A Discipline of Love

Four years ago this month, I sat at a coffee shop with trembling heart, looking across the table at a man named Eddie. He was not quite a stranger to me, due to weeks of long phone conversations and shared group activities, but he was a huge risk. I’d been hurt too many times before, and I was scared. Please don’t hurt me, my tender heart cried.

But from what I knew of him already, I couldn’t help but get excited when Eddie stated his intentions to me that night. This kind, handsome, godly man wanted to pursue a serious, marriage-minded relationship with me.

Eddie’s pursuit elicited all kinds of responses in me: joy, terror, hope, defensiveness, selfishness, new energy, passion, doubt, even a strange desire to maintain control when instead I needed to let go and rest. Eddie’s love for me — which he didn’t verbally confess until our wedding day, but showed me in a thousand ways before then — changed me from the inside out.

Growing to love Eddie and trust him enough to commit my life to him was a wonderful journey. But it was also one of the scariest experiences of my life. By the time you’re 34 and still unmarried, you’ve mourned the death of a thousand dreams and you have just as many reasons why you should never risk your heart with a man again, why you should run when you see weakness in him, why dating can feel like a prelude to devastation. So while I was completely enamored with Eddie and couldn’t wait to spend every possible minute with him, I was also ready to bolt at any given moment. Surely God would say “no” to this one too, right?

Slowly I learned how to love and be loved, and it took time, courage, discipline, wise counsel, and great faith. It meant continually fixing my eyes on Jesus, staying in His Word, and pouring out my heart to Him in prayer. It required me to be brutally honest with some of the closest people in my life. (And it also took a man who knew what he wanted and was resolved to win me.) Staying in a committed relationship with Eddie was, in a strange sense, a beautiful discipline. I learned to master some long-standing fears, become more vulnerable, downsize my social circle, engage in hard conversations, and enjoy what God was giving me. Had I bolted when I was overwhelmed with fear and dread, or had I simply said, “This is too great a risk,” I would have missed out on the second greatest blessing of my life.

I will never forget calling one of my best friends in a frenzy over a “red flag” I saw in my relationship with Eddie. She listened patiently and then said, in her characteristically truth-telling way, “You keep looking for red flags in this guy, but you’re the mess.”

And she was right. I was a mess, and I needed a big God to walk me through heart-rending new places. In those months I learned to apply Elisabeth Elliot’s advice to “do the next thing” and not borrow all the what-if’s of tomorrow. I would enjoy the next date and leave the next year — with all its uncertainties and unknowns — in God’s strong hands.

We girls don’t tend to think of falling in love as a season of self-control and discipline, but in my experience it was. Right alongside the butterflies in my stomach and the new sparkle in my eyes was a deeper awareness that only God Himself could prepare me for covenant love — a love so wholly empowered by Him that two broken sinners could commit their lives to each other “till death do us part.”

In the end, I chose to love Eddie even more than I fell in love with him. And by God’s grace, that choosing liberated me and ushered me into a marriage more beautiful than I’d ever imagined, a marriage where tenacious love and stunning grace have been the hallmark of our first three years together.

5 Comments

  1. I don’t know how I haven’t read this before, but what perfect timing. Just….thank you. This brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for giving permission for the journey to be hard as well as good.

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