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How to Fall in Love (and Stay There)

It’s Valentine’s Weekend. Romance is in the air. But just because you fall in love doesn’t mean you will stay there. And if you think you’ve found the “perfect” person to spend your life with, maybe think again.

“The moment you marry someone,” writes Tim Keller, “you and your spouse begin to change in profound ways, and you can’t know ahead of time what those changes will be. So you don’t know, you can’t know, who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.”

Couple in the future on rocks

You can’t know who your spouse will actually be in the future until you get there.

Robbie can vouch for the truth in those words. “College Jodie” (the woman he fell in love with) was very different from “career Jodie” (the woman he married three months after graduation). And when “wife Jodie” became “wife-and-mother Jodie,” she morphed yet again. (I won’t go into the details of each transformation, other than to say that “college Jodie” was way more fun than any of the subsequent models.)

All of which is a roundabout way of saying that if you’re on a quest to fall in love, to find a “soul mate” with whom you will be forever compatible, give it up. That person, says Keller, doesn’t exist.

Is Long-Lasting Love Doomed?

Does that mean true love is doomed? Once the flame of infatuation flickers out, does love – does marriage – have to get filed in the hum-drum cabinet? Is the secret to a stable and long-lasting relationship really, as someone once said, about finding that one special person you want to annoy for the rest of your life?

No! Not at all!

Because love is not, actually, about getting hooked on a feeling. Love – true, lasting, sizzling love – is about making a choice.

A deliberate decision.

Or, more to the point, a series of decisions, made day in and day out, over and over again.

Happy Couple

Six years ago, in a column for The New York Times, writer Mandy Len Catron recounted a fascinating story about what it took to fall in love–in a bar, as an experiment–with a man that, until then, she’d only seen a few times in the gym. “Love didn’t happen to us,” she concluded. “We’re in love because we each made the choice to be.”

More recently, author Lisa Jacobson revealed the results of her own adventure in love-building. In the midst of what she acknowledges was a “difficult season in a very difficult year,” she made a conscious decision to love her husband every day. To choose to intentionally give love to, and fall in love with, the man she had married.

Making his coffee. Folding his shirts. Laughing at his jokes and trying to make him laugh in return.

For 100 days straight.

Lisa figured that her 100-day “Love Challenge” would make her man happy. And it did. What she didn’t count on, though, was the transformational impact it had on her. “The more I chose love,” she wrote, “the more loving – and loved – I felt.”

Creating an upward spiral of love

When I read Lisa’s post, I wasn’t surprised. I’ve written before in this space about how kindness is what glues couples together, and how generosity (even just bringing your spouse a cup of coffee in the morning) can create an upward spiral – a “virtuous cycle” – leading to happier, more satisfying relationships. I’ve read the research and seen this love-begets-love dynamic in action in my own marriage.

I know it works.

But if you’re reading this and you find yourself hard-pressed to give love, can I just say that I get that too? We’ve all felt deficient or ill-equipped at one time or another. People get tired, feelings get hurt, and it can seem like our love tanks have run dry. And even though we know it’s better to give than to receive, we might find ourselves holding back, wishing we didn’t have to go first.

If that’s where you are this Valentine’s Day, can I slip in beside you and offer three little thoughts?

First, love out of God’s riches, not your poverty.

Your love tank might show a reading of “empty.” But remember where love comes from. “We love, the Bible says, “because he first loved us.” And when we grasp, as Paul did, how “wide and long and high and deep” Christ’s love for us is, we get “filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.” Our love tanks get replenished. We don’t have to gin up feelings of love on our own; we can let God’s love fill us up and flow out.

Next, start small.

Showing love doesn’t have to involve a grand (or expensive) gesture. If you’re fresh out of ideas or inspiration of the simple-but-powerful sort, check out Lisa and Matt Jacobsons’ 100 Ways books (there’s a volume for loving your husband, and another for loving your wife)…

1oo Ways to Love Your Husband/Wife

 

…or pick up the just-released Creative Love by Audrey and Jeremy Roloff, a book that comes with date-night ideas, conversation starters, and tips for navigating conflict with wisdom and grace.

Creative Love book

And finally, pray.

