love manifesto, love, God's love, Christian, Pursuit of the Pudú, Melissa Travis, romance, marriage, purity, passion, courtship, true love waits, relationships, Desert Island Diaries

The Love Manifesto

Love makes the world go ’round, and every novel is about love. That’s a bold statement. However, not only all the fiction I write but most of the fiction I read centers to one degree or another around love or a love interest. If it’s not a romance per se, it certainly weaves a romantic thread in somewhere. So I think this week’s launch of Pursuit of the Pudú brings an ideal moment to share the love manifesto underlying my plots.

What is a manifesto?

According to the dictionary, it is “a statement of intentions, motives, and views of a group, organization, or entity.” There’ve been Christian creeds, Communist agendas, company vision statements. Hitler’s horrific Mein Kampf presented a manifesto of his plans for Nazism. The mission agency I serve with also has its purpose declaration and list of core values. So below follows a Seaglass Sagas manifesto, my worldview statement about love and romance.

Pursuit of the Pudú’s debut in the marketplace around Valentine’s Day gives me a clear opportunity to explain why I write so-called Christian romance. In Chile, this holiday is called el Día del Amor or de los Enamorados (“In-Loves”). The whole topic can turn cheesy or cliché in any context. But especially in the literary genres of broadly inspirational fiction.

Because as a writer you need to beware of preachiness as well as predictability. You can talk about God—but as part of the story not as a point on an agenda. And you don’t want readers to moan, “Not this again,” or shake their heads in disbelief.

Doesn’t love in fiction tend toward one extreme or the other? It’s boring or it’s implausible. Naive or edgy, too sophisticated or too simplistic. It can feel out-of-date or in-your-face; it can range from saccharine “sweet and clean” to practically pornographic.

For that reason, I rarely recommend Christian fiction. But I’ve found two series I feel balance the “passion and purity” of love and romance well: Dani Pettrey’s Submerged (romantic suspense set in Alaska), Rachel Haucke’s “Wedding” books, and especially her lovely The Fifth Avenue Story Society. (I met these two ladies at a conference a few years ago, and they’re both lovely too.) Let me know when you discover others.

What is True Love?

I never set out to promulgate a love manifesto in this second book of my Desert Island Diaries series, but certainly my vision of true love shows up here. Its core values continue to emerge in further books about the character Melissa (First Mate’s Log) and in Coni’s story (Swan Island Secrets).

So how do I identify true love? While it would surely be impossible to comprehend all that love encompasses, let’s try to begin:

GOD is Love.

That is not a new revelation. But think about it. It’s not only that God is loving, or God loves, but He IS love.

And His Word is Truth. So you and I cannot know anything about true love apart from God and His Word. Everything I think or write flows from that fountain, because I aim to “speak the truth in love” (Eph. 4:15). And every drop of love we have for anyone besides ourselves exists because “He first loved us” (I Jn. 4:19) and effects within us, selfish beings that we are, His love for others.

True love is a wonderful gift. It is also a holy trust with responsibilities. Love dignifies us as human beings, counters the corrupting rot of sin, produces the power of forgiveness, and reflects Jesus’s own life of service, sacrifice, and submission.

All difficult things for even the best and oldest among us, let alone for the young. That’s why true love has to stem from God’s love.

“The God-sized hole in her soul was too vast and deep for any one man to fill. Except her Savior. Had she let Him fill it? Not entirely. But she was sipping and drinking from His well.” –Rachel Haucke, The Fifth Avenue Story Society

Which is why every search for love is, on the bottom line, a search for God, no matter who is searching or where we look. We all long for transcendent love—personified.

And that’s also why our culture (and every culture) so obsesses over love, sex, and romance. Or some hodge-podge of the three.

Love in Crisis

Despite our focus on love, our society has seen a major breakdown in marriages and families. Half of all American children will witness their parents’ breakup, and one in ten of these will experience 3+ parental divorces. Forty percent are being raised without fathers.

In acknowledging those statistics, I’m not pointing fingers. On the contrary, I’d like to pass out hugs to both parents and children and beg them not to give up hope or write off love. Or marriage.

