Valentine’s Day. It means different things for different people; a time of reflection, a time to share with someone special, or a day that's just like any other day. My boyfriend and I are spending our third (or maybe fourth - but who’s counting?) Valentine’s Day together which has me reflecting on what I’ve learned since sharing my life with someone else in such an intimate way. It’s more than the fairytales we see in the movies; rather, it requires constantly putting our 'me-first' desires in the backseat, pushing past our emotions and forgiving often. Even for the little things.
At the beginning, one of the biggest things I struggled with was the fear of breaking up. This fear of breaking up came from an innate (and sometimes crippling) fear of failure, which was caused by the desire to avoid embarrassment in the event of a break up and a fear of what others would think. There was a worry that I could give so much love to one person, when it could potentially fail. Over the years, I have learned to trust God with the process and become secure in the peace that God continues to give us with each passing day. While I believe that we are in this relationship for the long-haul, the prospect of this not happening no longer worries me : somehow, the peace given to me by God continues to transcend my human understanding. This peace brings freedom from the opinions of others (also known as 'people bondage'), and is a promise to each of us in all areas of life. My security comes from the peace of His word and not in the success of my relationship.
Don’t fret or worry. Instead of worrying, pray. Let petitions and praises shape your worries into prayers, letting God know your concerns. Before you know it, a sense of God’s wholeness, everything coming together for good, will come and settle you down. It’s wonderful what happens when Christ displaces worry at the centre of your life. - Philippians 4:7 (MSG)
Peace is more than just the absence of turmoil. So how do we practically pursue this peace that 'transcends all human understanding' as the NIV version of this verse says? We can test our belief system and actions through the lens of God's promises.
Most of us have grown up hearing ‘the grass is always greener on the other side’, a cautious reminder to avoid getting hung up on comparison, but somehow I still sometimes find myself falling into the trap. It’s so easy for us to see the Instagrammed, blogged and liked glimpses of everyone else’s Perfect Lives. In the past I've found myself hashtagging #relationshipgoals underneath a picture of a cute couple, only for them to break up months later, and leaving me questioning if true love actually exists (just being honest!). The reality is that our perceptions can be easily manipulated by the manicured platform that is social media. I have learned that I cannot hold my boyfriend (or my friends) to the standards we see around us. My boyfriend may not have sent me 5,000 roses for me to show you, but he may pray over me when nobody is watching.
The truth is, I have no idea what is going on with anyone beyond what I see in a picture; it's far more important that I spend time watering my own garden, making sure my grass stays green
Better yet, I can keep my eyes firmly fixed on Jesus. I love social media as much as the next person, but I have learned not to get carried away with comparison, after all, it is the thief of joy. (Proverbs 14:30)
Keep your eyes on Jesus, who both began and finished this race we’re in. Study how he did it. Because he never lost sight of where he was headed—that exhilarating finish in and with God—he could put up with anything along the way: Cross, shame, whatever. And now he’s there, in the place of honor, right alongside God. When you find yourselves flagging in your faith, go over that story again, item by item, that long litany of hostility he plowed through. That will shoot adrenaline into your souls! - Hebrews 12:2
Open streams of communication
On this journey, I've seen that constant, honest and open communication is the only real way to resolve difficulties and prevent them growing into something we can’t handle. We cannot simply ignore a problem and expect it to go away because most times, it doesn’t...
Even worse, keeping our feelings inside only leads to a build-up which ends in an explosion (which is usually over the smallest things). Messy.
Speaking openly improves our communication in a relationship and gives me the chance to understand my boyfriend’s perspective. The same principle goes for friendships too, and I’m still learning how to apply it. I often choose not to communicate how I’m really feeling because I fear other people’s reaction to my vulnerability, but vulnerability is actually a risk worth taking for the greater good of the relationship. When I feel as though somebody has wronged me, will I give that person an opportunity to have a conversation or simply cut them off? The answer to this question depends on my desire to fight for the relationship; to make things work. We usually don’t speak up if we don’t think something is valuable enough to us. Rising above our temporary emotions of fear and actively pursuing open streams of communications is one of the most impactful ways that we can love others:
If a fellow believer hurts you, go and tell him—work it out between the two of you. If he listens, you’ve made a friend. – Matthew 18:15 (MSG)
Feelings fluctuate, commitment doesn't
This brings me on to my next point: emotions are fleeting. Have you ever looked back at a past potential love interest and wondered what you ever saw in them? I have. Being part of this technology-inclined generation means that our attention spans are getting shorter. We tend to get bored so quickly that before long, we’ve moved on to the next thing. After the years that have passed, I've learned I cannot base my love for my boyfriend on the initial excitement or movie-worthy romance, because when things get tough, we need to lean on something stronger.
True love rests on our commitment to others. While feelings fluctuate, commitment doesn’t. A commitment is a conscious choice, and each day I am learning to choose love, even when I don’t feel like it.
The same goes for my friendships. I have found that on days when I remind myself of how much love has been given to me, it is easier for me to choose to love others. It’s this blueprint that forms the basis of my commitment. As usual, the Bible puts it perfectly:
Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God; and everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. - 1 John 4:7 NIV
The beauty of relationships is that they act like a mirror. In trying to figure out life with someone else, our own flaws and areas for improvement are laid bare. For me, this meant understanding that I was more self-focused than I realised; it’s not that I don’t like sharing, but learning to compromise was something I needed to do. With even the smallest things - I can’t always choose where we go for dinner, I have to consider my boyfriend’s preferences too. Consideration. It boiled down to this; I had become so used to only considering myself that when the time came to compromise, I didn’t like it. I wasn’t used to it. Prioritising someone else’s desires, feelings and expectations above our own is a significant expression of love. It says, “I love me, but I love you more” Simply put, it's not all actually about me.
I’m still (and will always be) a work in progress, and these are some of the things I’ve learned that have helped me grow both as an individual and as a friend. I hope that whether you are in a relationship or not, we can all Choose Love from today onwards.
Thanks so much to Ore for taking the time to put her thoughts and learnings in writing! She’s also been featured in a BuzzFeed article here. This year on Freely Written we are growing, and if you have any comments or questions please get in touch here. Speak to you next week!