Another Valentine’s Day is right around the corner and the pressures of romance and society’s view of love can be seen in any local retail shop you walk into. As soon as you step foot inside even the grocery store you’re surrounded by red heart-shaped cardboard chocolate filled boxes, fuzzy heart holding stuffed animals, flowers and even bottles of fancy wines. Okay realistically, after you pass the Super Bowl displays of beer, Doritos and guacamole, then you pass the love stuff. But no matter your relationship status, there’s a real pressure there (or at least a nagging reminder) that this day is approaching where, if you’re in a relationship there’s an expectation to show your love and if you’re single it’s a cruel reminder that you’re not loved (at least to those who believe you have to be in a relationship to “be loved.”)
Can I confess something? I was one of those people who believed I was only loved when I was in a relationship. Throughout my life I let my relationship status define who I was. In fact, I even went so far as to let my partner define who I was. When I was in a serious relationship, if he loved me-then I defined myself as “loved, loveable and worthy of love.” But when he stopped loving me-well I defined myself as “unlovable.” I even convinced myself that because I’ve never been married I must simply not be marriage material. I believed most women were born with a trait that made men commit to them but clearly I was lacking that trait.
The bulk of my past relationships were conditional. If I behaved a certain way, I was given “love” but if I “misbehaved” according to my partner’s standards I was withheld their version of love. This was a cyclical pattern in two very serious relationships. (My first serious relationship was a matter of both of us being too young to know how to make a relationship work let alone be successful in marriage.) Although I’ve only been in three serious relationships my whole life and a handful of casual relationships there was clearly a pattern in allowing someone else to define me and defining myself in who they said I was, not who God made me to be. I’ve been single now for seven years and God has done a major overhaul on my heart and my thought process regarding the lies I’ve believed for so long.
The first thing God did was show me what unconditional love looked like. Using 1Corinthians 13 (also known as the love chapter) and scripture from Songs of Solomon, God showed me what real love is. He also showed me that conditional love is not real love and that in those past relationships where I just couldn’t measure up to my partner’s standards, I wasn’t truly loved by them. If love keeps no record of wrong, how can someone tell you they love you but list everything they find wrong with you right after it? In their heart I am sure they thought they loved me, maybe even felt very strongly for me at one point but it wasn’t real love. And I honestly didn’t truly love them-at least not according to 1 Corinthians 13. I wasn’t always patient or kind to them (especially when they were listing everything that was wrong with me-I kept record of their wrongs too and would fire right back with my own list for them.)
God showed his unconditional love for me best by blessing me when I least expected it and felt the most undeserving. He even used some of the most unlikely people (people who were at one point someone I had considered an enemy) as tools to bless me. Every time He did this, He proved his words in Lamentations 3:22, “The faithful love of the Lord never ends! His mercies never cease.” (NLT) I can’t tell you the number of times I was reduced to tears after behaving so horribly or doing something careless but receiving kindness, compassion and blessing in return. That’s not how our society tends to treat each other and that’s definitely not what I was used to receiving in past relationships. After all-misbehavior brings punishment right? Not with God. Misbehavior may bring correction and discipline but every action we do, good and bad, brings God’s love, mercy and grace poured out over us. In fact, I’m a firm believer that we receive a drowning of His mercy and grace when we are really at our worst. Why? Because it’s only then that we can truly understand His unconditional love for us. It’s those moments of grace that we realize nothing can or will ever separate us from God’s love.
Once I was able to understand His unconditional love for me, God was able to open my heart and eyes to see myself as He sees me-imperfectly perfect. He did this using friends and family to speak His truth into my and over me repeatedly. This process has taken the whole seven years of singlehood and to be honest, I’m still going through the process. I am definitely my own worst critic and the cruel words spoken to me from lost loves can still play in my mind from time to time. Each time I have cut myself down or spoken lies about myself, even to this day, God placed someone in my life to speak His truth over me. He also used His own words reminding me in Psalms 139 (repeatedly because seriously I am the poster child for stubborn and God has to speak the same message to me over and over again before it finally sinks in.) My favorite part of this chapter includes these verses:
O Lord, you have examined my heart
and know everything about me.
