Rabbi Mendel of Kotsk once met a young man who was clearly enjoying a fish delicacy. “Why are you eating fish?” the Rabbi asked. The young man appeared puzzled. “Why? Because I love fish.” “Oh, you do, do you?” the Rabbi said. “And because you love the fish so much that is why you took it out of the water where it was thriving, killed it, and cooked it. You do not love the fish, young man. It is yourself that you love, and because the fish tastes pleasant to you, you killed it and ate it.”
So much of our love is fish love, isn’t it? Two people say they have ‘fallen in love’. By this, they mean that each finds in the other someone who can satisfy his or her physical and emotional wants. So they get married. Wake Up! That’s not love. However dressed up, each is still looking not first for the wellbeing of the other, but as a means to gratify their own needs and desires. That’s fish love.
And the problem with fish love is that each will want, want, want, and, with conflicting wills, will not not always get, get, get, get. This is bound to lead to ongoing tension, dissatisfaction and potentially even the collapse of the relationship.
Love, in contrast, is not what you can get, but what you can give. In his letter to a startup community of love, the church in Corinth, a city in Greece, St. Paul’s famously reflects on the nature of love. He says, with words that have chimed in on many weddings occasions across the centuries, ‘Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things’ (1 Cor. 13). Here, love is not a noun, but a verb. So at the end of the day, by this model, the person responsible for a relationship that lacks love is not the other, the receiver, but me, but you, the giver.
Have you in some way lost a beloved friend in your relationships? Have you lost love in your primary relationship?
If that is so, on this fine wedding day as we reflect on our connections to one another through my brother and new sister getting married, may you know that love ain’t fish love.
May you recommit yourselves to what you can give, not to what you can get.
May you, in your aged wisdom, reflect anew on that public deal you made in your innocence, those wedding vows which probably went something like this: I, y, promose to be there or you, x…for better, for poorer, in sickness and in health for as long as we both shall live. This is a deal of love, not fish love, it’s an bond of divine self-giving, other’s-considering, favorable grace, not selfish, self-centred, disfavorable judgement that masquerades as love.
May you resuscitate your love heart today.
Can I get a witness?