When it came to love those Greeks sure had everything covered. This next style they differentiated was called ludus. Ludus, is a game-playing love based on low levels of commitment and seeing relationships as fun, playful and casual. Now hold on right there if you have already turned your nose up to Ludus thinking “Well, this isn’t true love then. Love is committed! Love is not all about games and fun!” I understand. I may have said the same thing before I became an “expert” on love and marriage.
What is love? For something so important and so basic to human existence it is sorely inadequate that the English language has only one word. In the Greek language there are at least eight words to represent the different kinds of love. In this relatively new millennium where "progress" is touted as enlightenment and we perceive our world as more advanced than ever before, it's actually rather pathetic that we haven't evolved enough or advanced our language in a way that would produce a better selection of words to represent the diversity of feelings currently encapsulated in the single word "love." After all, we've had zero problem creating new words to represent all of the other innovations of modern culture in the 2020s: Selfie, Google it and sexting are just a few examples (and point to the turn towards self-gratification and instant information to boot). C'mon people! We can do better than this.
When your spouse leaves you, your first inclination is usually to seek information as to what they are doing, what they are saying and who they are with. This is natural. This is your one flesh spouse and you are desperate to do whatever it takes to heal your relationship and bring them home.
Don't do it!
The social media posts of your prodigal will NEVER bring you peace. They are based on the lifestyle they are currently living, the lies they are telling themselves and the culture's influence on their decisions. Often those decisions are absolutely counter to the life they were once leading, everything they used to preach they believed and, sadly, counter to the faith in Christ they used to practice. You will almost NEVER find information that brings you peace but rather only heartache and pain.
I can't begin to tell you just how many times I went searching for information that I thought would "help" me understand what my prodigal was doing so that I could better be equipped to "fight it." At least that's what I told myself. I really just wanted something, anything that could make me feel anything but powerless and lacking in control of the situation. I'd convince myself that if I could figure out who my prodigal was with or where my prodigal was hanging out that I could somehow do something about it and even feel better. I never did. I felt worse. The phone records, the social media posts, the rumors about where my prodigal slept last night...all of it only made me feel as if I had received another gut kick. It would knock me down, make me sick, anxious and upset and it would consume my thoughts for the next hours, days or even weeks. I never did me any good.
In time, I realized that I always felt best when I had little idea of what was going on while my prodigal was in the metaphorical pigpen and I felt sick when I knew too much. What is too much, you ask? Too much is when I know information God did not intend me to know. Too much is having information that God first said "Um, Christine, I've got this. You don't need this piece of information to help you in your stand. This piece of information in the long run is meaningless because it's transient. It has nothing to do with the final outcome." Too much information is acquired when I try to play God (because He really does need me to help Him out. Right?!). Too much information and snooping is not trusting God.
That being said, God will in fact fill you in on the details He needs you to know in order to aid you in your stand. He has an amazing and uncanny way (well, He is God after all) of getting you just the right piece of information at the very moment it was needed or could benefit your stand. You find a receipt your prodigal meant to hide, you receive a text that wasn't meant for you, you have a friend who knows nothing about your current status say "Hey, I saw your spouse yesterday at..." Oh, rest assured, God will get you whatever information He needs you to have and on those moments when He does, he expects you to do something about it: pray, fast, make a call, etc. He'll let you know. He loves guiding you. he's teaching you how to listen to His still small voice and He'll also show you how to respond. After all, God wants you reconciled even more than you do...but in His time and in His way.
Let God be your Google! He is using this for you to grow in trust of Him and so he wants to trust he'll get you what you need when you need it. Let God help prevent you from getting information that will only bring you pain. What's the solution?
The solution is the same solution He presented to Peter when he got out of the boat and walked on water: Keep your eyes fixed ONLY on Christ! Don't look left. Don't look right. Don't look down or up. Just look straight at Him. If your eyes are fixed on Jesus and His promises then you cannot possibly see the "mess" that surrounds you or the pigpen your prodigal is in.
Peace will follow. Trust me. Trust Him.
Defensiveness is deadly. As a matter of fact, according to marriage researcher Dr. John Gottman it is one of the four "Deadly Horsemen of the Apocalypse" to any marriage. (I'll talk about the other three in a future post).
It's in our nature to defend ourselves. Doing so when we are in the right seems more, well, defensible (hah). But many of us also defend ourselves though we may be wrong. The problem is that none of us THINKS we're wrong or we wouldn't be defending. Regardless of which side you're on, defending oneself is almost never productive. If we're wrong we look like an idiot. If we're right the other now has you wasting your breath and has helped the relationship turn into a battle that will divide and not unite.
Want a more productive means of building your relationship, one that puts you on the offense?
Silence is one of the most POWERFUL tools you have at your aid. As a matter of fact, in her Diary, St. Faustina wrote:
"Silence is a sword in the spiritual struggle. A talkative soul will never attain sanctity. A silent soul is strong; no adversaries will harm it if it perseveres in silence."
When at odds with your loved one your words, good or bad, give the other something to cling to (to divert, to attack, to twist, etc.). However, when they expect a response yet all they receive is silence, they have no idea what to do next. THEY become powerless.
