EDIT: I’ve pressed “Publish” and “Delete” about twice now out of fear… If you’re reading this, it means that I decided to be brave.
Today is not going to be easy,
but I know this is an absolutely essential step in my healing process, and who knows? Maybe one of you out there need to know you’re not alone in this journey and can benefit from the perhaps irrational leap of vulnerability I’m about to take. I know that two years ago it would have benefited me to read these words, so… here goes…
You know what I’ve learned in my twenties (so far)? That it takes an incredible strength of will to resist companionship that not right for you. And to be honest, I have twice in my life so far failed to possess that strength of will. Once was when I was in college— I became involved in a toxic relationship that I was entirely too young for and it lasted much longer than it should have. But my most recent relationship hiccup occurred after I was saved and “should have known better”, and yet— I was weak anyway. You’d think after a baptism, countless Sundays spent sitting dutifully in the second pew at church and hours pouring into Christian self-help books, that I’d be able to recognize what was God’s best for me in a relationship. And you know what? I did and I could— but I deliberately chose not to accept it. I’m here to tell you that you do not become perfect the minute you accept Christ into your life. You are not exempt from mistakes and life is still so very complex and confusing. You will mess up. And when you mess up will be reminded just how awesomely and fearfully dependent on God you are.
This was my mess up:
I knew the man I was interested in wasn’t a believer. I knew that he wasn’t interested in a commitment, but I convinced myself that his actions proved otherwise and as far as the “church thing” went, well after I convinced him he actually did want a lasting relationship, it probably wouldn’t be too much of a stretch to pursude him to sit next to me on Sundays. I thought I’d lead a God-filled life, then he would eventually be so drawn to my example that he would follow suit. I’m sure you can already predict how this is going to end… spoiler: there were no wedding bells. As Bulda (Yes, I’m referring to the singing troll from Frozen, but stay with me…) quotes in the song, “Fixer Upper”, “I’m not saying you can change him because people don’t really change”– change has to come from motivation within oneself, not from a forced outside influence.
As this relationship started to progress, I sought the insight of those around me, but to be perfectly honest– it was halfhearted. The wife of my pastor at the time advised me to under no circumstances enter into a relationship with the hopes of changing someone— in a spiritual way especially. I ignored it. I don’t think my parents approved because this man flat out refused to meet them for the first six months of our relationship. I ignored it. But perhaps the biggest red flag was that I knew in my gut that I would have to convince this man to love me and in my mind that meant (Okay I’ll say it…) compromising on my renewed vow to wait until marriage. Guess what? I ignored that too. I knew this particular individual wouldn’t be interested in a girl that insisted on waiting and as much as I tried to tell myself otherwise, the truth was that–at the time– this one man’s approval was more important than honoring my body and the promise I made.
I told myself what we were doing was okay because he told me he loved me. Then not too far into the relationship, he told me that he didn’t actually know what love was and if he was capable of feeling it. Therefore, he retracted his previous statement and couldn’t commit to more than just “deeply caring for me”. Of course I was devastated and furious, but I was in it now. I couldn’t say I never wanted to see him again because we had so many mutual friends and we had slept together. I broke a promise for this guy and to me, that meant something. The solution was: I would have to stick it out and change his mind over time. Surely I could make this man love me. For nine months we continued to see each other almost every day. I practically lived at his apartment and all the while he refused to say the three little words that I so desperately longed to hear. Or no actually, he did say them to me a few times– as a character on stage while looking in my character’s eyes. (It’s no wonder actors can be so messed up…) Orpheus did love Eurydice… so much so that he traveled to the depths of the Underworld to rescue her. Obviously, it’s completely irrational to compare your love life to that of a couple from a Greek myth, but the stark contrast between undying love and fleeting interest was excruciatingly painful. Needless to say, that was an emotionally challenging production to work on. For nine months I tried to initiate intimacy, thinking that although it was second best, that perhaps it would actually inspire concrete feelings of love. My attempts were rejected so frequently that with my shallow self confidence, I began to feel ashamed of my body. Eventually, at the nine month mark, I lost it. I finally gave an ultimatum and declared that I was prepared to break it off if he couldn’t say he loved me. So I got my three little words… via a tearful threat. It was just the love story I had imagined in my mind… except it wasn’t at all.
