February 1, 2016

Love: Game or Story?

Not all love stories end happily. Make yours one that does.

Chantal J. And Gerald A. Klingbeil

Love is in the air around Valentine’s Day. Red hearts, plentiful chocolate, and attractive and creative cards are the day’s staple. Our journeys into love, however, go beyond chocolates and cards. Here are two surprising journeys into love. Wherever you are in your relationships, enjoy God’s great love story today.

Is There Someone for Me? {Gerald}

I was 24 when I met the love of my life. Over the years, like any teenager and young adult, I had dated a number of girls. I was healthy, reasonably good-looking, sporty, played guitar in a Christian band that had toured Europe for eight years and had recorded a number of albums. Yet somehow I often wondered if there was a special woman waiting for me—somewhere.

Some years earlier I had started to pray about this important area of my life. After God called me to prepare for ministry, I told Him that I needed Him to help me find the “right one.” As a child of divorce, I wanted to avoid the pain and hurt that divorces bring. I also asked some of my spiritual mentors to pray for my future wife.

Then I moved from Europe to South Africa. I had planned to finish my theology degree at Helderberg College, located close to Capetown. With my girlfriend studying in Germany, I was in for a long-distance relationship, in a pre-e-mail, pre-text, pre-Facetime and pre-Skype era. I wrote my letters faithfully and celebrated every week when I got another one from Germany. We had both saved money so that my girlfriend could come to South Africa during our winter break (June-July in the Southern Hemisphere). Excitedly I traveled nearly 870 miles (1,400 kilometers) from Capetown to Johannesburg to surprise her at the airport.

Then it happened. As soon as I saw her coming toward me, I knew that she was
not the one. I had never felt anything like this and struggled to understand this emotion. I was not usually prone to emotional ups and downs. Yet it felt as if somebody had just flipped a switch. It was extremely painful for both of us as we talked about our feelings and sought help from pastors, counselors, and friends.

By the time she finally left South Africa, gloom had settled all around me.
There was no one for me; the dating game was just too painful. The next months were dark, full of work, and no social life.

Then one day I decided to reenter life. That’s when I saw, for the first time, Chantal, my future wife. I had known her for more than six months, and we had often spoken. However, only then did I really
see her. There was no lightning flash or divine voice. Rather, we enjoyed many good conversations, shared study times, precious walks, and other group activities.

We officially started dating on a date that is rife with meaning for Adventists, October 23, the day after the Great Disappointment. For us, however, it was a new beginning following a number of disappointments. Thirteen months later we got married and began a lifelong journey of growth and discovery. Some months ago we celebrated our silver wedding anniversary. What would I do without the love of my life?

The Love Thing {Chantal}

My roommate found me in bed with the covers drawn over my head in the middle of a beautiful sunny day. My boyfriend had just broken up with me, and I was devastated. As my roommate tried to console me over a large jar of mixed nuts I vowed that I was through. This dating game just wasn’t for me. In the aftermath of the painful breakup I did something strange: I gave my romance life (or lack thereof) to God.

I had been rather susceptible to the unstated college pressure of needing to have a boyfriend. Everyone seemed to be in a relationship. But after this latest heartbreak I realized that I just didn’t want to be a part of this extremely painful game anymore. I decided on a new strategy: Whenever someone caught my eye or I felt vaguely attracted to someone, I would pray about him. I would not try to get his attention in any way; I’d just pray.

I found this strange strategy amazingly effective. Again and again, whenever I began praying about some eligible young man, within the space of two to three weeks he would have a girlfriend, and it wouldn’t be me. Now, this exact model of looking for Mr. Right is definitely not the only way to go about things, and I would not recommend this “do nothing and pray” method to everyone, but it did work for me.

I found myself looking more carefully at my “guy selections.” More than once I instinctively knew that I couldn’t pray for any attachment to certain popular men. And, strangely, as I left this part of my life in God’s capable hands it took the pressure off. Instead of being out there looking for my soul mate, I could focus more on becoming the person that God wanted me to be, with or without a man.

Then, when Gerald did arrive, there were no fireworks. I mean, he was a nice enough person and all, but he did have a girlfriend in Germany, and to be honest, I was praying about someone else at the time. We were just friends, with no agendas or schemes. Quietly the friendship grew, until one day I realized with a start that this was someone I really did want to pray about. And the rest, as they say, is history.

What We Have Learned

Relationships are very complex. This does not change in marriage. They require constant fine-tuning and conscious attention and commitment. Here are a number of insights we have learned about love, life, and relationships as we look back at a quarter century of marriage. In fact, having three female teenagers at home has made these insights even more relevant.

Aim high: Don’t let current culture tell you that love means instant gratification. It pays to wait and find the person God has made for you to love. By the way, looks aren’t everything, and beauty is more than skin-deep. Don’t let advertizers determine your sense of beauty.

Don’t get discouraged: When you see dysfunctional relationships around you, don’t give up on God’s ideal for love. His grace is sufficient to overcome any mess we may have created. When we make mistakes, His compassionate and transformational grace can shine even more.

Keep talking: Love’s ability to make us swoon is wonderful. However, love goes beyond emotions and requires constant care—and conversation. Growth usually happens when we listen to and talk with one another.

Be willing to cross canyons: In our cross-cultural marriage (bringing together German and South African cultures, prejudices, stereotypes, likes, and dislikes) we often find it necessary to go the extra mile in order to understand each other.

Keep God in the center: If God is not in the center of a relationship, somebody or something else will be. Things, other people, our egos, or even our children all can make a run for the center. If God has already occupied this sweet spot, we are ready for true growth with one another.

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Chantal J. Klingbeil serves as an associate director of the Ellen G. White Estate at the General Conference. Gerald A. Klingbeil is an associate editor of the Adventist Review and enjoys walking, talking, and team-working with the love of his life.