a personal bond of “love” that will fulfill all of their dreams for a loving relationship that will meet all of their desires for physical comfort and safety and emotional happiness in their lives. It may not take these independent adults very long, particularly when the “honeymoon” is over and some persistent personal and social problems appear in their marriages, that the unconditional and unselfish “love” that they sought and expected to be receiving from their mates was not being consistently expressed to them. One or each of the individuals involved in this “troubled” marriage of personal tension and pain may be aware that something is wrong in their relationship but they may not know exactly what needs to be done to fix it or have the caring humble will to seek its cure. The couple may go on in their “broken” marriage for the achievement of some greater social purpose with the children or themselves or they may end the brokenness with a divorce and take their uncured faults with them into another relationship or wait for death to end their misery.

Our story

The story of my marriage with Betty began in 1986 when I met her in the hall of our apartment building and she offered me a piece of home made pie. We didn’t immediately become real good friends, because I was busy with some other personal interests following my divorce from my third wife. I became attracted to an old friend, Esther, whom I knew from graduate school where my first wife and I lived across the hall in the apartment building from her and her husband. Esther was now also divorced, and we decided to meet in her home in a distant city. Our meeting immediately became a powerful emotional drawing experience, but she wasn’t ready for another marriage. I got a new good professional job in a distant city, and we continued to engage in a stimulating courtship, sometimes by long distance but sometimes by close fellowship in the town where I was working. I finally decided to quit my job and move to where Esther lived to see if I could convince her to marry me. When she made it clear to me that that wasn’t going to happen in 1990 after a couple of years of courtship, I decided to move back to the apartment building where Betty lived to see if she might be interested in getting married to me. She was, and so we started to make the appropriate arrangements after she accepted my proposal. One of these arrangements involved getting a divorce from an old friend that she had just married to avoid getting married to another uncaring man like her previous two husbands were. After she easily secured her third divorce, we were happily married on February 2, 1991 at the ripe old ages of 60 for me and 63 for Betty.

The honeymoon began right away and continued for the next twenty years as we both began to work together to rebuild our broken lives and to share some “genuine” love with each other. All of her anniversary cards during the first decade of our marriage were signed in these words of commitment “Your devoted wife, only forever, Betty”. In 1993 Betty began to encourage me to get back into the ministry that I had lost when I was divorced by my second wife in 1981. With the special help of a couple of former ministering associates in key positions, Betty was able to get me into a position as the interim pastor at the age of sixty-two of a local church to which we moved to live in an acquired apartment. I served this church for several months, baptized seven youth as new converts in one service, and enabled the church to get a young couple as their new pastors. When we left that church, I took another interim assignment for a couple of months before I was called to another church in 1994 as their resident pastor after they had been served by a non-resident pastor for twenty-five years. Betty and moved into their restored parsonage where we lived for about a year and half before I retired in 1996 from my professional service as a Baptist minister and we moved into our new manufactured house in a mobile-home park in Rockford, Illinois.

Something happened in the early years of the second decade of our marriage that broke the “honeymoon” mood of our relationship particularly from her perspective. I “broke” her “heart”, which she acknowledged to Mike, her son, during the early years of the second decade in our marriage. This “break” in her devotional commitment to me was inevitable, because neither one of us knew how to prevent it or to fix it because we were each participants in three divorces in our previous marriages. We continued to work together during the years from 1996 to 2010 in various Christian ministries in our local church where I was teaching a Sunday School class and serving on the governing Board of the Congregation and Betty took on a leadership role in the church’s Women’s Missionary Society, which was a new experience for her. We eventually decided to leave this church because of the lack of support from the pastor for our personal services, but I was able to use an old computer that I had received from a man in the church from which I had retired to create and to operate a personal Christian website that gave me a world-wide platform for my special writing and teaching ministry, and Betty got me a nice roll-top desk and a big book case to help me handle this ministry from a bedroom in our home that I had converted into my office. I also had the opportunity to serve as the interim pastor of three other local churches to which we moved to live temporarily in furnished apartments and Betty actively and personally supported me in these ministries away from our home.

During these enjoyable years of service, Betty began to experience some minor physical strokes that would cause her to fall to the floor. This happened once before I took the last interim assignment for my ministry, but Betty quickly recovered from the incident and was willing to move with me to the distant church for our new service. While we were there Betty had two more strokes that caused her to fall in our apartment. In each case I was home and able to take her to the local hospital to get her arms treated for the skin wounds that she had suffered in these falls. These episodes convinced me that I needed to give up this ministry to take Betty back to our home where we could begin to treat her for this medical problem in her body. We were doing this when she had another fall in 2011 in which she broke her left hip. She got a hip replacement and went into a nursing facility for therapy, but she suffered some physical abuse from an aid there that caused us to bring her home before her incision for the hip replacement had completely healed. She got an infection in the hip tissue that required two more surgeries and the replacement of the hip joint with a spacer bar that left her with permanent and persistent pain in her left hip although she could stand up and move around with the help of a walker. Although she was offered more physical therapy treatments to enable her to walk without a walker, she was too afraid of falling again to do the necessary personal work to do that. So now it was up to me to help Betty move around our home safely without the risk of falling and to be somewhat comfortable in our bed, in her chair, on the couch, at our table for meals, or on the toilet as I helped her with all of these moves and the changing of her under garments and clothes during the day and at bed time. This physical work from me was not easy, because I suffered from persistent physical pains in my back and left hip and leg from a serious injury that I had suffered in high school and I now had Copd and my childhood asthma had returned which often left me out of breath. We were now two old people trying to take care of each other with our severely damaged bodies and no available local helpers.

