When I was younger, my hope and prayer was that someday, my prince would come, and we would fall desperately, madly in love, and live happily ever after. (Yeah, thanks a lot Disney!) In my mind, this meant that somewhere in the world, there was this perfect person out there who I was meant to spend my life with.
In high school, my mother bought me every Christian dating book there was, hot off the press, in hopes that I would learn from the wisdom of these authors and someday marry a wonderful man who loved Jesus. Some of these books were completely lame, but some of them actually grabbed my attention when I realized the authors had actually managed to find "the one" for them. I think I got it into my pretty little head that if these people had found the loves of their lives by loving God as much as possible and following the strict rules they had laid out for themselves, that maybe if I followed the formula, I would get to have a love that looked like theirs.
I remember one summer - I think it was after my sophomore year in high school - I heard a woman give a talk about relationships at a Christ in Youth (CIY) conference. She said she had made a list and prayed for her future husband every day for X number of years. One day, she met this boy, who she hardly knew, but was quickly enamored with. Some immensely short period of time passed, and this boy asked her to marry him, and as she was thinking and praying about this boy, she went looking for her list, buried somewhere in a drawer. She was alone, and yet heard a voice say, "You don't need it anymore." Now I'm sure I'm forgetting all kinds of details that make this story seem less crazy, but after hearing that story, my heart so badly wanted something similar.
I don't remember whether it was before or after hearing that story, but around the age of 16, I made my first list of the attributes I wanted in my "perfect" guy. To give you an idea of the thirty-some traits I listed: He had love God more than life itself, be funny, like dancing, and he had to have "NICE" arms. I think I had good intentions in letting my heart be known before God in the writing of this list, but in doing so, I quickly developed standards that were quite honestly, ridiculous. I promised myself that when it came to marriage, I wouldn't settle for less than God's best for me. And honestly, "God's best" in my mind was probably closer to "what I think is best for me."
After a series of not-so-good dating choices in high school, and being hurt even by boys at bible college, I resigned myself to the jaded idea that maybe my prince charming got hit by a bus. I still hoped he would come, but figured maybe he was delayed. That maybe I didn't have my heart completely in order yet, but that when I did, Jesus would reward my devotion with the perfect husband.
Now, approaching 25 and still being unmarried and having fought through more than I had ever hoped of the messy side of love, I think I'm finally willing to rearrange my teenage beliefs and theology on love. I think I'm left with way more questions rather than being closer to the answers. But I think I am recognizing truth when I hear it or see it, and taking note of those moments, like putting together a puzzle one piece at a time.
I had a light bulb moment a few months ago: I think I have been looking my whole life for my other half, my soul mate, my best of best friends. I think to some extent, I've been looking for a clone. A mirror image of myself. Or as one of my roommates recently said, a better version of myself - someone who is everything I wish I was. I wanted someone to completely "get" me, to share my passions and finish my sentences and spend hours upon end discussing life's endless possibilities. Sure, we'd have a blast. But would we ever get anything done? Would we know how to stretch and challenge each other to become better people? At nearly 25, I am seeing that maybe my "ideal" wasn't completely healthy.
Some time ago, I retired the notion of looking for someone to "complete" me, and reassigned that role to Jesus. I think I was somewhat on the right track, but in this life, in my sinful human flesh, I don't know if my heart will ever be fully and completely satisfied and my every need will be met with just Jesus. I mean, that is the goal of course, but it is a lofty one. I am part of a church that deeply values community, and encourages and expects its members to literally live life together. In this way of intentional way of living, I am more readily recognizing my strengths and weaknesses.
Now maybe more than ever, I am able to appreciate these people and the unique way they have been designed. The "body of Christ" makes sense to me. Eyes and hands and feet all perform different functions, but without the coexistence of these parts, the body would not be able to perform as it is designed. As I have learned the beauty and value of committing my life to this group of people that are purposing to seek the peace of our city in every way possible, I have come to realize that I need them. And if my future husband meets all of my needs, why would I need anyone else? Why would I need the church? Why would I need friendships or extended family?
When I moved to Knoxville over a year ago, I knew I wanted to get involved and connected in a local church to plant deep roots and not just "church hop" like I did throughout my first three years of my college undergraduate career. Making the commitment to joining a church is a lot like signing a marriage contract. Becoming a member is saying I am not just an individual, I am a part of something bigger. I am responsible for the care of other people, and they in turn will care for me. In the case of my church membership ritual, there were even vows involved, stating that I would pursue a life of holiness, with God's help.
I should probably admit that commitment has terrified me. While living in Philadelphia during my last years of college, I half-jokingly began to refer to myself as a "commitment-phobe." My heart's desire was to love and be loved deeply, without reserve, but past experiences had allowed me to build walls and hold any guy who tried at arm's length.
I have come to realize this commitment issue showed up in my spiritual life as well. I never committed to a church because I was still looking for one that was "the perfect fit" or had all the things I valued and was looking for. While All Souls is by no means a perfect church (there is no such thing!), I quickly learned its heart and vision to seek the peace of Knoxville and delve into God's word and invite the Holy Spirit to speak and be in genuine community and practice the arts. As I looked at this church, I realized that it was an answered prayer. That the places God had been leading me on my lifelong journey with Him had led me here. I was able to take the plunge because I had been paying attention to the desires God had been steadily placing in my heart, and I recognized them as they were being recalled and realized.
God doesn't promise that his beautiful but flawed bride called the church won't fail. That it won't mess up and at times, break your heart. He doesn't promise that of marriage either. It is largely a leap of faith. The imagery of the church as the bride of Christ makes so much sense to me. I am learning, both with God and my patient boyfriend, what it looks like to stop running and being propelled by fear and that commitment actually can be a beautiful thing. I'm learning that whether its in church or romance, it's not all about me. (Isn't that a lifelong lesson?!) On both fronts, I am learning to recognize where God is showing up and breaking through and saying,
"Hey, do you remember that dream? That desire? I'm fulfilling it. It looks nothing like you thought it would, but you can let go of those standards you built up for yourself. What I have for you is so much better. So much more than your wildest dreams. "
So I'm burying the fairy tales. Reality can be beautiful, too. I am learning what committed love looks like and I will love, deeply and fully and passionately, with God's help.