An Unromantic Study of Romance
"Stars, hide your fires;Let not light see my black and deep desires. The eye wink at the hand, yet let that be Which the eye fears, when it is done, to see." - Macbeth
Love. This is a topic close to my heart since childhood. I spent countless hours in middle and high school huddled under a cavernous expanse of blankets devouring Bronte, Austin, Dickens, and Henry.
It would be no stretch to say I was infatuated with love.
So with that strange concoction of solitude and LOTS of Victorian novels, I grew up more like a child of the late 19th century than the twentieth. My adolescent fixation with love, intimacy, and companionship gave me an unfortunate habit of swooning, daydreaming, and scribbling endless pages of nonsense in my tear-streaked journals over every anonymous boy who unknowing staggered across my path.
Yes, EVERY boy. I had absolutely no taste, perspective, or discrimination. If you so much as glanced in my direction, the butterflies churned and my heart skipped.
Was he Short? I loved short!
Tall? I had ALWAYS preferred tall! Dark complexion? Yes! Blonde hair? Perfect! Into sports? How incredibly healthy! Into nerdy things? He was soooo Unique! Into art? I ADORE ART! Christian? Me too! NonChristian? I'll show him God's love and he'll have an incredible conversion and our love will be that much stronger!
You get the idea... Nauseating. I could literally and unreservedly cheer for a relationship with any player of the male persuasion. For the first 3/4 of college I was still stuck in my chameleon, "I'll-love-you-if-you'll-show-any-attention-to-me" phase. It took a trip to France and a complete mental breakdown for me to get over this stupidity. In other words, Gods direct and merciful intervention.
Even now at 27, I feel myself burn with shame at the thought of all of those letters, journals, and wasted hours pining over ridiculous and incompatible boys. But all this marriage obsession and "soul mate" crap wasn't embraced just by me.
I vividly remember all of those awkward devos in the '90s - early 2000's where Christian girls carried "I kissed dating goodbye" in tow with bible, and we were all Admonished to view Jesus as our perfect "boyfriend." We were told to go on dates with him and invest all of our love and attention in Him, and that one day he would give us "the right one."
I'm not sure what you thought your "one match" would look like, but mine was extravagantly detailed in my imagination. He was part Mr. Darcy--all deep thoughts, misunderstood, and brooding---part batman, a splash of Bob Dylan's artistry, a large slice of rule-breaking Indian Jones, and a heavy does of Paul's God-glorifying zeal. In otherwise, an exotic patchwork oompah loompa.
Although well-intentioned, the effect of this "Dating Jesus" talk was deadly poisonous to my faith. Instead of fostering a lifelong love and romance with The Lord, I developed a "great for now" mentality. I had all these hopes, dreams, and expectations wrapped up in my future husband / soulmate / one, rather than pursuing The Lord FOR THE LORD'S SAKE ALONE.
I remember journaling endlessly about how I was so lonely now but hopeful that God's pre-picked fellow would soon cure much (maybe all?) of my unhappiness. I can't believe I'm going to do this, but hey, if I can put all my sin out there for you to read why not a few choice and mortifyingly embarrassing quotes to illustrate my nauseating pre-teenage mental-state:
"Dear God, I know I'm supposed to wait for the person that I'm going to marry, but please let _________________* (name removed for everyone's safety and sanity) fall in love with me soon!"
Yes, I actually wrote that. Suffice it to say that after re-discovering this journal three years ago, I've been torn between the urge to burn the evidence and publish it as exquisite, first-rate hilarity.
Yeah, I didn't get it. I thought I'd just give God a little advice on who my One true love was so that he would hurry up and make it all happen already. Not much thought on the ultimate sovereignty of God nor on the greater goal of the gospel at that time.