Ask the Holy Spirit, your Helper, to show you how to love well.

And pray for your spouse – not that God would fix them, but that he would bless them. Because we can’t help it; when we bring someone before the Lord – asking God to protect them, give them grace, and pour good things into their lives – we get a vested interest in their well-being. The soil of our hearts starts to soften, giving love a chance to take root and grow.

Three “Fall in Love” prayers you can pray

So what should you pray for your spouse?

You’ll find about a dozen built-in prayer prompts in Psalm 112 (it’s a passage I turn to again and again), but if you want to copy three prayers I am praying over my man and our marriage this year, here they are:

May Robbie serve you with whole-hearted devotion and a willing mind; search his heart and understand his every desire and thought. (1 Chronicles 28:9)

May he take delight in you; give him the desires of his heart. (Psalm 37:4)

May our love increase and overflow for each other and everyone else. (1 Thessalonians 3:12)

Jodie and Robbie (and Minnie) in love

❤️

P.S. I’ve linked the resources you’ll find in this blog – the Keller book, the 100 Ways bundle, and Creative Love – via Amazon, and I get a tiny commission if you order from this post, but the books are available anywhere books are sold, so please:  Support your favorite local bookshop if you can. (Heads up, tho: Amazon has Keller’s The Meaning of Marriage on sale right now for just $7.99. I’m no math brain, but that seems like a hefty savings off of the normal $18.99 price, and this book makes a nice engagement or wedding present!)

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Do you trust me?

Do you trust me?

That’s a question God’s asked me, again and again, when my prayers don’t get answered in the way, or the timing, I want.

Or when I can’t see what he’s up to.

Or when I think I’ve got God all figured out—his plans for my children, my schedule, the desires of my heart—but it turns out that I actually don’t.

And when a friend (let’s call her Grace) told me what happened with her nephew and his back-to-back birthdays, I saw myself in the story. Maybe you’ll see yourself too.

A good and perfect birthday gift

What do you give a little boy for his birthday?

Thinking an airplane might elicit some smiles, Grace wrapped up a model flyer, the styrofoam kind, and gave it to her nephew. Sure enough, the boy LOVED the gift—and promptly launched it over the neighbor’s privacy fence, where the plane crashed upon landing, never to be played with again.

The following year, Grace tried again. And when she called to wish the child a happy birthday, she learned that the second present had not yet been opened.

“I know you got him another airplane,” Grace’s sister explained, eyeing the long gift-wrapped box, “and he will be so happy. But it’s pouring down rain and he can’t go outside, so we’ll open your present tomorrow.”

Grace burst out laughing. The gift wasn’t an airplane. It was an umbrella. Perfect for jumping in puddles and playing outside on a rainy birthday!

Boy with umbrella

God knows what you need

I don’t know about you, but I’ve lost count of the times when I’ve thought that God had an airplane for me (or for my child), but it turned out to be an umbrella—and once I stopped questioning or complaining, I recognized the goodness and perfection of his gift. And if I lost you somewhere in that sentence, here’s what I’m trying to say:

God rarely repeats himself. (See Isaiah 43:19.) When we spend our time looking back at last year’s presents, thinking we know what God has in store for us next, we risk missing the new thing. We risk missing God’s perfect provision for now.

God’s ways are not our ways. (Isaiah 55:8-9) We can trust that his thoughts, and his plans, are higher (and better) than ours.

God knows what we need, even before we ask him. (That’s Matthew 6:8.) We might sit there blathering on and on about how much we love airplanes, but God knows when it’s going to rain. He wants us to be ready. He wants to give us what we need—and what he already knows we will also want.

God wants to give us what we need

Trust with all your heart

So where does that leave us when we know God is good and that he’s got a plan, but we don’t understand (or like) what he seems to be doing? What do we with the gap between notion of what we think we need and the reality of what God provides?

We trust.

Proverbs 3:5-6 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways submit to him, and he will make your paths straight.”

(Or, as the Message puts it for mule-headed people like me:  “Don’t try to figure everything out on your own.”)

