At the age of 22, I not-so-fondly recall lying face-down on my hardwood floor, pounding my fists and crying as I cried out to the Lord.
After countless failed and initiated likings of the boy next door phenomenon, I was fed up with wanting to be in a romantic relationship but never having anyone return the feelings.
In my heart, I felt the Holy Spirit prompt, why do you try to compare love to what you know is a fake imitation? And through a process of surrender, I handed over my love life (or lack thereof). Two weeks later, I met my first and only boyfriend I still have to this day. And the funny thing is, I never initiated or saw it coming. When I met him, I said, “God, I'm focusing on you right now and not thinking about a relationship.”
Almost four years later, I now realize my thinking before handing my love life over to God was highly flawed.
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The Difference between Love and Infatuation
Perhaps it's because society has misconstrued love for infatuation. It has replaced what the Bible says about relationships with perceptions of Instagram filters, #relationshipgoals, and seemingly perfect dates. It speaks the belief that if we don't feel butterflies, have the Hallmark version of our prince riding in on a white horse, or present a boyfriend/girlfriend mentality found in the inner pages of Cosmo, then we've done something wrong. We begin to question why our love is different, why it hasn't happened yet, why it doesn't appear like everyone else's, and why it isn't like the movies.
Until my twenties, I remember when I used to dream of being in a relationship. How doing the cute things everyone posts on social media would make me feel. I pondered what it would be like to finally change my status on Facebook from "single" to "in a relationship" and how everyone would react. I lusted after the feelings I would finally have during Christmas when it seems that loneliness is at its finest.
But then I began to realize that not only were these thoughts vain in who I was, am, and what I eventually wanted to enter into with another person, but they also gave me a vain and distorted view of what I should receive from them.
Quickly, God began to speak to my heart that before I would ever enter a relationship or grow within one (friendships included here, friends), I needed to understand what He and His Word said about them. I needed to exchange my cloudy mirror of relationships for a brand-new transaction of what God says about this love.
What Does the Bible Teach about Love?
Although I've written a lot about love before this time, I never came close to fully understanding it. And it was not until I concluded that throughout my singleness, in praying for a future spouse, I may have had the idea of love all wrong.
At first, my intentions in longing were not wrong. I wanted them to love Jesus more than me, be taller, attractive, love working out, serving others, etc., but what I should have understood before all of those things was the "why?"
Why should I be in a relationship? What does the Bible tell me about this kind of love (and not my friend's comparative love life, social media’s presentation, or even my family's expectations)? Why do I want to be in a relationship? Is this something God wants for me?
As I began seeking answers to these questions, I invited an openness within myself. A vulnerability (openness), freedom, Christ-like mentality, and surrender to receive whatever the Lord had in store, regardless of the outcome.
Open: when someone came along and didn't check all the boxes (the ones that weren't mandatory), I would give them a chance. Just because a person doesn't meet the worldly standards of what everyone else says is right or fits their bill of love, we need to analyze if they replicate Christ's.
Freeing: I now know I do not need a relationship to complete or define me. Before Adam's relationship with Eve in the Bible, God had already given him a place, purpose, provision, identity, and parameters—all before it was "not good for man to be alone."
Adapting a Christ-like mentality: I know no relationship I ever enter into will be perfect or like what the Disney movies tell me. As I continue to date, I fully recognize that I have flaws, and so does my boyfriend, but God never asked for perfect people. He asked us to love broken ones. As dating partners struggle, we must learn not to judge someone just because they sin differently from us. But through sharing our vulnerabilities, we trust God to strengthen us in the process.
What Is God's Purpose for Love?
Today, even on the complex and off days where the relationship doesn't seem right, I fight against the world that tells me "maybe he isn't the one,” and listen to my Father above who can give me that command if that's His will.
Today, as small arguments come, I have the wisdom of God not to base the sum of my relationship on a silly matter that weighs so much less than the total of all the good memories we have shared.