With my own physical handicaps and discomfort, I was not always as careful and as comforting as Betty needed in her personal situation, particularly when we were each trying to get ready for bed every night. There were a lot of different physical moves for each of us that were required to get through this process, and sometimes Betty would complain to me, as her son explained was her normal pattern of behavior when she was uncomfortable with what was being done to her by someone, even through their efforts were intended to be helpful. When I talked to him on the phone about her critical habit, he urged me not to take it personally, but that was hard for me to take. So in my ongoing frustration with my inability to make her comfortable and my inability to get some help with her care and her criticisms of my efforts, my response was often to suggest to her that she could contact Mike, her son, to have him arrange to take care of her away from me. I learned from some personal notes that she had made in several notebooks that had found as I was cleaning out our home that when I made this suggestion she took it to mean that I really wanted to get rid of her in my life and that I was no longer lovingly taking care of her in our daily lives. I now recognize that my inability to positively handle the pressures of taking care of her by myself with my own painful handicaps “broke” our marriage by destroying her mental and spiritual devotion to me as her husband and it refreshed the memories of the loving and comforting care that she had received from her sisters whom had often taken care of her and supported her and protected her from the abusive physical and emotional treatment that she had received from their angry father who was personally very frustrated in his inability to get his children to live the proper moral lives that he sought for them. All of his children suffered personally from his angry outbursts of abuse and they each left home early to get away from it as they learned to comfort each other in their independent lives.

I recognized this change in Betty’s perspective in our caring relationship, but I wasn’t able to get her to talk with me about it so nothing was done to correct it. In her very handicapped experiences in our home that later included another broken hip and the experience of becoming blind, she had concluded that “Bob” was the only person who was daily available to her in her moments of need who could make her to feel somewhat comfortable and safe. In her moments of confusion from the Alzheimer’s disease that also began to affect her mind, she wasn’t always able to remember that this “Bob” was her husband, but she never hesitated to call for “Bob” when she needed some special caring attention, and she became very nervous when she didn’t know that he was close by her. This expression of her devotion to “Bob” was a big encouragement to me, although I now know that her calls to “Bob” were not calls of devotion for him but they were only calls of practical dependency that he was the only person in the world that could make her somewhat comfortable in her helpless condition.

On the afternoon of December 30, 2022 Bob had to leave the house to meet with the surgeon and his team for a preliminary consultation session to guide him through the surgery for the hernia that he had that was scheduled for January 13, 2023. Since it was obvious that Betty was experiencing the final stages of her body’s permanent sleep, I had made arrangements for Betty to be placed on a bed in the living room of our home by the local hospice service, and Kathy, one of their volunteer care givers had come to sit with Betty for the couple hours that Bob would be gone in case that she needed some comforting care. Betty became physically alert when she was present and they began to talk. Betty told her about her sisters and how they had cared for each other as they were growing up after leaving their angry father. Kathy told Betty that her “husband” really loved her a lot, but all that she could say in response to this commentary regarding his care for her was “that is what he says all of the time”. In this brief conversation with Kathy, Betty expressed her personal feelings about her husband. Betty had previously mentioned to her husband that she knew how hard it was for him to take care of her every day and night by himself. In these days that she was experiencing her body shutting down, she even expressed her willingness to help him to fix some meatloaf for a meal or to do the dishes or do some laundry. And at one point in these days, Betty told her husband that she would soon be “out of your hair”, which was an expression of her conviction that he wanted to get rid of her in his days of overwhelming care that he had accepted for his role in their marriage. When Bob returned from his consultation with his surgeon, Betty was now resting quietly on her bed as the living functions of her body continued to shut down. Later that evening as I prepared to go to bed, I gave Betty a shot of sedative in her mouth in case she needed to be calmed down during the night, but she couldn’t swallow it and I couldn’t get her to do so by closing her mouth. Sometime during that night or in the hours of the 31st Betty’s body went to sleep with her broken heart but her peaceful spirit as she passed out of our marriage and the personal struggles of her daily life. These calls to “Bob” were used by the Spirit of the Lord to free me from a persistent bad addiction that I had in my spiritual and personal life for many years, and her peaceful passing assured me that my personal efforts to provide her with physical comfort and freedom from mental fears and stress in the final years of her life had been effective.

In spite of our personal handicaps and failures in our personal lives, I believe that God brought Betty and I together in a somewhat committed marriage of imperfect love so that He could do His loving and transforming and comforting work in our respective lives. When Betty’s role in that work was done, He took her out her personal situation of stress and fears in a very easy and stress free experience of complete bodily sleep, leaving me with the benefits of our special marital relationship to move forward in a refreshed experience of faith in the personal expression of service to which He has called me in my marriage with Betty.

Let’s talk about this.

What marks “genuine” love in your life? What is the quality of love that you commonly express and experience? What are you willing to do to repair the misunderstandings and faulty judgments that are hampering your experiences of love in your marriage?


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