FIRST-PERSON: 'Did I ever tell you ...?'

ALPHARETTA, Ga. (BP)--I recall one of the greatest compliments my wife Cheryl ever gave me. She asked, "Did I ever tell you what ultimately made me fall in love with you?" I paused, then shook my head. Cheryl launched into a memory involving another student she'd been dating.

"Oh, he was a talented guy, but the longer we dated, the more I realized that he wanted me to celebrate his victories, yet he never seemed to celebrate mine. In fact, he seemed a bit threatened when I experienced them. But then one day at a campus meeting that I was leading, I looked over and saw you leaning against the wall, gazing at me -- and you were smiling. That's when I realized you were as happy to see me succeed as you were to experience success yourself. And that's when I knew I loved you."

I will carry that compliment to my grave because it meant so much to me. It also reminds me of this reality: Every one of us wants and needs love and respect, because those qualities will help us survive the storms that time, inevitably, brings.

Love is a complex concept, yet we apply it to define our preferences about everything from a person to a color. But the Bible describes a kind of love that's meant to be found in all marriages to keep the relationship secure, healthy and growing. The Scripture most often used in weddings comes from 1 Corinthians 13. It describes the love that God intends for people to experience in relationships that are operating at their best, that are the most satisfying, that most closely resemble God's perfection.

The precise word that God chose for love in this Scripture is not a word that means brotherly love or erotic love. It's the kind of love with which God loves us. The Greek New Testament word is agape. It describes a love that gives and keeps giving, regardless of the response.

Are you experiencing this kind of love in your marriage? Consider these questions:

-- When you're on time but your spouse isn't, are you patient?

-- When your spouse needs attention, but you're focused on a task, are you understanding?

-- When your spouse succeeds in his or her own sphere of strength, are you the enthusiastic cheerleader?

-- Do you mention how much you've done in the past when you're trying to get the upper hand during a disagreement in the present?

-- Do you ever use your spouse as the butt of your jokes or the target of your one-liners?

-- Do you ever leave the impression with your mate that it's your way or the highway?

-- When you're watching your favorite show or reading your favorite book, but your mate wants to talk, are you willing to stop and listen?

-- Do you keep short accounts or detailed records of hurts from the past?

-- When your mate happens to be wrong does your heart want to scream, "Gotcha! I knew I was right!"

-- Are you willing to look for the best and overlook the worst?

-- Are you willing to hang in there when the easier response would be to hang it up?

Your answers to questions like these can make all the difference in marriages that last compared with marriages that collapse. And remember the key to a wonderful marriage is not simply to find a great mate ... but even more basic, to be a great mate.

All the men and women I have ever known desire with all their heart to reach the potential for which they were created, but they don't want to do it alone. They want to share the journey with someone special -- someone who won't be threatened by their success but, instead, will realize that, as they help each other reach their ultimate potential, each will be far more fulfilled together than they ever would have been separately.


Bob Reccord is president of the North American Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and a frequent speaker. He is the author of Beneath the Surface: Steering Clear of the Dangers that Could Leave You Shipwrecked and Forged by Fire: How God Shapes Those He Loves. Excerpted from Beneath the Surface: Steering Clear of the Dangers that Could Leave You Shipwrecked by Bob Reccord. Copyright 2002. Broadman & Holman Publishers, Nashville, Tennessee. Used by permission.

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