We offer you a series of articles on love, dating and relationships by Fr. Niko Bekris which was originally published in October, November, December 2009 and January 2010 issues of “The Voice of Saint Anthony” – monthly newsletter of Saint Anthony Greek Orthodox Church, Pasadena, CA, USA. Reprinted by Pravmir.com with Fr. Niko’s permission.
What is Love?
Is there any word in the English language that is thrown around as much as “love”? How about in any other language, for that matter? We hear the word “love” everywhere. Is there any song on the radio these days that is not about this word? How often do we see this topic in popular culture? How many clothing lines, backpacks, school supplies, you name it- have hearts on them or other love-themed pictures? We hear people using this word often in public, when saying something like “Oh, I love that!” or, “I’m in love.” Certainly, everyone seems to know what love is, and I’m pretty sure everyone has an idea of what it means to be “in love.” But truly, despite how often we hear this word, do we really know what love is?
I think it’s safe to say that we love something when it has a lot of meaning for us, or when we really, really, enjoy something – a good restaurant, a movie we really enjoyed, maybe a song, a piece of jewelry, or anything else, we say that we “love” it. What about a person? We all love our parents, relatives and friends we meet in our lives, which is definitely a kind of love. What about a special someone in our life? One day we find ourselves in the presence of someone we find attractive, someone we’d like to get to know more about and be around. We find that we have butterflies in our stomach when we see them, we want to know more about them, and more than anything we really want them to like us back. When this happens, we say that we “have a crush” on this person, or we “like” this person, or we’re “in love with” this person. Here is where our question comes in…
There’s no doubt that love, to a degree, is an emotional response. Those butterflies in our stomach are our blood rushing and hormones getting amped up. But why does this reaction happen? Is it just because we find the person physically attractive? Is it simply because we’re infatuated with them? That’s probably part of it, but not all of it. Someone’s personality plays a part, doesn’t it? Even if a person is very attractive, are we just as inclined to want to be in a relationship with them if that person is mean and acts like a jerk? We probably don’t have the same feelings for them after that, do we?
The truth is that romantic love is just as much a spiritual response as it is a physical one. When we find that we are “in love with” someone, part of it is because our soul wants to have a special relationship with that person. Something about that person’s soul connects with us. Have you heard a story of someone meeting their future spouse, and they knew right away they wanted to marry them? I felt this happen to me, and I am convinced it is a reaction of a person’s soul. As I heard a dear priest once say to me, it’s “two hearts speaking to one another.”
Think about this: God is love (1 John 4:8), and therefore whatever true love we feel has been created by God. God wants to have a special relationship with each of us, and we, too, since we’ve been created in His image and likeness, feel this as well- someone’s heart connecting with ours. Physical attraction is healthy, since God has given us these feelings as well. If we are to have a healthy relationship, however, even a “healthy crush,” physical attraction cannot be the only attraction we feel, and we should not be duped by pop culture into thinking it is. So what is love? “Love” is an emotional reaction, yes, and something physical, but it is also very much a function of our soul, something we truly realize in our faith in Jesus Christ who loves each of us. With this in mind, we can be guided to a healthy idea of love, and who we are “in love with.”
Now what about dating…?
More than Friends
I‘m thankful for many things in my life- my wife, my family, my friends, health, food, shelter, clothing, the freedom to worship freely in our country. Is it silly to say I‘m thankful for love? A little abstract, sure, but it‘s true. I‘m thankful for the fact that I have ended up with THE right girl. I am thankful when I see friends of mine find someone right for them, date, and get married.
Relationships are certainly one of the most interesting aspects of our life on earth, and healthy relationships can truly be one of the greatest gifts God gives us. November is a month where we reflect on what we are thankful for, and this is certainly something I feel I should thank God for daily.
Last month, I shared some thoughts on what love is, from a Christian perspective- about meeting someone, being attracted to them (and that butterflies-in-the-stomach thing). This month, I want to discuss what is commonly the “next step” following the initial attraction- going out with someone.
It usually goes something like this: you find someone attractive, you want to spend time with them, and if they say yes, the two of you go to dinner, or a movie, or to do something fun with a group of friends. Hopefully along the way, you enjoy your date, and either ask if you want to have another date, or go your separate ways because your personalities just weren‘t clicking. So is this what makes two people “boyfriend/girlfriend?” I think it takes a little more than just going out somewhere, right? Obviously, it‘s not a simple answer, because it‘s not a simple subject. But there are a few simple thoughts I have about dating that might be beneficial to keep in mind.
Going on dates with one person on a regular basis, or being a “boyfriend” or a “girlfriend,” means that you spend time together in order to learn a little more about yourself, and what kind of person you gel with. There are unique qualities about ourselves that we only begin to understand in a relationship with the opposite sex- and I‘m not referring to physical relations, but spending time and even just conversing with the other person. Dating gives us a unique opportunity to find out just how generous or selfish, patient or impatient, kind or mean-spirited we really are, not what we think we are. Dating gives us a right to learn more about ourselves, about guys and girls, about people. It gives us a right to enjoy life from a new perspective. However, like any relationship, there are ways that we can take advantage of and even abuse these rights.
Like any relationship, we should go into dating remembering of course, the golden rule: “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” (Luke 6:31, Matthew 7:12) If we go into any relationship asking ourselves “What can I do for this person?” rather than “What can I get from this person?” your relationship will go well, and you will grow as a person. More important that anything else, though, we have to remember that we fully understand a person‘s heart, and true love, when we look at the other person as a child of the Most High, a child of God (Psalm 82:6). God has created each of us in His image, which means each of us is special. God loves that person, and we have to try our best to love them the same way He does. When we stop trying to love is when the other person becomes a mere object, and we cease respecting them, and possibly even hurting them deeply. When we acknowledge this, and keep Christ at the center of a dating relationship, or any relationship, we too will be thanking God for this beautiful gift of love He has given us.