Today, I am learning to understand that just because every day isn't sunshine, fun, and rainbows, I will know that even God, too, got frustrated with His people, but He loved them anyway.
To my relationships present, past, and future, know that I am still working on this, but that I firmly believe and owe you these things:
A love that sees the purpose of entering a romantic setting not for satisfying my own needs, but for being a helpmate to bring one another closer to each other and Christ.
A trust that takes the risk of love even if it isn't foolproof to work out, because who knows if a man will succeed other than the one who created him?
A faith that places God above you (yes, even you) and helps you place God above me, (yes even me).
A hope that knows even when the bad times come, you don't give up. After all, just because something has a ding in it doesn't mean you throw it away. We all have things we have to grow through together, and that's part of the loving process.
And how does God define these relationships? These friendships and pursuits of the ones we want to know more intimately? The goals and statuses we wish, ask, and pray to have?
How to Put God First in All Relationships
God reminds us that His Love must be enough first, and then all other things will fall into place.
We were not created to be alone. We were created for community, but when it comes to relationships and what God thinks, I believe he tells us two things:
- Only when Jesus is the first and most important relationship in our lives can we enter true relationship with others.
- This is not to say that He withholds any good thing from us, because we know that He "withholds no good thing" (Psalm 84:11), but it is to reiterate the point that until we and our identity are found in Christ alone, we will be looking to mere men to fill a gap that only He can satisfy.
- Once we have this personal and intimate relationship with Christ, we must never lose sight of it, even when we enter into relationships with others.
Regardless of whether it is a friendship, romance, or business partner, relationships are imperative to our growth as Christians, but they are gifts from God. We must honor Christ first.
So what do healthy relationships look like compared to the worldly definition of these status updates and Snapchat streaks of romance?
Godly love looks like putting God first even when it means disappointing or placing your significant other on hold to focus on God. It looks like not confusing worshiping God with worshiping your partner and instead, learning to worship God while you love your neighbor as yourself (and not the other way around).
Christ-like dating looks like the biblical definition of marriage. The two become one not because a husband is greater than the wife and the wife owes him that, but because they have mutual love, honor, and respect to grow closer to God as they bring out their best interests. It is willing to give everything for that person, not because you feel the love of butterflies, but because you feel the love and compassion God provided for you on the cross now poured out for you to lay down for that other person.
True Relationship Goals
Although I can say that the words "dating" and "romance" are not found explicitly by that search in the Bible (trust me, I've tried), I can tell you that God does desire for you to enter into these things when and if it is the right time for you.
Just because most of my close friends are married doesn't mean that I need to freak out because I'm not.
Just because you're still single after 25 years and everyone in your family looks at you like you're crazy doesn't mean that you won't ever be in a relationship.
Just because you don't know what you're doing in your first relationship doesn't mean you're doing something wrong if it looks different to the outside world. That's a good sign that it looks more like Christ and a lot less like fake perceptions.
#RelationshipGoals reveal that at the center of any core relationship, Jesus must be found intimately and separately. And at their completion, they involve the willfully giving away of oneself at the detriment, love, and honor of another person.
Just as Christ gave His body for us, that alone demonstrates how we should partake in relationships of any sort with others.
True #relationshipgoals are found within the heavenly realm of who God says they are with and what they consist of when He says it's time to fulfill them.
Related Resource: Listen to our FREE podcast, Reframed: The Power of Perspective. In each episode, Carley provides practical techniques for identifying and reframing negative thinking patterns. Listen to an episode below, and check out all of our episodes on LifeAudio.com.
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Amber Ginter is a teacher, author, blogger, and mental health activist who resides in the beautiful mountains and cornfields of Ohio. She loves Jesus, granola, singing, reading, dancing, running, her husband Ben, and participating in all things active. She’s currently enrolled in the Author Conservatory Program and plans to pitch her book: Mental Health and the Modern Day Church for Young Adults, soon. Visit her website at amberginter.com.
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