#1 Secret to a Successful Relationship1:44 AM
I used to lie awake at nights wondering about this mysterious thing called a relationship. It seemed so far-fetched -- what nut would ask me to be his girlfriend? -- that I didn't think about the mechanics of it too much. Still, I thought about it enough to be confused. How do you know if he's the right one? How can you tell whether emotion or Jesus is leading? How do you trust someone who can potentially hurt you beyond all previous pain? How much heart can you give away before you break the emotional purity rule?
It seemed ridiculously complicated, no matter how many lists I scribbled out or courtship books I read or personal stories I heard told. The personal stories made it even worse because they followed no particular pattern. Two similar couples -- one breaks up badly, the other makes it without a hitch.
When I first fell in love, I tremblingly asked everyone I could: Please, tell me what I'm doing wrong so I don't mess up this beautiful thing. Please, give me the secret. I need to know.
Nobody could tell me. Of course, they told me things, things that usually contradicted the next person's advice: "I tell girls all the time, 'Make sure you guys are similar or the relationship's not going to work out'" versus "Differences are never the problem. Differences are the blessings." "He needs to be x, y and z" versus "The only Biblical requirements for marriage are that you're both Christians and you love each other" versus "What does love have to do with it?" (My spiritual journey spans the ultra-fundamental to ultra-liberal, so it's no wonder I get conflicting answers.)
I asked the same thing of God, with a desperate threat: "Don't you dare leave me alone in this thing. You know me and love -- we don't get along so well."
I like His answer better, an answer given through many tears, hard nights, long prayers and combing through Scripture. It was not spoken audibly, it didn't leap off the pages of the Bible, it didn't come from the lips of an older, wiser person who allegedly knows what she's doing -- but I know it's true. It's been proven true.
You want to know the #1 secret to a successful relationship? I'll tell you: Love.
No. Seriously. It's as simple as that. Compare that deceptively simple answer to everything else we've been told: compatibility, meeting a certain criteria, just "knowing," following these rules and principles.
By love, I don't mean fluttery feelings. I mean the gritty determination to tackle any obstacle, humble oneself beyond previous capability, and go out of one's way to let one's significant other know he's loved. By love, I mean being patient with a fellow sinner who for whatever insane reason decides to be patient with me. I mean showing kindness in little things -- letting him go to bed early instead of keeping him up on the phone all night, offering gentle words, not making fun of things he's sensitive to. I mean allowing him to win arguments that don't mean anything, reading the Old Testament in KJV because he wants to (even though everyone knows the ESV is infinitely better), letting him read aloud The Art of War and talk about whatever he wants to even if it's not my first choice. I mean asking forgiveness quickly, talking things through immediately, not holding grudges or pouting to get his attention, not demanding he make the first move to reconcile or make me feel loved or fulfill any other expectation I fail to outline. I mean not snapping at him or throwing hissy fits and expecting him to just take it (even if he does) because he's supposed to "understand" me. I mean not mentioning minor things that annoy me or go against my personal convictions or preferences. I mean giving the benefit of the doubt and talking things through before accusing him that he's doing it wrong. I mean not telling him all my negative thoughts and whinings but instead hoping for the best and keeping up my joy, just like Jesus commands me.
By love, I mean just that. . .love. Not a crush. Not feelings. But love.
I often wonder why my boy loves me and why I love him and why we chose to love one another even though we're different and we don't always understand each other and I sometimes always cry way too often. I wonder if things are going to work out. I wonder if this is God's will.
You know what? I don't need to know those things. I just need to love and keep loving -- when things are easy, when things are hard, when things make no sense -- because love is always the right choice. If it isn't right for us to go on, God will let us know. But a romantic relationship follows the same rules as any other relationship: love. Put the other first. Love God first. Repent of sins, make up, try again. Go to the offending person first before gossiping about him to your friends.
That's why God didn't include a "what he must be" list and a how-to manual for dating in the back of the Bible. He gave us His example of His love. He told us to love one another. He expects us to extrapolate the obvious: Love is love. You begin to love those who you love, because love's just that powerful.
And He knows a secret we don't: to love like this requires Jesus' love. Love sanctifies us. It humbles us. It causes us to recognize how sinful we are and how much we need a Savior. It makes us realize how much we need God to step in and love in those spaces where we don't know how to love. He doesn't want us to have all the secrets and steps to a perfect relationship, because you cannot find them, cannot learn them, cannot perfect them until you go directly to God Himself. That's what He wants, and that's why He ordained love.
That's why the ultimate secret is Love -- which is to say, God. For God is Love.