The fable that there is one right someone who’ll save us from sinking is the longing for salvation love, just incorrectly aimed horizontally instead of vertically. Salvation never comes from the side, it can only come from above and beyond. We won’t, as spouses, rescue one another, but we will float together, we won’t suffer the dark waters alone.” ~Gina Bria, The Art of Family
I remember exactly where I was when I saw it. The television had been left on in the living room and as I walked over to turn it off, a commercial for an online dating service popped onto the screen. It looked familiar at first–a man and a woman featured in various scenes of their idyllic life: walking arm and arm through a meadow perhaps, or swinging in sync together on a front porch, or laughing over cups of coffee in a quaint café.
As the couple sauntered across vignettes of their relationship, basking in a warm glow of newfound love, one of my favorite worship songs acted as the accompanying track. My breath caught in my chest as I paused to listen. “No, it can’t be…” I thought in disbelief as the song continued to play. But it was. And even though the advertisement featured less than a minute of the song, I was stunned that someone in this company’s marketing department thought the tune would be the perfect fit for their product.
The title of the song is “Love Song for a Savior” by Jars of Clay. And it’s not about finding the perfect romantic match for you, even if that match may refer to itself as a “Christian” one. That song, the one paired with the ad? It’s about Jesus.
This dating service likely thought there would be no harm in a few well-placed lines from a beloved worship song by a popular Christian band, especially when the lead singer croons “I want to fall in love with you” as the song’s main refrain. It fits the target market, after all: single Christians looking for love. But it leads me to wonder exactly what companies like these are advertising, and how their marketing campaigns parallel our expectations for future companionship. When it comes to a perfect match, do we want a spouse, or a Savior?
In my first serious dating relationship, I wanted the latter. Initially, my boyfriend was the one doing the “saving,” wooing me with extravagant gifts and inviting me into an all-consuming love that left little room for individual pursuits or other life giving relationships. “I want to be alone with you in some remote cabin where no one can find us,” he wrote in a letter early on in our relationship, and my heart melted at the offer.
His words tapped into my core desires–to be unique, to be cherished, to be adored. I never thought to question whether those desires were God-honoring, much less ones I should be upholding in a relationship. After all, isn’t that what every girl seeks in her perfect match? One (preferably handsome) guy who will come for her and only her, in the sight of many? Instead of challenging my natural desires, I soaked in the knowledge that I must be someone pretty special for him to want me that much, for him to call me “princess,” for him to promise me a happily every after. I was no longer alone. Somebody wanted me. At the time, that was all that mattered.
We were a match made in a fiery tempest of young, lustful romance–far from the steady ground of wisdom and reality. The truth is, we were not good for each other, and most of my loved ones knew it. We wanted vastly different things out of life and had invested our gifts and abilities in totally different ways. He wanted to settle down: have a military career, buy a house with land, open a 401K, start a family. I wanted to explore: attend college on the other side of the country, spend a summer in Africa, learn a new language, stay open to the possible.
The dynamics between us eventually turned sour, as they do in all imperfect relationships, romantic or otherwise. This time, I assumed the role of “savior” on a desperate mission to mend our relationship, justifying my choices to friends and family in order to maintain an appearance of righteousness. We made mistakes. Big ones. I was miserable and alone in the relationship we’d built, divided from true community by a towering stone wall that we’d initially crafted to “protect” our love. Instead of protection, the wall served as a barrier, keeping any other sources of love out. By the end of three years, I felt more like a prisoner than a princess.
The break-up was painful. The emotional, physical, and spiritual bonds between us went deep. I was terrified of life without him. He’d been the main character of my dreaming and planning for so long that a future without him felt like no future at all. We called it quits in the middle of my sophomore year of college and I catapulted into a depressive episode that lasted for months. At only 20 years old, I had already accepted that my life was over.
And indeed, it was. Life as I knew it would never be the same. Granted, I would often return to those fortress ruins, on days when I was terrified of the unknown future and wondered if anything good still grew there. But eventually, with the help and prayers of many, I discovered a simple truth that years of self-serving love had covered up: I was already saved. Love had come for me; not on a white horse, but on a lowly donkey. Jesus had come to deliver me from my fear of loneliness, to remove the shackles that enslaved me to the desires of my flesh, and to turn the bloodstained shame of my sin into a blanket of pure white snow.
I was introduced to Jesus when I was only four years old. Sixteen years later, He set me free. And rather than punish me with condemnation for wasting so much of my life on a love that didn’t last, He grieved the loss with me. “He was despised and rejected by men,” the prophet Isaiah writes, “a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief.” In my weakest moment, I was comforted not by a knight in shining armor, but by a Man of Sorrows. A King rejected by His people. A Savior who came humble and lowly as a gift of love for the world.
A break-up made way for new life and introduced me to the only Love worth falling for. That’s what I wanted to say back to the happy commercial-couple on the television screen, selling the promise of a Christian love match to the tune of “Love Song for a Savior.” Your Savior has already come, and you don’t need to fill out a match profile to find Him.