main menu

November 19, 2015

when is the time for love?

When my sister was dating her now-husband long distance, she told me that she would send him cards in the mail. "What kinds of cards?" my twenty-three-year-old self asked her. "Romantic cards, of course!" was her enlightening reply. If my memory does not fail me, I groaned and made gagging sounds...because I was extremely mature at the time.

But how the mighty have fallen! Now I do things that would make others choke a little, like designing our engagement photo album to include favourite verses from Solomon's famous love song throughout it. (Cue gagging sound here.) I put the phrases in chronologically next to photos of us looking lovey-dovey one year ago this week.

Jokes aside though, as I made the album, I imagined myself telling our children or others our love story, and I thought that including phrases from Song of Solomon might raise good conversation about how (contrary to popular belief) God is a huge fan of amazing romance. He simply put guidelines on romance, so that it can be just that: amazing.

In putting the verses in order, I placed "Do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases" first. That line is repeated three times in the Song of Solomon (chapters 2, 3 and 8) . It's an interesting line, and a few other translations of the Hebrew use words like "....until the time is right" or "....before the proper time" to qualify this mysterious yet important instruction about romantic love.

It seems that Solomon is saying that romantic love should lie dormant in us until the particular time that is right for love. But how do we know when the time for love has come? How do we explain that to someone else? How do we so often get it wrong? There is something mysterious about romantic love; Solomon himself said it was something he "did not understand". Really, who could explain the sudden urges lovebirds feel to Skype for five hours straight and then wrap things up with half an hour of texting...with someone they've only known for a few months? Or spend thousands of dollars on international visits and a diamond ring? (Of course, I'm speaking only of things others have told me they've done while in love—wink, wink!)

I've realized that the easiest way to discuss the proper time for romantic love is by saying when it is not time. That is much more obvious.

My husband says that the clearest indicator that it is not time for love is if you're not loving God (which equates to obeying God). When a person is thinking of romance and marriage, he or she should also be in a healthy, holy place spiritually, where he can make wise decisions. If he's not, its likely that what he stirs up will not be godly love at all.

God's Word also states so clearly that it is not the right time for love when:
  1. ...the person you wish to love is married to someone else. (Enough said).
  2. ...the person you wish to love is of the same gender as you. This article reminded me that it is never unreasonable to bring this topic up, even with believers, because in our fallen world this difficulty is arises more often than we think.
  3. ...the person you wish to love is not a genuine believer. Throughout the Bible it is taught that those who are committed to following the true God should not mix themselves up in romantic relationships with those who aren't. In the Old Testament it was delineated over and over that the Israelites were not to intermarry with Canaanite or foreign women. Unfortunately, Solomon let love be stirred up in his heart with pagan women and crashed because of it (which shows the power of ungodly romance to work destruction in every area of a person's life, just like godly romance can work good in every area). In the New Testament the injunction is clear, to not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. People who don't share your faith should fall into the "undateable" category for you, which means not even toying with the idea of being more than friends. (To put it bluntly, don't even answer the first text).
  4. or both partners are unable to control their own bodies.  Paul is blunt in 1 Thessalonians 4: "It is God's will that you should be sanctified: that you should avoid sexual immorality; that each of you should learn to control your own body in a way that is holy and honourable, not in passionate lust like the pagans who do not know God; and that in this matter no one should wrong or take advantage of his brother or sister. The Lord will punish all those who commit such sins... For God did not call us to be impure, but to live a holy life. Therefore, anyone who rejects this instruction does not reject a human being but God, the very God who gives you his Holy Spirit." This is not talking about just some technical upholding of virginity itself before the vows (to which Christian purity seems to have been reduced), it is talking about acting in a way that is "holy and honourable." When people practice impurity, serious damage is done. Outside of marriage, erotic physical love is not loving, and outside of marriage it is always wrong.
  5. ...marriage is not possible in the near future. From the above point, one might think that Paul did not understand the nature sexual desire. How realistic is it to expect holiness between two people who attracted to each other? Actually, Paul understood, and he said "if they cannot control themselves, they should marry." Solomon describes the undoing power of romantic love warns that it should not be stirred up before marriage can quickly follow. Stirring it up without a serious desire to pursue marriage if possible leads to #4 (above) and to broken hearts.
  6. ....wise believers warn you that it is not the time. Solomon writes that "in the multitude of counsellors there is safety." If one or more wise people show concern, listen to them. It's much harder to confront than to condone, so if wise, balanced people risk confronting you about your romantic relationship, there's probably a valid concern.
It's no wonder Solomon repeated this warning about timing three times in his short book. We'll all heard stories of men and women who are deeply hurt because love has been stirred or awakened "before it pleased". Hurt can happen in a godly relationship, but devastating romantic heartbreaks should be the exception instead of the rule when we follow God's wisdom. While we often lament the difficulty of singleness for those who long to know romantic love, even more painful is the struggle of those who dip into the wells of romantic love in a way that is contrary to God's wisdom and timing. God offers forgiveness, but what has been sown is still reaped, to some degree. Let romantic love lie dormant (even if you've stirred it up in the past) by (1) focusing on the Person and the Word of Truth and (2) avoiding things that awaken desire before it is time. The guidelines God gives us offer assurance, so we can know when the time is right to awaken God's excellent gift of romantic love.

