I didn’t have very many girlfriends in high school. I met one girl at the skating rink when I was fifteen. Her infatuation with me lasted for a couple of months and then she decided that she liked one of my friends better. Still, I have warm recollections of the feelings I felt when she was my “girlfriend”. It was magical, unlike anything I’d ever felt before. There was another as well. It lasted for two weeks I think. I had dreams about her for years afterward. She was one of the most beautiful girls I can remember ever knowing, much less being able to call her “girlfriend” for a couple of weeks. I would learn a mere 7 years later that beauty comes much easier for girls at fifteen than twenty-two.
And then there was a relationship with a girl right out of high school. She was a couple of years older than me and was in college to boot, which was a big deal for me at the time. But, as it would turn out, it was only a summer fling for her, and a severely broken heart for me, the first one in fact of such magnitude. I still think of her occasionally.
A couple of years later I entered into a relationship that would last more than a few months. It would, in fact, last for a whole year or thereabouts. I had the same magical feelings that I’d had on those rare occasions before, but this girl didn’t fly away after a few months. She was a sophomore in high school and I was doing time in the Air Force 350 miles away. I would drive home almost every weekend to be with her as much as I could.
That this relationship lasted a year brings me to the point of this letter. It gave me insight into what follows romantic love, or what some might call infatuation. Although I couldn’t have articulated it then, I now know that life is never static. You are always going somewhere which means that you will ever be in transition and process. No matter what you set your hand and mind to, there is a reason behind it, a goal so to speak, a destination. Your relationships with girls will be no different than mine–or anyone else’s for that matter–as far as that’s concerned, so it would behoove you to understand this truth concerning intersex relationships as best as you can at as early of an age as you can, because if you don’t know where you’re going you certainly won’t know how to get there. That was my challenge in life at the time. I didn’t know where I was going, and worse I didn’t know that I didn’t know. In many ways I still had the mind of a child. There were no tomorrows in my world, there were only the todays to live for. And when “tomorrow” did impose itself into my thinking it brought with it fear and loathing.
Ten years later I would learn from the mother of another girlfriend that I was a “Peter Pan.” And even though I was too ignorant at the time to understand what that meant, I now know that Peter Pan was a boy who didn’t want to grow up. So I now accept that the mother of the poor girl I was then dating was dead-on accurate in her description of me. Her daughter would pay a high price for not listening to her mother’s advice to move on.
But back to the point of this letter. As it would turn out that first year-long relationship would expose a deficiency in me beyond being a Peter Pan. I was deficient in that I was simply not capable of loving another human being. My experience in that relationship would become the pattern for all my relationships for many years to come. I would begin with a drug-like high of infatuation, then as the novelty wore off I would move on in search of that one girl who would be able to hold my interest. I did this as if I would forever be a young twenty-something-year-old man with millions of years to kill in my search for a non-existent thing. And worse, my unexamined assumptions of myself were so high that I assumed that this perfect, golden-haired girl would have forsaken all other men in her wait for me. Such was my folly.
It’s amazing how we can learn things when we least expect it and even that we can learn things and not even realize that we’ve learned them until years later. Early in the third decade of my life this happened to me. I had a chance meeting with a fellow slightly older than myself. He was a friend of my roommate and was also an outwardly devout Christian. I’ll never forget our conversation as he sat on his motorcycle in someone’s front yard–I don’t remember whose–on that warm summer day. I can’t remember the entire conversation, but, as these sorts of conversations go, I do remember the one part that drove home a particular point. He was telling me about his upcoming wedding and how his father didn’t approve of it. His father thought he should play the field longer, have experiences with different women, sow his oats as we put it back then. But here was the crux of it all; it was the point that would stick with me even to this day. He shook his head with sadness concerning his father’s desires for him and said, “You see, my father is not capable of loving anyone. He’s never been able to do that.” I didn’t know it then, and I would not know it until I could consider it in retrospect after Jesus filled my own heart, but I was suffering from the same malady. I could not love anyone; anyone that is except myself.
I also now know that this affliction was not common among many, if not most, of my peers. There were plenty of people then who understood and embraced the thoughts of a tomorrow. They could look past the flaws in their fellow human beings as well as themselves. The looming chance of a few added midlife pounds on the object of their affection didn’t threaten their concept of happiness and love, nor did the possibility of the responsibility of children. The thoughts that any one person would be, not only the first but the last person that they would know in a biblical sense of that word, was not a bad thing for them, nor was it scary. On the contrary, it was a wonderful thing. The bottom line is that they were capable of loving someone beyond themselves. For me, that this was not the reality of my existence was an important discovery. We can’t attack demons that we don’t even know are there.
