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God, Heaven and Being "In Love"

          How can you know for sure if you are really “in love”? Or, if you are “really in love,” is there any guarantee that your love will last an entire lifetime? 

         When I was in college, at the University of Texas, I began wondering about the answers to those two questions. You see, at the beginning of my sophomore year, my boyfriend, Clay, and I broke up. Although we had dated very seriously for two and a half years and had tentative plans to marry after graduation, we discovered that our feelings of being “in love” had mysteriously begun to fade. So, on that basis, we made a mutual decision to “take a break” in our relationship.  Although I thought it was odd that we would break-up, even for a short while, I was actually looking forward to dating around and meeting new people.                 

         Also in my mind at that time was the memory of my parents’ divorce a few years earlier. After nearly twenty years of marriage, my father decided he was no longer “in love” with my mother, and despite her desire to stay together, their relationship promptly ended. I began to think that perhaps it was just unrealistic to expect any love-relationship to last an entire lifetime. If my parents had failed to find a true life-partner, what made me think I would be any more successful than they? I’ll get back to the answers to these questions a little later. But first, I need to introduce you to Mark.

         About one month after the breakup with Clay, I accepted an invitation to go out to dinner with a guy named Mark, in my English class. Although I was not romantically interested in him at the time, he was a sharp, outgoing guy, and I enjoyed his company. 

         On our date, I was surprised to learn that Mark was religious. I had always thought of religious people as being “needy,” and as somehow inferior to more “self-sufficient people,” such as myself (of course)! But, Mark was not in any way “inferior.” In fact, he was articulate, gregarious, good-looking, and athletic. Nor was he at all embarrassed about his need for God. In fact, Mark asserted that all people need God, and specifically, “a relationship with Jesus,” whether they admit it or not. And, that included me!                

         I had always thought I would go to heaven because I hadn’t done anything “all that bad.” However, in summarizing the New Testament, Mark explained that only perfect people are fit for going to heaven! Unfortunately, he, I, and the rest of the world are not perfect! Because of the times when our thoughts or actions are displeasing to God, we all have to die physically one day, and we also deserve to be punished with spiritual “death” (separation from God both now and for all eternity). Our sins make us unsuitable for heaven or for close association with a perfect God. I learned there was no way I could make myself be “at peace” with God, or get into heaven, on the basis of my own efforts or religious deeds.

         That would be like me applying to be a contestant in the Miss Teen America pageant. If I pay the application fee, find sponsors, prepare for the interview, get in shape, and buy an evening gown, someone might give me an “A” for effort. But, I could still never qualify as a contestant. It’s too late. I’m not a teen anymore. Similarly, if I always said my prayers, attended church, obeyed the Bible and helped others, I would still not qualify for Heaven on the basis of those things because I’m already a sinful person. In fact, the Bible says we all have a bent toward sin...from birth!          

God’s solution to this universal problem of guilt and separation, was to come to earth Himself, live a perfect life—not deserving of death—but then to die anyway, in our place, voluntarily taking the punishment that we all deserve. God did that about 2000 years ago when He sent His Son, Jesus, to earth. When Jesus was dying on the cross, God the Father placed all of the sins of the world, including mine, on Jesus, so that Jesus could pay for them, as our substitute. God, who hates sin and cannot overlook it, allowed His perfect, sinless Son, whom He loved, to experience not just physical death, but also spiritual death—separation from God the Father. How terrible that must have felt to Jesus, as He cried out, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27: 46) Jesus went through this separation so that all who trust in His sacrifice would not have to experience spiritual death for all eternity. Eternal life is the most expensive and valuable gift I have ever been offered. Free to me, for the taking, but expensive to God, for the giving. 

Jesus’ resurrection from the dead three days later, is the empirical proof that He is divine and that His ultimate sacrifice was satisfactory to God the Father, thereby securing our salvation and forgiveness for sin. Mark explained that since God the Father had taken the initiative to make a relationship with Himself possible, God was now waiting for my response to that invitation.         

