The book of Proverbs commands Christians to guard their hearts. As a college student I am still trying to figure out what that means and can only begin to imagine the confusion felt among girls younger than myself. How do I practically guard my heart? How do I find the right guys to date? How do I respond when I'm babysitting on Valentines Day for the fifth year in a row with no end to my singleness in sight?
This morning as I sat in a youth service to watch my big brother preach for the first time as the new youth pastor (woohoo!!!) I couldn't help but think back to my time spent in that very same youth group. I remember being terrified to step through the door. I had always been the life of the party as a kid, but suddenly I had become shy and insecure. Junior high is a rough time, folks. During those years, all I wanted was to be loved. I sought it from my family, my friends, my pastors and leaders, boys at school, and virtually every person that was part of my life. I was desperate for love.
It is totally normally to want to be loved. In fact, God created us to long for love. It is why we need Him so desperately. Unfortunately, I let my desire for love also determine my value. I believed that how other people perceived me is what gave me worth. When those people let me down, mistreated me and abandoned me, my self-worth was shattered. This led me to search for more love, only to be hurt in the same way. It was a vicious cycle that left me feeling totally worthless. Who could ever love someone like me?
Needless to say I carried a lot of baggage with me when I entered the dating world at age 16. It was only 4 years ago, but if I ran into my 16-year-old self on the street, I don't think I would recognize her. I was in a dark place. I needed a way out. Someone decided to love me and I felt there was no other choice but to accept it. It was what I wanted, right? To be cared for and treasured and admired. So why didn't it feel warm and buttery like sunshine coming through the window in the morning? As far as I was concerned, dating was a total let down.
Youth pastors and parents alike stand on their soap boxes and tell teenagers to never date a non-Christian. But I'm on my soap box and I say that being a Christian is not enough for a successful dating relationship. You can go to church together, read the Bible together, and follow every rule in the dating handbook, but if you don't each believe individually how incredibly loved you are by Jesus, your relationship will crash and burn. I can say from experience that it is not worth the hurt you cause someone else and yourself to put yourself through a relationship where Jesus is not the absolute center. Too many Christians make this mistake. If you aren't ready to spend your dating relationship pointing someone to Jesus, don't date. Be patient and let God prepare your heart. And if the person you're dating isn't pointing you to the love of Christ every single day, it is time to rethink your relationship.
After all the heartbreak, the wandering, the worry and the hurt, I finally fell flat on my face and realized how badly I needed Jesus in every part of my life. Slowly but surely He has faithfully been restoring the parts of my heart that were wounded, but I also have the promise that I have been made new. The process is complete! In fact, it has been complete for about 2,000 years since Jesus uttered, "It is finished" on the cross. I am in Christ and that means I am a new creation. The way I let my heart get battered has no influence on who I am now. I am forever free, holy, redeemed, loved and cherished by JESUS. He is the only One who can determine my worth. By His grace, I get to experience love on Earth, but at the end of the day, it is Christ who satisfies.
There are so many things I wish I could tell my 13 year old self about heart-care, but mostly I wish I could give myself a hug and let myself know it will all be okay. It is okay. The hurt I felt is what led me to the cross, and that hurt allows me to appreciate the season of life I am in now. Life after high school is good. I'm finally getting to that spot everyone told me would come. You know, the time of life when boys starting "catching up." It has been cool to watch friendships blossom and start feeling more like adults and less like antsy teenagers who can't wait to grow up. It hasn't been all sunshine and daisies, but there have been some good times so far. Praise God for His grace. Praise God that we can run to the ends of the Earth and He will still pursue our hearts. Praise God for the gift of relationships, both platonic and romantic. And praise God that we only have to experience junior high once. (Once is more than enough for us all.)