"So this is love. So this is what makes all of life divine. I’m all aglow, and now I know, the key to all heaven is mine..."
It’s overwhelming. In fact, the air is thick with it. Everywhere I look, I am bombarded by illusions of “love.” It’s in the music, the movies, the marketing—it’s even in the food. I see young people who are attracted to one another merely for their looks, or for the ego boost they get from all the attention they receive (isn’t that what flirtation is all about?).
I see it in movies where the beautiful girl falls instantly in love with the Brad Pitt look-alike. The fact that he’s a “bad boy” who she needs to make “good” only adds power and romance to the story. Or what about the song where the man croons over the girl he saw for only a moment? Without any knowledge of her character, he knows instantly that she is the one for him! The fact that he doesn’t even know her name is supposed to be proof of some “magical spark” and convince us of his deep and profound love. Easy come, easy go.
Though stories like these might appeal to our sense of romance (or maybe an amused eye roll), we need to recognize that we are being wooed by a superficial, self-focused, unrealistic, and empty view of “love.” In fact, sometimes I feel like I’m being indoctrinated by an evil fake—by a false definition of love.
Dictionary.com defines love as “a profoundly tender, passionate affection for another person.” I think that comes naturally as a result of real love, but it doesn’t start there. The Bible defines loves in this way:
“Love suffers long and is kind; love does not envy; love does not parade itself, is not puffed up; does not behave rudely, does not seek its own, is not provoked, thinks no evil; does not rejoice in iniquity, but rejoices in the truth; love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.” – 1 Corinthians 13:4-8a
If a man really loves a woman, he won’t risk her heart or her purity by pursuing her in a way that is outside of God’s will. He won’t play with her emotions or tempt her affections simply to satisfy some sort of fleshly desire inside himself. In fact, if he’s acting in love, he won’t attempt to stir her affections at all, outside of the bounds of a lawful commitment.
If a young woman is truly acting in love toward her brother (yes, he is her brother), she won’t risk his heart or his purity by seeking to be pursued in a way that is outside of God’s will. She won’t play with his emotions or (by her actions, words, or dress) tempt him to think of her in an inappropriate way simply to satisfy some sort of fleshly desire inside herself.
Love is all about dying to self and putting others first. I think self-gratification may be the very opposite of love. True love is all wrapped up in humility, gentleness, truth, and long suffering. True love resembled or mirrors the love we receive from Christ. Love isn’t focused on the self-satisfying ideal of what someone looks like or how good they make us feel about ourselves. Love isn’t deceived by flattery.
Love is not a noun; it is a verb—an action. I think that Paul Tripp words it well in his book What Did you Expect? He says:
Love calls you to be silent when you want to speak, and to speak when would like to be silent. Love calls you to act when you would really like to wait and to wait when you would really like to act. Love calls you to stop when you really want to continue and it calls you to continue when you feel like stopping. Love requires you to lead when you really would like to follow and to follow when you really want to lead. Love again and again calls you away from your instincts and your comfort. Love always requires personal sacrifice. Love calls you to give up your life.
I recall a time when a young man showed me a lot of attention. A lot. And I don’t mean that he simply talked to me or spent a bit of time with me. I mean that he openly and constantly flirted with me—to the point where others noticed and I was strangely uncomfortable.
Still, deep down, I was flattered when he singled me out above all the other girls. He said all the right words and made me feel really good about myself—it was an exhilarating feeling. When he complimented me, I felt beautiful; when he picked me out of a crowd I felt special; when he showered me with constant attention I felt like I mattered. Though I wasn’t at all interested in him in a romantic way, the attention he gave me made me feel good about myself. In a way, I was using him.
In my soul, in my very being, I felt the desperate need to love and be loved. That longing for romance was in my heart. I wanted to matter to someone. Though I have an amazing relationship with my father, I still desired the love of a man – a man who would love only me, who would cherish and desire only me…and me alone. Don’t most of us have that desire?
But, like a sugar or caffeine high, the drug of false love causes a hard crash—and depending upon how long and to what extent we’ve entertained our flesh this way, it can be a long fall to the ground.
You see, just like I wasn’t interested in him, this young man didn’t care about me. He didn’t love me (or the other girls he treated this way) as Christ loves me. He wasn’t striving to protect my heart or my mind. No, he was casually using me to make himself feel good—to build his ego and to satisfy his fleshly, prideful desire for attention. That’s what flirtation is—a self-gratifying game of “boost the ego.”
In a surreal sort of way, it hurt to watch him suddenly lose interest and almost immediately go on to another girl. This is not because I’d given away my heart, or that I had hoped he would ask to court me. I was hurt because I felt…well, used. Like he had been leading me on for his own amusement and then dropped me when he found someone more attractive and more interesting. By not being on guard to my own flesh, I had set myself up for rejection. In my heart, even if for a moment, I had allowed a person to define my worth.
