September 20, 2010 | The Rev. Dr. Scott Stoner
"Muscular Love"I had the honor to officiate at the wedding of a wonderful young couple this past Saturday. There are few things I enjoy dong more as an Episcopal priest and a Marriage and Family Therapist. As a therapist I work with many couples who have run into problems years after their wedding, and so I am always grateful to be able to work with couples in a proactive way as they are just beginning their new life together in marriage.
In my wedding homily I spoke of a concept that I had also discussed at length with the couple during their premarital counseling. The concept is something I recently came up with as a way to describe the hard work that love requires. You’ve probably already figured out what I call this concept from the title of this column; I call it “muscular love.”
(I had a good laugh after the wedding because someone thought I was talking about “muskrat love” in my homily. While “Muskrat Love” was a 70's hit song, I truly have no idea what muskrat love is or whether it is in any way similar to muscular love, but I kind of think not. If any of you know what muskrat love is, please enlighten me.)
There are so many messages about love in our culture, and most of them are not very accurate. Love is usually talked about or depicted in mass media as being soft, flowery and characterized by strong feelings of closeness and insatiable longings. This is certainly one aspect of love, especially romantic love, but it is at best a partial description of the reality of love.
A fuller understanding of love includes the idea that “love is not just a feeling, but a decision.” Muscular love is based on this fact that love is a decision. Just as strong muscles are formed through a series of exercises that stretch and challenge us, so it is with love. We develop muscular love through repeated decisions, repeated acts of the will, that strengthen our character, both emotionally and spiritually. Developing new muscles is always hard at first and that's why perseverance and commitment the hallmarks of muscular love.
The couple from this past Saturday’s wedding chose to have the familiar text from First Corinthians read at their ceremony. I never get tired of hearing this reading because it reminds us that love is patient, that love is kind and that love is never arrogant or boastful. This fits right in with the idea of muscular love, because being kind is not primarily a feeling, but a decision. Being patient is also a decision, one that requires much practice, especially when times are tough. It is easy to be kind and patient when you feel like it. It takes strong “muscles” to be kind and patient even when you are not particularly feeling that way.
Muscular love is not easy, but the good news is that our muscles grow stronger and stronger the more we work at it. While I have been speaking of this concept in regards to romantic love, I think it applies equally well to all important relationships and commitments in our lives, including children, parents, extended family, friends and anyone with whom we are close over an extended period of time.
Life gives us plenty of opportunities to exercise and develop strong muscular love. The next time you are struggling to love someone, you now have a whole new way to see that struggle. Rather than being frustrated, maybe you can now be grateful for this “strength training” opportunity that is sure to make you so much stronger in the long run!
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