However, when young people observe the relationships around them, do they see true love modeled? Or do they think of love in terms of sex, lust, and fleeting passion? Have they concluded that love is painful, conditional, and shorter-lived than the seven-year itch? Or even that, since true love doesn’t exist, you might as well enjoy what you can while it lasts?

“I knew this path I’d chosen held more than flamingos and hot chocolate and poetry about roses and butterflies. A relationship with Nicolás would mean a mountain of challenges for us both.” –Melissa Travis in Pursuit of the Pudú

True Love Waits

You knew I was going to mention that ’90’s cliché. Even among Christians, it seems to have fallen the way of WWJD (“What Would Jesus Do?”) into oblivion and irrelevance.

Pursuit of the Pudú is a story that includes a teenage pregnancy. Underneath the plot of mission and marriage and family relationships, it revolves around that universal search for love we’re all on.

So let’s talk about Passion and Purity, as the late missionary Elisabeth Elliot terms the testimony of her own romance.

There is no point in trying to deny that physical attraction and chemistry are a big part of life and love (Elisabeth doesn’t). That usually seems to lead to abuse and misuse of this gift of God. But in our modern culture where sex is often treated as recreational and seldom reserved for permanent commitment, the connection between love and sexual intimacy bears some God-centered thinking.

“If your goal is purity of heart, be prepared to be thought very odd.” –Elisabeth Elliot, Passion and Purity

Virginity is not a sentimental, slightly shameful relic of childhood that needs to get ditched ASAP. Nor is it a commodity to be bought and sold, an asset that may be auctioned to the highest bidder if you believe some of the book blurbs. Virginity isn’t like a dowry that a woman brings to her husband at marriage, nor does it offer any guarantee of marital success.

It may indeed be a gift, but purity is a quality so much more valuable–and rare. Purity describes how every person who loves God should think and behave their whole lives long. “Blessed are the pure in heart” for they shall be prized long after technical virginity, which though new and unused, lacks purity’s sterling patina.

So which is it, really?

The world can’t decide how to regard the purity gig (of true-love-waits fame). Is it a high and holy calling, a pearl of great price? Or a worthless trinket to toss away on a first-come-first-served basis?

The prime directive of this love manifesto is that our love should glorify God. And in this case, we glorify God with our bodies because we belong to Him (I Cor. 6:19-20).

Not every friendly or loving touch is sexual, of course. But we all (from young to old) should seek to express God-glorifying love in the right sphere of propriety and integrity. True love is not the absence of sexual feelings. But it may mean the temporary denial of their full exercise. Or not denial, but discipline and direction.

“What God’s telling me is that it isn’t for right now… But here and now aren’t all there will ever be for us. I believe if we wait—not necessarily for each other—but for God and leave the choices with Him, He’ll give us His best.” –Nicolás Serrano in Pursuit of the Pudú

The love manifesto doesn’t hustle hurting, lonely people onto the straight and narrow. That attitude just adds up to condescending self-righteousness. I am not better than you, and I can’t claim to have kept all the “rules.” I don’t have all the answers, but I know there ARE answers. And one is: Some things are worth saving to savor later.

On the other hand…

True Love Doesn’t Wait

You weren’t expecting that, were you?

So here I go stepping on the opposite foot.

It’s not that I don’t believe in purity or that “true love waits.” But honestly, sometimes I ask: What is true love waiting for? If the purpose of romantic love is to glorify God in a lasting relationship, why do we so seldom seem to get there?

“Was love so fragile? Just a rose petal, a butterfly’s wing? I’d boasted to myself that (we) could overcome continents and cultures, career choices, and even the space-time continuum. And here we were now, shackled by a shadow of distrust. Confronted with our first test of genuine love, I didn’t know how to fight for us. And I realized he didn’t either.” –Melissa Travis in Pursuit of the Pudú

Some people—occasionally youth, but usually parents—have swung to the other end of the sexuality spectrum, to the point of not only restricting physical contact but also denying emotional contact with the opposite sex.

