February 7, 2015

What Does Love Look Like

It is February, and since it is traditionally a "red hot" month, my thoughts have turned toward love. Yes, I am thinking about love, about being in love, about what love is all about, etc. My mind is captivated by all things love and lovely. It is a funny thing because normally, well in my old life, I never really thought much about love. I never experienced that "I am so in love" feeling before (er, perhaps when I was first enamored by one of the cute boys in math class) and I never really enjoyed the blessing of being in an all-out "I am in love" kind of relationship. Let me explain...

February is traditionally marked as the month of love. Valentine's Day is right around the corner, and the stores are filled with displays of hearts, candies, flowers, stuff animals -- of all sorts of "things" that convey those three special words -- I LOVE YOU! The commercialization of Valentines is over the top, of course, but it is no different than Easter or Fourth of July or Christmas. The marketeers know what gets people out to the shops, and what kinds of items will encourage them to let loose some of their hard earned cash. I have never been overly sentimental in that way. Sure, I cry at sad movies or stories with happy endings. I love the romantic chick flick as good as the next gal, but I have never really gotten into the "hearts and flowers" gig, especially right now around Valentine's Day.

For those of you who do not know the history of the holiday, here is a brief excerpt from that always authoritative source, Wikipedia.org:

Saint Valentine's Day, also known as Valentine's Day or the Feast of Saint Valentine, is a holiday observed on February 14 each year. It is celebrated in many countries around the world, although it is not a holiday in most of them.

It has only been since the 18th century that handwritten notes were fashionably sent to express intention of love. Since the latter part of the 19th century, mass produced cards took the place of the note. Cards, chocolates and flowers are usually the item of choice when professing love for that special someone.

'She bath'd with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew'
from Spencer's Faerie Queene

My first experience with Valentine's Day was in school. I loved the fact that you had to bring valentines for everyone in the class. I remember picking out the valentines I wanted to share with my classmates. I hand wrote their name on the card, usually put a sticker on it, and sometimes added a piece of candy. To me, the day was marked with time off from school activities, and almost always (in grade school,) there was a party with cupcakes, cookies, and other homemade treats.

I never really got the whole "Be my Valentine" thing until Junior High rolled around. Once I was in middle school, there were no more parties for Valentines day. No, instead there were dances and other opportunities to give young people in love a way to spend time together. Of course, being the wall flower that I was, that meant that I was not asked to dance or it meant that I sat on the sidelines watching everyone else enjoy themselves. I usually wasn't alone. No, there were all the other wall flower girls and boys who never got asked to dance either.

In high school, the situation got worse because now boys and girls were paired up, and you never knew if the person you liked was already taken. For shy girls and boys, in order to keep from being rejected publicly, we chose to dream about that special girl or boy rather than take the chance to talk to him or her. High school was such a cruel and lonely place for girls and boys like me. The popular kids seemed to float on through these years, happily matched with a sweetheart, and gleefully enjoying the throes and passions of teenage love.

After high school ended, I headed off to college. College is a completely different dynamic when it comes to meeting a special Valentine. Of course, the "love" pool enlarges, and the opportunities abound for meeting a boy or girl. Still, many couples formed in high school remained in tact, so it became a challenge to know whether or not to express interest in someone publicly. The same problem existed for me -- once a wall flower, always a wall flower -- and my shyness got the best of me. I am sure I had many guys express interest in me, but I sent them the "not available" signal out of fear of being rejected by them.

Hindsight is a glorious thing...

It is hard to believe that I actually got married, what with all the blather above about being a lonely, shy, wall flower. In truth, I did meet that someone, and in time, I got married.

Over the course of my 25 years of marriage, Valentines generally came and went without any fanfare. Most of the cards I received were from my MIL and my Mom. Sometimes, my husband would bring home flowers or cards. But usually, he would say something like "I forgot to get you something. I am sorry." Hmm. Is that okay? I accepted his apology, but in my heart, I did wonder if it was okay to forget to express love for your wife or husband -- whether daily, weekly, monthly -- or on the one time of the year when it is EXPECTED. My friends received cards, love letters, gifts, candy, special treats -- even those that were poor -- always seemed to make sure their wife or husband knew that they were cherished and loved. So part of me accepted the inevitable, that my mate was not demonstrative with his affections (which sadly was true), but part of me thought that regardless of his ability to show tell, when you are "in love" and married, you should be able to express it, even in the smallest way, with whatever amount of "love" you can muster up.

Now, of course, I am single, and my life is very different. I am focused on my doctoral program, on teaching, on making ends meet, so the thought of love and being in love is welcome, but not always first and foremost on my mind.

That is, until lately. Yes, of all things, the Lord has chosen for me to experience that rush of love, that wonder of feeling loved by another person, and that satisfaction of knowing that someone out there really does love me (besides my family and the Lord, of course!) I am blessed to experience those feelings, those wonderfully warm and sweet feelings that coincide with being in love. God is good, so very good to me!

