I’ve rewritten this post a few times as I processed it, and I think maybe this time I’m finally able to look at things more clearly, without a foggy environment for my thoughts to swim. It always feels kind of strange to be writing about this, but it’s something that’s important to me and I’d like it to be something we talk about more. And I know some people talk about this too much, but I think that, at least in my circles, we don’t talk about it enough. There are things we’re ignoring that are hurting some of us, because almost all of us have refused to deal with them.
I don’t know if this is something I’ve ever been directly told, but it’s something that I’ve always believed, which makes me think it’s either a pretty big philosophy of the culture around me or something human nature struggles with. But: have you ever felt guilty for being attracted to someone? Like you had to tone down the feelings you had for someone? Have you ever believed that God didn’t want you to have feelings for someone? That you were disappointing him by having someone who gave you butterflies? Because I have. This has been my life. And dear friend, if this is your life, too, I want to tell you what He told me.
I have to get a little personal for you to understand the potency of His words, I think, so I hope that’s okay. Last year at this time, I was talking to the Lord pretty frequently about a man in my life. We weren’t together or even considering being together; he was simply a friend I had hidden feelings for. I wondered if maybe someday we would get married, because we just. . . fit. You know those people who carry an atmosphere that just compliments yours so well? He was one of those. Whenever I saw him I felt connected to him; his atmosphere and mine felt warm and natural together. Along with that, he had many qualities and even quirks I’d always pictured my husband having. He looked like my husband inside.
I loved talking to the Lord about him because it always carried a bit of excitement. But I also became a little impatient. I told Him so many times that I didn’t want to invest my heart in someone who wasn’t my husband, and then asked Him to guide my feelings. Some days I’d ask Him to straight-up tell me– “Is he my husband, or do these feelings need to go away?”
About a year ago, the Lord unexpectedly straight-up told me. I honestly didn’t think He would, because in every other instance He’d simply let my feelings fade (which is totally okay). But this time, He was so clear. And even on days when I’ve wanted to doubt if I really heard Him, I know I did. I know the Lord told me that I will not be marrying this man. But that wasn’t the only thing He said: He talked about what my husband will be like. And I am so excited to know this man, because even the small little things I know about him are making me smile as I type. The Lord’s revelation to me was not a sad one, it was a joyous one! Still, there was now a man in my life I knew I wasn’t marrying– that I still definitely had feelings for. To be honest, I still feel for him sometimes, although usually I’m fine.
I didn’t always handle it well; I actually became bitter against myself. “Tessa, why are you still holding on to him?” I’d reprimand. “Why can’t you just let him go? He isn’t your husband, you can’t feel this affection for him! You have to let go of him!” When I was in the midst of reprimanding myself, I’d talk to the Lord, too. I asked Him what I could do about this man I saw frequently and still had a deep affection toward. And He answered that question, too. He said, “Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again” (1 Pet. 1:22-23).
I wasn’t quite sure what to do with this answer at the time, so I just journaled about it and tucked it away; it peeked out at me occasionally, and it discouraged me because I didn’t know what loving him looked like without the feelings I had. That was quite a while ago now.
Recently, I’ve found myself thinking about a man I know, and my stomach becomes fluttery and I end up smiling. This is going to sound strange, but I’m honestly not attracted to people easily; I’m aware of when someone is attractive, but I myself am not usually drawn to the person in that way, so when I do feel that warm flutter at the thought of someone, it’s a slightly big deal (in a sense). I talked to the Lord about it, and asked Him what I should do. And do you know what He said?
He told me to love him. Just like He’d told me to love the other man at the beginning of the year. And I don’t know why it took so long, but I finally realized: it is never wrong to love someone.
I’m not at all saying that I’m in love, or that letting yourself be consumed with thoughts for someone you know you won’t marry is okay. I thought He’d said that at first, but I’ve been talking to Him more about it, processing it, and even talking with a friend about it. And I don’t think what I thought at first. At first, I thought He was telling me I could feel recklessly without consequence. But I’m almost positive that wasn’t it. When He told me to love that man last year, He also told me he wasn’t my husband and that I needed to stop investing my hope in him. I didn’t understand how the two could go together at the time, but now I’m beginning to. Feeling for someone? That can’t be helped. But obsessing over my feelings for someone? Daydreaming, constantly thinking about our interactions, investing hopes that don’t belong to that person? That’s my choice. I can control that, no matter how many times it’s felt like I just fell into it.
The Lord knew I would still have feelings for that man, and He was telling me I didn’t have to ignore them or be ashamed of them. Instead, I could use them as an opportunity to genuinely and truly love someone. My heart for him was already so big, because I’d grown so fond of him. It may not be “let’s get married” love– but it’s love. And it’s love that is pure because I genuinely adore him. I have the opportunity to release wild kindness and heart, because I can still love this man I sometimes feel for.
You see, when we (or at least I) feel for someone, we wonder what to do. “How do I treat him? Do I approach him for normal interactions, or wait for him to approach me? Can I be my sarcastic self with him, or is that flirting? How deep do I let our conversations get? Can we hang out, or would it feel too much like a date?” I could go on and on, but I think you might be able to add to this train of thought yourself. The point is:
We spend our energy wondering how to interact with them, when the rules haven’t changed– we are meant to love them.
Yes, there is the layer of feelings on your part. If those feelings are reciprocated, that’s something to talk and pray about. But if it’s just you? Potential titles do not dictate your behavior, and they don’t have to dictate your thought life, either. You don’t have to be afraid, and you definitely don’t have to be ashamed. Feelings are natural, and sometimes they take a long time to fade. Sometimes, they don’t fade; maybe your feelings will lead to something. And with the mindset of love on that journey, you’ll be able to say, “I loved them deeply before romance was ever a factor for us. I loved them with Christ’s love. Period.”
There’s a gigantic difference between guarding your heart against corruption and hiding from people you feel a real connection to. God made us a body, He wants us to be connected [this article expresses it so well]. You don’t love people because you have hopes for a deeper relationship later on: you love people because love is what we were made to do.
We complicate things, but the Lord has made this so much easier for us. Dear friend, I know these feelings are crazy hard to deal with sometimes. But there’s only one thing you need to focus on here: how well are you loving them as a person, with your actions and behaviors and words? Are you a bright, warm presence in their life, even if you’re not a romantic presence? Don’t love them as someone you hope will belong to you– love them because you love them, because they are deserving of love. If you feel for them because you see things in them you want your future spouse to possess or because you love imaging the two of you together, do you actually feel for them, as the person they are? Or do you mostly feel for what you want them to be for you? I know: ouch. I feel that burn, too. I’ve only recently been realizing that this is the way my heart has worked. But now that I realize it, I can change it. I can choose to love people because of who they are, not because of who I hope they’ll be to me.
I don’t have to be ashamed of affection when I use it to love someone purely.