         After finally understanding, for the first time in my life: why I was in “danger” and needed a “Savior,” understanding who Jesus really was, and why Jesus had died to pay for our sins, I believed in Him. That night, with Mark’s encouragement, I expressed my newly born faith in Jesus through a simple prayer. I told God that I believed in Jesus (...that Jesus was God and had paid for my sins). I asked Him to forgive all my sins, to come into my life and to give me the free gift of eternal life. It wasn’t a prayer that gave me eternal life or caused me to be forgiven. Rather, the key was believing in Jesus and trusting Him to be able to do what He had promised.

         That day, I stopped trusting in my own worthiness, and instead trusted only in Jesus’ death on the cross to make me right with God. There were no earthquakes or lightning flashes after I prayed. In fact, I was a little nervous that I was doing something foolish. However, in the days that followed, God confirmed that I had indeed begun an eternal relationship with Him through faith in Jesus. I also knew that He had begun working in my life, from the inside out.

         Getting back to the question of what it means to be “in love,” Mark had some more encouraging information from the New Testament of the Bible. He told me that my new relationship with God was permanent! (Hebrews 13:5) Jesus had come into my life, to be with me forever! Even if I tried to “break-up” with God, He would never “break-up” with me. It was thrilling to finally establish at least one love-relationship that would last my entire lifetime! Jesus said it this way in John 6:39-40 “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I shall lose none (emphasis mine) of all those He has given Me... For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.” 

         Since then, I have learned a lot about love-relationships. Clay and I never did get back together, but over the next eight years, I dated seriously (and then stopped dating) four different Christian men before I met David, who ultimately became my husband.                 

         Now, looking back on our 29 years of marriage, prior to David’s passing, I have learned that the feelings of being "in love” are not the basis of a secure marriage at all! Experiencing positive feelings toward your boyfriend or girlfriend is like sitting at the edge of the pool on a warm summer day and dangling your feet in the water. They are just the enticement to “get in the water and swim” in the “pool of commitment” that is marriage. In fact, I could have perhaps enjoyed a happy marriage to any of the other Christian men whom I had dated after Clay. There is not one “right person” to marry; there is only one right way to do marriage. However, there are multiple people whom one should not marry, and multiple marriages that are built on selfish principles and doomed to end in disappointment and pain. Consistent “red flags” and/or negative feelings toward your boyfriend or girlfriend probably should have a role in encouraging you to back away from “the edge of the pool!”

         Rather, a happy and secure marriage is based on having common interests, being sure you can live with the other person’s weaknesses (even if they never change), practicing empathy, both partners placing the other person’s needs first, the ability to resolve conflict in a healthy way, and undying commitment. As the Bible says so well, “ not self-seeking, (Love) ... always perseveres” (1 Corinthians 13:4-7). These are the cornerstones of a healthy marriage. Those healthy characteristics and disciplines were what both Clay and I, and my parents had lacked.  

         My marriage to David was a mixture of very good and very difficult moments for us both. We loved doing ministry together, and our strengths balanced each other out. Yet, our marriage was definitely not without trials. We had many differences (See my poems, "You be you; I'll be me." and “All we didn’t do”). We did not always place our partner’s or our children’s needs before our own. We would have benefited from knowing each other better before “jumping into the pool!” I think I “over-spiritualized” my decision about whether or not God wanted me to marry David. Plus, we were both anxious to marry and be done with going from one dating relationship to another. We also could have benefitted from getting more help in the areas of mental health hygiene and the skills of healthy conflict resolution during our marriage.

        Good marriages are possible, though none are without their challenges! I am not saying that there is never a good reason to separate or leave a marriage, particularly when a spouse is unfaithful or abusive. What I am saying, is that when both partners have the right philosophy for marriage, plus the help of God and mental health professionals when needed, this gives great hope and potential for a marriage which will be caring, satisfying, and will last an entire lifetime.




Revised 1.27.19

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