Castles in the Sand

When the waters rise, will our castles remain?

We’ve been duped.

Tomorrow is Valentine’s Day, and with it come all the insecurities of the lie. For many it’s a day of misery and for many others it’s a day of unattainable expectations. All our lives we’re indoctrinated with an idea of romance that simply is not true.

You see, so much of the problem can be summed up in the stereotypical Disney movie. I love Disney movies, but we watch them and witness people being swept off their feet, falling madly for the one they’re “meant to be with” even as they’ve never really known this person for more than a couple days in many circumstances. We hear about “true love,” but witness nothing that resembles TRUE love (as in, love in the real world), but we’re drawn in by the idea of happily ever after.

Our first mistake is that we limit romance to so much less than God intended it to be. Romance is not merely something that draws two people together in a torrid affair the way we imagine it to be, the way we’ve seen in so many movies or read about in books with Fabio on the cover. True Romance is the divine reaching out to us, nudging us toward what we are meant to become.

One of my favorite romantic movies is one that few people would define with that word. “Field of Dreams” is a heart-melting fantasy about several people who experience a force that pushes them to fulfill their own calls. The most obvious storyline that fits this is the main one, as Ray finally gets a second chance to play catch with his father. Romance draws him out of his boring life and forces him to pursue something impossible, something he cannot understand.

But the best example is the minor storyline about Archie Graham, the young baseball player who gives up his dream to fulfill his destiny as a truly great man who impacts the lives of countless people. We witness a metaphorical version of his life towards the end of the movie, when he walks off the field and becomes the man he was meant to be in order to save the life of Ray’s daughter.

“Shoeless Joe” admits to Archie that he could have been good. But romance would not allow him to settle for good. It demands that he achieve all he was called to be.

We think of wooing as a part of romance, the act of drawing someone near in order to fall in love. But it is so much more. It can be a whisper, an embrace, a stern command or even a withdrawal. God will use any and every way to shake us out of our own focus, drawing our eyes to Him. I’ve heard this referred to as the Sacred Romance, but I believe it is simply Romance in its truest form.

Much like the way we have distorted our perception of love to be something temporal and fleeting, we have misunderstood romance to be something that goes along with this. It’s where we get the idea of being a “hopeless romantic.” That simply means that we are desperately seeking the sensation of falling for something, and we’ve seen so many movies and heard so many stories that we subconsciously establish exactly what this means and entails.

Love is not easy, though, and Romance is not hopeless. I always find humor in the idea of a hopeless romantic, because Romance is intended to accomplish the exact opposite. Romance is designed to push us, to give us hope in spite of all odds. It is an invitation to genuine fulfillment.

I’ve mentioned this before, but Hitch is one of my favorite movies. I think it has a lot of great qualities, and it is really entertaining. And in a lot of ways it is completely accurate about how our world works. Given the right opportunity and planning, essentially any guy can sweep any girl off her feet.

That’s always concerned me though, because the act of sweeping someone off her feet is really quite manipulative and forceful, at least in this regard. It is taking advantage of the things we know about a particular woman and using them to draw her attention to all the great qualities of a respective guy. But it completely disregards who the guy really is. At the end of the experience, the woman has fallen for her Prince Charming, but who’s to say that’s actually who this random man is?

Hitch learns his lesson when he discovers that Allegra really cares about Albert based on all of his perceived flaws. Their love is far more genuine, and it turns out that the only thing Hitch does to help Albert is offer the coaching Albert needs to initially attract Allegra’s attention. From that point, she comes to discover that he is authentically the right match for her despite all of the surface shortcomings that would immediately repel her otherwise.

I don’t want to sweep a girl off her feet in the way we’ve been trained to think. I don’t want to carry out some grandiose plan in which she is so overwhelmed that emotionally she cannot turn me down. Emotions fade, but God teaches us that Love does not. I don’t want romance; I want Romance.

God pursues us relentlessly but not coercively. And while many people will claim that huge “romantic” gestures are not coercive and do not force a positive response, we all know deep inside that’s not true. They are taking advantage of a weakness and forcing an idea upon someone else; why else would it be called going weak in the knees?

We see Love in God, and it looks nothing like what we’ve been taught. We experience Romance as the Holy Spirit draws us ever closer through some of the most painful situations we could imagine. Jesus even refused to perform miracles on command because he did not want to sweep people off their feet. He had no interest in “wooing” people with grand acts; why do we?

I have two major problems with Valentine’s Day. First, everything becomes a cliché on this day, so even the most genuine act loses its meaning. Second, it suggests that we need to perform some great showing of affection on one day each year, which implies that it is okay to neglect it the other 364 days. That right there should warn us that it is not real – if it is not sustainable how can it be anything more than a flash in the pan act intended to increase our hormonal desires?

Hormones fade and emotions change. But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: while we were stuck in sin, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8). While we were disgusting failures, Christ died for us. And the giant teddy bear and candlelight dinner you’ve prepared to “win the heart” of your cute coworker is an act of love?

I think anyone that really knows me can attest to the fact that I’m not against grandiose showings of affection. Throughout all of my (failed) relationships I’ve strived to do some crazy things to “profess my love.” To be honest, throughout most of that time I was an idiot and that probably played a key role in all of those experiences flopping.

But I want Romance. God performs wondrous deeds in our hearts and in our lives not in an effort to make us love Him, but simply as a reminder that He loves us. He’ll stay up with us all night crying over our failures and struggles, and when we listen He’ll whisper the words of encouragement we need to hear. You are beautiful. You are incredible. I love you.

That is what I strive to be. Tea lights in the sand spelling our names in a heart on the beach is something that you’ll always remember, and it absolutely has its place (Note to self: that time I tried something similar was not that place). But those gestures are only genuine when they are supported by the actual acts that love embodies.

Love is not an emotion. It is a sacrificial giving of yourself to satisfy the needs of another. In Jesus’ case it was literally dying for the sake of others. It is overused and abused, but 1 Corinthians 13 tells us about Love. It is essential to Romance.

I guarantee you that I’ll fail miserably in my next attempt at Romance, whenever that comes. I’m not God. But I’m slowly learning what not to do and what is not love as I try to find what is. I won’t be duped anymore. I won’t be a hopeless romantic, because my Romance is full of hope.

That’s the way Romance was intended. That’s the truth.

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