A Holy Gift
I’ll admit I’m a huge baseball fan, but I never understood what bases had to do with dating. People refer to first, second, etc when it comes to dating, and I guess the further you go with someone physically, the further you go along the bases, right? It seems there are a lot of messages floating around in our society about relationships, specifically about physical relationships- how far you’re allowed to go, how everything’s okay as long as both people consent, how it’s okay as long as it doesn’t affect your happiness, etc. When a person hears these kinds of messages, you almost say to yourself, “Yeah, I know that the Church teaches to wait until marriage to have sex, but is that even realistic today? Does anyone even do that?”
Two months ago, I shared that true romantic love is just as much a function of the soul as of the body, and some thoughts about what our understanding of love should be. Last month I shared some thoughts about the next step, dating, and how any romantic relationship is fulfilled when it is centered around God and our being selfless, not selfish. This month, I’d like to share some thoughts about another dimension of relationships- physical relations- and to seriously look at this question, because it is something we’re faced with today, and not just in high school. Given the fact that messages about physical relations are thrown around today in TV, movies, music, billboards, everywhere, I feel it’s important that we bring an awareness to our Church’s message about this topic, and ask ourselves, Is this even possible anymore?
First, I would ask the following- Have you ever dated someone, not done anything physical with them, and then stopped seeing them after things didn’t work out? How hard is it to stop seeing that person? Now consider how hard it is to stop seeing someone you have done something physical with, even just kissed? It is much harder to stop seeing someone who you have done something physical with, because physical relations create an even deeper connection between two people. It’s true, and yet we barely ever consider it. When your love- not lust- grows for someone romantically, you want to share something with the person beyond just a hello or a hug. This is something very natural and human that God has given us. And yet, God knows that physical relations between a man and a woman do bring them closer together, and He wants us to experience this in a safe, healthy way, and not get hurt.
If you have sex with someone, or do anything physical with someone, and later that person decides they don’t want to see you anymore, it is very, very hurtful. On the other hand, if two people share physical intimacy within the context of a married relationship, there is safety, security, and commitment there that allows that love to be fulfilled- especially if two people in a marriage do their best to emulate Christ’s love in their love for one another. In other words, God wants you to guard your heart. God has given us something tremendously special, a holy gift, and He doesn’t want us to emotionally burn ourselves out, or disrespect our bodies by treating sex as if it weren’t a blessing. It is not about how many “bases” someone gets to. It’s not about “getting with someone.” If you allow God to guide your relationship with someone- your body and your soul- and you wait until marriage to have sex, you will experience a healthy relationship and God won’t let you down. Dating is a time to just focus on getting to know more about yourself and about what kind of person you gel with, and God willing, who you ultimately will marry.
“Bless Them, O Lord”
“Everlasting God, those who were divided You brought into oneness, setting for them an unbreakable bond of love; You blessed Isaac and Rebecca and made them heirs to Your promise. Bless these Your servants, guiding them into every good work.”
About a month ago I had the rare pleasure of going to a movie with my wife and two other friends of ours. I‟ll just come out and say it- the movie was “New Moon” (the sequel to the ultra-popular “Twilight” movie and book series, in case you’ve been living under a rock the last year). There, I said it. Even though I can also say that it was definitely not tailored towards my target audience, I am still amazed at how popular this movie is with female fans of all ages (not just high school, as it turns out), and how this series is capturing American teenagers imaginations. The biggest reaction from these teenagers, though, was at the end of the movie (****stop reading here if you don’t want to know what happens****) when Edward says to Bella, “Marry me, Bella.” Like any successful teenage romance movie, love is the central theme of the movie, and much to the delight of everyone in the theatre, the perfect “happy ending” of many movies is mentioned at the end of this movie- marriage.
People love weddings. We love seeing two friends or family members tie the knot. We love seeing two characters that we’re attached to in a book, movie, TV show, song, etc, get married when they fall in love with each other. In every culture, in every country, in every time period, few events are more joyful than a wedding. The same held true for Jesus’ time, when His first miracle was turning the water into wine at the wedding of Cana, (John 2) which once again affirmed the holiness of marriage in God’s eyes. The same is true in our time and in our faith today. It is a celebration of life and love. Marriage, in its purest form, is two people committing their lives to one another, before God, and allowing God to sanctify them and guide them through life- joy, sorrow and everything in between- to the Kingdom of God.
The sacrament of marriage is where love between two people finds its richest fulfillment in this life. I’ve shared some thoughts these last few months about love, dating, and physical relationships, and the underlying theme I hope I’ve conveyed is that in all of these, God needs to be the central focus. In Jesus Christ, Who is God, and Who is love, our love for another person is strengthened and made full. Even though we don’t hear this message too often these days, I would urge all of us who are not yet married to focus ourselves on this beautiful sacrament. Allow God to guide you in His love to the right person He knows is best for you, even if it is a few years down the road. By doing so, you won’t have to worry about feeling loved or feeling valued, because you will know you are. If we allow God to guide us to that right person, and center our relationship around Him, we will have that “unbreakable bond of love” in our life with our spouse.
During that time, you’ll probably have to go to a movie you don’t want to see at some point, too, but hey, no one said it was going to be easy.
But it will be blessed.