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“but I’m in so deep” – Infatuation, Relationships, and the Sufficiency of Christ, part 2

“You have now reached infatuation’s final destination – the complete and merciless devaluation of self.”
 – Elizabeth Gilbert

Maybe the worst thing about falling in like with someone is the fallout.  Investing my total hopes in someone else’s salvation of me has not once led to a happy ending.  Well, except for that one time, but that’s only because Jesus is so faithful.

In high school, I was dominated by a constant struggle that almost no one else knew about.  I spent my final years at South trying to emotionally connect with absolutely anyone I could.  Home life was rough so I convinced myself that a relationship would fix everything.  I thought if only, if only I could successfully navigate the fast-paced, crazy realm of high school dating, I would finally be happy with myself, with my family, with my broken life.

“Addiction,” Gilbert writes, “is the hallmark of every infatuation-based love story.”

I clung to whoever would stick.  Yet nothing ever seemed to work out.

I became more and more damaged and increasingly desperate to hang on to a vague notion that was little more than an earnest, passionate haze at that point.  Yet this idea was unshakeable. It gripped the very tenets of my soul and took firm root in my heart.  It was an unspoken conviction that I somehow knew was true all the way down to my core.  This belief was the understanding that one day, some special person’s love would transform my loneliness and finally set me free from myself.

But I thought that ultimate love was to be found in a cute girl and so I desperately threw myself at anything shiny that caught my eye.

When you have seen as much of life as I have,” Professor Horace Slughorn once remarked to his students, “you will not underestimate the power of obsessive love.”

There are no truer words.

This foolishness, though it fancies itself an escape from pain, only amplifies brokenness.  I lost all of my self-worth by constantly placing an overemphasis on the reciprocation of my frantic affections.  Gaining it back has been hard.

This followed me to college.  Last semester, I saw a true spark of the divine in another human being and it was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen.  My heart beckoned, I complied, and I fell madly in love with one of my closest friends.  Terrifically, transcendentally so.  When it was eating at me to the point where it felt like I was going to explode, I confided my feelings to her sister.  This obsession felt so strong that words cannot really do justice to describe it.  I confessed that I was utterly helpless and that I was filled with the sense that I was in so deep, too deep, and drowning and too far gone and lost in love.

Later that night, she texted me four simple words “deeper bro, always deeper.”

Her response shocked me.  How was it that she wanted me to fall deeper in love?!  Was she insane?  I was in up to my neck already with this girl!

And now this next part is kind of the point of it all so I hope you’re paying attention.

I was finally able to break out of the pattern that had enslaved me all my life when I realized that Christ, “the love that surpasses all understanding,” is and has always been the ultimate aim of the cloudy, powerful longings I have felt my entire life.  Longings for a lover much stronger than I, longings for someone who could heal me and satisfy the deepest desires of my heart.

Longings for a savior who could love me back to life.

Once I found the true source of my joy, my priorities shifted.  Things became different when I internalized that someone else could never heal me as Christ can and that I could never save someone else as only He is able.

2 Timothy 2:22 tells us to “run from anything that stimulates youthful lusts” and instructs us to “instead, pursue righteous living, faithfulness, love, and peace, [enjoying] the companionship of those who call on the Lord with pure hearts.”

God is not impressed with our ability to keep putting ourselves in risky situations and then resist temptation.  He is proud of us when we flee the devil and his schemes.  Be obedient.  He will deliver us.

Now, the world may tell us to blindly follow our hearts but God is telling us quite a different story.  I know we tend to think of our hearts as wellsprings of hope and love, and this isn’t without scriptural basis, but we always need to remember our corruption.  The prophet Jeremiah warns us that “the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?”

When the Lord tells us to “guard our hearts,” we are instructed not only to protect ourselves from others but also to protect us from ourselves.  Let me explain.  Every one of the terrible experiences I’ve suffered with women have one common denominator:

me.

My heart is the problem.  I am my own worst enemy.

An illustration that Harris uses in his book is to imagine your heart as a robber you have just managed to catch and tie up; you cannot let it out of your sight for one minute lest it work its way free and bop you over the head!  Guard it well.

It’s so easy to forget just how poisoned my own heart is towards myself, others, and God…until I fall into a downwardly-spiraling cycle of envy, obsession, and reckless longing.  When this happens, God uses it to gently remind me of my utter brokenness and need for total dependence on Him.  Through my suffering, God reveals to me that I can’t do life on my own any longer, that I need to lean on His strength alone if I really want to find true love.

God cuts away at the lies I have believed all my life and reveals my heart for what what it really is: a dangerous, dark, poisoned bundle of nerves – a black center almost irredeemably ridden with sickness, pride, hatred, jealousy, and lust.  It is a cancer seeking to control my life.

But the very fact that I can recognize the very human condition of my heart means that I am on the right path.  The fact that I can admit my natural sickness opens me up the the healing of a savior.  I know that I am not healthy.  I am not righteous.  I cannot do this on my own any longer.  And somehow, Jesus says that’s exactly where He wants me to be.

This surrender is where He can work best in us, if we will allow Him.