I’m rather relieved that I only contemplated the courtship movement of the ’90s from afar instead of leaping onto the bandwagon. While I may have picked up some helpful advice along the way, my husband and I refused to put all our hopes for our daughters in that egg basket. Even though many sincere Christians promoted the ideals of courtship in those days, we never quite bought the whole package of Kool-Aid as part of our love manifesto.

Why not?

For one thing, (some versions of) courtship turned love into a performance game. The idealization of potential mates brooked no space for grace or growth toward maturity. We believe in following God’s principles, not in pursuing rigid perfectionism. The long path toward achieving parental approval sometimes led down a disappointing, dead-end alley.

Neither did the courtship model necessarily result in better marriages. To begin with, it’s almost impossible to leap from a first kiss at the altar to a hot and happy honeymoon. And not to minimize the importance of chastity (far from it), but I suspect that commonalities—common interests, goals, and priorities—contribute as much or more to the success and duration of a marriage.

Many former promoters of the so-called purity culture have unfortunately now put the whole farm up for sale. Disillusioned and unable to strike a God-centered balance between passion and purity, they have deconstructed not only dating but their entire foundation of faith.

Along with those heartbreaking tragedies, I see a landscape of Christian young people who’ve struggled to relate in a world where they’re not always sheltered and steered. What happens when, sooner or later, there’s no Mom and Dad to depend on, or even no husband or wife? Guys and girls alike need to develop their own relationship with God and learn to make wise decisions with godly discernment and patience.

First Comes Love…

And then comes marriage? It used to.

In today’s society, many people have completely cast off the bonds of matrimony. Perhaps that shouldn’t shock us. But it does surprise me when my young Christian friends in Chile passively reject marriage.

They don’t say so in those precise words, of course. What they tell me is, “We’re praying about it.” That sounds good, so why should it alarm me?

Because it’s based on a reluctance to commit. What they mean is, they’re waiting until José finds a more lucrative job. Until María finishes her master’s. Until they can get a new car, host an opulent wedding, or buy a fully furnished house or apartment in the right neighborhood. That is, until everything in their lives is perfect.

Surely it’s one thing to be practical. It’s another to aim for the fulfillment of every item on my wish list. “Wouldn’t it,” I ask, “be more fun to work at those dreams together?” Instead, some break up in impatience and apathy.

“Love does not consist in gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.” –Antoine de Saint-Exupery

In this multi-faceted crisis of marriage, many distorted views trace to the false idea of waiting too long. Fragile and fractured marriages, over-delayed marriage, or no marriage at all. Luxury marriages, late marriages, altogether-lost marriages.

In my true love manifesto, a God-centered romantic relationship centers around reality, not fantasy. Happily ever after, yes. But not once upon a time.

Sometimes true love waits, to be expressed in its proper time and context. But it shouldn’t wait…and wait…and wait.

Love Never Fails

I do fail. Believe me, I do. And my love very often crashes and burns, flops and fizzles, instead of flourishing.

But God’s love never fails. And I stand by His love manifesto:

“No matter what I say, what I believe, and what I do, I’m bankrupt without love. Love never gives up. Love cares more for others than for self; (It) doesn’t want what it doesn’t have. Love doesn’t strut. Doesn’t have a swelled head. Doesn’t force itself on others. Isn’t always ‘me first.’ Doesn’t fly off the handle. Doesn’t keep score of the sins of others… Always looks for the best. Never looks back, but keeps going to the end. Love never dies…” –(I Cor. 13:3-8 MSG)

I believe in love. Can we tell the youth that not all relationships eventually devolve into jealousy, betrayal, fear, and unfaithfulness?

While true love waits (or perhaps instead of waiting around), it also does a lot of other things. True love grows and grows up. It wears well. True love focuses on pleasing others. True love cares—and acts like it.

It works.

It really does, if it’s God’s love.

3 Comments

  1. Wowza. What an amazing post. And this is why you love and are good at writing romantic suspense. Kudos! And congratulations on Pursuit’s launch!!!

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