Throughout my participation in Campus Crusade for Christ, I heard this message countless times in sermons, bible studies, and prayer groups: There is no such thing as real love outside of Jesus.
I was new to Christianity then. It still had this shiny, new toy appeal to it. So I swallowed that line without thinking about it too critically. But this was also the time when Dad’s cancer began to return with increasing aggression, and started adding severe limitations to his life: he could no longer run, lift weights, or play golf – all activities that he loved.
I imagine this also put a great deal of strain on my parents’ marriage. At the same time, it also highlighted the strength of their commitment to each other. Imagine that: my non-Christian parents demonstrating gritty, at times intensely unflattering, but ultimately genuine, gut-wrenching real love.
“We promised ‘for better or for worse, in sickness and in health,’ and we meant it,” is what they told me.
In the final weeks of Dad’s life, Mom slept on a reclining chair at his bedside, despite her dire need for a hip replacement (which she postponed in order to continue caring for him). She decided to delay receiving her PhD by a couple months so she could be a full-time caregiver, even though she’d been studying furiously all summer. That deep, unwavering love enabled her to help empty his colostomy bag, change bandages, and wake up in the graveyard hours of the night to give him his pain medication.
You simply cannot look at that devotion and say it isn’t real because Jesus isn’t in the center of it. You just can’t. I think back to those semesters I was active in Cru and feel so ashamed by my sheep-like acceptance of that falsehood. I did not think to challenge the people who said those things. I did not ask them to show me where in the Bible it said that non-Christians don’t experience real love. I just smiled, nodded, and went on with life.
If it’s true that God is good – the creator of all good things – maybe it stands to reason that romantic love and satisfying marriages are included in that package. If all good things in this world are the mark of God’s handiwork, one need not be Christian or religious in any form to enjoy them.
When I think about my parents, I think of how they set a high bar for my own upcoming marriage (in T-minus 66 days, not that I’m counting or anything). I realize more than ever how fleeting feelings can be, and how dangerous and unrealistic it is to rely on a “spark” to sustain you every day.
There will certainly be no sparks or fireworks if I end up in my mom’s place someday, caring for Joshua in his last days of hospice care (God forbid). I will have to rely on far deeper things to get through each day: Commitment. Devotion. Fulfilling my promises, knowing my spouse would do the same for me.
For people to insist that kind of love is exclusive to people of a certain religion is offensive as it is untrue.