When your prodigal lobs an attack at you over phone, text, email or even face-to-face (though significantly harder to remain silent when in person), and they receive no response in return it befuddles them. They intended to rile you up and sit poised and ready to pounce at your first response. When, over time, they receive nothing it does several things:
1. It calms the situation as cortisol drops.
2. They begin to wonder what you're thinking, if they were able to "stick it to you" and then whether or not you even received the message.
3. You have time to think, pray and regroup.
4. You gain the upper hand.
I have learned the power of silence and would love to teach it to you as well. Silence takes strength. You are stronger than you think.
No one wants to see you hurt. Everyone wants you happy. So when your spouse leaves and you tell them you are standing for your marriage they think "Oh, that's really nice but you need to be realistic: He/she is never coming back so you need to move on."
If your "ex" sends you a mean-spirited text they tell you "Oh you'd better not let him talk to you that way! Let him have it!!" Twenty separate people will give you twenty separate responses as to how to handle your situation.
Of course it is always good to seek wise counsel but most people are not giving you a response based on wisdom but rather on what the culture would approve of, accept and have you do.
While most people are well-intentioned, few will be guiding you in the way of the Lord. His is the only advice that you should truly seek. Yes, He speaks through others but you must understand the Word in order to know if the advice they are giving you lines up with the Lord's teaching.
"I urge you, brothers, to watch out for those who create dissensions and obstacles in opposition to the teaching you learned: avoid them." Rom 16:17.
When people tell you to cut and run from your marriage they are creating dissension and obstacles to the reconciliation of your marriage which is what God desires (and we can know this through studying His Word). AVOID THEM!
So when you need to respond to your prodigal spouse or child or any other, go to the Word and seek God's response. "Lord, how would YOU have me respond to this call, text or email?" He will answer. He will guide you.
If I have to die trying, I will forever spend my life's breath trying to teach others the true definition and understanding of the word LOVE.
It has been said that "he who controls the language controls the narrative." No words have ever been truer. Words are extremely important.
For instance, Nordic or "Eskimo" languages contain as many as one hundred and eighty different words for SNOW. One hundred and eighty!!! Why? Because no two snowflakes are alike and the Eskimos have so much of it, they want to do their best to provide the clearest understanding possible.
So, when it comes to love why does the English language only have one word? Loving is our favorite thing to do!! As such, we struggle to convey what kind of love we have when we tell someone "I love you." I am certain the love I have for this new Coach purse is way different than the love I have for the infant I just birthed and even that from the love I have of my nation. You get the point. So, what, then, is love?
Let me begin by telling you what love is NOT.
Love is 100% unquestionably NOT a feeling. Want me to prove it? Think of the person you love absolutely most in your life right now. Picture his or her face. What feelings are you feeling when you think of them? Now, I'd like you to picture that person hauling off and punching you right smack in the face. What are your feelings now? I'll bet they're significantly different from the loving feelings you felt just a moment ago. So, what happened? Did you stop loving that person? Perhaps. Perhaps all it took for you to stop loving was that singular incident. So then is love a feeling?
No. Love is an action.
Feelings are simply a result of actions. I feel good when I experience good actions and I feel bad when I experience or witness bad actions. Love is something I DO. I can be kind to you, or patient with you. I can keep a catalogue of all the wrongs you've committed (not love) or I can choose to forget them, move on and forgive (love). Love is shoveling the snow of your next-door neighbor even though you know he is young, strong and perfectly capable of doing it himself. Love shovels it anyway. Loving like this may produce good feelings for you deep down inside but it may produce uncomfortable or even angry feelings in the neighbor if he’s wondering why the heck you shoveled his snow or mowed his lawn “What’s he trying to prove? That he’s better than me? Does he have some kind of agenda?” Regardless of his feelings, the act of shoveling for him was love (assuming your intentions were pure).
Taking this understanding further, consider the English phrase “to fall into and out of” love.
A fall is nearly always accidental. One is powerless over it and thus we are powerless over the consequences as well – a scraped knee, a broken wrist, etc. We are absolved of responsibility because the action was not by choice. As such, the idea that we “fall into love” with someone conveys that we had no choice and that we couldn’t control the subsequent feelings. Oh, how wrong we are.
Imagine you’re looking at a completely unknown (to you) human being. He or she may be good looking and you take notice but do you love that person? No. What causes you to have feelings for him/her? I’m not talking about sexual attraction. I’m talking about the “I will you good and want to spend time with you” kind of thoughts and feelings. You make a choice. You either talk to that person or not. The conversation will cause good or bad feelings. You either spend time with that person or not. The activities you do together will produce either good or bad feelings (we go fishing together versus robbing a bank together). Each of those activities will produce a different and powerful feeling. So, despite the fact that it seemed effortless and relatively immediate, loving that person was certainly not accidental. You did not fall into it. You made it happen.
Now be careful before you attack me because I am quite aware that love is a lot more nuanced, but this was written to get you to step back and really consider your decisions “to love” those around you. Are you spending more time with them or more time at work? Are you serving them their plate or are you expecting them to serve themselves? Are you listening when you’d rather talk? What are all of these examples of? Love. Love. Love.
