Funny how we look at beautiful houses in nice neighborhoods and think of how great our lives could be if we lived there. Without love it is a well decorated prison where even the best food loses its flavor.
“Better is a dinner of herbs where love is than a fattened ox and hatred with it.” Proverbs 15:17 (ESV)
It was one of the nicest houses I’ve seen. Secluded with a view of the mountains, a clean blue pool surrounded by a beautiful garden, a porch made for celebrating outdoors, large immaculate rooms, and every comfort you could imagine. It was hard to believe that the husband and wife inside had such contempt for each other and were ready to divorce.
But I’d seen it before. Beautiful houses, well furnished, and miserable occupants: a husband and wife who barely talked without arguing, children alienated from their parents and one another, and little happiness to be found. They drove nice cars, were successful in school, business, and the local society clubs but had contempt for one another within the walls of their suburban mansion. One daughter told me, “everybody at church thinks my parents are so great but they would cringe if they knew how they talked to each other and us kids at home.”
I’ve been in homes where guests sat on hand-me-down furniture, sparsely decorated, and if there was a garden it was probably for vegetables to provide relief to the grocery bill. The working TV might be on top of the non-working TV and, if the gathering was sizable, the place setting at dinner wouldn’t match. Yet you would often find particle board bookshelves filled with religious books and pictures of family past and present on the walls throughout the house. Arguments would be the exception, not the rule, as mutual respect and affection were evident in their interactions.
Not all rich houses are occupied by miserable people who loathe one another and some humble houses have contemptible abusive people. The size of the house is not important nor is the prestige of the address or the furnishings. The love the occupants have for one another makes a home. The finest food loses its flavor if eaten in a house filled with hatred. A dinner of herbs found in the yard will seem like a feast for royalty if you are surrounded by love.
Happily, the couple in the opening paragraph rekindled their love for one another, found a deeper love for God, have used their house and their home to be a blessing to others, and help the cause of God in so many ways. And there is love at their table.
The most profound advice for romantic relationships is found several times in the Song of Solomon. The phrase “do not awaken love until it pleases” is used within the Song as an encouragement to others and a reminder to be patient in one’s own relationship. What does this phrase mean?
Love can be compared to a lovely flower that blooms beautiful in its proper season. No amount of sunlight, water, or nutrients can force the flower to bloom before its time. Attempts to physically force the flower from the bud will only damage or destroy it. However, if you provide the nutrients and proper environment the flower will bloom beautifully on its own and often at an unexpected, unobserved time.
Consider some common mistakes in failing to “awaken love until it pleases:”
- Trying to force a romantic relationship. I have known frustrated people who liked someone then relentlessly pursued them trying to make them fall in love. They usually repelled the person instead. Usually the other person feels like prey in a predator’s shadow instead of flattered by the attention. A manipulative person might take advantage of the pursuer, acting interested to get what they want from the desparate person, then dropping them when they are finished playing.
- Changing oneself to please another. When you try to change who you are to appeal to someone you are infatuated with, you are trying to force the flower open. Ultimately the relationship is destined to dissatisfaction, unhappiness, and failure because you will tire of playing the part and long to be yourself again. When you revert to yourself the other person will feel deceived and hurt that you could not be honest with them. They will probably be uninterested since they fell in love with a character you were playing–not you.
- Settling for someone. Sometimes people will decide to “fall in love” or marry someone because they either dated for a long time or because they are older and “there aren’t many available men/women.” There is no predetermined time or natural law that states when people will fall in love. How sad it would be to just marry someone because of habit or fear then meet someone that would be the ideal spouse. If you have dated someone for years and you are often fighting or have no deep love for the person, spare yourselves future heartache and damage and break off the relationship so you can be ready to meet someone with whom love can bloom.
- Rushing physical expressions of love. True love develops through friendship, not the passionate scenes of Hollywood productions. Couples should not feel pressure to hold hands, kiss, or show other physical signs of affection. In fact, it is healthy to hold off on any physical expressions while you let the relationship develop. When the physical expressions of love are introduced sometimes they become the focus to the neglect of the non-physical and the pressure to escalate the physical aspects of the relationship intensifies.
- Sex before marriage. Some feel that if they give in dating what should only be given in marriage, that they will win the heart of their love interest. Statistically, it has the opposite effect. As with the one trying to force a relationship, a user will play on this tendency and get what they want until they are bored or an opportunity with someone else arises. God gave the sexual relationship for marriage to bind the couple closer together but the secret to its power is the ’til-death-do-you-part commitment between the husband and wife. Keeping this relationship for marriage alone will allow it to blossom and grow: a special flower for the husband and wife alone.
True love is more beautiful than any flower but it must be allowed to grow and bloom in its own time. “Do not awaken love until it pleases.” Be patient and enjoy the friendship until the love blooms then take care of it like a precious tender plant.