FOR WHEN YOU FALL IN LOVE
“Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; for stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are like a burning fire.”
- Song of Songs 8: 6
Dear Brother, Dear Sister, Dear Friend,
Sometimes falling in love is a time of absolute joy. It feels like we fit in our own skin for the first time, like suddenly everything makes sense and every victory was worth the struggle. For some people, the early stage of romantic love is a blissful rush that sets them soaring through the clouds. Others experience a warm, quiet sense of peace that simply feels like home. Sadly, there are also times when strong attraction ushers in confusion, bittersweet sorrow, or pure agony. Whether new feelings of love bring delight or pain, discovering intense depths of passion make one feel alive in a whole new way.
Many of us grow up learning fairy tales and romances about star-crossed souls struggling to be together until they find their way to happily ever after. Contrary to what the pessimists say, I believe there is much to learn from fairy tales and romances. Like in real life, the protagonists of our famous love stories often face great adversity and hardship before finding their way to triumph. The characters often deal with common relationship issues such as miscommunication, difficulty building trust, and overcoming significant differences. These stories give us hope that if we treat one another with compassion, kindness, and respect, true love can indeed conquer all.
But the truth is that real love is not ultimately a fairy tale, a romance story, or even a feeling. Love is found when we give of ourselves for the happiness, well-being, growth, and salvation of another. As Christians, we know that true love is found on the cross. Jesus completed the greatest act of love for all time when he died on the cross and rose again to reunite us with God. 1 John 3:16 says, “The way we came to know love was that he laid down his life for us; so we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers” and sisters and friends. Likewise, Romans 5: 8 says, “But God proves his love for us in that while we were still sinners Christ died for us.”
If true love is found on the cross, what does it mean to fall in love? What does it mean to love another person? These questions are related to each other, but they are different. The feelings of tenderness, attraction, and desire that we associate with “falling in love” can be a special and holy part of a loving relationship. These emotional elements often move us to live and act in love, but the feelings of tenderness, attraction, and desire are not in and of themselves love. Love happens when we choose to think, speak, and act in a way that honors and shows care for the beloved. This is why we can choose to love at all times, even when we do not feel like it. 1 Corinthians 13: 4-8 captures the essence of real love with the words, “Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, love is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails…”
Are you in the early stages of falling in love with someone? Does your heart race in their presence? Does your stomach flip when you think about them? Do you feel like you want to do anything you can for them and give them everything you have to give?
Sometimes love hits us like a star falling from the sky. We meet someone and after one conversation we cannot help but want to get to know them more and more. And sometimes love comes gently and grows slowly in our hearts. We have a friend or someone we have been casually dating for a while who becomes more and more dear with time.
Perhaps you are deeply blessed in this season of life and you have come to love someone who loves you back. Congratulations, my friend. This indeed is an occasion of great joy. Drink in this moment. Enjoy it. Thank God for the blessing of this person in your life. Pray and ask God to help you both grow deeper in love for one another. If no one else is celebrating this moment with you, or if people in your life are telling you it is wrong to love someone of the same gender, please know that I joyously bless this new relationship. I see it as sacred, beautiful, and good, just like I see you as sacred, beautiful, and good.
As you embark on a new journey of love with this other person, be good to each other. Remain close to God as individuals and as a couple. For love to grow, it takes a commitment from both people to be faithful to one another, serve one another, and treat each other with kindness and respect. With this strong foundation, love will grow and become unshakable. As it says in Song of Songs 8: 6, “Set me as a seal on your heart, as a seal on your arm; for stern as death is love, relentless as the nether world is devotion; its flames are like a burning fire.”
Take steps to protect your love by thanking each other for acts of kindness, giving each other warm and sincere compliments, and talking openly about issues in the relationship and differences of opinion as they come up. Also, remember that it is not realistic or fair to expect that all of your emotional needs will be met by one person. Enjoy being with the person you love, but also maintain healthy relationships with friends and family. Above all, maintain a strong relationship with God. God is the source of all love, goodness, and life. To be good to another person, we need to be full of the spirit of our living God. Love sometimes fades or falls apart because people take advantage of each other, use each other, cut themselves off from people outside the relationship, or fail to give what they can to keep the other person happy and fulfilled. Love demands that both parties make sacrifices for the good of the other. The heart of love is found in the words of Jesus in Luke 6: 31 when he says, “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
For a relationship to be healthy, you both need to know your values and expectations, communicate them to each other, and hold each other accountable when mistakes are made. When I first started dating, I felt as if I had to be completely selfless. I thought I should never speak my mind and never ask for what I wanted or needed. I thought crushing my inner self was the best way to fully love someone. Whenever I approached relationships this way, things fell apart very quickly. Dating was an anxiety-producing burden and there was little love in any of it. It took time to realize that when I acted this way, the person I was dating could not really see me or know me at all. I was hiding behind a false, pretend selflessness. I was wearing a mask to make myself look like a warped version of the perfect Christian. There was no truth in it, and therefore it was not right.
