Here’s the first thing I’ll say about love. It’s not the most important thing, but nobody says the most important thing first. The first thing you should know about love is that love is a changeling. It almost never takes exactly the same shape. It’s constant, sure, but it’s a variable, too.
You need to know this first because you, like me, will be tempted to compare your love to someone else’s love and that will be disastrous. Because their love might look rosy and perfect and yours might look gray and dull.
You will be tempted, too, to compare your “now” love to your “then” love and that could be disastrous as well.
We will tell stories and give examples in a moment.
The second thing you should know is that I’m not talking about love like you have for your friend’s neighbor’s kid. Or love like you have you have for your enemy. Or love like you have for the people you don’t know at church. That love is real. But it’s not the love we’re talking about.
We’re talking about belonging love, relational love, we’re-in-this-together love. In it’s most obvious earthly iteration, we’re talking the love between partners. In it’s fullest manifestation, the love between a person and her God.
I’m sitting in a chair next to my fiance’s chair across a deep desk from our pre-marital counselor. Because I love being evaluated and because I love my fiance, I am giddy about counseling.
Our counselor looks first at me, then at Justin, smiles and asks, “Do you love each other?” Justin looks at me and I look at Justin and we say, moon-eyed, “Yes.” And before the word is halfway out our counselor says, “No. No you don’t.”
He proceeds to tell us that we have no idea what love is and that we won’t know for another ten or twenty years.
Some people think love is linear. That it begins in one place and travels a straight path to somewhere better. Every year it gets brighter, truer, fuller. I think that’s what my counselor meant when he said we didn’t love each other. He meant, compared to this, what’s to come is so much better. And he was right.
And he was wrong.
I’ve found being in love to be more like the American Stock Market—upward trending with spikes, flatlines, and the occasional dip. It’ll make you dance. It’ll make you cry.
Some days the love my husband and I share seems a reservoir, so big it could surely never be exhausted. Some days, we take straws to the puddles.
Some days I look back at Justin and Jennifer in the chairs and think, “You have no idea how good it will be.” And some days I wish I was back in the chair.
Every day we love each other, but some days are harder than others. Some days are cluttered. Some days are dark. Some days the distance between us seems a mile, a continent, a universe.
On the best days our love, strong and deep and rich, binds us like gorilla glue, lighting our lives like fluorescents in Wal-Mart—completely, aggressively.
That’s the way my walk with God goes, too. I’d like to say it’s been a staircase, every day closer, every day more in love. But that would be a lie. It’s been much more exciting and a good deal less predictable than climbing stairs.
I remember the moment after I was baptized, sitting up in my bed that night at the back of my grandfather’s house, all the lights off, feeling so close to God I could practically reach out and touch him, my skin tingling, my face in a perpetual, muscle-straining smile. And I remember the day two weeks later when I cussed during a basketball game and wept, feeling ashamed and estranged. And I remember the power of my first confession and the freedom I found in God’s forgiveness.
I’ve felt those same feelings on a loop for years—the same skin-tingling, God-is-here exhilaration during a worship service or around a campfire or beside a friend, the same shame and hands-in-the-air frustration when, once again, my flesh got the best of me. The joy and reunion of forgiveness, like, forgive me, but like the joy of makeup sex with my husband, everything forgotten, bonds repaired, togetherness resumed.
It’s hard loving a person, being a person. And it’s amazing, too. The same goes for loving God. Sometimes we’re terrific at it. Sometimes not so much. Sometimes it has nothing to do with us—it’s just fireworks fantastic.
What I’ve learned in 18 years of loving Justin and 23 years of loving God is that love, true love, has its seasons.
You might be thinking, All this sounds truthy, but is it true? After all, you haven’t quoted any scripture. And I’d say it’s so true, and I haven’t quoted scripture because I haven’t figured out how to shrink the entire story of the Bible into a blog-post-sized paragraph.
I think of Moses who saw God but then struck the rock, never to taste the honey-flavored promise but who died on a mountain, his Father there to guide him home. I think of David who slew a giant but was slain by lust, who cried for forgiveness on his knees and found it in a son God named “loved by the Lord.” Of Peter, jumping out of a boat, so drawn to his Savior, seconds later sinking in knee-high doubts, who denied Jesus three times only to later profess his love again and again and again, “You know I love you.”
The story of man’s love for God isn’t without its bumps. And it’s a beautiful story.
So I want you to give yourself a break when your relationship with God isn’t smooth-sailing, goosepimples-great. Stop holding your love up to some perfect standard, comparing today to yesterday or yours to hers. Remember, love grows and changes and sometimes wains. Remember love is patient. It always hopes and always perseveres.
When love is hard, keep trying. When love seems far, keep reaching. When love dims, keep striking the match.
For the next few days, maybe weeks, every post will explore how to strike the match, offering counsel on deepening our love for the God Who is Love.
Don’t miss yesterday’s post, part I in the series, "Living in Love With God: What I’ve Learned as a Childhood Sweetheart"