You know when I sit down or stand up.
You know my thoughts even when I’m far away.
You see me when I travel
and when I rest at home.
You know everything I do.
You know what I am going to say
even before I say it, Lord.
You go before me and follow me.
You place your hand of blessing on my head…
You saw me before I was born.
Every day of my life was recorded in your book.
Every moment was laid out
before a single day had passed.
How precious are your thoughts about me, O God.
They cannot be numbered!
I can’t even count them;
they outnumber the grains of sand!
And when I wake up,
you are still with me! (Verses 1-5, 16-18 NLT)
The NIV version of Psalm 139:14 says this, “I praise You because I am fearfully and wonderfully made, Your works are wonderful, I know that full well.” The words “fearfully and wonderfully made” have played over in my mind like a skipping record. I am fearfully and wonderfully made. You are fearfully and wonderfully made. Fearfully doesn’t mean we were made to live in fear, it means we are to live in reverent fear of God and that we were made to be feared by our true enemy. Instead of fearing the enemy and believing his lies, we have the power to combat those lies with God’s truth and ward off the devil every time he tries to defeat us. In fact, no matter what our circumstances are, we are not defeated. Please read that again. We. Are. NOT. Defeated! That is a huge thing for me to even type let alone confess because I have lived in a defeated state of mind for far too long.
The last thing God has shown me is two-fold. 1.) Marriage and singlehood are both gifts from God to be used for His purpose and glory. Neither is a defining factor for anyone. Neither determines our worth in this life. 2.) My past broken relationships were trials to show me what I don’t want or need in a relationship and especially not in a marriage. And what is it that I don’t want? Well, I don’t want to feel alone even when my partner is present because I’m last on his priority list. I don’t want to be compared to ex-lovers and I don’t want to compare my partner to my past relationships either. I don’t want a partner who just believes in God’s existence. I don’t want to be cheated on, lied to or verbally abused again. And I don’t want a man who simply shuts down. I also don’t want to be someone’s “friend with benefits” or “long term girlfriend.” Make me your forever or leave me alone.
I don’t want to date around either. In today’s day and age dating is like jumping into a three ring circus as the ring leader feeling underqualified and being assigned to the clown section. I am confident any single woman reading this right now will seriously get the euphemism there. It’s a mind-boggling guessing game that’s like a real life version of “What Not to Wear” and “He’s Just Not That into You” combined with putting on something red hoping to get chased by the bull. And in my season of life right now, I have zero time for it anyway. Because I have no desire date, I have earned a reputation of being “closed off” which I have come to terms with. Not that I agree but it doesn’t bother me because it’s someone else’s perception but again, not who God sees me or defines me as. When it’s God’s time for me to meet my future spouse, He’ll send him to me and orchestrate the whole journey. If it includes dating, God will open my heart up to it then.
But what do I want? Well my dream man is the Rock (or his clone) HA! HA! But realistically speaking I want a man of God who’s a fierce warrior and gentle giant combined. I want my man to lead me and my children with assurance and confidence the way God tells him to lead us. I want him to be faithful, kind, generous but also disciplined. He has to love my children as his own. No matter how old they are when he comes into our lives, that one is not a deal breaker. I want him to be athletic and health conscious but still enjoy sweet treats and sugary desserts too. I want him to pray with me and for me every day. I want him to encourage me and believe in me and elevate me as I do the same for him too. I want him to lead but still treat me as his partner and include me in all decisions. And as unrealistic as some readers may think I want my man to be transparent with me. Even Dr. Phil will tell you, you can’t have a healthy relationship without open communication. In a nut shell, as Elvis would say, I want him to, “love me tender, love me true…” I’m also settled in my heart to know that if the presenter can’t offer me what I’m looking for, then he’s not the right partner for me. And if I don’t get what I want, well I’m secure enough to remain single for the rest of my life then.
For those struggling to face Valentine’s Day this year I hope this post blesses you with the realization that you are loved, you are lovable and you are so worthy to be loved, regardless of your relationship status. I want to encourage you to seek out God’s unconditional love for you but also to look at yourself the way He sees you. You my friend are imperfectly perfect too. God bless!