So that’s it. Love is actually pretty simple…in theory. Putting it into practice is where we struggle. So, for starters, I’d like you to practice loving that spouse you said you no longer love or no longer have feelings for. I get that. I had nothing but bad feelings for my husband for many years. But that’s because the words and actions that took place between us were very unloving. So, we changed them. Over time we said more kind things to each other and less ugly things and that produced loving feelings. What about you? Have you convinced yourself that you “love” someone you’re not married to because you have these incredibly strong feelings for him or her? That’s not love. Do you “love” this person more than you “love” your spouse? If so, then stop it. Stop “loving” that person more. Start “loving” (both verbs) your spouse again: talk lovingly, share your heart, spend time together, pray together, go to Mass/church together. You get the picture. Don't worry. The feelings will one day follow.
Now get to work. I never said it would be easy but I PROMISE you that if you begin “to love” your spouse with actions that would make Christ smile, then the feelings will come back. It may take time and your spouse may fight your attempts but that, too, is love—being loving for the sake of Christine, the One who IS love. Don’t believe me? Don’t know how? Don’t have the emotional energy? Give me a call. I can help. It’s what I do. I’d be honored to help.
Ahh...prodigal spouse, prodigal child...any prodigal in our lives means they've turned away from you, have likely rejected you and have done their best to make your life hell. They have in some ways made themselves your enemy.
And who wants to pray for their enemy?
Well, as we all know, Jesus commands us to pray for our enemies. Ugh. I know. Right? Ok, so when we do our prayers are usually something akin to "Dear Jesus, please help them to see how sinful they are and make them wake up, come home and stop being so ugly to me!"
While we do want them to stop walking in the darkness of a sinful or prodigal lifestyle, those prayers are still a bit more selfish and less compassionate than they need to be.
When we are called to pray for our enemies, we are to pray out of love for them and to want nothing but God's best for them but it is just so hard to pray like that.
Do it anyway.
Pray out of deep love for not only your prodigal but for your Lord:
"Jesus, not only is my heart breaking while my prodigal spouse, child, brother, etc. is in the Far Country living a life of sin, but YOUR heart, O God, is broken as well. Soften my heart, dear Lord, and allow my prayers to bring nothing but the greatest blessings upon my prodigal so that they first return to YOU and only then to me."
Pray without ceasing as those prayers are much more influential than you may believe.
Second, not only do your prayers work to soften your prodigal's heart, but they work to soften yours. Eventually, you'll see your prodigal with the same loving eyes as does Jesus. And this is when you will be transformed. Only then can your prodigal come home.
We, as humans, have such a tendency to see ourselves in a much brighter light than we see others. We cut ourselves mental slack when we err "I'm only human after all" while we maximize every detail of our brother's (or our spouse's) errors, flaws or wrongdoings. "He should have known better!"
When you and your spouse are split up, divorced or dealing with a major issue like his or her infidelity, the world will allow you to categorize that person as the one at fault, the one who made the mistake, the one who broke the marriage.
But don't listen to the world.
While you may be the one hurting and begging for your spouse to come home, the victim of an affair, etc., you are not without fault - EVER.
You are NOT the good guy.
Our thoughts dictate our feelings. If we think more equitably about our spouse and ourselves we are more inclined to reconcile as we begin to notice all those ways that we, too, failed within our marriages. Satan wants the blame game and the mathematical division of the fault "Well, he was 90% to blame!" but God wants charity.
Loving one another isn't always easy but we've been commanded to do so. So let's get those planks out of our eyes so that when our spouses return we can start working on the speck in theirs.
In the upcoming days I will be sharing with you knowledge of what "Standers" are, the creed we live by and the "rules" if you will, for being an effective Stander. Standers stand on God's principles.
We stand not because it's easy or because we "want" to stand because standing is the heaviest cross one can carry next to the death of a child because brought with it is not only loneliness, pain and persecution but daily rejection from those we love and those who are supposed to love us most: our spouses, our children, our family and many of our friends.
But the fruit of standing is tremendous in that we draw closer to God than we could have ever imagined possible as the intimacy and frequency with which we connect with Him is incomparable to anything one can experience here on Earth.
So come along with me on this journey to understanding "Standing" and allow yourself to be transformed -- just as we are. Consider subscribing to this page, following me on Instagram and Facebook and on my other social media sites as well and encourage your friends and family to do the same. It might be hard for you to share these word or explain yourself as you try to Stand for your marriage so let me say it for you. You never know who might need the love and support of this blessed community. Standers will likely not tell you they need us because it is traumatizing to be a separated faithful, standing for your marriage alone while the rest of the world is telling you to get over it and move on. Stay here and journey with us. You'll be so grateful you did and you'll grow closer to God as you do.
Dr. Christine Bacon is a communication and relationships expert whose articles seek to encourage, inspire and teach others to become the best versions of themselves possible. Here, she offers valuable insights and advice on matters of personal, couples, family and workplace relationships.