So what does love really look like?

I guess you could say that I have had a good 40 years to ponder that question. I have spent my life being a wall flower, then being married, and now being single. Over the course of my 52 years, I have seen a lot of "love" go round. I have read about it in books, watched it on TV and film, and observed it in real life. I have seen my share of love from the sidelines, and in truth, I think the majority of the world has it all wrong, all wrong.

As a woman who is in love, I spend a bit of time (in my limited free time) reading Christian blogs where writers are writing articles to encourage single women to patiently wait for the Lord to bring them a Godly man. Yep, these articles are all over the Internet, and it only takes a couple readings to realize that there are a lot of lonely Godly women waiting for their God-approved man to show up. I am sure there are just as many Godly men waiting for the God-approved woman to show up too (hey, we are always gender neutral around here!) So, if there are all these Godly men and women trying to find their mate, supposedly looking for the quality characteristics the Bible stresses are important for marriage, then why are they not getting matched up?

I've read a lot of blogs and comments left on blogs by women who are in sexual relationships with men, supposed Christian men, and with whom they are patiently waiting for that proposal and that walk down the aisle. These men have what they want -- sex. These men are not looking for a bride because they already have a wife that satisfies them without all the responsibility that goes along with the marriage commitment.  To be fair, there are plenty of Christian women who are also in relationship for sex because they believe that they are getting too old or they cannot imagine living a life of abstinence while waiting for God to deliver them a Godly man to marry.

Like I said, I have been reading these blogs lately, and I have noticed some trends (oh, the dreaded social scientist in me always perks up around trends) developing. I use women here because it is easier to explain it this way. These are the top trends I notice on Christian blogs, either in the article content or in the comments by women who are reading the articles.
  1. Women are being encouraged to wait for a man to come find them (Disney Princess Theory)
  2. Women are being encouraged to practice abstinence and to practice Biblical womanhood to attract a man (Disney Princess Theory)
  3. Women are waiting for the perfect companion, perfect fit to complement their life (the Soul Mate Theory)
Okay, so what is the Disney Princess Theory? Well, I think we can all think of several Princess stories that come to mind -- Snow White, Cinderella, Belle from Beauty and the Beast, etc. (so I love Disney!) In these fairy tales, the princess waits for her prince to find her, to rescue her, to kiss her, to whisk her off to their fairytale castle and their fairytale life. Yes, the Princess mentality is, in my view, one of the top reasons so many women remain single.

Really, you say? Yes, I say it is so, and here is why...

Just think off the top of your head three characteristics that define a prince.
  1. Handsome (tall and dark or tall and blonde)
  2. Rich (always)
  3. Noble (chivalrous)
You can reverse this list for a princess and see the exact same problem.
  1. Beautiful (hair, eyes, face, lips, etc.)
  2. Slim and sexy (buxom)
  3. Submissive and demure
Love for many people exists only within the parameters of a Disney story. For Christian women, in particular, add the full-on press for the application of Biblical womanhood, and you have a solid reason why so many women fail to meet a willing partner.

Women, I hate to admit it, are looking for their prince. They are rejecting all possible suitors who don't meet the top three characteristics of princeliness (is that a word?) Christian men are also rejecting possible mates because the woman of their dreams and fantasies is not built like a Disney or Mattel doll.

I know, I am mass generalizing here, but I think you get the point. Men and women, Christian men and women, have their perspectives out of whack, and as such are either marrying for the wrong reasons or they are engaging in pre-marital relationships in the hope that by selling their bodies (woman) or by stealing their bodies (men) they will somehow "find" that perfect mate.

Is there such a thing as a perfect mate?

I read recently that many women and men believe in soul mates. They have this fantasy that says that there is ONE PERSON OUT THERE JUST FOR ME. They have bought into the notion that a man or woman exists to complete them, and that their soulmate will bring their life to fullness and to a close. This is not Biblical, of course. This is worldly philosophy that has swept up millions of men and women, Christian men and women, into believing that they must wait for ONE right person to show up, and that not only will that right person be their prince or princess, but that right person will be their soul mate.

What is a soul mate?

Wikipedia defines a soul mate as "a person with whom one has a feeling of deep or natural affinity. This may involve similarity, love, romance, friendship, intimacy, sexuality, sexual activity, spirituality, or compatibility and trust." Oh, an innocent enough definition, but what really constitutes the belief in soul mates? Look a little further and you will find the underlying philosophy that is fueling this entire belief system -- ancient philosophy and a non-Biblical worldview.

If you look at the historic context of what constitutes a "soul mate," what we find is that the roots of this idea dates all the way back to Greece. The soul according to Greek theosophy, was created to be androgynous or had both male and female characteristics. Over time and through reincarnation, the soul split in half, and began a search for their missing half or their companion soul. Once united, the complete soul returns to God. This belief is predicated on the religious practice of reincarnation and karma. Reincarnation is the belief that the soul or spirit is reborn in a new body after death. Reincarnation is the main tenet in Indian religion as well as some other forms of Theosophy and philosophical practices. Karma is found in many Indian and Asian religions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Jainism, Sikhism, and Taoism. 

