Fighting for Our First Love
By Emily Miller
I’ve been married for almost seven years. During our first couple years of marriage, everything was new and exciting. We learned everything about each other: Our pasts, our quirks, our habits as we explored the ins and outs of our personalities. Sometimes this learning was intentional in the form of long talks and many questions, but more often we learned as we lived life together.
Seven years into marriage, we’ve had three children, moved five times, fought, repented, pointed each other to Jesus, clung to each other while weeping, held hands in hospital rooms, and shared almost every evening together. Leigh and I know each other deeply.
There are dangers in knowing anyone well. We can feel over-familiar and lose interest. We can take the other for granted and not appreciate. We can assume that we know everything and stop pursuing the relationship.
I’ve been having a quiet time every morning since I was 13 years old. At first it was new, exciting, and hard. I felt proud of myself for spending a whole 15 minutes reading the Bible each morning. I had a sense of accomplishment for maintaining my new habit. I was thrilled by each new insight into the Scriptures I read, amazed every time I heard Jesus’ voice in those quiet, early-morning moments.
Eighteen years have passed since I began my quiet time routine. I’ve learned much about Jesus through both His Word and in putting His Word to the test by (very imperfectly) living it out in every season of life. My battle is not with knowing how to spend time with Jesus, that habit is formed. My battle is with over-familiarity.
Becoming over-familiar and even bored with the Bible, the Gospel, and Jesus Himself is not a trivial thing. In Revelation 2, God warns the church of Ephesus with these words:
I have this against you: You have abandoned the love you had at first. Remember then how far you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. Otherwise, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent. (Rev. 2:4)
In marriage, we don’t go to sleep delighted in our marriage, wake up the next morning feeling a bit bored, and then willy-nilly decide that we don’t love our spouse anymore.
Likewise in our walk with Christ, we don’t immediately go from delighted with Jesus’ love to indifferent to Him and His Gospel. Instead, the loss of our first love is not dramatic, but a slow, quiet process.
In both marriage and our relationship with Jesus, regaining our love is also a slow, quiet process.
Thankfully, there are many weapons we can use to combat over-familiarity and a dwindling love for Christ. Here are three:
We are often very clever about avoiding our responsibility in our relationships with God (and people). We pretend that our lack of love is normal, not that serious, and perhaps even inevitable. We blame circumstances. We act like we’re the helpless victim of our own stale hearts. We do everything except call our lack of love what it is: sin. Sin always has its reasons. But, as long as those reasons are our excuses, we are kept under sin’s power.
The truth is that it’s shocking that we become bored with the Jesus and His Gospel! How do we become tired of the One Who made us? How are we bored by the One Who loves us best? How can we be indifferent to the Hope of the world? It’s insane (and yet so very normal) that we have to force ourselves to make time for Jesus.
Repentance frees us to recognize reality, take responsibility, and ask for Jesus’ help in escaping the appalling hardness of our own hearts.
When I recognize that I’m taking my husband for granted, I immediately start keeping a mental list of everything I appreciate about him. Lists of how he has failed my expectations or irritated me tend to come more easily, since we are naturally wired with loveless hearts that keep a record of wrongs. So, I fight to make note of everything I like about my husband: His smile, his lanky frame, his laugh, his tireless serving of our family, his practical knowledge, his hard work, his ridiculous love of Minecraft, everything! I rehearse my favorite memories of him. I keep an account of the things he’s done that inspires my respect.
This practice feels unnatural at first but, as I do it, my love revives. After a short while, I’m grateful to have my husband in my life. I’m amazed that he loves me and chose me as his wife.
When quiet time is boring and our love for Jesus is cooling, start a list. Write out scriptures that inspire thankfulness, respect, and love in you for Who God is and what He has done. Write out specifically what He’s done in your life. Keep a jar labeled “God’s Goodness” and spend a year collecting notes of every good gift God gives and every prayer He answers. Gratitude is love’s great ally.
3. Make it a Date
When we first begin dating, we prepare ourselves, plan our time, and set up an atmosphere to learn about and please the other. We rejoice in sharing ourselves with someone we find so wonderful and interesting.
If daily quiet time has become rushed, boring, or lifeless, then treat it like a date. Schedule the best time. Prepare yourself by getting a good night’s sleep, making a delicious cup of coffee, or getting some exercise to clear your mind. Set a nice atmosphere by choosing a beautiful spot, lighting a candle, or getting some flowers. Remember that this time is set aside for you to learn about and please the Most Interesting Being in existence. You get to spend time with the One Who loves you best. Treat quiet time as a holy (set apart) time. Share yourself with Jesus. Rejoice in the fact that the Most Wonderful One delights in meeting with you.
In seven years of marriage and 18 years of daily quiet time with Jesus, I’ve discovered two truths:
1. The battles against over-familiarity will come.
2. If we fight this battle, instead of surrendering to it, we’ll end up enriching our love.
My marriage now is way more fun, deep, and satisfying than our first years together. I also love Jesus and enjoy my quiet time with Him more at 31 than at 13.
The enemy of your soul wants you to be convinced that the familiar becomes boring, that love is only exciting at the start, and that habits like a daily quiet time only lead to lifeless routine. The truth is that the familiar can be delightful, well-tended love grows in beauty, and a daily quiet time (like regular dates with your husband) nourishes your relationship with Jesus.
- Recognize the dangers of over-familiarity.
- Remember. Make lists!
- Treat quiet time like a date: schedule it, prepare for it, and set the atmosphere.
||About Emily: She began having a daily quiet time at the age of 13. This habit has been one of the few constants in her life as she transitioned from being a missionary kid in Mongolia to a barista in Oregon to a stay-at-home mom in central Florida. The Word of God has anchored Emily to Jesus through depression, struggles with doubt, health issues, and her son’s cystic fibrosis.