(This article first published by Taylor University’s The Echo On February 14, 2016)
Eight months ago, I was in Asia with a friend of mine. We were working on a tree farm as part of a three-month mission trip. One afternoon as we sat on the porch talking, the topic turned to relationships. My friend felt God was revealing things to him about marriage through Scripture. I was quietly infatuated with one of the girls on our team, so I listened as he laid out what he’d learned.
The big thing he’d realized was that if he married someone, she would have to be okay with him loving God more than he did her, and he would have to be okay with her loving God first, too.
I didn’t say anything—but I let that comment germinate in my mind.
It was a terribly unromantic thing to think about. Most of our great romantic music and stories are devoted to the idea that your partner should be number one—the person you love over everything else. Your everything. It’s beautiful, and I’m a hopeless romantic who can’t get enough of it, but this Valentine’s Day I’m left thinking, “How much of that idea is really true?”
At least some of it is. This music and art celebrates commitment, that your partner should be someone you’re willing to die for. Someone with whom you grow old and become “one flesh,” as Genesis 2:24 puts it. Valentine’s Day should be a time where we really celebrate that dedicated love.
But should this person be the only thing you’re living for? Where does God fit into that romantic equation?
Sadly, many people rely on their partner to give them meaning, especially in a secular world, where all people have to live for is each other. Maybe our culture emphasizes Valentine’s Day so much because this is the day many people celebrate the only thing they’re living for.
Even if you don’t care for all the Valentine’s Day sentiment, you can flip through radio channels at any given time of day and find a song that mixes romance with religious terminology (phrases like “all I need,” “you give me meaning” and explicit comparisons between love and heaven). John Eldredge devoted part of his men’s development book, Wild At Heart, to how men often idolize women and pursue them because they think having the girl will make them real men. We turn our partners into gods.
The problem is that humans can’t fill the space God is designed to occupy. We try to find meaning in our partners but discover they are simply humans. They make mistakes; they’re occasionally rude or unavailable; they can’t fulfill our every need. Bit of a letdown on the most romantic day of the year.
But if we make God our first love, he can give us the patience to forgive our partners when they’re imperfect. He can show us how to put our partners ahead of ourselves and work together as one unit with them. He can show us how to truly commit to them and be the person they deserve to have.
I don’t know that there’s anything more romantic than that.