I first met Traci when I was in 8th grade, and we started “dating” when I was in 9th (she was in 10th...you know, that older woman thing!). We dated for just a little over eight years before we got married. In fact, our 8th wedding anniversary was a big event for us because we had officially been married for as long as we had dated.
When I look back at our dating years, there is a funny growing and maturing process that took place (any of you guys about to make some wise crack about me and maturity can go ahead and make that now). What we thought “love” was in 9th grade, was vastly different than what we knew about love while we were both in college. Of course, getting married, working through challenges, having kids etc... expands your love in even more amazing ways!
Good relationships are interesting that way; they don’t stay the same year after year, but instead, grow and change with the people involved in them. People who “fall in love” with a person and then “fall out of love” with them because of how much that person changed, sometimes miss the point of what it takes to have an amazing relationship -- learning to grow together through change.
Traci has kept a big bag of love letters that I wrote to her through our high school and college years. Some of these are just a tad bit embarrassing and reveal an incredible amount of sappiness (and not the good kind, either), and others reveal why I shouldn’t ever dabble in the genres of creative writing and poetry. When I read some of the notes I gave her while we passed each other in the halls at school, I see an immature young boy trying to impress his girlfriend by committing a love to her, that he doesn’t possibly understand. I had no idea what the phrases “I’ll love you forever” and “nothing will ever come between us” really meant; I was just trying to express what I understood and felt about love at the time.
In college our letters took on a new depth, especially as we dated long distance while attending different schools throughout our college years. We had a few little breakups during that season of life, and both of us had opportunities to engage other relationships around us, but really our resolve to stay together didn’t change much. What did change, however, was the way both of us were growing up. We were being shaped by our experiences, by struggles with friends and family, by new information, by jobs, by the experiences of others and through what each of us were learning in our personal relationship with God.
As Traci was maturing and changing, our relationship was changing; as I finally started growing up emotionally and maturing in my outlook in life, our relationship changed. And that’s really how great relationships become great -- they become stronger through change. Instead of trying to hold on to what love looked like in high school (gag) Traci and I have embraced the changes that have occurred in us physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually and have committed to a deeper, loving relationship than we had before the changes.
And that’s probably the biggest lesson I’ve learned from when Traci and I started dating some 25 years ago! Commitment to a relationship (marriage, friendship, work, children etc...) isn’t a commitment to stay the same forever, or a promise to never complain, always be positive or never have any grumpy days. Commitment in a relationship is a promise to keep growing, to keep helping others grow and to work hard to hold the course through the changes that will come.
Change, is what is supposed to be happening in all of us as we walk through this life. In Ephesians 4:15, Paul writes, “Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into Him who is the head, into Christ...” Growing up is a good thing! But growing up also means change. Growing up means letting go of childish ways and thinking, and embracing new thoughts and a new understanding about life. As we draw closer to God we shed our old concepts of commitment, love and relationship, and embrace people around us the way God embraces us. I know Traci loves me more today, not because I’m amazingly more lovable, but because she has grown in her walk with God and understands love better today than she did 25 years ago when we went on our first date.
Are you changing or are you working hard to try and keep everything the same? I know people who live their lives trying to avoid change, trying to control everything so that life remains relatively the same for them. I, for one (and Traci for two!), am glad that I have grown up from my high school dating years. I’m thankful that I have a better understanding of love and commitment, and that my devotion to God, Traci and family is marked by a new maturity and a deeper wisdom that can only come through change. I don’t want to be the same guy tomorrow that I was today, and while I don’t always like the circumstances or events that cause change, I like the end-product as I grow up into Him -- the One who gives me life.
Go ahead and take the plunge, change is always better on the water!