Today, I’ve been married for 10 months.
And I love the timing of this, in the final week of Advent, the week which bears the theme: love.
On Sunday, our pastor shared on this theme some words that really resonated with me:
Advent is a coming of love.
The nature of love is participation; it’s not just one way, it’s experiential. Love is something to be experienced, practiced, received, and given. It’s a powerful message that we get to embrace. The fact that it involves our investigation, our engagement, and even our work–is frustrating. But it is exactly what God chose to do in Jesus.
Christ came to love the world, not to condemn it. He came to reveal the love of the Father. In Advent, Christ is inviting us to experience God’s love–a love that is trustworthy and faithful and good.
We can all participate in this life of love.[Watch this short & sweet sermon here – believe me, you won’t regret it!]
So often, we think of love as a feeling, an emotion. But in reality, it is an action. It is participation; it cannot be something done in isolation.
Learning in Isolation
Isolation… does that word trigger anyone? This year has held more isolation than we would ever care for again, I think. But it also has held the opportunity for us to learn to love all over again—asking questions like: what does love look like when we cannot be together? how do we still participate in each other’s lives? how do I love those who feel differently about issues surrounding the pandemic or social justice?
I am beyond thankful that we got married just before the pandemic began, in late February. Within two weeks of our wedding day, we were both isolated at home. I was working as usual; Chris was working a few scattered online events and a contract position.
Getting married can often look a bit like isolation, as well. There’s a lot of figuring out how old relationships with family & friends look like after you get married. This new relationship is and should be the most important one, which you are constantly cultivating and pouring into. It’s a steep learning curve how to let others in on it. Being in a pandemic certainly doesn’t help that feeling or improve that learning curve!
Still, it’s been a joy to learn this year—yes, even this year. 2020 won’t come with the memory of “pandemic” first and foremost; it will always be the year Chris and I got married. So despite all the ups, downs, tears, and grief that this year has held, I will remember this year as one full of learning to love—both in my marriage & in all of my relationships.
Here are 10 things I’ve learned about love this year that help me see Advent’s love in new ways:
1. Love looks different than we think.
I discovered I loved Chris while crying over a letter he wrote me for my birthday last year. In that moment, love looked like this big story that I never expected. It was a sweeping narrative of dates, lengthy discussions, and a lot of handwritten notes to each other.
In marriage, love settles down into the smaller details of life. The way I put away his clothes is love. The way I choose to play board games with him is love. The way I speak my mind is love.
It takes time to learn these details, because love looks different from the ways we settle in our minds while dating. Early on in our marriage, I made fun of the way Chris hangs his shirts. I refused to put them up that way for months, until he reminded me of his love language—acts of service. That doesn’t mean I serve him in the way I would want to; that means I serve him by doing things the way he likes them done.
I have failed at different ways of loving over & over again. But love still shows up, and so will I. No matter what it looks like.
2. Love moves the story forward.
In order to go from dating to engaged to married, that big sweeping narrative of love I experienced was necessary. As was, for us, going to a wedding together to unveil our hearts and hopes as we watched another love story take that next step.
Love is the primary action that moves our stories forward, not just in big ways, but in those little details, too. Chris’ love encourages me to write and journal, which has led to numerous blog posts and ideas this year. His love encourages me to stay in the Word, which led to 4 months reading and rereading the gospels and growing in how I view Jesus and following him. His love took care of me when I was sick, and cheered me on at the gym, which has led to better health, not just physically, but emotionally and mentally.
The story will always be moving, just as time moves, but its direction is a direct result of how we love each other.
3. Love takes hard work.
It took me months to fall in love with Chris. Or maybe months to realize that I was falling in love with Chris. In those months, there were delayed dates, awkward dates, fun dates, and lots of time spent talking—meaning, there was work involved. Primarily, the work was Chris pursuing me, and my work was responding. Chris had to decide to not talk to another girl, and he led us to talk about deeper things. I had to open my heart, to answer questions honestly, and to actively choose to be attentive, pray through all the feelings, and ultimate decide that this would be it for both of us.
None of those things—for either of us—was easy! It was overwhelming and hard. Even in friendships, loving each other takes this same sort of hard work: pursuit, communication, good questions, and responding to texts or calls.
This all sounds simplistic, but love is not simple; love is effort and grit, joining the messy lives of one another and committing to walk through the mess together.
4. Love requires vulnerability.
I pride myself on being a pretty vulnerable person; I talk about my feelings fairly openly with close, trusted friends. But opening my heart to Chris did not come easily; vulnerability still doesn’t come easily in our marriage.
The first time I realized this, we were on a date, early on. We were talking, and out of nowhere, he said: “I like your dimples.”
Me—deer in headlights, hand instinctively covering my mouth—“I don’t have dimples.”
“Yes you do,” he responded, proceeding to describe where they are and when they show up.
I have never felt so exposed and vulnerable to someone’s studying gaze. He had studied me, discovering things I didn’t even know about myself. It scared me.
