How do you keep the music playing? How do you make it last?
How do you keep the song from fading too fast?
And since you know we’re always changing, how can it be the same?
And tell me how year after year you’re sure your heart won’t fall apart
Each time you hear his name?
-from How Do You Keep the Music Playing? by James Ingram
One of the scariest of all human experiences is to finally know you love someone who loves you back, then wonder how to make it last.
That’s what makes James Ingram’s love song from the 1980’s – a truly beautiful and haunting ballad, by the way – a little frightening. Because if the maintenance of love depends on keeping the music up or falling apart at the mere mention of your spouse’s name, then love’s a pretty risky venture.
After all, if it requires uninterrupted deep feelings, then how can you enter marriage with any confidence? I’d have never given it a shot if I felt the need to keep Renee somehow “in love” with me or else I’d lose her. Because really, how do you do that?
Chemistry isn’t something we can force; it’s there or it isn’t. Early in our courtships, we usually discover rather than give birth to it. But we couldn’t consciously say, “I want chemistry, so I’m going to make it happen.” We are, to put it crudely, either turned on to someone or we’re not.
So if you couldn’t figure out how to create it, you sure aren’t going to find a way to sustain it forever, without interruption, I don’t care how many candles you light or rose petals you throw on the bed.
Your partner will get tired of you at times. You’ll become business as usual, sooner than you probably think. The erotic “let’s make magic” stuff will fluctuate no matter how strong it is, and both of you may very well notice other people, sometimes in all the wrong ways.
If love depends on how we’re feeling about each other, then we’re doomed, a sobering fact which should cause us to rethink what we expect love to be, and what it requires of us.
Love is not affectionate feeling, but a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good as far as it can be obtained. ―C.S. Lewis
There’s nothing Biblical about the common view of love as being attraction combined with affectionate regard.
Of course, there’s also nothing wrong with the intense, even amazing experience of falling in love, then spending a lifetime enjoying the intoxication of being affectionate, friendly, and passionate. No reason not to nurture that, and I’m an old-school idiot for all things romantic. So by all means let’s bring on the flowers and the quiet dinners and the Sinatra CD’s then knock ourselves out.
But if the marriage is to be held together by good feelings alone, whether sexual or affectionate, then it’s doomed.
It’s doomed because feelings cannot be the bedrock of a union, since they’re nothing if not fickle. Without our permission, they flare or they fade, and there’s not a whole lot we can do about it. So to love my wife, I’ve got to rely on something reliable, and that’s where my will comes in.
Look again at the way Lewis described love: “a steady wish for the loved person’s ultimate good.” That makes Paul’s analysis in I Corinthians 13 all the more sensible, because if you look at that description, you’ll notice it’s all about how we think and behave, not how we feel.
I can’t keep a promise to forever sustain the music of good emotional vibes within my marriage. But as an act of the will, more than the heart, I can decide to be patient, kind, not envious, servant-oriented, forgiving, always seeking what’s best for my beloved.
If I love my wife only with my heart, she’ll only be loved some of the time. Most of the time, actually, but face it, the heart doesn’t always cooperate.
But the will can. So when I promised to love her that August morning of 1987, I was making a commitment I could keep, because loving her means deciding to be a constant source of “betterment” in her life.
I can be that source by listening to her, paying close attention, touching her, working to provide as best I can for her, reminding her how valuable she is, and keeping myself in the best shape I can spiritually, physically, and emotionally for her. I can do all that by simply flexing my “will” muscle and making the decision to love her, by that definition of love.
That’s because authentic love is primarily an act of the will; secondarily an experience of the heart. When it’s dependent on magic, it’s likely to die of eventual starvation. When it’s dependent on the will, then it’s the love which does, as Paul promised in I Corinthians 13, “never fail.”
To love truly is to will to love. That, to answer Mr. Ingram’s question, is how you keep the music playing.