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(Harvest House)

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Don't Settle for a
Breathless Love

By Erin Keeley Marshall
Author, Navigating Route 20-Something – Love. Romance. Heart-stopping glances and breathless kisses. Fun! We all long for love and yearn for the kind that fills up those cracks and crevices inside us that come from too much time alone. We need love like we need air. We’re created for it by God, who calls himself love (1 John 4:8,16).

As we’re all aware, love comes in many varieties. But since the romantic kind is often the most confusing and misunderstood, that’s the one we’ll focus on here.

As a teen and early twentysomething, I had some fairly mature attitudes about love. For starters, I was determined not to settle for someone I knew wasn’t God’s best choice for me. I had high expectations of marriage and was willing to wait until I knew that I knew that I knew God was handing me the match of his choice.

But in other ways—what a goober! Since I’m being all honest here, I have to admit that I could be quite the love flake. In love with love. Head in the clouds. Dreamer to the extreme. I did myself no favors by putting guys I was interested in on pedestals no human could live up to. As a result, I scared myself out of really getting to know most of them. I also did myself no favors by dismissing some decent prospects because I wasn’t crazy about their cars or their clothes or their whatever. You name it. I was a bubblehead.

God bless my husband.

I love my love story. Maybe I appreciate it all the more because it seemed so long in coming. But even if Steve and I had found each other years earlier, I’m certain I’d still be pretty crazy about him had I not had to wait for him. He’s truly a gift, the best one God has given me besides salvation. Looking back, I can see how God’s timing worked perfectly for us. We both had to grow in our individual ways in order to be ready for each other, and our relationship is stronger for it.

But the wait was not easy. In fact, it often was suffocating while I watched friends and siblings and cousins find their true loves and settle into marital bliss.

However, as he does so well, God used the waiting time to refine some of my mixed-up views and ways of processing emotions. And he taught me that the breathless love of my girlhood dreams simply wasn’t enough. In love’s waiting room, he did some major transplanting and gave me bigger lungs.

My Love Story

I mentioned that I love my love story. I should tell you that even as a young girl I wanted God to write my romance in a way that was undeniably his handwriting. I wanted the real thing, not the settled-for-probably-good-enough version. I wanted the Cinderella fairy tale only he could create.

He gave it to me.

Although Steve and I lived five hundred miles apart when we met as adults, we soon discovered our lives had crossed paths long before that. We grew up ten miles from each other, and our families attended the same small church for a while, which happens to be where we ended up getting married. (Let me hear that sigh…isn’t it too sweet?) We remember several of the same families, can talk about locations and stores in the area, and still laugh whenever we see a lobster tank in a grocery store because it brings back similar memories of hanging out at the lobster tank in the old Dominick’s on Schmale in Wheaton, Illinois.

But we didn’t know all that until we met online some 20 years later. Yep, you read that right. We’re one of those couples who fell in love over cyberspace. And you read the other part right too…our paths crossed as kids, only to be brought back together by God’s miracle many years later. Is that a fairy tale or what?

There are many other “coincidences” I could relay, like friends at our separate colleges who knew us both and countless direct answers to prayer. But this really isn’t about my love story, so let’s get on with the topic at hand.

Mistakes in Love

All of us have made and will continue to make mistakes in love, whether it’s expecting someone else to make us whole or to fulfill all our needs or taking for granted that we deserve love. Here’s the abbreviated truth: No one can, no one will, and we don’t.

First of all, if we don’t go into love as a healthy and whole person, then we only invite strife and heartache by hoping another human will complete us. None of us is wired to carry that kind of burden; it’s enough to keep our own junk together without being expected to fix someone else’s. Even though love is powerful and can bring healing, human love is flawed.

As for expecting someone to fulfill all our needs? Come on, let’s be realistic. Have you ever been able to do that for someone? Would you ever be so audacious to think you could?

Again, not our job.

Finally, the idea that we deserve love. This one’s tricky, and we may not like the answer. But the truth is, from God’s holy perspective—going directly to the top for this one—we’re fortunate recipients of his perfect love, not entitled to it in our own right. It’s only because of Jesus’ death on our behalf that God even considers inviting us into a relationship with him.

Before you hurl this across the room, let me say it sounds harsh to my humanness too. After all, I’m a mostly decent person. At least I think I am, despite my generous portion of faults. But from God’s viewpoint, that opinion just reveals my incomplete understanding of holiness and purity versus deficient human nature.

I know God loves me more than I can fathom, but the reality is, he doesn’t have to give me a passing glance. He’s God. I’m only human. I’m one blessed cookie to have been saved by his grace, and not only saved, but cherished, delighted in, prized, and cradled in his care. But the fact remains that if Jesus had not died to pay for my innate sinfulness—which I can do nothing on my own to overcome—God could not look at me with love-filled eyes. He’s holy, and holiness cannot mix with imperfection. We may not like it, but it’s right there in the Bible:

You know the story of how Adam landed us in the dilemma we’re in—first sin, then death, and no one exempt from either sin or death. That sin disturbed relations with God in everything and everyone…So death, this huge abyss separating us from God, dominated the landscape…Even those who didn’t sin precisely as Adam did by disobeying a specific command of God still had to experience this termination of life, this separation from God (Romans 5:12-14 msg).

