you can’t love until…

In my last blog post I wrote about what we put into our systems of body, mind, and spirit. I mentioned that my ruminating on this subject began with an article in the campus paper.

I wish I’d written something right when the article came out, because I don’t see it in the archives anymore. Anyway, there is a regular sexuality column in the paper, full of advice on relationships and intimacy. A few months ago, the author gave the advice that one should take a break from sex after breaking up with a boyfriend/girlfriend, so as to “heal” and build up self-esteem. The author referenced the conventional wisdom that “you can’t really love someone until you love yourself.”

Now, before I say anything else, let me add a qualifier here. I believe there are plenty of occasions that warrant time for recovery, healing, and self-preservation. You cannot have a healthy relationship if you are continually caught in cycles of abuse, or if you are completely unable to stand up for yourself.

That being said, I think I smell garbage.

As a culture, we pretend that love is a reward for working hard. We pretend that “serial monogamy,” the practice of having one exclusive sexual relationship after another, is a good way to prepare for marriage and family life. We pretend that when a young tender heart is broken, it can fully recover in just six short steps. Perhaps worst of all, we pretend that only those who are perfect have the right to be loved.

Basically, we give young adults a minefield of mixed messages: go out and do things that might cause you pain, but don’t let any of that pain show because then you’ll be out of the game. Expose yourself in the hopes that you’ll be rewarded with affection. And have fun, kiddos! This philosophy just creates a generation of tired, numb, and scarred people.

In about ten days I’ll be preaching on Romans 5: “suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.” (from verses 3-5) I propose that instead of listening to the garbage our culture tells us about relationships, we look instead to God’s philosophy:

  • Take the risk of loving others because you are already loved, and because you want to share what you already have, not because you hope to purchase someone’s love.
  • Feel good about yourself because you are already loved, not because you forced yourself to seem impervious to pain.
  • When pain strikes, rather than hoping for “healing” and warm fuzzy feelings, strive instead to develop endurance and character.

There are some scholars working on the interrelated issues of sexuality, spirituality, and health: Lauren Winner and Donna Freitas come to mind. I hope that this discussion gets more publicity in the near future. One of the hardest parts of my job is walking with students through the spiritual morass of being twenty years old and already having four or five failed relationships, all resulting from just trying to follow supposedly good advice. I hope to spend more time talking about how we are already worthy and already loved. The last thing we need is less love.

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