Christianity is not romantic; it is realistic. – Francis Schaeffer (The God Who Is There)
As I reach further into my mid-20’s, I’m beginning to take all the theories I had about dating and romance earlier in life and start questioning if they really hold up in life right now. It’s a miserable experience at times, as what you expected to be success the first go-round becomes rejection and a dead end.
The multitude of questions we ask ourselves about dating and marriage is enough to cripple us, and this is why: we are putting so much stock in what we are looking for, that we don’t quite know what we have right now or what God will do with it. So we dream. We wonder. We ask, “what if?” about a million things that bear no mark on our future and what God has planned for it.
In my heart I know I shouldn’t worry. Yet, when I pause to think of what I can do as a single person, my heart begins to skip a beat. If I’m choosing to not daydream of who I could be dating, I’m anxious at life and the boxed in feelings of routine and aging alone.
Cliche as it sounds, and complex as it may be, this often seems to be the case.
If we are searching for love, we don’t mean eternal life or an expression of Christlikeness.
We usually define love as…
1. Finding a life partner (or, more accurately, a spouse) with whom there is compatibility and a similar, yet different, view of life.
2. This person is supposed to just “get” us. A deep understanding that only strengthens with time.
3. As the absence of conflict and the presence of ease in a relationship.
4. Finding our ultimate fulfillment in some human being other than ourselves.
5. In having children or a family which we can pour ourselves into. Finding our purpose in their existence.
There are many more, but this is somewhere to start.
All of us are looking for love
That’s the phrase we often hear. Dating sites proclaim it, romantic films dream it, the cinema embraces the search and capitalizes on it. The message is not if I can be loved, but when do I find someone to love me? I’m a person of great value and I need to find someone to value me the same way I do myself. I’m destined for love; I deserve to be loved; my heart was only made for one person and I must find out who this person is and, in the words of the Beatles, “gotta get [her\him] into my life.”
But, is it true?
We seem to be glossing over a lot of details here. For one, it assumes I already know what love is and I just need to find it. Secondly, it assumes that I need no wisdom in the area of my feelings and passions for another person. Thirdly, it paints reality around my desires instead of conforming my desires to the way things really are, in a world where Christ really exists.
What are we looking for when we say we are looking for love?
Perhaps some reevaluation isn’t a bad idea.
My mind seems to be consumed with reaching a horizon when it comes to romance; to glimpse some sort of focal point and perspective above this mess of modern dating. To see the beautiful land of love beyond the wilderness of despair. I just want it to make sense, and honestly it hasn’t made a whole lot of sense so far. All sorts of frustrations have risen to the surface.
One of the major flaws is that dating has become this unspoken dichotomy of either absolute communication and affection if the dates go well, or distance and cold shoulders if they just want to be “friends.” You are either consumed with what this other person does for you, or live in rejection of what this person cannot be for you. Friendship is an unlikely place to start a relationship (it seems), and an unlikely place to end one.
Why do we entertain friendships with the opposite sex in such deep ways that one of the persons in the friendship develops feelings (that are bound to develop) and is ultimately rejected because of them? How is it that I am capable of such a thing and am blind to it happening?
Why do we flirt with depth in our friendships and yet refuse possibilities with that person (such as, dating) that make us uncomfortable? You see their flaws and they make you uncomfortable, and yet they see your flaws and accept you. But, for some reason you just don’t want to go there. Why do we like attention so much and yet are afraid to consider what that attention means to the other person? What is it that makes us choose the wrong person again and again?
My own behaviors at times haven’t made a whole lot of sense, and I’ve made mistakes with how quickly I’ve let my heart run much farther than my feet should go. There’s this desire in anything I do to go “all in” with my commitment from the get-go, but much of dating falls under the assumed framework of “trial” and error. Courtship might not offer much hope either, as the pressure to get it right the first time (and being ready to pay for diapers on the first date) can suppress those initial desires that can only grow in time. It has the potential to put genuine feelings into a pressure cooker, to force an outcome that can only come with maturity in relating with the other person.
Let’s face it: modern dating is a mess. It’s a mess because emotions are messy, and the stakes are high: you’re dealing with marriage and sexual experience on the eclipse of a “successful” relationship. This means that these feelings will brew underneath the surface until they are consummated. If they’re not there, you might worry that they’ll never be there. But, how do we evaluate chemistry and passion? This is where we need to rethink all these ideas of romance and feelings and filter them through Biblical wisdom; to reign them in and point them towards where their true fulfillment can be.
Potential Passion Doesn’t Need to Be Realized To Be Valued
Drink water from your own cistern, flowing water from your own well. Should your springs be scattered abroad, streams of water in the streets? Let them be for yourself alone, and not for strangers with you. Let your fountain be blessed, and rejoice in the wife of your youth, a lovely deer, a graceful doe. Let her breasts fill you at all times with delight; be intoxicated always in her love. Why should you be intoxicated, my son, with a forbidden woman and embrace the bosom of an adulteress? For a man’s ways are before the eyes of the Lord, and he ponders all his paths. (Proverbs 5:15-21 ESV)
When you freely pour water from the well of your heart into the lives of many lovers, many flirtatious encounters, and others of whom you find interest, you take away not only your joy as a single Christian but also from the joy that can truly be expressed in the “intoxication” of marital love. Your joy is taken because it is given without premeditation, and sacrificing yourself on the idol of love will only crush you along with the idol.
You’re expressing what is only of limited supply in your own heart- your capability of love is not endless, you only have so much to give. Self-control doesn’t hinder expression, it harnesses it to fully achieve it’s proper power by focusing its gaze with godly precision. Yet, in Christ you have access to perfect love of which there lacks no supply. When you see the truths of Scripture for what they really are, you are beginning to glimpse the glory of Christ (2 Cor. 3:18), and who God is.
You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. (Psalms 16:11 ESV)
Going back to the Schaeffer quote, he’s not denying that God has a strong love for us. But, what he is saying is that the kind of romanticism that exists, the kind of fantasy and lore and unhindered human desire, is not the kind that Christianity teaches as truth. True love is not easy and simplistic, or exotic and mystic- it’s raw and sacrificial (1 John 4:8), it acknowledges the ruin of sin, but also the hope of Christ for this fallen world. It is unrelenting and faithful even when the other party is not reciprocating it (Hosea 1-2), and it’s everything that is characteristic of who God is (1 Jn. 4; 1 Cor. 13).
I wish I could tie this all up in a bow.
But, I do want you to know that I’m reevaluating what romance means, and I hope you will too.