[This article is dedicated to Emma Keithley. May you take to heart my thoughts, as your older brother, that you may not make the same mistakes that I have. May your love be wiser and greater than mine.]
Valentine’s Day is a week away! To reassure you, this is not another article on the mindless consumerism of America. I will not be talking to you about the corporate conspiracy theories in the creation of marketable holidays so that makers of little candy hearts and over-the-top cheesy greeting cards can meet their quota to stay in business another year. Nor will this be the rant of a young, single male on everything that is wrong with our culture’s take on relationships and love. No, this will be a celebration of the beauty of romance.
First a disclaimer: I am under the influence of more old school romance. I don’t know if I watched too many old movies or read too many old books, but I am uneasy about some of the more modern “romantic comedies” or romantic stories that are popular today. I am not even sure if the way I see romantic relationships is necessarily the “right” way to do things; it just appeals to me more and I believe I have good reason, which have come my way, to be honest, at the cost of my failed attempts with romance.
One aspect of romance that I believe everyone recognizes as a wonderful thing is the intimacy built between two people. There is a certain comfort that comes from having someone know you as you know them. There are many songs that speak to this (I am sure a few lyrics are even popping into your head right now), but one that I think of in this aspect of intimacy is a song by The Gaslight Anthem that goes, “I won’t say nothing cause that’s how I know your heart/ Who else can say that about you, baby? / Who else can say that about you, now? / Who else can take all your blood and your curses? / Nobody I’ve seen a hanging around”. Intimacy upheld rightly is the avenue of security that both men and women search for in any relationship.
Intimacy is sacred. We see in the Bible that intimacy in marriage is meant to be upheld to the utmost degree—whether it is sexual or relational. I do not have enough credence in history to talk about the biblical culture and its view on romantic relationships, but I do know that the Bible is not quiet about the pleasures and pains of intimacy upheld and broken within marriage specifically. We have stories of prophets marrying whores, kings committing adultery, men working to earn their wives. We also have the apostles direct epistles giving us guidelines on how best to honor our spouses and how to foster true-to-gospel love in our romance. Intimacy is a key component in loving anyone.
This is why relationships are so great and so terrible, because the intimacy found in romance can be a healing experience or it can be a damaging one, but is that not the excitement in love that the adventurous romantic inside us looks for? With the Christian understanding of grace this is one of the greatest tests of lovers—we search for someone that we can trust to build that intimacy with, and eventually, we must realize that to some degree they will fail at that intimacy. Depending on the situation, the two people are at a bypass; either grace of reunion or grace of reconciliation and separation. In the case of reunion, that intimacy is fostered even greater because the person whose intimacy is betrayed is bestowing a second chance, which is humbling to the betrayer. The betrayed is saying that despite what you have done I still want you close. What an awesome thing!
The second part of relationships, and one a little more unique to my view on relationships, I feel, is intentionality. The younger generations in the church have adopted this ideal of “pursuit” in relationships. I think this idea comes from the outspoken and trending sermons of Mark Driscoll; however I do not know the exact origin of this idea, but there is something special when you know that a person is taking focused and planned steps to foster a relationship. I do not think this is something only men need to hear, but women as well. It takes self-awareness, and awareness and knowledge of the other person to be able to do that type of planning and focusing that makes romance special. In a chapel at Moody Bible Institute- Spokane last year, Mr. Churchwell spoke of loving rightly by using the analogy of him and his wife. His wife would feel loved if he one day brought home some of the world’s finest chocolates for her, because this showed that he was thinking about her and wanted to get something nice for her. But chocolates are not his wife’s favorite things. If he really wanted to let his wife know that he loved and knew her (intimacy), he would bring home a bouquet of beautiful wild flowers. That is intentionality.
Intentionality implies a few things. First it implies that one must know what they want, whether it be as specific as a person or as general as things that they appreciate in a person. It would be ideal for a person to know themselves well enough to have an idea of what they are looking for in a person, or if they find it, to start being intentional with a specific person. Intentionality is fostered in reflection of values and being honest with oneself about one’s ability to handle the responsibility of the intimacy of a relationship. The only way that intentionality can mean much is with the use of thought. Intentionality is what makes romance the area where the heart and head of people convene more often than any other aspect of life. It’s the beauty, the danger, of this type of love.
Implied also in this sort of intentionality is that not all intentionality is the same. Coupled with different levels of intimacy, intentionality means different things. In initial stages it shows the first forms of attraction and interest. But as the relationship grows and the more intimate two people become the intentionality becomes more and more paramount. It goes from meaning something just because of the gesture to meaning something because of what the gesture is. Bringing flowers or making food for that special someone shows intention, but bringing her favorite flowers or cooking his favorite meal shows intention and intimacy.
These are just the two things that I enjoy about romance. Intimacy coupled with intentionality is what people really want in relationships, but either we have been hurt or we are scared that the cost and/or risk is not worth it. I am not here to convince you, or anyone for that matter, to jump into a relationship. For many of you reading this you still need God’s divine timing to help heal and prepare you for the horrifying and awesome experience that is a romantic relationship. For others of you that are enjoying this type of relationship, I hope that you have taken the moment to appreciate what you have.