Well, it’s February once again. The month of love and groundhogs.
I don’t know much about the latter, except that we’re supposedly getting six more weeks of winter this year, but I enjoy talking about love — specifically good and godly relationships. This month, I hope to provide several blogs on the topic of romance.
The first question I want to address is one I run into a lot with Christian singles, “What should be the role of feelings in a relationship?” Particularly, how much should I trust my instincts or “gut” feeling on a relationship?
An emphasis on — or even obsession with — romantic feelings in relationships has been present in our culture (and others) for decades. Gone With the Wind, with its famous passionate kiss, came out in 1939, proving that Hollywood’s fixation with romance has been around for a long time. It seems everyone’s a sucker for a good love story.
I’m not sure exactly when it happened, but sometime during the past decade, I started believing an interesting, counter-cultural message about feelings and marriage. This message said that because our culture elevates romantic feelings above their proper place — and I had probably unwittingly absorbed some strange “fairytale princess” idea of what love should be like — that I should set feelings and attraction aside when looking for a life partner and focus exclusively on the person’s virtue and suitability.
Eventually, this thinking led me to stay in a relationship that didn’t “feel” right (though the guy I was dating loved the Lord and was interested in marriage) a lot longer than I would have, had I let my feelings guide me.
There’s a balance, of course. Women, in particular, can build up an unrealistic view of what romance is that no flesh-and-blood male could ever live up to. And too-high expectations for “the spark” or a fairytale love story may cause us to overlook someone who could be a great match. On the other hand, sometimes you have to trust your instincts. Feelings are not evil. They are a critical piece of the human nature.
In 2007, a year before I met my husband, Kevin, I wrote a blog series about relationships. I was just coming out of my “ignore your feelings” phase.
Why is it then, that the longer I wait, the more inclined I am to believe I must leave romance out of the mix? Michael Lawrence and I have both downplayed the importance of attraction. Addressing this issue is a fine line, simply because the way the world defines “romance” is different from the committed and sacrificial romantic love advocated by the Creator.
We can be easily tricked into believing attraction is eyes meeting across the room in an electric jolt. When, in actuality, romance is more in line with Boaz hearing of Ruth’s outstanding character, noticing her in the field, pouring out special favor on her, protecting her from his men and ultimately becoming her kinsman redeemer. As you can see, the second romantic scenario contains far more substance than the first.
I believe Christian singles should trust their instincts and invite their feelings into every area of their lives, including their dating pursuits. There is a common-sense element here. You shouldn’t marry someone you don’t like or truly enjoy being around. As I heard it described recently, marriage is inviting someone whose not you into your personal space for life. That’s a big deal.
At the same time, it’s important to develop the spiritual fruit of self-control in how you manage your feelings. I think the most important key is to understand and aspire to the Creator’s (not Hollywood’s or Disney’s) intent for love. He designed love to be committed, sacrificial, unfailing (for a complete list see 1 Corinthians 13). But love is also about joy and mutual delight. A proper understanding of and admiration of biblical love provides a good gauge as you evaluate potential relationships.
In addition, Christian singles should bathe every relationship in prayer and take every thought captive (2 Corinthians 10:5). Our most powerful tools in the pursuit of a life partner are spiritual ones. When I was engaging in relationships that didn’t feel right, I prayed a lot, asking the Lord to give me clarity. He always did. When I was in a relationship with Kevin, where I felt deeply attracted and at ease, I also prayed — that the Holy Spirit would guide me to His best and keep my feelings from clouding my judgment.
I think it’s fair to say that, when it comes to Christian dating advice, feelings have received a bad rap in recent years. But God created us with feelings, so why wouldn’t He allow us to use them to make some of life’s most important decisions? When our “instincts” are under the Holy Spirit’s control, they can be trusted. Not sure if your instincts are based on truth or just feelings? Ask the Lord to make it clear — to give you peace where peace needs to be. Feelings may not always be trustworthy, but our loving, personal God always is.
Copyright 2013 Suzanne Hadley Gosselin. All rights reserved.