Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Things Nobody Tells You About Long-Distance-Loving

I used to think I knew what it meant to love. The world told me that love is Passion. Butterflies. Excitement. Roses. Tears. Chocolate. The people around me have said that Love is patient. Love is not self-seeking. Love always forgives.

I've always thought that the best way to show love is to do my best to make everyone else happy and comfortable. I've always been the kind of person who has a hard time saying no because I want other people to be okay, who will stay up for hours listening to life problems, who will go out of my way just to make things easier for someone else. I'm not saying this to make myself sound good. This is just genuinely how I live my life. And if I'm doing my best to make everyone else happy, then I'll be happy too - and even more than that, God will be happy with me. Jesus first + Others second + You last = JOY ... right?

I'm realizing now that there is a lot more to love than that. Of course, I am still just inexperienced, unmarried, and new to the second decade of life, but this is what I know:

1. No matter the distance between you and the one you love, you will feel the impact of their choices. 

For the majority of the past ten months, Ryan and I have been 100 miles apart. 

He is in Bible college, and I stay at home while going to university. In September I thought it was all going to be just fine. I had it in my head that we were simply two people who were living their post-secondary lives and who also happened to be in a relationship. He could do his thing, and I could do mine, and whenever we ended up seeing each other would be fine with me. I didn't really think it would matter what he did while he was at school or what I did while he was gone. I mean not that it was some 21st century-style open relationship, but if I worked some days or if he went out a couple nights a week it wouldn't matter. 
My ideas were very wrong. 

Every choice I make, and every choice he makes, has an effect. When I have classes all day, and then he chooses to go out at night... well, that means we probably won't be talking that day. And when I don't charge my phone on a Monday morning before going to work... well, that cuts off that form of communication. If I decide to go out on the once-a-month night he comes home? No quality time that weekend.

These things may all seem small, but they matter. The momentary choices really are significant. Because moments accumulate to minutes, to hours, to days... to months. Moments translate through the love-saturated air that connects two people, whether they are 100 seconds apart or 100 miles. 

2. He won't always be good at loving long-distance, but you won't always be either. 

Being recently engaged, I've received a lot of those 'I'm going to give you my life advice in one word' kind of comments. The most common one has been (can you guess??): communicate. 

A lot of people think that the whole '5 Love Languages' thing is overrated, and in some ways I agree. But I also think there is so much truth in it. Everyone really does communicate love in different ways, and everyone really does receive love best in different ways.

The problem with long-distance is that it really limits the ways you can show love. And if your 'love language' is physical touch or quality time? That really becomes a challenge. You're pretty much limited to 'words of affirmation' when you're 100 miles apart. Maybe gifts are an option if you don't mind mailing things, and maybe a revised-version of quality time can happen if Skype ever decides to work (note: Skype will probably never reach best-friend-level in your life). But you really are limited. And even if you are a 'words of affirmation' person, after a while it's going to get pretty dull when that's the only way you can show/receive love. And if the other person isn't good with words or doesn't receive love best through words? There's a whole other hurdle to jump over.

Communication is hard. And when you put distance between people, it gets harder. I don't think that anybody is inherently an expert at knowing how to communicate their love from far away. I also don't think anybody is good at loving 'in all the languages.' It takes practice. It takes making mistakes. It takes arguments and apologies and accidental-accusations. It takes some tears on both sides. Because when you aren't 'feeling loved,' he probably isn't either.

3. Love is not picture perfect, but it has a perfect purpose. 

Love has this 'fantastical' sense about it. Like when you imagine two people who have recently written their own romance and the air above their heads seems to be showering glitter and butterflies are fluttering from their eyes and they don't have a care in the world.

I admit, I've had those head-in-the-clouds moments. But in reality that is not how I would describe love. And, to be honest, that is not the kind of love that I desire. (I also realized that I am not an expert author when it comes to romance - that should be up to the Real Romance Writer.)