Looking back, as that first year-long relationship lasted beyond a few months I grew weary. The “high” that I’d experienced in the beginning wore off and I began to seek a way out in order to search for it elsewhere. Sadly, that would become the pattern for all my future relationships. Such is the life of a Peter Pan. This particular girl would go on to marry a fine young man who had direction and who was able to love her. I’ll never forget the two of them pulling into the gas station where I worked a few years later. I filled his tank with gas and washed his windshield as I peered through the window at the two of them sitting next to each other. It was an awkward moment for me, and perhaps her too, I have no way of knowing. But it served to drive home a point. They were out of high school and moving along with their lives together as a family, and I was, as far as it concerned relationships with women, still a high school boy looking for a girlfriend with no concept in mind as to where such a thing would ultimately lead, or should ultimately lead.
Little did I know throughout those years that I was taking part in what I think was a generational shift. Minds and attitudes toward marriage were changing. Everything was becoming more liberal. The children of the post World War II parents were being raised in prosperity never before experienced by the masses and the advent of television began to play an unforeseen role in influencing those masses. There was birth control which relieved women of the procreation responsibilities that had, until then, been part and parcel to sex. And if that didn’t work, abortion on demand became legal when I was still a child myself. Men and women began to abandon their wives, husbands, and children in increasing numbers. My own father, shortly after that first significant relationship abandoned the wife of his youth and set out to sow those oats he had so yearned to sow. Love was sex and sex was love, and there was nothing beyond that to be experienced, to be sought or to live for.
As for me, by my early thirties, such a view and understanding of my world had taken me into an abyss of cynicism. I had obeyed the world with diligence. I had done all that it said would make me happy. And yet I was not at all happy. I was miserable. Dating as a thirtysomething was like pretending that those dying embers from the high school bonfire were still ablaze and casting their light onto a romantic evening where everyone was still having a great time. But it was all pretend. There was no direction, no purpose, and everything had become increasingly meaningless. As I aged time was growing short to get to wherever it was that some purpose would have demanded that I go and there was a dread haunting me that I just might hit 40 as a single man. It was then that I met a woman who would change the course of my life for eternity. This woman was not your mother.
At that point in my life, my experience with church people hadn’t been completely positive, to say the least. Little did I know then, but the great apostasy that we are witnessing today was well underway even then. I can remember being out on a boat at the Lake in Nashville with some friends when the conversation turned to deeper issues after I expressed my feelings of meaninglessness. I’ll never forget one of the guys on the boat, who happened to be inebriated and who also happened to be living with his girlfriend at the time, telling me all about how Jesus was the answer. But I wasn’t buying it. His life was just like mine. Hopelessness and despair marked them both. As it turns out this was quite common among church folks in the south.
But there were those who would occasionally cross my path who were sincere in their faith. On one particular day, I would meet one of them at the apartment pool where I lived. She was an attractive woman about my age who had a strong and assertive will, and who had the grace to endure the expressions of my twisted mind long enough for God to change the very essence of who I was. In a short amount of time, everything changed: my friends, my habits, my words, but most importantly, my desires. The scriptures speak of us being made new. Jesus spoke of being born again. Paul spoke of our minds being renewed. Whatever the case, I became a new human being, and best of all, I became a human being capable of loving someone else enough to commit the rest of my life to her. One day, right around that time, I walked into a little chapel worship service and down front was a woman. Her hands were in the air, her head was bowed and she was worshiping her Lord. And, if I didn’t mention it, she was very beautiful. When I saw her my first thought was, that’s the kind of woman I want to marry. And marry her I did. But in the beginning, she really didn’t want anything to do with me which was just fine with me because for the first time in my life I was experiencing a new sensation, joy.
Your mother and I will celebrate our twentieth anniversary very soon. It wasn’t that long ago that we watched some videos of ourselves on our honeymoon and there was one thing that struck me about them, and that one thing brings me back to the actual point of this letter. Although I thought I loved your mother when we got married, I didn’t. I was only infatuated as I had been so many times before. As I watched those videos I realized that the “love” I was feeling while we made the videos was at best very shallow, but probably more realistically didn’t qualify as love at all. It could not be compared to the love that I feel for your mother today.
It’s kind of a sad thing, but when you see the word “love” in the Bible it will have been translated from any number of words in the original language, all of which have different meanings. One of the words that it translates into love is “eros”, which is where we get our modern English word “erotic”. It describes our natural and God-given desire for sexual relationships. Don’t ever forget that your desires to “know” a woman is a God-given desire first, and as such, it is a good desire. It can and does involve deep and wonderful feelings, but it’s only one of the kinds of love that God gave you, and by itself is not what will endure. It’s a very fleshy kind of love and indeed I’ve had that kind of love for your mother and still do… very much so.
