Romance and Ashes
I’ve never made an effort to celebrate Valentine’s Day. It was never a big deal in my family, and passed with little notice or recognition. Because there was never a big emphasis on it within my family, I never had expectations for the day.
This actually reflects the larger reality of my upbringing. There was never a big emphasis on romantic relationships at all.
Watching TV shows like “The Partridge Family” and “The Brady Bunch” (Yes, I watch old shows), I get the impression that romance is a much bigger focus in the broader culture. The characters in those shows are constantly focused on having a date.
Today’s TV programming – although I can’t actually name any shows – tells the same story. Seeing programs about children in Middle School fretting over whether they have a boyfriend/girlfriend all the time is so bizarre. Why do you need to have romantic connotations? You’re children!
I have five older siblings, and they were not constantly focused on their romantic relationships when they were teenagers. One older brother said simply, “Why would I date someone while I’m in High School? I’m not going to get married to her in High School, so dating would be a fruitless exercise.”
(I’m sure he never used the term ‘fruitless exercise,’ but that is how I heard it.)
He put off romantic relationships, enjoying many good friendships with young men and women in his High School days. He later had a great romance with a young woman, and now they enjoy romance in their marriage.
Other siblings did date in High School. Some are enjoying romantic marriages, now, and others are unmarried.
The point is that I never had any expectations about dating, and romantic relationships were not held up as the ultimate way to show love to others.
Relationships within our family were more important than romantic relationships. Relationships within our church family were more important than romantic relationships. My family showed true love to their friends – without putting romantic pressure on relationships.
I’m so grateful that I didn’t grow up under the pressure of the Disney Channel worldview, where everyone must either be in a romantic relationship or they are missing out on something vital.
This attitude in our culture doesn’t stop with childhood, either. The expectation in so many spheres of our society (including in our Church culture here in the west) is that we must be in a romantic relationship or else we are somehow incomplete.
“You complete me.”
What an insane idea. The idea that individuals made in the image and likeness of God are somehow incomplete without a romantic relationship is not a biblical idea.
In The Dark Knight, the Joker tells Batman that "You complete me." That is something he might be able to say, but no one should be the one who completes us except for Christ.
There's a common objection to this assertion. “What about God saying it was ‘Not Good’ for Adam to be alone?” (Genesis 2:18)
Well, Adam was the entirety of humanity at the moment God proclaimed that it was not good for him to be alone. So perhaps this wasn’t an endorsement of the idea that we all need to have our own “Eve,” but was actually only that people should not be in perpetual isolation?
Eve didn’t “complete” Adam, Eve completed humanity. Prior to Eve’s creation, there was only one half of humanity. Today, we are not isolated when we don’t have a “special someone” who is exclusively ours. We have friendships, families, and the church. Adam had none of those things until after Eve was created.
Jesus and Paul were both unmarried while on this earth. If Genesis 2:18 means every Christian must get married, we have a contradiction within Scripture when Paul says it would be better for Christians not to do that. (1 Corinthians 7:8)
Family and Friendship
I’ve already talked about how important family is above. Now I want to talk about how important friends are.
Loneliness is a powerful force in my life.
I’ve had friends who have been there to support me through many trials, and who have kept loneliness at bay. These friends are brothers and sisters in Christ who have held up the truth to me when I was not looking toward it. They are companions who have urged me on to love and good works. I hope that I have also supported them in their lives.
One of many group shots of friends in the body of Christ.
As I struggle with same-sex attraction, I struggle to develop healthy friendships. Sinful temptations tend to distort earthly friendships.
My sinful flesh is prone to distorting such friendly gestures into something romantic. I struggle to maintain brotherly love because of my own sinful desires.
That’s why I’m so grateful for the support of the Church. Friends and pastors have given me great advice as I move forward in navigating new friendships. One friend wrote this great advice to me today:
My advice is to focus on the whole group of people that may still come into your life. Focus on what you give to the community, not what you get from one man. Both of these things ultimately point towards your relationship with Christ through the people in your life. Each person is just a little piece of a living Jesus visiting you by drinking coffee with you. Each one is part of a much larger Lord in your life whom you adore and love. To want all of an individual for yourself will diminish the magnitude of who Jesus is to you and what He wants to give you.
This isn’t just true for me and my struggle with a same-sex friendship; it applies to anyone who tends to put too much emphasis on individual relationships. Focusing on one individual as all-important distorts the reality that God reveals himself on earth through His people. Not through one person, but through the whole community.
“It’s always about Jesus with whomever you’re with.” - Desmond Frick
Friendship with God
Through Christ, I have become a friend of God. He has called me friend. That is the most important relationship to develop in my life.
It is on Ash Wednesday as I reflect on this amazing friendship. Unlike Valentine’s Day, I remember having several services on Ash Wednesday with my family. My dad organized services reflecting on the important reason for this day.
Jesus came to earth to die for us. In forty days we will celebrate Easter, when he rose. Today we wear ashes in remembrance of the sacrifice that Jesus made. He came and suffered and died so that he could call me friend.
All those who are in Christ are also part of his body. And beautiful and enriching friendships are plentiful in that body.
God has given me the friendship of himself and the friendship of his body here on earth. Exclusive romantic relationships would be a poor substitute for that friendship. It is a good gift for some to receive, but is not the ultimate gift which we have in Christ.
Thank you, Jesus, for your love for me. Thank you for calling me friend. And thank you for the earthly friends – the faithful friends - whom you have given to me. I have so much more than I could ever deserve. I have so much more than I could ever ask or imagine. Friendship with you is a gift far greater than any exclusive relationship here on earth. Only you can satisfy. Amen.
"The steadfast love of the LORD never ceases. His mercies never come to an end." Lamentations 3:22