"How you view yourself will flow into every relationship you have, especially a romantic one."
Yep. And that's why so many of us have trouble finding love that lasts.
Just before Christmas I was sent a copy of Jefferson and Alyssa Bethke's new book, Love that Lasts. In the book they tell their story, but the book isn't primarily about them. The book is about big picture lessons about love, marriage, and sex, interwoven with their own testimonies. And it's wonderful.
So let me introduce you to Alyssa and Jeff.
Alyssa grew up with two loving parents who showered her with love and taught her about God. She always felt accepted.
Jefferson grew up the son of a single mother who had quite the past.
In fact, I'll let him introduce himself to you:
"I lost my virginity when I was 16. In the back of a car. In the church parking lot. To someone who wasn't my girlfriend."
And Alyssa? She didn't even hold hands until she met the man she would later marry in her twenties.
These were two very different people, with very different backgrounds. And yet they married, trying to find this "oneness" they sought.
But the book is not about how Alyssa was perfect and Jefferson needed to catch up with her. No, it's that all of us have wounds and things that we struggle with. All of us need to work to get to a healthy, flourishing place. Because, as they sum up the philosophy of their book:
If your romantic relationship is healthy and flourishing, everything else will be too. But if it's unhealthy and not giving life, it doesn't matter how everything else is doing.
Let's unpack the baggage of the guy with the past.
When Jefferson was a teen, he looked like he had it all together. He played sports. He did well in school. He was popular. But he felt like his whole life was about protecting his image. And he said something very insightful:
"If you were to ask 16-year-old Jeff if he was in a dark time, I'm sure he'd say no. But that's because I had nothing to compare it to. I thought being paralyzed by shame and guilt, not knowing what I was created for, and living for others' approval was normal."
And so he got used to being superficial, to guarding his heart. When he fell for Alyssa–and he fell hard–he really didn't know how to do relationships. He didn't have those mentors or parents or examples in his life.
Even though you may not realize it, having the example of your parents' loving and healthy marriage has a profound impact on you. Tens of thousands of micro moments and conversations and chances to watch your mom and dad love and serve each other amid their problems and baggage add up to thousands of hours. Showing you what it takes. Showing you what it looks like.
So what happens? Well, you begin a relationship with no road map. You're used to being shallow in relationships, in never having that DTR conversation (define the relationship). And add in today's technology with texting instead of talking, and it's easy to stay back.
Alyssa couldn't take that. Jeff would text constantly for a few days, and then be silent for weeks. And she ended up breaking off the dating relationship.
In those months Jefferson realized that he needed to do relationships differently.
"Eliminating all risk is an easy way to eliminate all hurt. But eliminating risk is also the sure way to eliminate true love and joy and harden a heart."
When they finally got back together (and it took a while), he was committed to actually sharing what he was thinking and feeling.
"I haven't seen many relationships end in hurt or confusion because the two people overcommunicated. But I've seen dozens that were left in shambles, and affected the people in future relationships, because of undercommunication."
Yet Alyssa hadn't approached the dating relationship well, either, because she had her own kind of baggage. Christian baggage.
That's one thing I loved about the book. Jefferson wasn't portrayed as the bad boy and Alyssa as the good girl. Instead, the book showed how good girls can have a ton of baggage, too.
In fact, as I was reading their stories I kept flipping the book over to look at the authors and make sure my daughters' names weren't there, especially Katie's. Seriously, Alyssa's story is Katie's story (although Alyssa had an eating disorder and Katie never did).
"I've often heard it said that there are girls boys date, and then there are girls boys marry. Well, growing up, I fell into the 'girls you marry category'–the non-flirty girls who like to have fun but are the deeper, quieter, more stable types. Which, looking back, was a good thing, but at the time, I thought it sucked. Guys, I just wanted to go on a date. Or get invited to prom."
I totally understand! I watched both my girls walk through that struggle. They were both gorgeous. They both wanted to be pursued. But neither of them ever dated until they met the men they would eventually marry, when they were both 19. And so the teenage life was lonely.
I kept telling them that the reason that they weren't with anybody is because they were mature, and they loved God, and likely nothing would click until it was the right person. But that's cold comfort when you're lonely.
And Alyssa has so much compassion and great advice for single women in that waiting stage!