I talked this over with a priest because I was truly confused. I could not reconcile my values with dating. I asked, “Father, we are taught to be selfless, so how can I love someone while also telling them what I feel, what I need, and what I want? How can I live out selfless love if I spend so much time talking about me? How can I ask someone to love me back when I am supposed to follow the model of God, who loves us unconditionally, who loves us when we do good and when we do evil?” My priest opened my eyes when he said, “Aaron, it is true God loves us unconditionally, but God wants us to love Him, too.”
God yearns for our love. He leaves us free to love Him or not, and He loves us no matter what. But at the same time, He goes to great lengths to teach us how to love and remind us that we are commanded to love. Throughout the Scriptures, God makes covenants with our patriarchs and matriarchs, promising to be our God if we will be His people. God gives the law to Moses and the people of Israel so that they can walk in His ways, become a light to the nations, and share the truth of who God is and how God wants us to live. God sends the prophets to call His people back into right relationship with Him after they go astray. These prophets inspire us to give up false gods like wealth and power and turn to God through works of charity and justice. God sends His son and becomes incarnate as man in Jesus Christ the Messiah. Jesus teaches us to forgive, serve, and build peace, then dies and rises again to save us from our sins. God sends His Holy Spirit to live within us and guide us so that we can build up the Kingdom of God for the salvation of the world. Over and over and over again, God takes countless opportunities to remind us that we are created to love God, love people, and love ourselves. In various gospels, Jesus himself quotes the words of Deuteronomy 6: 4-5, “Hear, O Israel! The LORD is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the LORD, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength.”
God teaches us how to love Him, so we must follow His example and teach the people in our lives how to love us. This takes great courage because to let someone know what you want comes with the risk of not getting it. When this happens over and over, we need to ask ourselves if the person before us is ready to be in a deep, loving relationship. If the answer is no, we need to let them go, for our sake and theirs.
Contrary to fairy tale promises of happily ever after, the journey of love is not always joyous or fun. We all bring anxieties, insecurities, and fears into relationships. Part of true love is bringing all our messiness to the table so that the beloved can help us heal, grow, and change for the better. This takes time and effort. It is often painful, but if a couple sticks together through the process, it will help them grow closer to each other and deeper in love. Do not be afraid to be honest, challenge each other, and push one another to be the people God created you to be. If you do this, love will transform you in a sacred way.
And as you grow in love for one another, let that love overflow to bless the entire world. We are not given romantic love exclusively for our own enjoyment. Rather, this great gift should move our hearts and give us strength to go out and serve our neighbors and our God. Let Jesus speak to you through the words of Matthew 25: 35-36: “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.” This is our calling as Christians, and whether we are single, dating, or married, this is the path of a loving life. Any affection we share in our personal relationships should give us energy to share greater love with the entire world.
One of the difficult things about the human condition is that we can develop feelings of infatuation for someone that we are not meant to love in a romantic sense. Sometimes we develop strong feelings of desire to be with a straight classmate, our best friend’s partner, or the ex who hurt us in the past. As minorities in the population, gay Christians may feel like there are fewer opportunities to find someone to love, and this pressure may push us to fall for the wrong person. When this happens, it is easy to dwell in misery, self-pity, or jealousy. It is easy to pine away for someone who cannot or does not want to be with us, and it becomes tempting to think about scheming to make this person ours. Sometimes we become embittered or guilt-ridden due to our attractions, and so we curse our sexualities in general rather than accepting them and letting them be.
For my first serious crush, I fell really hard for a man I worked with in a group home for kids with emotional and behavioral issues. I loved watching this colleague of mine work with the young people. He was always smiling and making people laugh. I wanted to be like him. I had this goofy grin on my face whenever I thought about him. When I realized he was straight, it was like someone ripped my heart out of my chest and crushed it underfoot. After months of listening to tragic ballads alone in my room, I realized this did not have to be the end of the world. For some reason, God had given me eyes to see a great many wonderful things about this person. Thinking about him brought me joy. If I obsessed with the fact that he would never be my boyfriend, I would forever make myself unhappy. But when I praised God for making such a beautiful human being and prayed for his happiness without expecting anything for myself, I felt a profound sense of peace. And so, if you find yourself infatuated with someone who cannot be yours, then thank God for creating that person, praise God for all the good things you see in them, and pray that they find love and meaning in their life. Ask God to help you love them as you are meant to love them, as a neighbor of good will, a friend, or, in time, as something more.
Whether we find ourselves in the throes of passionate love, in the early stages of dating someone new, in the agony of unrequited love, or single without anything interesting on the near horizon, we need to remember that we all need God. If we feel anxious, confused, or afraid, we need Him to give us peace. If we feel elated and overjoyed, we must turn to Him in praise and thanksgiving for all the good He has showered upon us. This will increase our joy all the more. We must trust that our lives and relationships are in God’s hands, and this is the best place for them to be. Enjoy loving God, loving others, and loving yourself. At the end of the day, this is why we are alive.