Fully Loved on Valentine's Day
by Stephanie Lane
This past Sunday was the day of love, or at least it was Valentine’s Day, which may conjure up feelings of love or extreme contempt, depending on who you are. I’ve always enjoyed Valentine’s Day, not necessarily for grand gestures, but rather for the excuse to celebrate something meaningful and fun. And, also, the chocolate. Candy companies really outdo themselves on this holiday.
My husband Greg and I don’t usually do a lot to celebrate, but, this year, one thing we are doing is taking a tiny step to refocus on our marriage. We are six and a half years into our marriage and a little over four years into being parents. Perhaps like others, we’ve gotten into “the groove”. This groove is a pretty smooth path for getting through our days and weeks - we make schedules, manage the kids, work, make time for getting in runs, and get most of the necessary things done. Grooves are great, and comfortable. But sometimes in the groove it is easy to forget the foundation of our marriage.
That all changed last year. Nothing dramatic happened. I just impulse-bought Tim and Kathy Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage: A Couple’s Devotional, excited to read through it with Greg in 2020. But...we never started it. It sat, sad and lonely, on our bookshelf for the entire year. Fast forward to 2021 (thank you Jesus for second chances!), and we are doing it. Each devotional is brief, with just a quote from the book, a reflection, and a thought for prayer, but this book has offered a chance for us to refocus our marriage, which is so critical to our faith and our family.
One of the main discussions in the first few weeks has been the difference between how the world and our culture views marriage, and how God views marriage.
Our culture views marriage as a vehicle for self-fulfillment. There’s a lot of pressure to keep up appearances and make sure you are fulfilled. Reading about this gives me flashbacks to dating in high school. I’m from a relatively “unchurched” area of the country, so I never saw nor experienced dating from a mature Christian teenager’s perspective, seeking a possible future spouse. The goal of dating was to feel special, admired, and loved (and ensuring you didn’t go solo to prom). Bringing this attitude into marriage can be a recipe for disaster. The first year of our marriage was, unintentionally, living in this view. We struggled to adjust, looking for ways to make the other person adapt to our needs and wants, which often ended in fights, tears, and both of our hearts weary and discouraged.
The good news is that God views marriage very differently: as a reflection of Christ’s love for the Church. A covenant from the Lord that binds husband and wife together, marriage is a vehicle used by God for sanctification. As any married person knows, one of the greatest “gifts” of marriage is having your flaws shown to you in a mirror, almost every day, often by the person you love most. Greg and I are incredibly different in the way we think, the way we process problems, and the way we communicate. So, we give ample opportunity for this flaw-featuring to happen. It is so humbling. And often painful, especially in those early days of marriage. But, if we’re open to it, it is also a true opportunity from the Lord to be sanctified and made more like Jesus. And walking through that with a spouse you trust to love you as you go through the messy sanctification? It’s gold.
Another distinction of a biblical view of marriage is in its permanence. I didn’t experience this permanence growing up, so learning and trusting in this has been something I’ve had to learn. It is difficult to trust and grow in fleeting circumstances; but relationships that endure, such as our relationship with our spouse, and with our Lord Jesus, provide solid ground on which to learn, on which to stumble, and on which to ultimately grow deeper and fuller in love.
If you’ve read The Meaning of Marriage, you may remember what is one of my favorite quotes:
“To be loved but not known is comforting but superficial. To be known and not loved is our greatest fear. But to be fully known and truly loved is, well, a lot like being loved by God. It is what we need more than anything. It liberates us from pretense, humbles us out of our self-righteousness, and fortifies us for any difficulty life can throw at us.”
Friends, we are fully known and fully loved by our heavenly Lord. And not just in words. Romans 5:8 says that “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.” Really letting that sink in is overwhelming. And in marriage, we get a chance to live in and reflect this gospel of love in a human relationship - imperfectly, marred with sin, but with that same opportunity for grace and love, and receiving through it a daily reminder of our Father’s greatest love for us.
Compared to many in the church, Greg and I are babies in our marriage (and we thank Jesus for the many who have set examples of Christ-centered marriages for us.) Lord willing, we have a lot of years left to enjoy, toil, and learn in our marriage. And until then, we may celebrate Valentine’s Day, or we may not. But we’ll revel in the gift we have in our marriage, and the greater gift we have in Jesus.