Real love is not always rainbows and heart-shaped-doodles. Real love is messy because it goes beneath the surface. It knows that sticking around is going to be worth it. It sees past the current phase. It knows that life is not always going to be happy. It also knows that it's not always going to be hard. Love knows where it's going, and it wants to do all that it can to get there - no matter what that means.

Real love might means having bags under your eyes because you stayed up late on the phone to help him finish an almost-overdue paper. It might mean going across the street at 2 in the morning so you can call your panic-prone girlfriend even though you have an early class. Real love might mean facing an argument instead of turning away because you want to work it out. It might mean taking on extra hours at work or sacrificing your love for Starbucks so that you can save money for the future. It might mean worry-wrinkles. It might mean writing down his to-do list so you can help him remember everything he needs to get done. It might mean sitting at the doctor's office with him, surrounded by coughing-sneezing-germy people on your birthday. It might mean sitting in silence when she's trying to process her thoughts, or holding ice on her mango-sized injured chin when her hands get too cold.

Love has purpose. Love knows there will be an end, but it chooses to last.

4. Love is an everyday choice, but it is also an irresistible, captivating power 

Have you ever had the moment when you hear a new song, and it just draws you in? You don't really hear the words and you're not even consciously thinking about it, but suddenly you're humming along, moving your head from side to side, tapping your foot, closing your eyes. You just can't resist the quiet, gentle power of the melody mixed with the harmony, the rhythm, the tone of the artist's voice.

I heard that analogy the other day and I think it perfectly describes the power of love.

One moment you're sitting back and quietly observing the people around you. The next moment you are being drawn into his slate-blue eyes and realizing that your life is never going to be the same again and you can't do a thing about it. There is no way you could possibly resist. And every time you look back into his eyes you fall in love all over again.

Another word for that kind of drawing-captivating sensation is infatuation. The difference is that infatuation only involves feeling. Love that is centered on Jesus does not depend on feelings. It has the same captivating effect, without the selfishness. Love lasts because it sometimes involves a choice that goes against our feelings.

5. Loving means being vulnerable. 

The thing about living apart means that a lot of times unpredictable circumstances come between you. Maybe your roommate comes back sooner than expected. Maybe a snowstorm cancels your weekend plans. Maybe Skype cuts out for the 52nd time that month (okay, not so unpredictable, but equally as frustrating). 

As a result of never knowing when these things will ruin your plans, you will be willing to drop everything whenever you have the opportunity to be together. 

You will be willing to drive for 2 hours just for 2 seconds in his arms.

You will be willing to sit and do nothing for hours while she does homework just so you can be beside her.

You will be willing to stay up until 3am talking on the phone, because it's the only time he can get a moment alone.

You will also realize that saying goodbye will never get easier, and only having brief moments to talk makes saying goodbye that much more impossible. But you wouldn't trade those moments for anything.

And putting yourself out there - doing these out-of-the-ordinary things - make you vulnerable.

Sacrificing your time for someone else is like placing your un-wrapped heart in their hands. And it's hard. It makes you vulnerable. Because now you really hope they'll give you their un-wrapped heart too. But what if they don't? What if they never sacrifice back? What if they go back to 100 miles away and forget that they're holding your heart in their hands?

That's the thing about love. To love is to be vulnerable. There's no way around that.

(Note: My advice? Make sure that Jesus is mediating the heart-exchange. That way you can't go wrong. {1 John 4:18}


See, love is more than a self-satisfying sacrifice. Love has nothing to do with me or you. I am not a good person because I love. And I cannot love simply because it makes other people happy.

I will never be able to love perfectly, and yet I am called to be love. Not for me. Not for others. But for Him.

When love is for Him, it makes long-distance-loving less burdensome. He can take our human love and transform it into Powerful love which spans all distance - because He is the Creator of Love.

His love lasts beyond the end of a phone call, beyond the missing-you-tears, and beyond the make-up-kisses. His love is the only love that can fill the space of 100 miles and remain equally as strong.

This is love. 

- Kayla