When I was in middle school, nothing made a pre-teen me more excited than a school dance. When I was a 7th grader, I was especially excited for my school’s Valentine’s dance because I had a “boyfriend” (I give it quotations because the term “boyfriend” in middle school is essentially just someone you giggle to your friends about and sometimes talk to in the hallway). At the event, we got to participate in the awkwardness that is middle school slow dancing. After the last slow dance song ended (Stairway to Heaven by Led Zepplin thank you very much) I was getting ready to walk away and go giggle with my friends when out of nowhere he he gave me a quick peck on the lips and said “I love you”! This was obviously a very high-stakes moment for me so I said a jumbled “Love you too” and ran back to my girlfriends.
That night, I was convinced we were meant to be together forever.
Until three weeks later…when I decided I was moving on to someone else.
Saying “I love you,” to a romantic interest, no matter how old you are, is a BIG deal. Yet, our culture and media throw it around loosely every day. Think of all of the things you say that you love:
I love labrador retriever puppies.
I love double dark chocolate ice cream.
I love Lululemon leggings.
I love my job.
I love to dance to One Direction.
These are silly examples, but you catch my drift. We throw this really important phrase around a lot.
With the recent overload of Valentine’s day I find myself once again rolling my eyes at the amount of the over commercialization of love, which is something that should be celebrated every day. But not in the Pinterest-perfect, chocolate covered strawberries, red roses kind of way. I mean reveling in God’s definition of love. Love began with God sending His only Son to earth to live the perfect life and then die the death we should have died. True love is derived from 1 John 4: 7-12. It was the the Father’s will that Jesus came to die for us, and know through His Word that He will never leave us or forsake us (Deuteronomy 31:6).
From these passages of Scripture comes the definition of romantic love the way I believe we should think about it, not the way our culture and media think about it. My junior year of college, my college pastor gave a sermon on dating and relationships, and he gave a definition that has forever changed the way I think about love: “love is a decision of the will, accompanied by an emotion, that leads to a commitment.” Saying “I love you” isn’t said because a boy just took you on your dream date. It isn’t said in an emotional moment because you’ve had your first kiss. It isn’t said because you think you might marry him. Declaring your love for another person, in the way God intended it to be, is a BIG deal.
Last week, I told another boy that I loved him…but the circumstances were wildly different than the first time I told a boy I loved him. The difference? This time I didn’t say it after an awkward slow dance - this time I said it because this boy had just asked me to marry him!
John and I had been dating for over a year and we refrained from saying “I love you” because until we were ready to commit to marriage, we didn’t believe using that phrase was appropriate. Our definition of love has been deeply informed by Jesus’ love for us; a covenantal love that isn’t founded on emotions and circumstances. When we finally said these precious words to each other, it was because we were now agreeing to back them up. We were making a long-term commitment to each other.
The first time a boy told me he loved me, it felt fun, but was ultimately an impulsive choice of words. Last week, when John told me he loved me, it was the most meaningful “I love you” I’ve ever heard in my entire life because I knew what he was communicating was way more than how he felt about me. John was communicating that he was committed to me, the way Christ is committed to us.
Caroline Coffee is the Women’s College Coordinator at Watermark Community Church in Dallas, TX.