There is another word that is also translated into “love”, the Greek word, phileo. We can see this word expressed in other words like philosophy, the love of wisdom, and Philadelphia, the so-called city of brotherly love. We generally think of this love as the love between friends, though I think it embodies much more than that. It ought to also be the love you have for the girl you marry. Here I will admonish you to be careful about the general mindset of the culture in which you live. It places values on the different kinds of love that can mislead. Phileo is considered an acceptable love for you to have for another woman besides your wife. I would strongly disagree with that. As you live your life you will watch your friend’s marriages disintegrate, and not a few of the failures will have begun with benign “friendships”. Phileo is a powerful love. It can cause one man to die for another. Don’t underestimate it when it comes to women who are not your wife, or men who are not your wife’s husband. Guard your own heart against such affections except with men.
There are two more words translated into love, “storge” and “agape”. Storge is the kind of love one has for a family member, like your love for me and mine for you. I don’t understand this concept enough to say whether or not you should have this kind of affection for your wife. I will, however, say this: your relationship with your wife is closely related to the relationship of Jesus to His Church and the Church to Jesus.
And then there is agape. We think of this love as the highest form of love because it is not based on emotion. In a sense, it doesn’t even qualify as love in our carnal minds. We are so used to associating love with self-centeredness and our own feelings that this kind of love can be an alien concept. Yet, it is a love you must be willing to pledge to any girl you ask to marry you. It is a decision that you make. It is wholly cognitive. It is not confluent with your nature but instead defies it. Your will must be subject to it, and not the other way around. And, it is only by the grace of God that you will be able to give it. And also remember that if your family is destroyed due to infidelity, that statistics show that this destruction is a little more likely to come to you by way of your wife. So it is just as important for you as a young man, especially in a culture that sees women as more righteous by virtue of their gender, to make sure your would-be wife understands love in this same way. In short, if she loves God with all of her heart, mind, soul, and strength, and she loves him enough to be obedient to Him by being obedient to you, then I’d say that she can love you for a lifetime.
I once read about two people who were married for a half century. In an interview, they were asked if they had always loved each other. Their answer was no, that love came and went during the fifty years. But this statement makes my point about agape. It was their agape that kept them together. But they didn’t consider it love because it was during those times that they either had no feelings or perhaps even feelings of hatred toward each other. But still, they stuck by their pledge until “loving” feelings returned. Marriage counselors tell us that most people experience the loss of loving feelings. But they also tell us that if people are willing to stick it out that the feelings return and the love and commitment are even stronger. In this day of disposable marriages, many never learn this. They discard the relationship in hopes of finding that eros feeling again, which they will either figure out is temporary and so seek something deeper, or they will repeat the cycle.
One of the reasons we’re prone to rejecting God’s ordained order is because of the images of his order that have been implanted into our heads by way of the arts which include media. How was it done? In the same way that a tank-top t-shirt has come to be known as a “wife-beater”. In the world’s images, not yours, we see a man in a white tank-top with a bottle of whiskey in his hand and a woman crying on the floor with a black eye because she refused to “obey” his command. That’s the picture that’s been painted for us of patriarchy. But like most images painted for us by this world, it is also a lie, and it’s a powerful and destructive one to boot, and unfortunately, it’s believed by the majority of the masses. Still, even in light of the current rebellion against God, we as humans are going to generally behave the way God programmed us to behave. Men are going to be the heads of their households and will generally rule over it.
One of the most challenging, one of the most exciting, and one of the riskiest things you will ever do is to take a wife for yourself. And, I shouldn’t have to say it, but due to the nature of man, the same can be said about any woman who adventures to submit to your authority and leadership by accepting you as her husband. It is an exciting thing to discover the beauty of a woman. It is an enticing thing to contemplate a sojourn in search of the paradise that she promises. I believe such a paradise exists, yes, but you won’t discover it, nor can you, by following the most vivid and readily available of roadmaps that this world offers in abundance. The cardinal flies and builds nests because that’s what God designed him to do. I can’t imagine him desiring to walk instead and to live in a hole in the ground because somehow he figures that’s the best plan. But we humans think we know better than God, and so implement our own plans. In the same way, your life will be best when you live as God designed you to live. God designed you to rule over your wife and family and he cursed you to earn your bread by the sweat of your brow. He designed your wife to be your helpmeet, and he cursed her to thwart your authority. And as sad as it is, that’s the bottom line, the reality in which you will exist.
My advice to you is to pay attention to how married couples interact even now. Watch as wives, either lovingly submit to their husbands, and revere and respect them, or as they command their husbands around like pets and everything in between. Reverence, respect, and service are great qualities. Run, don’t walk, from manipulating women, they will guarantee you a life of misery. Keep a keen eye out for such things. Pray for discernment, and ask for help from those who love you. Wisdom is found in the counsel of the wise.