So we don’t deserve God’s kind of love, the real kind. Where does that leave us, and what does it have to do with our relationships?

Let’s get back to the mistakes we make in love. One of the most widespread love blunders has to do with our lung capacity. We long for the breathless excitement of romance and fool ourselves by thinking it couldn’t get any better than that. However, there’s a problem with that kind.

What happens when you’re out of breath? You gasp and wheeze and act in desperation to take in air. When someone is suffocating, every thought, every instinct is pointed toward survival. Everything becomes all about that person’s needs.

Going into a romantic relationship with that kind of personal emptiness is not what the Great Phys Ed Trainer ordered. It fools us into thinking that our role in a love relationship is to get filled, which goes back to our messed-up view that we deserve it.

God's Love

God is a marathon runner when it comes to love. He set for us an example of a giving love, not a selfish kind that leaves us struggling to get our own needs met. Without his love, we’d all be dying—and not just in this lifetime, but for eternity. With a crucial but, he pumped spiritual oxygen into us in the midst of our final gasps for air: “But God showed his great love for us by sending Christ to die for us while we were still sinners” (Romans 5:8). That kind of giving comes only from God-sized love lungs.

God gave us his Son Jesus, not out of a need to earn our love, but because his own perfect love longed to overflow into us. He’s got some incredible lung capacity to be able to spare that kind of love and still be perfectly whole and holy.

There’s no getting around it: We’re loveable only because he loves us. Not only that, but we are capable of his kind of love only because he empowers us by stretching and training and enlarging our love lungs to handle such a workout. First John 4:19 says so: “We love each other because he loved us first,” or as another version succinctly puts it, “First we were loved, now we love” (msg). Since our ability to love—our love-lung capacity—depends on our knowing his love first, it goes without saying that the quality of our love directly relates to the depth of his love that we experience.

When we gain firsthand understanding of the power of his love, we are changed from the inside. God’s love heals, restores, soothes, refreshes, and repairs those cracks we all have inside, and we become whole individuals. Our lungs expand and become capable of taking in an abundance of air, and we can’t help wanting to share the overflow with others.

We become givers.

Hosea & Gomer

Hosea was such a giver. He’s the guy God told to marry a prostitute. Now, a past is a past, and grace is huge enough to cover anything. But Hosea’s one and only hadn’t given up her career, and she wasn’t about to anytime soon after the wedding. God was telling Hosea to take on guaranteed heartache. So much for dreams of finding a perfect human love. Hosea was looking at years of being the giver, of showing unselfish devotion to someone who would stomp on his heart and then toss it out with the trash. Repeatedly.

Of course, God had an important reason for putting this burden on Hosea. He was creating a picture of Israel’s spiritual unfaithfulness to him. Hosea’s unwavering faithfulness to his wife, Gomer, would illustrate God’s true love for us. God said of Israel, “I will make you my wife forever, showing you righteousness and justice, unfailing love and compassion…I will show love to those I called ‘Not loved’” (Hosea 2:19,23).

How could Hosea do it? It’s a double whammy. First, he had to give up his dreams of being loved, of having a solid marriage. Then he had to give and give to someone who, as far as he knew, would never put even half the effort into making their relationship work.

The only way anyone could have endured that kind of drain is by drawing on God for vitality. By deepening our relationship with God, we receive the refreshing air of his love. Hosea 6:3 says, “Oh, that we might know the Lord! Let us press on to know him. He will respond to us as surely as the arrival of dawn or the coming of rains in early spring.”

Ready for True Love

Learning to love takes a lifetime, and it’s not for the spiritually asthmatic. I often wondered why I wasn’t ready earlier for my true love. The truth was, I needed to make God my truer love first. I thought he was, but it took years of training to help me wake up to a few crucial realities about being satisfied in Christ. He stretched my endurance because he knew I could have the marriage I longed for only when I found my wholeness in a relationship with him.

Now, a few years into marriage, I’m discovering still more areas of me that crowd out him. For the rest of my life, God will gradually expand my ability to love more fully.

God had reasons for choosing Gomer for Hosea, just as he has reasons for the path of my love story and yours. But his overarching goal for each of us will always be for us to know his love more deeply so we can love him and others more purely.

In order to run the marathon of lifelong love, let your spiritual Physician, Trainer, and Coach equip you with endurance and the refreshment of his love. Breathe deeply of that love, and let him expand your love-lung capacity. Determine to become the kind of lover—romantic and otherwise—who can handle the rigorous workout that truly loving someone else demands.

Don’t settle for loving breathlessly. Go for the bigger lungs. They’re yours if you’re willing to stick with God’s training plan.

I pray that from his glorious, unlimited resources he will empower you with inner strength through his Spirit…Your roots will grow down into God’s love and keep you strong. And may you have the power to understand, as all God’s people should, how wide, how long, how high, and how deep his love is. May you experience the love of Christ, though it is too great to understand fully. Then you will be made complete with all the fullness of life and power that comes from God. - Ephesians 3:16-19

Excerpted from Navigating Route 20-Something, by Erin Keeley Marshall, copyright © 2008. Used by permission of Harvest House Publishers.


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