I have a tattoo. The summer before we were married, on Peter’s 21st birthday, we got tattoos together. We were so wild. Rebels really. Mine is on my left hip, a scripty heart with the words “Love never fails” along the side.
As the tattoo artist etched the words into my skin I had whimsical thoughts, naive thoughts. We were just about to start another chapter in our life together. We were less than three months from saying “I do.” We had just weathered the longest and strongest storm we had ever faced. I really believed it. Despite what the cynics were saying, despite what the country singers crooned, I really believed our love would never fail.
The ink was less than a year old when I found out we were pregnant. So unexpected. So unprepared that we really didn’t know how unprepared we really were. I think that was God’s grace and it was better that way. As my stomach bulged and stretched so did the tattoo on my left hip -a real-life metaphor for the love that Peter and I shared. The artwork has never been quite the same.
There have been times, that unlike my former self, (it was only 6 years ago but seems like an entire lifetime ago in so many ways), where I have really doubted whether or not love fails. I have sobbed and screamed that “love is not enough”. I think I screamed it more to myself, or more to my former self, as I sat with a heartache that told me how blind I was to believe that our love would conquer all, that all we needed was love. In the moments of despair and loneliness and stress and exhaustion I would look back and remember how much in love we were the day we got our tattoos. For some reason this time in our life is a benchmark for me. I use it to gauge how in love we are at any period of our lives. At times I have found myself longing for those days. Remembering when it was just us, remembering when we were enough for one another, remembering how good it felt to believe in our love and to feel in love.
I have often made the mistake of believing when it has been a long time since I have felt that we are in love, that we really aren’t in love anymore, or that our love has somehow diminished. So I guess in effect, I have often believed that our love has failed.
And that is probably true.
Our love does fail. It fails pretty much daily. It failed back then too but I guess I chose not to see it.
It is too easy for me to look at our marriage and see the areas where it has failed, disappointed, and changed all too quickly seemingly without my consent. It is easy for me to look back and long for something that has passed, or to compare us to our former selves. It is easy for me to see where love has failed.
We may not be as googly eyed as we were a mere 6 years ago when we got our tattoos and planned our lives together. We are certainly not as naive. I might be tempted to say we love each other less, that our love has shrunk and shriveled and been partially consumed (or at least distracted) by the demands of life and three young kids. But actually I think our love has grown. It has grown differently than I expected. It looks different than I had envisioned. It has failed more than I had hoped. But I do not look at my stretched out tattoo and scoff at my idea that “love never fails.” Because I know a love that doesn’t fail, that never has, that never will.
It is not the love of my husband, although his love fails far less often than my own, and so many more times than I can recall his love has pointed me to a greater love. It is the love of my God. I have learned nothing more in these past years than that the love of God never fails. When Peter fails me, when I fail him, when I fail myself, when everyone around me is floundering and failing, I know and can say with all certainty that God never will.
I would not have said that with conviction 6 years ago. I honestly, and ashamedly, must admit that I put more faith in Peter than I did in God. I didn’t see it then, but I have learned the hard way over the years that my faith is often misplaced. And I have learned that is the way my own love most fails.
I got the tattoo for Peter as a tribute to our relationship and our love. It still is all those things. But as it peers through the stretch marks that come with three pregnancies in less than four years, it has become more. It tells the story of us in a way that I never intended. It shows how our love has stretched. It may not always appear as fresh and beautiful as it did to us on that day. And it certainly does fail. But I can look at that tattoo and daily be reminded that God’s love does not. How poetic of God to use the love relationship that the etchings on my skin originally spoke to, to teach me about a more important love relationship. He surely knew as I lay there and got my tattoo, as I confessed my unending love through my vows, that as well meaning as I was, I would come to know failure. He knew I would disappoint and be disappointed. He knew I would question the very words I had once believed so strongly that I wanted them permanently part of me. He knew in time I would come to see new wisdom in those words and find the ink to be a beautiful blessing. And that when I really have the clarity of a right perspective I can even find our failures to be a blessing because they point us to a greater love than our own, a greater strength than our own. In our failures we find victory in Him. As He draws us to Himself He strengthens our bond to one another.
Peter and I love each other with an eager but clumsy love that often fails. Our selfishness often trumps our best intentions. We sometimes lose sight that we are on the same team. Sometimes in foolishness we believe the lies of the enemy. I have learned much in our short marriage, but I have learned nothing more than that God’s love never fails.
And just as my tattoo is a permanent fixture on my hip, the hip that carries our babies, so too God’s love is steadfast. The ink on my hip reminds me of the constant presence of God in my life, my constant need for his love, forgiveness and guidance, and a reminder that my marriage was never meant to completely satisfy or fulfill me. It reminds me our marriage is about more than just us. It is about portraying the beauty of salvation and the redemptive work of Christ for His church. And although we fail on a daily basis we will not fail where it really matters. Our love is permanent and true, bound together by the strongest strand of all, the God who, through it all, is always present in our love. And so I can say amidst the strife, the heart aches, the victories, the mundane, the joy, the frame worthy memories and the memories we only beg to forget, the years that fly but the moments that drag, and the many failures of love, that we know a love that never fails.
I don’t think with age I will regret getting this tattoo.