Reader, I want to assure you that I’m not telling you this story so I can enlist your pity or so you might feel inspired to egg my ex boyfriend’s car. The reason I feel it’s important to relinquish these memories on a public platform is because Christians don’t talk about sex. We’re told that God looks down upon premarital sex, so we all just turn a blind eye, pretend no one is doing it, and privately deal with our shame. I think a lot of people assume that God despises those that don’t wait until marriage; that He is disappointed with us or is even disgusted by us. I don’t think that’s true. I think He requests us to wait because He knows just how much it will hurt if we don’t. It hurts so bad. Oh my gosh it hurts. So. Bad. To feel like the rules were broken— my body was taken for granted and ruined when it was convenient and discarded when it wasn’t. Sex became such a dirty word for me after my ex left me. A sin that I willfully indulged in, hoping it would be the solution to the loneliness I refused to admit I was still experiencing. How could I have let someone get so close? How could I have been so stupid? Why didn’t I take my loneliness and longing for companionship to God? There were times when I would have done anything to go back and rewrite my story— protect my body and my heart and stay involved in the church instead of tossing that part of my life aside when it became clear that a Sunday spent in the second pew meant a Sunday I wouldn’t spend with my boyfriend. To offer another person the most vulnerable side of yourself and for them to cast it aside is comparable to having a door slammed directly in your face. You might have a different perspective or story, but I can only speak from my truth and that is how it feels for me.
And yet, the heartbreak that I experienced was somewhat sacred. When I understood that perhaps God wasn’t trying to condemn me but protect me, I suddenly felt closer to Him than ever. This rejection has helped me to see God’s wisdom and once again embrace my dependence on Him. It takes a lot of strength to finally accept that as flawed human beings, we are limited and sometimes we truly don’t know what’s best for us. Instead of letting that knowledge defeat you, you can take comfort in the fact that God does know what’s best and He is always, always looking out for your heart. God never said “follow your heart”… He said, “Protect it”.
I’m now going to say something that might be a little weird, but I feel that at this point I absolutely need to write an ode of appreciation to my ex boyfriend’s mother.
When looking back at hurtful memories it can be so easy to think, “Why did I have to go through that?” Surely a less complicated and drawn out route existed in which I could have learned the same lesson. However, I feel confident that I know exactly why it played out the way it did. The reason I had to go through almost two years of a damaging relationship with my ex was so I could have one very important conversation with his mom…
It was about a month before we broke up when his mom came into town to watch him perform in a play. He was called to be at the theatre an hour before curtain, which left his mother and I with an hour to kill by ourselves. We ate the most delicious ice cream in Nashville– Jeni’s– and we chatted on a bench in front of the theatre. At first it was superficial surface-level stuff, but quickly the talk started to get more personal when she asked, “Is something wrong?” I suppose she could tell that I wasn’t pulling off my bright and bubbly routine as well as I had in the past. I told her I felt unbearably lonely because my boyfriend–her son– was never around due to rehearsal commitments and I basically had no other social outlet that was my own. It was true— I was working a job that I hated and all I would do is work and come home to the teeny, tiny bedroom I shared with him and sit and stare at the walls. Literally. My family was in another state and I had nothing to distract me from a sense of dread that told me that coming back to Nashville so I could be with my boyfriend was, perhaps, a mistake. She listened to me without judgement. I truly felt that she sympathized with me and understood my displacement. And then she told me something that I didn’t want to hear– she told me to go back to church. At first those words landed with a sensation equal to a kick in the gut. But after I listened to her tell me that yes, her friendships are wonderful and of course her family provides support, but that the only solid rock she has in her life that won’t disappoint her is Jesus… well, I knew wanted that too. If it weren’t for that conversation, I don’t think I would be sitting here today writing about how miraculous God’s love is.
I know that sounds crazy— well okay, call me crazy, but I know it to be true. I would endure those almost two whole years of an uphill struggle for love all over again knowing that on the other side of that bitter rejection is going to be a greater love story than I could have ever written in my dreams— the love of my creator and forever savior. While I was fighting for worthiness and blindly pursuing the acceptance of this man, God never gave up His pursuit of me.
Just like your son, I will never see or speak to you again, but in case you happen to be reading this right now— thank you. That conversation we had set the wheels in motion for me to fully embrace this new life where I am wholeheartedly loved and seen.
Thank you. It was all worth it so I could find my way back to you. No more doors slamming in my face. No more feelings of ruin or disgust. The doors are open, there’s a light shining through the frame… a better way of living is out there and this time I will not settle for less than your best.
Forever in gratitude,