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The Death of Romance

The love of a man was never meant to be a woman’s greatest hope.

Life is filled with grave disappointments. One of my favorite comedians is accused of tragic sexual violations. A pastor I greatly admired steps down because of moral failure. And now, one of the greatest modern authors of love stories is leaving his wife of 25 years.

While I’m not a huge fan of romantic novels, I enjoyed The Notebook and a few other Nicholas Sparks books. Men who tell stories like Nicholas Sparks give hope to women that true love is actually possible. Unfortunately, his marriage appears to have bumped into a reality that he couldn’t write his way out of.

Nick Sparks isn’t the only love expert to fail to save his own marriage. Ironically, John Grey and Barbara De Angelis, both counselors and authors of marriage books, were once married to each other and then divorced. For a biblical example, look no further than King Solomon, the author of Proverbs and Song of Songs whose personal love life was a disaster.

This is not a “gossip” column, and I have no desire to dig into the details of anyone else’s failed marriage. But I would like to use the opportunity as a “teachable moment” to ask, “What does this show us about love and romance?”

The primary lesson I am reminded of is this: We can never guarantee a love story. Even if you find your “soul mate,” read all the right books, and maintain a positive attitude, sustaining a life-long love story is no guarantee. Sparks writes about what we long for in romance, not about the realities of love.

I’m not going to tell you some secret to keeping your marriage and romance alive . . . at least not today. Sure, there are practical skills and attitudes that can greatly increase happiness in marriage. However, there is nothing you can do to guarantee your love story. Not even the kindest, sexiest wife on the planet has a 100 percent, money-back guarantee that her husband will always be madly in love with her.

Nicholas Spark’s sad circumstances remind us is that a great love story is a fragile thing to base your life upon. Although God’s Word tells us to value marriage, it never implies that we put our hope in it. In fact, we know very little about the marriages of the great men and women of the Bible. What Scripture focuses on instead is their relationship with the Lord and their faithfulness to his purposes.

Somehow, the church has put the pursuit of love and romance right up there with holiness. As much as God hates divorce, adultery, and violence in marriage, he also hates idolatry. Webster Dictionary defines idolatry as “the worship of or excessive devotion to a person or thing.” Even in our Christian marriage seminars, we sometimes border on exalting a happy marriage as equal with knowing and serving the Lord.

God can use marriage (and even brokenness in marriage) to draw us nearer to him. The problem comes when we reverse this—when we pursue God for the sake of fixing our marriages.

Our Lord is all about happy endings—but not the kind of happy ending where a woman finds her soul mate or an old couple magically dies together on the same day. The ultimate happy ending is when we see the righteousness of God and experience the full rewards of pursuing him.

“Look, I am coming soon, bringing my reward with me to repay all people according to their deeds. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End.”

I wonder how many devoted Christian woman have lost sight of the true love story in pursuit of the Nicholas Sparks’s version.

As much as I love helping women find true intimacy in marriage, I know that even marital love is a shaky foundation to build a life upon. By God’s grace, a couple can grow in intimacy over decades of committed love. However, the love of a man was never meant to be a woman’s greatest hope.

Read more articles that highlight writing by Christian women at ChristianityToday.com/Women

Juli Slattery

Juli Slattery is a TCW regular contributor and blogger. A widely known clinical psychologist, author, speaker, and broadcast media professional, she co-founded Authentic Intimacy and is the co-author of Passion Pursuit: What Kind of Love Are You Making?

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