So, friends here's the situation. Please draw your attention to this x-axis I'm drawing in imaginary blog space. We start on the far right, the beginning of time and the first marriage: Adam and Eve. It was arranged, and who better to arrange it than God? He literally made a match for Adam FROM Adam. Eve was born from his side and next to his side she was commanded to stay. She was an implementor of his plans, a battalion of troops ready to march at his word. And then came the crafty snake and Eve was like, "This sucks! Adam's not the boss of me! I'm tired of listening to him and doing what HE wants all of the time. What about me?! I'm a princess!" And she burned her bras and sprinted across 90 miles of the x-axis to procreate generation after generation of loud, bossy, nag ladies who were enamored with themselves. O.k., maybe I exaggerated a little, but here's the thing:
In all of this sprawling line of biblical narrative there's approximately three romantic histories with ONLY Song of Solomon even beginning to approach the modern concept of romantic love. I mean Esther feared for her life because she wanted to chat it up with the king without him first requesting her presence. Rebecca knew more abut Isaac's servant then about himself before she agreed to marry him. Ruth was widowed, desperate, and, although she very probably could have fallen in love with Boaz, she was mostly concerned with the welfare of her mother-in-law.
No, despite the Barnes and Nobel "biblical romance" fiction section--(how is there even a category for this???)--- the bible is incredibly silent on stories reminiscent of modern love. At the surface, it is a profoundly unromantic book.
So here's my question: does God want his people to have romance? Surely he made our desire for romantic love for a reason. Is it important in the life of a believer? Is it even necessary? I hate to ask these questions because 1) I'm a hypocrite by being married to the loveliest love of my life, giving me no right to ask and 2) it's a little bit scary to think "maybe God doesn't really care if I or my children or anyone else ever falls in love."
That's the question that has been at the back of my mind for the past two and a half weeks. Everynight (when I wasn't decorating large reams of paper with Mo Willem's birthday pigeons), I spent hours poring over the Bible, as well as Spurgeon's writing, desiringgod.org, thevillagechurch.net, girlsgonewise.com, and elisefitzpatrick.com articles looking for an answer to this question.
Through all of this study I saw some things pretty clearly. God just isn't all that concerned with conventional romance. It's not that God opposes romance, but rather he seems much more concerned with my heart's fixation with him over everything else, even my husband. Instead, He is all about displaying His glory through his rich and unwarranted love for those who hated him. The Bible isn't filled with human romances because it's spending all of its narrative on a cosmic romance, one that ends in a spectacular wedding. This intimacy is true, complete, and not motivated by physical appearance, malleable dispositions, or circumstance. After all, "For GOD SO LOVED the world," NOT, "For God and the World so loved eachother."
So what does all of this have to do with romance and husbands and the marriage plot? Nothing and everything and something in between. Here's the point of all of it, at its most basic level: God cares more about my heart than he does about my happiness. All too often that means he will wound me to save me. He will give me loneliness so that I will seek his companionship. He will give me poverty that I might seek his providence. He will give me hardship, difficult relationships, physical pain, emotional pain, and every kind of difficulty if, in doing so, he may grow me, mature me in his Holy Spirit, and draw me closer to himself. "Every form of prosperity and affliction comes to us not by chance, but from God's fatherly hand," a hand that is ever molding us into his own image. (Heidelberg Catechism Q/A 27).
This doesn't at all mean that God does not also bless me or give me much happiness and blessings. In fact, as I look over my life these days, I see far more grace and blessings than I do difficulty. But I know that Jesus suffered every possible hardship out of love for me, and if he did it while in the glorious light of the Father's love, how could I follow in his stead without expecting the same thing. For "No servant is greater than his master."
So friends, here's a sharp-edged truth. Maybe you will never fall in love or get married. Maybe you will marry someone who will cheat on you or leave you. Or maybe you will have a fairytale romance that puts Tennyson's best lines to shame. Regardless, all of this is meaningless if you miss out on the bigger picture of Jesus's love for you, his redeemed bride.
In the words of my dear friend Elyse Fitzpatrick, "unless we're very intentional about meditating on these truths [that show God's love], they slip from our thoughts like misty dreams that evaporate in the morning light. That's why Luther said we must "take heed then, to embrace...the love and kindness of God...[and to] daily excercise [our] faith therein, entertain no doubt of God's love and kindness." (Because He Loves Me, 36 )