I quote Ann Voskamp when she says, with prose that is poetry, simple yet profound, that Love, “love is a willingness to suffer.” Think about that. I immediately want to contradict the statement, but how can I? A love that is unwilling to suffer at all, isn’t love, it is self-serving, narcissistic, shallow and empty. A love that runs when the child is born with a defective heart, or a slower mind, or when the spouse is in a car wreck and can’t move any more, or is tied up in the bonds of depression or bi-polar disorder, a love that hides when life gets hard and paychecks don’t stretch; love like that is too frail to survive at all, and is miscarried early on, because really, who has that perfect life? Who can you possibly marry without flaws? What child has no issues, no personality flaws that grind away at a mother or a father? What life has no trouble?

Yet that is the love that surrounds us, portrayed in the media as marriages that can be counted in breaths, not years or decades. It is the love that hides when one partner struggles to control their spending, or eating, or gambling, or is simply not good at their job, not good at housework… It is the love that is announced in fairy tales, where the characters meet, fall in love, sing and dance their way through the scenes preparing them for a swift and lavish wedding and leaves them breathlessly entering a carriage off to some resplendent honeymoon. It is a love that doesn’t deal with tired, with grumpy, with ill, with flawed, with errors and heartbreak. It is a weak and sickly thing, like bones that cannot be touched without breaking, and as such are entirely useless for the purpose for which they were made.

Love should be sturdy and strong, tough and ready. Love should not be the delicate skin of a person, but the sturdy bone and sinew, muscle and tendon. It should be strong, durable and should get stronger with trouble and use.

Love gets stronger when we carry the loved one, when we bear their burdens, when we worry over the child and the decisions that they make, when we bear with the hurts that the loved one doles out. Love should be strong enough to face a child who makes choices with which we do not agree, which we know will cause them grief. It should be steady when our partner makes a foolish decision that costs us time, money, reputation or disgrace.

Love like that is what Christ shows us. He willingly endured indignity, disbelief, even cruelty and certainly pain for those who failed him, betrayed him, and could not even stay awake with him for a little while. His is the ultimate example of a love that does not fail, not in the midst of rejection, or of fear and doubt, not in denial, or even outright cruelty.

The great thing is that even if you have a weak love, you can develop and grow it into a thing of strength and beauty. It takes time, and a bit of toughness, built up little by little, trial by trial. You find yourself some folks who do it well and learn from them. You admit when you do wrong, you pick yourself up and start over again. Love isn’t a feeling (though it often feels good), it’s a muscle to get stronger with use and training.

“Love is a willingness to suffer.” In fact, can it even BE love if there is no suffering? How would you know for sure?