Love is Messy so be Kind

I heard a Justin Timberlake song on the radio that got me thinking about love.

I wouldn’t have even known the song was by the former boy-bander had the deejay not mentioned it. Timberlake isn’t really my type, which I’m sure is a huge relief to his wife (actress Jessica Biel).

Timberlake was singing about love and making some girl’s dream come true by loving her. It went something like this: Love, give it a chance, yadda, yadda, yadda; his hips rolling; my eyes rolling. The song culminates with Timberlake making dreams come true (as if he’s become the physical embodiment of a Disney theme park because clearly, that’s what every woman is looking for in a man).

The song is set to a rhythmic beat that seems too fast to slow dance to and too slow to fast dance to. Its genre could best be described as folding towels kind of music.

It was the part about the dreams coming true that perplexed me. My husband and I have been married for 25 years. We met when we were 14 years old. Not in a commune — but in high school, which admittedly is similar in some ways. While we didn’t date until after college, we’ve still been together for a long time.

But numbers don’t mean anything when you are talking about love. Despite being many amazing things and a partner in the truest sense of the word, my husband is not my dream. Since I’m fairly certain Timberlake quit reading this after the first paragraph when I said he wasn’t my type, I don’t feel guilty for saying that identifying a romantic partner as a dream seems like a ridiculous sentiment.

It’s unrealistic to envision romantic love as the end-all, be-all — in other words, the big, capital D “Dream.” Thinking of love only as first kisses, long gazes, and electric touches, it’s no wonder so many people become disenchanted with their relationships. Those things are flirtatious and fleeting. From a practical perspective, I would also prefer my husband unload the dishwasher rather than gaze at me. Lingering stares make me feel as if I’ve left part of my supper on my face or dangling between my teeth and I hardly feel attractive.

I don’t mean to sound cynical either. Long stares aside, I love moments when my breath catches in my throat. But those moments are not sustainable. You would quite literally start to choke or gasp, neither of which is particularly attractive. Those moments are fun and they’re giddy. They sell books, movies, and even songs. But when we get too caught up in them, we can develop unrealistic expectations for our relationships. Mostly when we hyperfocus on romance, we ignore a fundamental truth — love is messy.

I know the Bible doesn’t say that in Corinthians 13:4-13, which begins with “Love is patient, love is kind …” But maybe what’s inferred is that love is messy, so be patient; love is messy, so be kind, etc. Real love isn’t just romance. It’s listening when you don’t feel like hearing. Love is accepting when you want change. Love is trusting. It’s surrender, vulnerability, and sacrifice. It’s scary. Add a mortgage and a couple of kids and it gets even scarier. No one dreams about a sink full of dishes or a sinking feeling when you have different opinions or different approaches. No one dreams about taking care of someone when they are sick or struggling with feelings of indifference or apathy. No one dreams about fights or the vulnerabilities they expose.

Loving someone through moments, days or periods of time that for whatever reason feel like a nightmare isn’t as pretty as the flat hearts we colored red as children. Yet, it’s not the perfection of love that makes it exceptional, it’s the implausibility of it to thrive despite life’s imperfections. Love is beautiful because it is so messy and it endures despite all of the humanness; all of the brokenness that exists in our world. Likewise, when Jesus died on the cross for us, it was not a dream. It was reality at its most brutal. Yet, it was the epitome and essence of love. It was sacrificial and unconditional. For sure, it was messy. Jesus deserved better. I can’t live up to his example or repay his sacrifice. Still, I am humbled by the reality of it.

Even though I often have to pick up my own cross a gazillion times to show the people in my life genuine love, I strive to do it no matter how messy it feels. This isn’t the kind of love I dream about, but it’s a timeless testament to the power and practice of authentic love — a tune that can sometimes feel a little offbeat but that inevitably makes me want to dance.

Hi all~ It’s the month of love! (Or so Hallmark tells us.) While the image of Jesus doesn’t make it on most greeting cards,  it’s really his example of love; his passion for us; his unconditional and merciful heart that I want to emulate with everyone I love. But I am me so I never get it quite right. And, still, love accepts, forgives, and embraces me. That’s the power and promise that doesn’t come from mylar balloons or the prettiest bouquets but from our heavenly Father. That’s love.

May your heart be filled with it ~ Love, Lara

Ash Wednesday and Opposites Attract

a couple in love I love that Valentine’s Day falls on Ash Wednesday this year.   It has a certain yin and yang to it.  The commercial hawking of one compared to the saving grace of the other, proving once again that opposites attract.

The black ash symbolizing death countered with the puffy red heart celebrating love adds an element of realism.  And when you have a holiday as syrupy as Valentine’s Day, a-la doilies, hyped up expectations, and besotted poetry, that darkness is rather refreshing.

I know I sound terribly unromantic, but I have loved long enough to know that true love has little to do with those trappings and more to do with the ashen cross on the forehead.   (My poor husband is probably not feeling too wooed right now.)

Ash Wednesday is a day of penitential prayer and fasting.  It marks a season that is purposefully non-celebratory, while Valentine’s Day is about bubbly champagne, decadent desserts, and red roses.

I like the juxtaposition of it.  But there is also a commonality that exists between the two.  At the core of each is love and there is no greater example of that than God sacrificing his only son for our salvation.

“For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life” (John 3:16, NRSV).

On Ash Wednesday, we are reminded of God’s mercy, which has the power to take away the stain of our sins.  Our hearts, blackened by the wounds of the world, grudges, indifference, neglect, and injustice can be wiped clean.  We are called to seek mercy during the Lenten season.  It is this mercy that allows for everything:  forgiveness, second chances, redemption, and the glory of new life.  The days leading up to the victory of the cross are a sacred time to examine ourselves, our relationship with God, and our neighbor.

That might seem dull next to shiny, red, heart-shaped balloons bobbing and boasting like a frog bellowing for a princess’s kiss. Yet it’s anything but.  Everyone knows helium balloons eventually sink, chocolates are consumed, and flowers die.  But what God promises is eternal and real.  It has the power to heal the dark wounded places we hide from the world.  It forgives our failings and delights in our efforts to know, love, and serve him.   It carries us in our loneliness, desperation, and grief.  It doesn’t inflict pain like the thorny rose of the world but offers the bloom of eternal life.

Anyone who has moved past infatuation knows that love is messy.  It’s trying again, like Jesus when he fell carrying his cross.  It’s forgiving like Jesus did before he drew his last breath. It’s beautiful and redemptive like Jesus rising from the dead.

It’s fitting then that Valentine’s Day falls on as significant a day as Ash Wednesday.

It’s the perfect preface to the greatest love story ever told.

While obviously, Ash Wednesday takes precedence of Valentine’s day, love and Lent aren’t mutually exclusive ♥ what are you doing to honor both today? Please comment! Want more related to Lent http://larapatangan.com/2018/02/06/stillness-the-action-of-finding-god/ and http://larapatangan.com/2014/03/05/shine-this-lenten-season/

XO