I’m going to talk about marriage.
More specifically I want to discuss what makes a successful marriage work and what is the root and foundation of a good and successful marriage. And the person I would like to use as an example is my Aunt Dorothea.
My Aunt Dorothea died in August 2009 at the age of 91. Her husband, my Uncle Eugene, was my godfather. And I would like to share their story with you.
My Uncle Eugene was my mother’s cousin and brother. Allow me to explain. My mother came from a fairly large family. Grandma and grandpa had 9 children, 3 died as babies, 6 survived. My grandma had a married sister but she and her husband were childless. When my mother’s youngest brother, Eugene, was born, he was legally adopted by my grandma’s sister. So my mother ended up with a cousin who was also her brother.
My Aunt Dorothea and Uncle Eugene were successful managers of one of Detroit’s leading banking institutions. One morning, many years ago, while my uncle was preparing for work, he collapsed on the bathroom floor. They rushed him to the hospital where it was discovered that he suffered a cerebral hemorrhage. I remember the doctors telling the family at the time, how damaging and devastating this was to the human brain. The doctor said that it was caused by my uncle’s high blood pressure. The doctor also said, “If only he could have gotten a bloody nose instead.”
The doctor was right. It was devastating. My uncle lost his ability to control his own body. He could no longer walk, or talk. He could no longer control his arms or his legs or his hands. He could not even feed himself. Over night, he literally turned into [what some in our culture would say] a living, breathing vegetable. And he remained that way and lived that way for over 25 years till his death in 1989, at the age of 64.
After that cerebral hemorrhage, his body no longer worked, but his intellect was intact. He could understand you, but he could not communicate. When you talked to him you could see the understanding in his eyes. You could also see the frustration because of his inability to communicate back. But during that 25 year period, my Aunt Dorothea would not allow my Uncle Eugene to be institutionalized. She absolutely refused. She insisted on taking care of him herself. And she did, for over 25 years.
Obviously she had to continue to work. She became the sole breadwinner. So for the next 25 years she would get up in the morning, pick him up out of bed, and put him in his wheelchair. I personally could never figure out how she could do all that lifting because she was not a big or a muscular person. But she could do it. She could pick him up. Once out of bed, she would roll him into the kitchen. She would then feed him his breakfast, spoonful by spoonful. She would then put the television or radio on for him and get herself ready and then go off to work. She had arranged for a group of people at their local parish to come in and check on him during the day. So these good people would take turns coming in around lunch time, feed him his lunch and talk to him or read to him for a while.
My Aunt Dorothy spent over 25 years of her life feeding, lifting, bathing, and generally doing everything for my incapacitated uncle.
What would possess a person to make such a sacrifice? What would possess a person to do all of that for a living, breathing vegetable? The answer to that question can be given in one word. Love!
So to get back to my opening statement, what is the secret to a successful marriage? What is the secret to having a marriage last a lifetime? And what is the root and foundation of a good and successful marriage? Again, the same one word answer! Love!
But in order to understand that answer, you have to understand just exactly what is meant by the word love.
So for the sake of clarification, I’m going to make two statements. Now those who know me have heard me use this example before, but it bears repeating. I love my family, my wife, my kids, my grandchildren and my great grandchildren. And I love pizza, especially the real thick kind. You know the kind that is so thick that you can make a meal out of every slice.
Now the two statements that I just made, I love my family and I love pizza, demonstrate the fact that we all use the word love in lots of different ways.
What am I saying when I say I love my wife, my kids and my grandchildren? I’m saying that I care about them. I’m saying that I love spending time with them. I’m saying that if they needed me, I would literally do everything humanly possible to help them. I’m saying that I always want what is best for them. And I’m saying that I would gladly give my life to protect them.
When I say that I love pizza, I’m saying that I enjoy eating pizza – till I don’t want any more. Once I’m tired of pizza, I don’t care what happens to the rest of it. I’ll throw it away. I’ll feed it to the dog. I’ll stick it in the back of the refrigerator, till it gets all green and moldy. It doesn’t mater to me any more.
There are two distinctly different definitions for the word love. There is real love, and there is pizza love. (As a note, author Mary Beth Bonacci speaks in depth about this subject in her book, Real Love.) And it gets confusing when people start talking about love. It gets especially confusing when people start talking about loving you. And this difference is critical when you start talking about marriage. Which way do they love you? Do they want what’s best for you? Or do they just want you around because it’s what’s best for them?
The next time someone says I love you, listen carefully. If you are talking about real love, you cannot put the word “love” and the word “but” in the same sentence. I love you, but I wish your hair was shorter. I love you, but I wish you were thinner. I love you but I wish you didn’t have that annoying habit.
Real love is a beautiful thing. It is the most valuable thing on this planet.The life of my Aunt Dorothea is a beautiful testament to that kind of real love.
Pizza love, on the other hand, is terribly destructive. It ruins friendships. It ruins families. It ruins marriages. It ruins everything that it touches because it’s rooted in pure selfishness.
Real love says, “I exist for you.” Pizza love says just the opposite. It says, “You exist for me.”
Charles Osburn, the Catholic lay evangelist who founded “The Good News Ministries”, once said, “Real love is not an emotion. Real love is a decision.” Reverend John Powell, a Jesuit priest who authored many books in the 70’s, said, “Real love is more than a feeling. Real love is a commitment.” Jesus said, “Love one another as I have loved you.” To love as Jesus loved is to give your very self. To love is to give.
Real love is a decision to sacrifice my own desires, and treat someone, as God would have me treat them.
If we are honest with ourselves, we will all have to admit that this kind of love is difficult to show at times. But making an effort to do so is essential, because it is the only kind of love that lasts. It is the only kind of love that everyone is looking for. No one wants to be loved like a pizza. We are all looking for more than just pizza love. And a marriage based on pizza love cannot and will not survive.
There is no lesson in life more important than learning the difference between real love and pizza love. And there is no decision in life that we can make that is greater than deciding to love another with that kind of love, the real love.
The apostle John said in his Gospel, “We know that we abide in him and He in us because He has given us His spirit.” John also wrote that, “God is love, and whoever abides in love abides in God, and God abides in him.” So remember, when you commit to love someone, with that real kind of love, you are really loving God. And when you look into the face of that someone who has committed their life to you, you are looking into the face of God.
And for my Aunt Dorothea, a woman whose life has demonstrated what real love is like, I want to say, eternal rest grant unto her O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon her.