God will redeem our broken hearts.  But in my experience the Lord rarely changes a person’s heart in a split second.  If this has been your personal experience, God bless you; feel free to stop reading.  For most of us, God teaches us how to purify and be better protectors of our hearts through faithfulness and obedience to his commands.

There are practical steps of faith we can take to guard our own hearts and to respect others and their boundaries as well.

A couple of weeks ago, a friend lent me the book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris.  It was a phenomenal read and I have borrowed many of Joshua’s ideas for this series, so please think me candid but not entirely original.  The book spoke to me with a conviction that shot straight down to the innermost longings of my heart like no other piece of literature has since I read Bécquer’s yo soy ardiente, yo soy morena my senior year of high school.

One of the things he really helped drive home is that a crush only becomes obsessive if we nurture it.  When I bow to and play dumbly along with all of my wild feelings – whether I realize it or not – I am hurting myself and others.

Attraction isn’t evil, but at the same time, God tells us “not to stir up or awaken love” before the right time.

I am doing lasting damage when I pour out expectations and awaken feelings I have no right or power to control or satisfy.

And this is exactly what catering to a crush does. It’s like anything else.  If I catch myself early enough in the process, I can give those thoughts up to the Lord much easier than I would be able to do down the road.  This is as simple as consciously monitoring my behavior around this person to guard against flirtatiousness, limiting my time with her, or praying for God to transfer the affection I feel for them to Him every time I cannot stop thinking about her.  I pray that God would infuse me more each day with His clear-headedness.  I pray that he would give me more of the Spirit He promised in creation and presented at the Pentecost and that I would learn to better imitate the love He proved for us all on the cross.

So what are some ways I’ve been able to control my affections?

Specifically, one way to stay at the peak of your game is to remember that regular one on one with a friend of the opposite sex time is usually not a good idea.  If it can be helped, don’t do it and if you do it, don’t do it often.  This isn’t to say that you cannot enjoy a cup of coffee, a walk, or a prayer session with a deeper friend of the opposite sex.  I just want to make it clear that you need to be clear.  How many times have I cringed inwardly with that sickening crunch of a feeling that comes from realizing I have been leading someone on, that these “not-dates,” were actually dates?  I am ashamed to admit that the number is too many to count.  How many times has this happened to you?  Knowing what you’ve done to a girl or boy’s heart, it’s worse than being on the receiving end and getting your heart broken.

If, after assessing the risks and deciding that your one on one time safely and mutually points each other to Christ, go for it; just clarify your intentions verbally constantly, even if it seems ridiculous to do so.  You will be glad you did.  Also, inviting other people to hang out as well is an inclusive way to turn a date-like setting into a fun group outing – just don’t third-wheel anybody. Call up your grandmother.  Take her out with you guys.  It’s cool.  She seems kind of lonely.

I also have friends who will keep me accountable.  I am responsible for making sure I have people in my life who aren’t afraid to tell me things like “you can’t be spending so much time with this girl, Ryan” or “be careful.”  Their incessant shout seems to be “Boundaries, Ryan, watch out!” and, despite my brash defensiveness, I know that they are right and am grateful for their help.  It is important to have conversations with close friends who can keep you honest and help you guard your heart as you constantly protect yourself against the trap of infatuation.  The friends that I have asked to keep me “sober” in this journey are usually the people I am the most angered at when they tell me things I don’t want to hear, but I know that one day, I (and my wife) will be able to honestly thank them for their vigilance.

With God’s gifts and my friends’ support, I have the strength to keep myself blameless.

*By the way, I thought it would be a good thing to mention just how terrible I am at this whole process; I’ve by no means mastered it.  I’d love it if you’d let me know if you have any tips and tricks that have helped you out.*

Every single person that we interact with, share a classroom with, see on Television, or are infatuated with is, whether they know it or not, the son or daughter of a king.  The King, actually.  We are His masterpieces, a signature of the divine, his adopted sons and daughters now made princes and princesses through Christ.

So what do you say we start treating each other like royalty?

There is a unique hope and strength for each of us through the power of Jesus.  Paul tells us in 2 Corinthians that “if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation.  the old has gone; the new has come!”  We can put off our old selves and our old ways of doing things.  We don’t have to be “conformed any longer to the pattern of this world.”  We don’t have to be controlled by our sickness and our anger. The Lord will do more than change our hearts, He will actually take them from us, take on the responsibility of our polluted souls – and give us His own bleeding, still-beating heart instead.

There is hope and salvation in God for all the brokenhearted.  “Blessed are the brokenhearted,” I can almost hear Him saying, “for I make all things new.”

There are times when I can actually feel Him cutting away at the cancers of my soul with His Spirit, like some giant great heart surgeon.  “Hold still,” He says, “this is for your good, Ryan.”  He is faithful in daily convicting me of my sin and carving my heart into one modeled after His own.

He is proved in the lives of each of us who are willing trust in Something Greater.  Just call out.  He’s listening.  And while we’re at it, let’s just admit it.  None of us can walk this life alone.

We never could.

In my next, I will close with a discussion on the sufficiency of Christ in light of what He asks and what He promises to His children.

caritas,

ryan

part 1

part 3

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