For whatever reason, we seem to have this funny idea that love is supposed to be bliss or that when we get married we’ve somehow achieved a state of “happily-ever-after.”
Well, that’s just not true. Love is actually quite painful.
In fact, if you’re doing it right, love, marriage, and family will be the most painful things you’ll ever experience. Not because they’re bad things, but because to love at all means to open yourselves up to vulnerability and pain. And to love someone completely—as you do in marriage—is to put your whole heart on the line.
True love will be painful. True love should be painful.
To be clear, when I say that true love should be painful I am not referring to abusive, obsessive, or co-dependent relationships; those relationships are predicated upon selfishness and will inevitably produce a pain that’s destructive and detrimental.
No, the “painful loves” to which I am referring are those relationships that help us grow beyond ourselves. Because we are all imperfect, we will inevitably get hurt. But that hurt has the ability to make us stronger than before. Marriage and family relationships are to our hearts what exercise is to our muscles.
A number of years ago, I overheard my mother talking about her parents—Grandpa and Grandma Adams. While in her fifties, Grandma Adams was diagnosed with multiple sclerosis, a degenerative disease that disrupts the body’s ability to communicate with its nervous system. Within a few short years, Grandma had lost the ability to walk and was confined to a wheelchair. Grandpa, who was a police chief, retired two years earlier than he had planned so he could take care of his wife.
My grandfather helped my grandmother bathe, get around the house, and run errands. He once told my mother: “It hurts me to see her like this. You know, when I got married I thought that everything would be smooth sailing. I never imagined that I would have to help her change her catheter every day. But I do it and I don’t mind it—because I love her.”
Please disabuse your minds of a perfect, painless love; it simply doesn’t exist. Because love isn’t always fluffy, cute, and cuddly. More often than not, real love has its sleeves rolled up, dirt and grime smeared on its arms, and sweat dripping down its forehead. True love asks us to do hard things, almost impossible things—to repeatedly try to help a sibling overcome an addiction, again and again and again; to care for a dying parent; to embrace a wayward child; to comfort someone who is suffering; to risk your safety for another; or to give birth to a child.
C. S. Lewis put it this way:
There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly be broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one…Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness…The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell.
Yes, love is painful. But as C. S. Lewis suggests, we can respond to any relationship with either a closed, hellish heart, or an open, heavenly heart. If you keep your heart open, that same pain can become a purifying pain, a strengthening pain. If we choose forgiveness over bitterness, that pain can heal instead of hurt. Instead of a pain that divides, it can be a pain that binds. Instead of a pain that breaks us down, it can be a pain that builds us up.
Fear, hatred, and selfishness? Those are easy. But Hell is easy. Faith, love, and selflessness? Those are hard. But Heaven is hard—and rewarding.
Grandpa and Grandma Adams created a legacy for their children and grandchildren that we have never forgotten. But creating a legacy of love is simply impossible without pain or opposition. So don’t worry that your relationships are painful and difficult. Love will always be quite painful. Instead, worry about how you will react to the pain. Will you respond with a closed, hellish heart, or an open, heavenly heart?