In many cultures, the notion of a soul mate is believed to be true. Wikipedia states that even in current or popular context, "The definition of it ranges widely, and cannot be pinpointed. It is commonly accepted that one will feel 'complete' once they have found their soulmate, as it is partially in the perceived definition that two souls are meant to unite." Thus, this belief in a soul mate leads me to posit that most Christian men and women who are single (either young and never married or older and divorced) are deluded by Satan through the prevalence and acceptance of certain elements found within Eastern and Asian religion to THINK that they must wait for their soul mate.

So what does the Bible say about a soul mate or waiting for that ONE person?

This is such an interesting topic for me because I am divorced from a man who believed I was not his soul mate. In fact, he chose his soul mate over me after nearly 25 years of marriage. Therefore, this idea that there is one person who is our perfect fit seems at odds with God's design for Biblical marriage. I am not an expert by any means, but I do think I understand now what God intends for marriage. In fact, I would say that having experienced the beginning of a marriage and the ending of a marriage, I have a good feel for what love really looks like with the confines of a God-honoring marriage.

First, I don't believe in soul mates from a worldly philosophical stand point. I don't believe that there is one right person out there for me, my other half, so to speak, formed in the netherworld, lost to me but desperately seeking to be reunited with me. No, that is the current worldly belief that has led so many men and women into inappropriate and damaging relationships or kept them from potential God-honoring relationships. Instead, I believe that the uniting of two souls occurs in Godly marriage. In Mark 10:7-9, we read,

“A man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh. So they are no longer two, but one. Therefore what God has joined together, let man not separate.”

The physical act of sex in marriage is what unites two bodies, two hearts, and two "souls" (for lack of a better word) to become "one." Therefore, in Christian marriage, a man and a women are joined to become one and thus they are "soul mates."

So if the process of becoming one flesh happens during marital relations, how do you know that the other person is the one you are to join with? I think this is the part that Christian men and women mess up, and this is where my Disney Princess Theory comes into play. Single men and women are so caught up in finding the right man or woman with the "perfect" characteristics that they are not taking into account what God considers quality character. They are more enamored with the buff guy or girl, the good looking or beautiful body, and less interested in the marks of true Christian maturity.

Any Christian man or woman seeking a mate should first and foremost seek the Lord. I believe that only the Lord can draw two hearts together, and only the Lord can develop the chemistry that causes a man and a woman to want to spend their lives together. Sure, physical attraction is nice, but when it comes down to it, we all agree that there are so many other factors that determine a good relationship. Therefore, if a man or woman is seeking the Lord, following after Him, desiring His will, then the Lord will develop a relationship based on His desires within His timing and His framework. The key is a right relationship with the Lord, and a right understanding of Biblical marriage (no sex before marriage, a friendship and courtship relationship developed over time, with the intention of leading to marriage).

The Lord is able to draw to us someone, whom I believe, will appear to be our perfect fit. Yes, I believe that the Lord is able to do this, to bring us a companion that complements us and with whom we can develop a long-lasting attachment. The key point here is that while the Lord must arrange the marriage, we must be open to the man or woman He brings to us. This means that we must let go of our Disney Prince or Princess fantasy, lose our non-Biblical worldview on soul mates, and cling to the Word of God for our future wife or husband.

My short list of dos:

  1. Place the Lord first in every area of your life
  2. Trust the Lord for the provision of a mate
  3. Open your heart to possible mates as the Lord leads them to you
  4. Focus on developing Godly characteristics in your own life
  5. Look for testimony in a potential mate to what God considers are Godly behavior, attitude, and actions
  6. Be patient and do not rush into a relationship at the first sign of sparks
  7. Friendship first, always
  8. Identify potential barriers in yourself that need correction (actions, language, dress) and work on making yourself the best version of you possible
  9. Live your life in service to others, in ministry, with God as your King
  10. God may call you to singleness, but more than likely He will provide a mate for you if you take the time to understand the Biblical terms for marriage and relationship (the skinny -- don't give into temptation, no matter what!)
As I consider my life, my past, my present, and my future, one this is for certain. The Lord is sovereign over every area of my life. I am enjoying the blessed gift of being in love, for the first time in my life. I am enjoying the possibility of a future life that for a long time seemed to be filled with singleness. Now, I see hope and opportunity for companionship, where before there was contentment in the Lord most assuredly, but loneliness and a longing for a deep and intimate friendship with another person. I am blessed, and I am honored to be able to think about love today, to experience the thoughts and feelings that go along with love, and to know that my Lord has provided someone to me for me to enjoy, to cherish, and to love. God is good, so very good!

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