I’ve never liked the idea of guarding my heart, and only recently had the courage to write about it in depth. It’s a potent idea within many churches and Christian culture, one that at face value seems to mean well, but in the end does the opposite of what it intended. It’s a misguided way of trying to have control over relationships; that by following a legalistic book or step by step process, we can trapeze around heartache all together, and that doing so is the only way to honor God. Not only has that proven to be false in my life, but I don’t think that’s what Jesus meant when He said that we would have trouble in this life.
As I’ve navigated relationships, I’ve been exploring ways in which I can guide my heart, which I’d define as an act of faith and risk-taking without putting up walls. I don’t have all the answers, let alone an idea of what makes the perfect relationship, and I don’t want to give anyone the impression that there’s a surefire way to do it. But it should allow you to have an experience, to get to know others (and yourself), and to grow.
Embrace instead of avoid
In the beginning it’s easy to get caught up in the what-if’s: What if there’s little to no chemistry? What if we don’t have enough in common or our personalities don’t mesh? While these are valid questions, it only breeds anxiety when you’re trying to get it all figured out after one date, or even before that. It’s unfortunate how we’ve come to expect relationships (and people) to show up all wrapped in a gift box, as if they’re the key to happiness. The reality is that every person is different, and you won’t experience the same things on the same level. Let time be your friend and do so without a timeline. It’s important to be aware of red flags, but too often we allow our fears to dictate the path we take and become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Whenever I try to prepare myself for what might or might not happen, I end up missing out on something wonderful. There’s no shame in savoring the excitement and joy of being with someone, and letting yourself be happy as opposed to waiting for the other shoe to drop. Tomorrow is meant for tomorrow, and it really does ultimately take care of itself.
Not all advice is sound advice
As a young girl, I was warned against reading certain books that were often considered “female porn,” and how the media in general leads us to setting unrealistic expectations regarding romance. I’ve read a lot of Christian fiction over the years, and while the books weren’t terrible, I look back on the writing of the characters and storylines and wonder if those aspects are overlooked because of the subgenre (although that’s another post for another time). There’s a lot of material out there in regards to how to date and be Christian, one of which was extremely popular in the 90’s and early 2000’s, and was recommended to me by a youth group leader. The message left a bad taste in my mouth, and unfortunately became repetitive to the point where I blindly began to follow it, more so out of guilt than conviction.
But it’s not just about books or movies; sometimes what initially appears to be well-intentioned wisdom (i.e. don’t be vulnerable until you know you’ve met your spouse) can become harmful and confusing later on. It’s important to surround yourself with friends and mentors that can guide you in the various stages, but there’s a difference between speaking truth in hope and speaking truth in bitterness and generalizations. If someone leaves you with the latter, they’re probably not a good source to absorb.
Communicate (and commune)
Talk to your partner. Talk to your people. But most of all, talk to God. When I pray now a days, I forgo the nervous voice of, “If this man isn’t right for me, let me know” before any date, and instead ask for help in being present while we get to know each other. Whether it be on the morning before I start the day or walking around somewhere, I talk about the little things and the embarrassing things. And I write about them, because ultimately honesty really does go a long way. The more honest I am, the less perfect and put together I have to be.
You’re responsible for your actions and emotions, and no one else’s
I used to have this gargantuan fear of being left/abandoned, and still struggle with it after multiple relationships ended over things that could have easily been openly discussed and worked through. In high school I believed that I was at fault if a guy unexpectedly stopped talking to me or decided he didn’t want to be in my life. I was somehow responsible for keeping them around, for making sure that they understood and cared about me. It turned me into an insecure wreck and I couldn’t begin to work through it until my final semester of college.
Intention does not always affect perception; it takes two humble, grace-filled human beings in order to have a relationship, and if one is going to pull a road-runner because of something awkward or uncomfortable, then that’s not somebody I want to be with. Part of learning how to love is learning how to wade through the messy stuff, and make the best of what we don’t necessarily like about each other.
Gratitude has been paramount for me, a way to stay focused on what’s happening right now and not get ahead of myself. I give thanks for the opportunity to meet people and to hear their stories. I give thanks for the time we spend together. And if for whatever reason it comes to an end, I give thanks for what that relationship taught me and how I grew because of it. I never want to look back and think of anything as a failure or something I should regret, and naming my blessings moment by moment puts it in perspective.
And lean not on your own understanding, which feels like one of the most under-emphasized verses in Scripture. We’re not supposed to be constantly making sense of what we should do or why something turns out the way it does. I’ve been through enough where I’m aware that regardless of how painful something is, I’m going to make it out the other side. I’m going to heal. And I will love again, though it might be different as opposed to being “better.”
Trusting God and having agency are not mutually exclusive; we can still exercise free will and include Him in the journey/process of discovering and building love with another person. Again, I don’t know much beyond what I’m currently still untangling and unlearning, but I’m getting there. I still wrestle with the conservative stance, and wondering if I’ll ever learn how to fully approach dating in a way that feels healthy and genuine. But then this hit me:
Jesus should be about freedom. If something makes you feel like you’re being held back instead of experiencing freedom, then it is not of Jesus.
The heart is meant to be carried, not held captive.