It was Valentine's Day, "long ago and in a galaxy far away" - back in college. The day I risked it all to get the girl I loved.
I couldn't understand why this vivacious brunette named Karen couldn't see how awesome I was. I've since figured out why, since I wasn't anywhere near as awesome as I thought I was. Knowing if I pushed it, I'd ruin it, I had settled for what we agreed was a "brother-sister relationship." Well, she had settled.
We were standing by a campus water fountain that Valentine's night when suddenly it all came out. "Karen, I'm sick and tired of this brother/sister thing. I want more!"
It was a beautiful wedding. She was a beautiful bride. We had a beautiful life.
As I do yet another Valentine's Day without my valentine, the memories of our life together come fast and furious. And sometimes, the regrets. I often told Karen, "I love to put a smile on your face." Many times I did. Too many times I didn't - like the times I made her sad instead.
I got to thinking about some important questions married folks can ask themselves to avoid some of those regrets, and love each other better. I did some of these things, and I'm so glad I did. To the extent I didn't do it enough, I'm so sad I didn't.
1. What would he/she say is their biggest competition for my time and attention?
My work? My sports? My phone? My ministry? My meetings? My friends? My hobby? My shows?
A spouse feels loved when we consciously and consistently demonstrate that they're more important to us than their biggest competition. Which usually means sacrifice. But isn't it love when it costs me something that really shows love? Just ask Jesus. "Follow God's example...and walk in the way of love, just as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us as...a sacrifice" (Ephesians 5:1-2).
2. How am I a better man/woman because of my spouse's influence in my life?
Karen was not only my "better half" - she made my half so much better than it ever would have been without her!
It's easy to focus on the tensions and frustrations in a relationship. But this lifts your vision to see a bigger picture. The ways this person you love has grown you and changed you. Less selfish, more sensitive. Less anxious, more faith. Less negative, more upbeat. Less self-focused, more generous. Less fearful, more confident. Communicating rather than stuffing. Listening before speaking.
Have you told them? And while you can?
3. What qualities do I appreciate in this person I love?
I suspect we tend to marry the missing half of ourselves. We marry what we aren't so we can have it in the person we love. In any case, we obviously saw some strengths in our mate that intrigued us enough to want to spend our life with them. But the push-and-pull of a family tends to get us focused more on what bothers us about our spouse. So it's important to stand back and make a list of the qualities that have been a blessing in our life. And tell them.
I've stood at many a funeral and heard people expressing all these wonderful traits the departed one had. I couldn't help wondering - did they say those things when that person could hear them?
4. If your loved one were suddenly gone today, what would your regrets be?
I've had plenty of time to think about that - after the fact. The time to think about it is while you can still change it. As the Bible says, "Teach us to number our days, that we may gain a heart of wisdom" (Psalm 90:12). Meaning: if you're smart, you'll act like today is your only day. Some day will be.
More than a card. More than flowers. More than dinner out. Love is letting them know they are, apart from Christ, your greatest treasure. And then living like it.