I can only think of one other time that I’ve written a post (or two) that I really didn’t want to write. For those of you who read this blog often, you will notice that virtually all of my posts are about what is happening to me, why I think God has brought it into my life, and what He’s teaching me from it all. I often format my posts this way because it’s the best way for me to articulate how God moves in our everyday lives — but every once in a while, I feel like God is calling me to talk about a specific subject rather than just the situations I’m encountering at a given time. My time spent on Summer Project has really propelled me to immerse myself in books and sermons and the Bible since I’ve been home, and this theme of dating and marriage and love in general just continues to come up. So, this is a post about what God has been teaching me about being in love and what that means in the context of dating and marriage.
I just want to say before I go any further that I don’t approach this subject from a position that assumes any kind of superiority or authority. The reason that I’m just now learning these things is a result of the exact opposite: I don’t know much of anything/I’ve had a lot of the wrong ideas about this subject; I think God has brought me to this place in my life right now that forces me to give Him my undivided attention, and what I’m about to talk about is one of the many truths He’s choosing to reveal to me throughout this time. When the thought first entered my mind to do a blog about this, I shut it down quickly. But the more God spoke to me about this issue through His Word and the books and sermons I’ve been studying, I realized that I would have to put my pride aside and instead of writing another post about what God taught me in a given situation, I needed to write a post about a subject that I’ve struggled with since high school. So, here goes.
God has been working on my heart for a long time now when it comes to dating. I often consider my freshman year of college the real “turning point” in my relationship with God, because it was then that I really came to understand the gospel and what it meant for my life. I distinctly remember the summer after my freshman year finding a book called Boundaries in Dating and thinking of it as pure gold — I was convinced that if I read this book, my heart would suddenly be rewired to function within the confines of Christian dating and I would find my husband and that would be the end. No struggles, no challenges, just happily ever after. And after reading that book cover-to-cover in about two days, I really had gained a lot of knowledge and insight… so you can only imagine how confused I was when I turned around and made the same dating mistakes over again only weeks later. What I see now is that my head knew a lot about what it meant to date and fall in love as a Christian, but my heart still didn’t.
Two years later, my heart is just now starting to open up to this head knowledge that I’ve had for so long. And while part of me wonders why God couldn’t have just revealed these things to me way before now, I’m starting to realize that it has been situations that have occurred over these past two years that make these revelations so much more lasting and real to my heart. I think my first series of real eye-opening moments has been throughout my time reading Mere Christianity by C.S. Lewis. I have highlighted so many lines and tabbed so many pages that it is extremely difficult for me to focus on only one part of this book for this post, so I would highly encourage you to read it yourself. However, Lewis devotes a chapter solely to Christian marriage, and in it he obviously talks about love. He addresses the concept of being in love vs. loving someone, and discusses the “thrill” of being in love this way:
“[Being in love] is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all… And in fact, whatever people say, the state called ‘being in love’ usually does not last. If the old fairy-tale ending ‘They lived happily ever after’ is taken to mean ‘They felt for the next fifty years exactly as they felt the day before they were married’, then it says what probably never was nor ever would be true, and would be highly undesirable if it were. Who could bear to live in that excitement for even five years? What would become of your work, your appetite, your sleep, your friendships?”
It was when I read this that suddenly, it hit me: loving the way God wants us to love is not about going along with our feelings all of the time. For so long, I have thought that this thrilling state in the process of falling in love was the end; I thought that it was this feeling that we were all striving for, and that’s what God wanted to give us — that thrill, forever. But just as Lewis points out, an excitement like that for your whole life would be quite miserable, actually. Because the reality is that the process of falling in love is just that — it’s a process, which means that after falling in love comes another step: loving. The reality is that “being in love” isn’t the end; it’s only the beginning. And no, it’s not always exciting — but real love should never cease to be loving, even throughout difficulties and challenges. Right?
“But, of course, ceasing to be ‘in love’ need not mean ceasing to love. Love in this second sense — love as distinct from ‘being in love’ — is not merely a feeling. It is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by (in Christian marriages) the grace which both partners ask, and receive, from God. They can have this love for each other even at those moments when they do not like each other… They can retain this love even when each would easily, if they allowed themselves, be ‘in love’ with someone else. ‘Being in love’ first moved them to promise fidelity; this quieter love enables them to keep the promise.”
This was a big lesson for my heart to learn. And honestly, when it clicked for me and I had this moment where I realized that my heart finally figured out what my head has been reciting all this time, it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off of my shoulders. I honestly thought God had taught me enough for at least the next few months, but then one of my friends from project sent me a link to this series about love and dating, and it started all over again. Once again, I would really encourage you to sit down and watch parts of this series over the next few weeks as you have time. At the very least, save the link and go back and watch it at a time when you feel like all of this is relevant to you — it’s great.
There were a lot of topics covered in this series, but they all point to the goal of marriage. For so, so, so, so, so, so long, I have completely idolized the idea of marriage. No matter how many times people have said that marriage doesn’t solve your problems, my heart has just gravitated toward this idea that once I get married, my life will be great all of the time. I knew that wasn’t the truth logically speaking, but I just couldn’t feel that truth deep down in my heart. But over the past few weeks through various situations and conversations and other things, God has really started to open my eyes to the reality that marriage will not solve my problems. It won’t solve the problems I have in dating, it won’t solve my deepest insecurities, it won’t make me less jealous, it won’t make me more loving, it won’t make me into anything that I’m not right now — the only thing it will do is make me accountable to another person who is just as broken as I am. When the pastor of this series talks about marriage in his last message, he says that “marriage doesn’t make you capable, it makes you accountable.” He then goes on to point out that when you become accountable for something that you’re not capable of doing, you become miserable.
If we were to really sit down and think about this, it makes so much sense — when we’re not prepared for something and we’re forced to do it anyway, we just get frustrated and give up. But if we are prepared for it and we’re at a place where we are confident that we can do it well, we’re a lot more willing to make the commitment and to press through the challenges that it entails. It’s the same way with marriage, and I think it’s a sad reality that we live in a culture that glorifies beautiful weddings and not beautiful marriages. Finally, this reality has seeped into my heart and I can only praise God for revealing it to me before a time where I was in a position to enter into an engagement or marriage not understanding that my problems wouldn’t be resolved that way. I just want to clarify that I am not at all saying anything against marriage or claiming that it’s not a very happy experience, because I definitely believe that it can be one of the greatest experiences in our lives. But I will say that what has become very real to me these past few weeks is that if marriage is seen as something that it is not, it makes things so much harder for the people involved, and I don’t think that’s what God intended when He created us for this type of relationship.
So that’s what God has been teaching me, and I’m just as exhausted from absorbing it all as you probably are after reading this post. Lastly, I just want to say that reading this may be frustrating for some of you because you know these things logically but you don’t feel them in your heart yet. As I mentioned many times in this post, I’m right there with you. I just want to encourage you to remember these points because there will come a time when God puts you in a situation that forces you to give Him your undivided attention, and if you press through and seek Him in all that you do, I think that these points (and many more) are going to come alive in your heart and it’s going to be amazing however God chooses to reveal them to you. He will never leave us when we ask for His counsel, and for that I am extremely grateful.