But here's where the Christian baggage comes in. When you've been waiting all this time for that relationship, and you've been taught your whole life not to date until you're ready to marry, then when you start dating, it can become very serious, very fast.
"When I finally started dating Jeff, I put so many expectations on him because this was the guy. I didn't bring up any conflict or share any hurt feelings, because I wanted our relationship to be perfect. I didn't want him to think I didn't have it all together.....I had put so many high expectations on Jeff before, ones he couldn't possibly meet. I wanted the relationship to be perfect, with no conflict. I wanted him to know what I needed, what I was thinking and feeling, without me having to say anything."
And she had these fairytales in her mind (cough, Katie, cough), about how a guy would do a scavenger hunt to ask her out, or how he would be so romantic.
Things didn't go as planned, and she broke up with Jeff and broke his heart. And hers. Because breakups don't only hurt when you're the one who is tossed aside. They hurt when you let go of something you wanted, too.
Learning to risk in love is never easy
Over the next little while Alyssa started dating someone else, just as Jefferson realized he wanted to take the relationship seriously. And so their relationship had these twists and turns until they finally jumped back in.
But jumping in was hard, because Alyssa had been hurt. Did she want to risk again?
Her mentor gave her some wise advice. She wasn't risking her heart, because her heart was God's. She had to try. And to do that, she had to realize that her breakups did not equal failure. They were things that God was using in her life.
And God did use that breakup to mature both Alyssa and Jeff.
I understand this part of the story, because Keith and I broke up once, too. And it was hard. So hard. Would our marriage have been better if we hadn't broken up? Likely initially, because I wouldn't have had such trust issues. But I'm not sure in the long run that it would have, because God was writing His story in our lives, and He needed us to rely on Him first and foremost.
I love how they show the lessons that God taught them through their rocky dating period and their first few years of marriage.
I think anybody would get so much out of this!
But I want to share just a few more quotes that I think are super important.
The Bethkes on Pornography and Dating:
Jeff is very open about his porn addiction which started at the age of 13, and ended in the middle of college, after he knew Jesus and was confronted with how distorted and warped his sexuality had become. He needed a rewiring. His generation is the porn guinea pig. We don't know what it will do. But we do know it won't be good.
"Can I be honest? If you're dating and the history of porn is still an ongoing struggle in the relationship, please break up. Sadly, I hear over and over again that many women can't break up with their boyfriends because that's not what Jesus would do. They say, "What about grace?" But you're not Jesus. And trying to be Jesus for someone else (in that your'e trying to heal someone else) will crush you–and them....No one stays with someone when they are addicted to cocaine. You break up with them because you love them and they need help."
Yep. I get asked that a lot–should you marry someone who uses porn? And I firmly believe that the porn habit needs to be in the past, totally dealt with. I wake up every morning on this blog to comments from broken women whose husbands are addicted to porn, and I just want it to stop. We have to take this seriously, and that means that they need to deal with it BEFORE we have a relationship.
But then Jeff makes a comment which I just loved. He says that the objectification of women isn't just in porn. It happens in Christian circles, too.
When I'm combating porn or trafficking or lust, some of the most common things I hear people say are, Don't look at that. Don't you realize that's someone's daughter/ That's someone's wife? That's someone's sister? The problem is, that's tethering a woman's identity and worth and value to her relationship to a man.
Amen! Our identity is in Christ. Let's not promote the porn mentality without realizing itby further objectifying women.
In Love That Lasts, they have so much more to say, about finding your identity and purpose as a couple, figuring out this sex thing, learning to deal with the humdrum of life. Pick up a copy and see for yourself! Their approach is really quite similar to mine when it comes to marriage.
But I can't cover everything, and I want to end with one quote about sex, since that is so much what we talk about here! I thought this was perfect:
"At its core, sexuality is an expression of the mystery of the Trinity. An opportunity to tell the greatest story ever told: that somehow there is more than one, yet somehow there is one. Our bodies are telling this story."
Sheila Wray Gregoire has been married for 25 years and happily married for 20! She loves traveling around North America with her hubby in their RV, giving her signature "Girl Talk" about sex and marriage. And she's written 8 books about sex and marriage. See a theme here? Plus she knits. Even in line at the grocery store.
Find her at https://tolovehonorandvacuum.com/