If I were to flip through my engagement album with my child or a friend and see that oft-repeated line: "do not stir up or awaken love until it pleases...", I could not tell them with 100% certainty that this or that is the time for love. I could not set a date on a calendar or predict if a relationship they're in will "work out." I could probably not select "the one" for them. Solomon probably couldn't either. There's something about that spark that is mysterious both in its timing and in its ability to set off a younger sibling's gag reflex. But it's a lot easier to spot the signs that it is not the time for love. If those warning signs are not seen, then perhaps this is the time to stir up or to awaken love—to marry the one God brought to you at the proper time. I like to imagine God watching godly romance and cheering—"Yes! This! This is what I meant for you to enjoy! See, isn't it fun?"

"Sit still, my daughter, until you know how the matter will turn out."
—Naomi to Ruth

"His wedding...the day of the gladness of his heart."
—from Song of Solomon 3

Note: One of the most down-to-earth, Biblical books I've 
read about dating is Holding Hands, Holding Hearts
This article from Boundless relates to point #5: From 'Hi' to 'I Do' in One Year.

November 12, 2015

from why to how to whom

She was pregnant, she told us. My mom asked how she got pregnant—not a question you usually need to ask, but in this case it seemed natural. As far as we knew, she had no boyfriend, and she certainly didn't have a husband. "At a party," she announced. The frizzy-haired girl with a broad smile, only thirteen, seemed happy for the extra attention her news and later her baby garnered for her. That snippet of her story stayed with me—she was a child carrying a child.

Around the same time, Mom told me that a family friend gave her some tapes about godly parenting. The friend had bought the material when expecting to have her own children. But as the years passed and no children were born to them, she finally asked my mom to give the resources away for her. My tenderhearted mom told me that disposing of those materials almost made her cry, because in her hands she held a reminder of her friend's disappointment.

Before I left home, I learned about one of the great ironies of life: well-educated, loving women who would seem to make wonderful mothers remain childless...and frizzy-haired thirteen-year-olds who hardly know how to read and write produce children like it's the easiest activity on the planet.

In our circle of friends here there are two couples for whom having babies has not been easy. They have been married nearly ten or fifteen years and unable to have children. Both are very invested in our local fellowship. Recently we had a thanksgiving service, and people were invited to share testimonies of the good things God has done in the last year. The first couple delicately announced that they are pregnant—after nine years of waiting. The second couple had no similar announcement to make. In fact, when it was the second couple's turn to share, the wife was weeping. Elation and sorrow often sit only a few rows apart, but the space between them can seem cavernous. 

The first question that comes to mind is, "God, why?" Why is the irresponsible teenager's womb healthier than that of the responsible lady in her thirties? Why did the couple that helps with the outreach work get pregnant when the couple that helps with the teenagers did not? And it doesn't stop there. Why does the neighbour's husband make more money than mine? Why does my coworker have more desirable talents? Why is my best friend happily married when I am not? Why did my car repair use up all my savings? Why can't my boss be kinder to me? Why do I struggle with my weight? Why do I have to move again? Why can't my family get along better? Why did my professor make my research project extra difficult? Why, why, why?

But maybe a better question is "God, how?" How does God say I should live in the circumstances in which I find myself? How would God have me respond to the person who has what I do not have? How would I want to be treated if I were in their situation? How does God's Word speak to this situation? How, how, how?

The answer to "Why has God allowed this situation?" is often unclear. Focusing on why often leads to doubt and disobedience because God's plan is not fully understood by me. 

The answer to "How can I please God in this situation?" is usually clear. Focusing on how leads to growth if I respond in obedience to His revealed plan for my life.

His instructions are plentiful, but the first how that comes to mind is His command to "rejoice with those who rejoice, and mourn with those who mourn". He wants the expectant mother to shed tears with her infertile sister, but He also wants the barren woman to express sincere joy at her sister's pregnancy news. If He has commanded it, He also will empower us to cross the aisle or the cavern to find a place where happiness and pain can embrace.

When I have no answers to the whys, I am tempted to ignore the clear hows. I don't want to obey unless I know a reason first. But another of the great ironies of life is this: if I am not obeying what is clear, the unclear will certainly remain hidden from me. As A. W. Tozer wrote, "Truth will not give itself to a rebel." When I obey the hows, I may begin to see a few more of the whys....

...but even if I don't, in obeying the Truth, I find a much better Answer—the Person for whom and to whom and through whom everything exists. I learn that He is both loving and trustworthy.
Laying aside my whys,
as I live out the hows
I display how I answer the ultimate question:
whom do I trust?

"Will not the Judge of all the earth do right?"
—Abraham to the Lord

"It is the LORD's will. Let Him do what He thinks is best." 
—Eli to Samuel, of the LORD

"To whom shall we go?
You have the words of eternal life."
—Simon Peter to his Master

"It is always possible to do what He tells us."
—Elisabeth Elliot

There is neither Jew nor Gentile, 
neither slave nor free, 
nor is there male and female, 
[barren or pregnant, single or married,
rich or poor, talented or untalented, 
fat or thin, healthy or unhealthy]
for you are all one in Christ Jesus.
—Paul to the Galatians
(Words in brackets my own)