I’ve never known a March that passed by so quickly. I thought surely that February would be the one to do it, but it wasn’t. March began and then it was over. It began in frost, it has ended in awakened green. Tiny, brown buds are risking entry into the world now that it’s not freezing anymore. What I’ve noticed most of all that I didn’t think of last year are the birds – the birds know that it is spring. I work the opening shift an early-morning coffee shop these days, so I know from waking up at 4am that I hear their first songs break through the sleepy city quiet at about 5am. They know when dawn is just about to break.
On the other side of this March is also an important April. Of course, all Aprils are important – every moment is… well, momentous. But this April is the April that I marry Ashton.
It’s kind of like experiencing spring for the first time. All the springs before this have been signposts for the end of the spring semester or for the three birthdays in my family that fall in April, but this one is like the quiet preparation of bags and supplies and heart before embarking on a journey by boat across beautiful, open seas. I can’t help but see that the carved-out covenant which I’ve watched so many respond to with disdain or anxiety is actually the opening scene for the biggest adventure I could’ve asked the Father for. We are being built, the two of us, into a house. There’s a shelter there, a haven of truth, from storms of lies. There’s a fresh spring of water there for the visitors that pass by us. We both get to tell them about Living Water together. I’ve heard a preacher say that in Jesus, “one plus one equals a greater one.” That’s exactly what I’m saying now too.
I share all of this because yes, it’s a genuine delight to set all these quiet thoughts down into inked words, but also to put some courage into you if you find yourself needing some. The further down the road of relationship I have gone, the more pages I have torn out and thrown away from all those books about relationship that I once read. Before relationship with Ashton, I devoured a small library-worth of books about relationships (some of which are still on my bookshelf collecting dust.) I was desperate for some kind of textbook on “how to do relationships right.” Surely, if I could memorize the points and do all the steps right, I could keep from getting broken, as if pain from relationship was some kind of penalty for not following the formula right.
I’m so glad it doesn’t work that way. Not in Jesus. In Jesus, “will this hurt?” is not even a question worth asking. It’s not a question that comes from a liberated heart. It’s a question from a heart that still beats to the rhythm of a fallen Adam, and is yet to learn to beat to rhythm of the Second Adam, the King Jesus.
I want to speak courage into the heart that can’t see the way forward through the relationship maze in front of them. If everything looks complicated, I want to speak the truth to you: the only way out of there is to deny ourselves.
Jesus said this marvelous, provoking thing that the Gospel writers made sure to write down. Luke 9 has record of it. It goes like this: “If any man would come after Me, let him first deny himself, take up his cross, and follow Me.”
How many dating counsels told me that I needed to find the best “one” for me? Wait… where does that fit into that verse from Luke 9 again? It doesn’t. It’s just not there. We try to Photoshop it in there, but it’s going to look really awkward. In one verse, a verse that’s really backed by the context of hundreds of other verses, Jesus has already obliterated the quiet, sneaky self-motive that hides in our dating counsel. The whole thing has been blown to bits.
At the beginning of our story, Ashton decided in his heart that I was the one. He was going to pursue me. I didn’t even know about his decision for another four months, and even then my heart and mind were split between obligation and delight. How much obligation and how many “dating rules” fogged me up so I couldn’t even let my heart acknowledge what I saw in Ashton, I can’t even describe to you. It was a billowing wall of a “self” that needed denying.
It wasn’t only about Ashton, it was about letting Jesus be my Lord instead of wanting Him to be Lord but never opening the door to let Him sit on the throne of my heart. I placed obligation there instead because as far as I knew, that was what He would’ve wanted. It took half a year, but living like that drained me of heart and courage and soul until I was so raw and tired and strained that I had the option either to give up or to break at the feet of Jesus and let Him change me. My way out was denying myself.
A hundred conversations and puddles of tears have followed, moments where something looked like a maze of confusing motives, spots where I could’ve thrown up my hands and said, “relationships are so hard and confusing!” But what happened there instead is that Jesus came and showed me how I get free. I get free by denying my right to be offended, by denying my right to be “right,” by denying the old, dead self from the Fall wherever it shows up. When that old self dies at the feet of Jesus, it becomes so simple because everything’s about love now. Love’s the goal, so who gets to pick the restaurant we eat at today isn’t important, it’s that we get to be present with one another, shining just like Jesus.
If we deny ourselves, something else gets to happen, something amazing. We get to follow Him.
Jesus is the most amazing Adventurer, Artist, and Friend. He didn’t make the human heart for fractured complexity, He created the human heart for powerful clarity. Maybe it used to be impossible to find a way through the maze of relationship because He hadn’t stepped into our world yet, but now He’s come and if we really listen and really believe Him, there’s so much power present with us to change us so that we can see life clear.
As this profound April begins, I look ahead to the Great Adventure covenant with an expectant heart. This is going to be amazing.