But I chose to let him see me. Yes, I fought it (and still do), but ultimately, I gave in and let him love my dimples…and slowly, every other part of me.
Love requires both this kind of studying gaze, and also the however-slow, vulnerable surrender to be seen by that gaze.
5. Love says hard things.
A few weeks ago, I had to talk with Chris about a sensitive subject that was causing me a lot of pain. I had already shed tears with him about this, but couldn’t seem to articulate all my feelings into words. So one day, I had to resolve to say the hard things.
This involved a number of steps for me: processing my feelings on my own by writing, texting Chris to say we needed to talk, and actually sitting down on the couch to talk.
That evening, I sat down next to him and took his hand. I averted my gaze and blinked back tears. Finally, I had to look at him and say, “This is hard for me.” And then I had to say the actual hard words that had been too much me for weeks. Chris listened and helped me climb out of the overwhelm.
I’ve had to do this several times over this year, and it hasn’t always had that same supportive conclusion. Staying committed to talking about hard things, though, has led to deeper love in my heart towards others.
That’s the thing about love: it is committed no matter what hard things may need to be said or what rejection is risked. It loves anyway, even if not ultimately reciprocated.
6. Love does hard things.
This time last year, I had my first wedding dress fitting. I was anxious and excited; this dress had been in my head since August. But as I put it on and started making some changes, the choice of altering the neckline was tough for me. The seamstress was amazing trying to find the perfect lace to add, but I was struggling with the decision. I needed help.
Poor cell service and a lack of people to ask led to a very dejecting half-hour. I finally made a decision I felt good about, but by then was sick to my stomach and breathless with anxiety.
Chris sat with me in a Macy’s parking lot a few hours later and held me while I cried. But then he said, “You need to tell her how you felt,” speaking of one person who was unable to come to my fitting. Jesus affirmed that wise counsel at church the next morning, and I called her to tell her how I felt. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever done, but God was clear: to love is to do hard things, like telling someone that they hurt you.
To love is to do hard things; to not be honest with someone, really, is to withhold your love from them.
7. Love draws near.
An area of conviction for me has been back to that trigger-word mentioned earlier: isolation. For Lent in 2019, I fasted from isolation, literally. When I am with someone, I can talk for hours about how I’m doing. Take me out of that arena, though, and I am prone to isolate in my feelings. I will sit for weeks with an emotion—and not say a word about it if I’m not asked.
When I isolate, I am withholding both my love and the opportunity for another person to love me. When I deny someone that privilege, I end up blaming them for “not loving me well.” This is not healthy, and it is not love.
Love, unlike unhealthy me, draws near. It doesn’t wait for a question; it doesn’t wait for permission. It gives itself away, because presence is always worth it.
8. Love leans into weakness.
I got Covid-19 this July, but it wasn’t the first time Chris had seen me sick. While dating, he made me homemade soup, brought me flowers, and took me to a second-opinion appointment at Vanderbilt. When I hurt my back while riding a roller coaster, he anxiously texted the friend who was taking care of me to check in.
While my weakness has taught me to rest well, it is still something I shy away from and try to ignore. Chris doesn’t let me. He doesn’t overlook me in my weakness. He comes in as close as he possibly can, and has for as long as I’ve known him.
Love leans into the things that make us recoil; love treats weakness tenderly, even when we aren’t very tender with ourselves.
9. Love honors emotions.
If you haven’t figured out by now, I am an emotional person (Enneagram 4 if you need to know). Chris is decidedly not, which for me just means that when I do see him cry, it makes my heart feel such pride.
Though he may not understand all my emotions, he always honors them. He gives me space to feel them, even if that means a panic attack that he cannot help me out of. He helps me talk through them, even when it’s hard for me. Doing this has even taught him how to see my emotions—sometimes even before me, which is one of the most helpful things you can have: someone to see your emotions without getting overwhelmed by them.
And that’s love: honoring another’s emotions without getting lost in them. Love can lead you out of the woods back onto the trail.
10. Love is always learning.
I remember very vividly, about 2 months into marriage, hyperventilating during yoga on the back porch. Not because of the movement, but because I was stuck wondering if I was loving Chris well.
And I heard a whisper break through my breathing: “You don’t have to love him the best. That’s why I am here.”
Love beyond us, God’s love, is what fills in the gaps of our love. Where we lack connection, he offers it. When we struggle to draw near, he never leaves. Where we still have so much to learn, he teaches us.
There are a million better ways I could be loving Chris, and the trajectory of my life is set on learning those ways. And that, in itself, is love.
Only the Beginning
The thing about love is, this list is truly just the tip of the iceberg. Just like Jesus’ arrival was only the beginning, the ways we’ve learned to love this year are only the beginning of a life of learning to love. I am thankful that Jesus shows us the way in this love; we do not have to figure this out alone. Love never leaves us alone.
I truly hope that each of you feel the love of God and of those around you in this season. Thank you for joining me in this Advent journey this year, and maybe next year I’ll meet you more often than once a week with posts — stay tuned!