I’ve had the privilege of being married to two very wonderful women. I suppose it’s unusual these days to experience two great marriages, and not long ago I was reminded how precious such marriages are. I was having a conversation with a man who had experienced a painful divorce, and he shared with me how he was weighed down with all the legal, emotional, and financial repercussions of that broken relationship. I tried to be understanding towards him and let him unload, because that was what he needed in the moment. But that same day I went home, hugged Emily in the kitchen, and told her how blessed I was to have her. I’ve been married to Emily for twelve years and counting, and I love her more now then when we started.
But long before I knew Emily, I met a girl named Ann. I was nineteen years old and in college. At the time, I had no way of knowing that I would date Ann for the next three years, and be happily married to her for nine years after that. And I certainly had no way of knowing that I would suddenly lose her to cancer almost thirteen years after we met.
All I knew, back then, was that I liked Ann. Things seemed to be going fairly well between us. We were spending a lot of time together, and my feelings for her were growing. So one day, I got up the courage to actually say the words: I love you.
But Ann wasn’t yet ready to say those words to me. The awkward moment passed, I backed off, and things felt weird. Fortunately she didn’t break it off and run away. I think she merely needed time to work it out herself, and if I’d pressured her, it probably would have just made it worse. So I waited…and then one day, without prompting, she said the words back to me: I love you. That moment remains one of the happiest memories of my life.
Romance is truly great when it all works out in the end, when you’re looking backwards at those times of uncertainty when you weren’t sure it would work out. But on the front end, romance can be gut-wrenching. You’re caught in a dizzying dance of questions, hopes, doubts, and fears. Do I want to be with this person? What are they really like? Do they really want to be with me? Should I trust them? Do I show them what I’m really like? Round and round goes the dance. And at each stage of the dance, one of you has to be the romantic…the one who first takes a step closer. One of you must dare to enter the space between you, and make an offer of deeper relationship–an offer that might be rejected.
All our meaningful relationships (even our non-intimate ones) wouldn’t get very far without this romantic impulse. As soon as any disagreement or trouble arose, we would drift apart and exist on our own relational islands. There would be no risk to bridge the gap, no attempt to make the first move, no willingness to show vulnerability, and certainly no sacrifice. Marriages, parenting, and friendships would be robbed of warmth, and at best would be reduced to mutual agreements to meet each other’s needs–and at worst they would become oppressive, held together only by guilt, debt, or fear.
So we need the romantics. We need those who are willing to step out first and give when they haven’t received. We need those who care deeply enough to risk rejection. We need those who keep hoping and trying and waiting for breakthroughs even when the relational distance is great.
Love is patient, love is kind. Love does not envy, is not boastful, is not arrogant, is not rude, is not self-seeking, is not irritable, and does not keep a record of wrongs. Love finds no joy in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. (1 Corinthians 13:4-7 CSB)
In a sense, God is the ultimate romantic. That might sound strange at first, but if we take a comprehensive look at the Biblical story, we can see an epic romance emerge. God is the hero of the story, and he’s pursuing the people that he loves. Humans rebel against God, which is what creates the crisis, but God refuses to simply turn his back and let them perish. Instead, God moves in close, urging people to listen to him, to believe him, and to obey him. God promises that for everyone who trusts him, he himself will do what it takes to repair the relationship. God fulfills this promise through the sacrifice of Jesus Christ, and as the Biblical story ends, we glimpse a marvelous scene, in which God dwells with his people forever. God’s people are even called his bride. That’s romance.
And what’s more, God’s already resolved his part of the dance. He’s already declared his desire to be with us, he already knows everything about us, and he’s already done everything necessary to bring us back together. The only thing that remains is our response to him. And this is where the Bible becomes really critical, because we can’t honestly love or trust a God we don’t know. The Bible is where we can get to know God through a huge story that shows the wonders and nuances of God in ways that we can understand.
So if we can read, and we really want to know the God who has pursued us to the uttermost, then we need to read the Bible. It’s a large and sometimes difficult book, but it’s a great romantic story. And if we can believe that story, then we can be a part of that story, as we turn to God and acknowledge that he has captured our heart.