When Jennifer told me that her husband, Michael, wanted a divorce because she had gained weight, my heart sank. My mind recalled an article I’d read years ago in the Harvard Business Review, titled "Management Time: Who’s Got the Monkey?" It ranks as the second most requested article in that publication’s history.

Too bad Michael hadn’t read it. He might have had a more realistic – and Biblical – concept of love. And he might still enjoy a deepening companionship with his witty, fun, beautiful wife.

Who’s got the love monkey?

The article suggests that in every business, participants carry monkeys on their backs. The key to organizational health is proper management of monkeys.

What does monkey management have to do with love?

Monkeys represent our responsibilities – such as those involved in love. Take care of them. Tend them. Never let them starve. Most important, never shift a monkey to someone else’s back.

In healthy relationships, who’s got the love monkey? Who is responsible for nurturing and sustaining love? Our culture routinely places this burden on the person we are trying to love. Though rarely a conscious choice, we often go with the societal flow.

A spiritually-healthy follower of Jesus, however, willingly embraces the love monkey. My love for my family depends on me, not them. The love monkey belongs on my back.

Whether you must love a forgetful father or a messy roommate, a lazy spouse or tough in-law, the principle doesn’t change: The love monkey remains yours to carry, to tend, to nourish.

Realistic love

Michael shooed his love monkey onto Jennifer’s back. As long as she remained skinny, Michael would love her. When her attractiveness faded – as physical attractiveness invariably does – Michael’s love faded, too.

No two people can always be attracted to each other. Stressful days at the office, colicky babies or illnesses take their toll. Figures sag. Passions wane. Good times grow dull. People make mistakes.

When you shift your love monkey to the other person, your love evaporates as fast as you can say, "I told you to put the seat down."

Attraction love versus virtue love

There are two kinds of love. The first – prevalent in today’s culture – is attraction love. You must attract me, or else I’ll stop loving you. The monkey is on your back.

The second kind is virtue love, which fully embraces the love monkey and its responsibilities. I love you because I possess the inner virtue and integrity to do so, no matter what you do or don’t do. Even if you forget my birthday, blab my secret or wreck my car. Even if you pack on some pounds.

Which one resembles Jesus’ love?

The choice to love

From the depths of His heart, Jesus loved the unlovable. For Him, love was a choice. And it can be for us, too. Even when those you love turn grumpy or worse, you can still say a loving word, extend a loving hand and do a loving action.

By choice you resist the urge to get even. By choice you imitate Jesus. But making that choice isn’t easy.

How do you sustain love when every instinct wants to give up or lash out? By nourishing your spirit. God never puts a monkey on your back without giving you the power to bear it and the grace to enjoy it.

Tap into that power and grace by growing deep with God. Be rooted and established in Christ and His Word. Your heart can’t be right with Jesus and wrong with people.

A mature faith overcomes childish instincts and petulant emotions. It consistently taps into the Holy Spirit’s power. A mature faith grits its teeth and chooses loving actions – only to discover that loving feelings come soon after. Love is a choice you have to embrace.

When couples recite their marriage vows – especially the traditional ones – they choose to permanently embrace the love monkey. Attraction love is a wonderful gift; but only virtue love will stick.

In your relationships, who’s carrying the love monkey?

Bill Giovannetti lived with his wife and two kids in northern California, where he was senior pastor of Neighborhood Church at the time of publication.

© 2008 Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. International copyright secured. Used by permission.

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