When I realized how foolish I had been, I have to admit, I cried. Not over a broken heart, because I hadn’t given my heart away in the least, but because I was insulted by the way I had been treated. I was irritated that I hadn’t recognized it right away! And I was mad at myself for stupidly (and selfishly) enjoying the attention of a fake.
You see, I think I can safely say that all of us long to be loved for who we are. We want to be loved in spite of our awkward tendencies, our imperfect body shape, or the silly things we sometimes say. We long to be cherished and desired for who we are—to be loved, protected, and valued.
There have been times in my life when I’ve wondered if there is a man out there who could ever truly love me in spite of my imperfectness. Have you ever had those thoughts? It is not like I’ve ever been desperate to be married. In fact, I love my life just as it is. It’s just that I sometimes wonder if anyone (outside my own family) will really want/love me after truly getting to know everything about me.
I think maybe, without even realizing it, this has been my secret fear for some time. Recently, after observing another group display of the idle “he likes, she likes” pattern, those melancholy thoughts of not being “good enough” somehow came upon me again.
But, at that moment, something amazing happened—in the middle of these thoughts, the Lord revealed something beautiful to me…something that spoke and ministered to me in a million different ways.
So, this is…God
It was late evening. The sky was already dark and sprinkled with numberless beautiful stars. The radio was playing softly in the background. I hadn’t really been paying attention to the music, mostly because I was too self-absorbed in discouraging thoughts—thoughts of not being “good enough,” lovable enough, pretty enough, or clever enough.
It was while these thoughts were whirling through my head that my ears perked up. The song, I Love You This Big, was being played on the radio. The song itself was sweet, but nothing all that profound. However, as usual, God took some ordinary thing and made it spectacular. As I listened to the chorus, my eyes stayed fixed on the brilliant stars that highlighted the blanket of darkness above me.
I love you this big
Eyes have never seen this big
No-one’s ever dreamed this big
And I’ll spend the rest of my life
Explaining what words cannot describe…
I realize this is written from one person to another, but as I listened, it was like God was speaking words of love to me. Here I was hurting because I felt unlovable, unattractive, and sometimes used by others, then God allowed this song to come on the radio.
I sat back and let a few tears run down my cheeks. I knew that the Lord was speaking to me. He was reminding me of what I’d already been told a million times – that man can never fill that void in us that is reserved for God alone. My God is a jealous God. I don’t need the attention of a created man to make me feel complete or loved – I am loved by the One who created them all—and who created and chose me! And, as I gazed upon the stars which He made, I felt a sudden peace. It was just so, so overwhelming, and so beautiful. I wish you could have been there. I wish that I could share that beautiful moment with each of you – because in that moment I felt more loved and more wanted then I’ve ever felt before. El Roi loves me!
“Whom have I in heaven but You? And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You. My flesh and my heart fail; but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Psalm 73:25-26)
My worth is not measured by whether or not an earthly man loves or admires me. I have been pursued by the Lover of my soul—the One in whose image I am made. The One who created me, who knows everything about me, who watches me stumble and fall – and still loves me! He loves me!
We love Him because He first loved us. (1 John 4:19)
The powerful, beautiful, wonderful Creator of all things loves me! He holds me, comforts me, showers me with blessings. In my clouded thinking, I seemed to almost forget. I have Someone who not only loves me, but who proved it by dying for me, in all my unloveliness!
I’m talking to all my friends here: I beg you – don’t fall for superficial love! Don’t fall into the worldly and immature “he likes her” and “she likes him” silliness. Don’t be deceived by flirtatious fickleness, or by men or women who are paying attention to you just to feed their own egos ( Romans 8:1, 12:3, 1 Thessalonians 4:6).
Does that young man actively love you (by love’s true definition), or is he flattering his own ego—appealing to your flesh? Will he make a faithful, godly husband? Will he be a good father and example to your children? Ask yourself what it is about him (really) that you find attractive?
Guys ask yourself the same thing about that girl who makes your heart skip a beat. What is it (really) that attracts you to her? Be honest with yourself. What is it that makes you think she might make a good wife or mother to your children?
Don’t let popular music, Hollywood, or pop culture deceive or define you (Romans 12:2). If you are lonely and empty, if you feel unlovable and unwanted, remember we’re all unworthy. Remember Christ’s sacrifice for you on the cross…the very picture of true love (John 15:13).
Turn to Jesus. He will fill that void—that hole in your heart that is shaped only for Him. His love never fails – and it’s not based on how cute you are, how smart you are, or how “good” you are. In fact, Jesus Himself is the one who transforms our unloveliness into something beautiful indeed. Yes…this is love.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints,—I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! —and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
- Elizabeth Barrett Browning, in Sonnets from the Portuguese, No. LXIII.