If trusting God in the face of uncertainty or disappointment feels iffy, or even impossible in times of grieving or loss, that’s okay. Just like we don’t have to create faith on our own (think about the father in Mark 9 who asked Jesus to help his unbelief), we don’t have to position ourselves in a posture of trust. We can ask the Holy Spirit for help.

We can turn Proverbs 3:5 into a prayer (and if you follow me on Instagram or Facebook, you may have seen this one in my stories today):

Trust in the Lord with all your heart

Help me trust in you with all my heart instead of leaning on my own understanding. (Proverbs 3:5)

When we come before God in surrender, he will make our paths straight. And as we lay our requests before him, we can do so knowing (as Tim Keller puts it) that “God will either give us what we ask or give us what we would have asked if we knew everything he knows.”

We can unwrap the umbrella, thank God for his provision, and go out and dance in the rain.

❤️

P.S. Trusting God is an area where I often struggle, particularly when I am *sure* that my idea, my way, or my timetable is better than his. If that’s where you find yourself too, here’s a little bonus material to chew on today.

For further reflection…

Read Psalm 84:11-12. What does God promise in these verses? What do you think it means to walk “blamelessly”? (Hint:  See Colossians 1:21-22.) How does verse 12, coming so close on the heels of verse 11, shape your understanding of what God promises us?

Read Isaiah 26:3-4. What does God say he will do when we trust him? How does the image of God as the “Rock eternal” encourage or embolden you?

Finally, allow the words of Romans 15:13 seep into your soul as you turn this verse into a prayer:

Heavenly Father, God of hope:

Fill me with all joy and peace as I trust in you, so that I may overflow with hope by the power of your Holy Spirit.

Amen

 

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Some Good News to Color Your Day

Political divisions. Racial tensions. A pandemic that didn’t even blink when we hit the new year. Throw that on top of all the “what else’s” in life–the toddler who won’t sleep through the night, the job offer that didn’t come through, the news that the cancer is back–and you may sit back and wonder (as I have, more than once lately): Is there any good news in the world?

Actually…yes.

And chances are, all we have to do is roll over to find it.

I’m talking about the Bible, of course. Whether you have an old-fashioned print version on your nightstand or you prefer some newfangled app on your phone, the Good News is there every morning, ready to color your world. And if you find yourself reaching for God’s Word more now than you used to, you’re not alone. In the pandemic’s early days, Bible sales spiked; more recently, a Bible study podcast took over Apple’s top slot, beating out shows by perennial giants like NPR and The New York Times.

It’s as if we know, almost instinctively, that the biggest threat to our peace or our sense of security isn’t the “out there” stuff in the headlines but the “in here” way that we process it. We long for a voice that transcends the noise of the world and speaks to our soul, a voice that (Isaiah 30:21) is ever behind us, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.”

Coffee and Bible are good news

We know we need God.

That’s the (small “g”) good news.

The bad news is that, according to some researchers, actual engagement with Scripture–as in, the percentage of people who read the (capital “g”) Good News every day–is on the decline. John Farquhar Plake, the American Bible Society’s director of ministry intelligence (how’s that for a cool-sounding job?), links the drop in Bible reading to church closures and the ill-effects of our quarantine time. “When relational church engagement goes up,” Plake says, “so does Scripture engagement, but when it goes down, Scripture engagement drops with it.”

We like our Scripture, it seems, served with a hug or a smile. No wonder the Bible tells us not to give up meeting together.

So what do we do, since hugging is out and our smiles remain tucked in our masks?

We press in. We tune our ears to that voice. We scour the Scriptures to find the good news every day.

We press in: Fifteen minutes a day

This past week, Tony Dungy and Benjamin Watson addressed the weariness we’re all facing and challenged Christians to read the whole Bible, cover-to-cover, this year–a tough-sounding job that, they say, actually takes only about fifteen minutes a day.

I’m all for this plan. I believe Psalm 112 when it says that those who delight in God’s Word will “have no fear of bad news.” I’ve personally experienced the Psalm 1 feeling of being planted by streams of water, allowing the Bible to produce fruit in my life instead of leaving me withered and dry.

Again, I like Dungy’s plan. But having had some Bible-in-a-Year years that felt like flossing my teeth (which my dentist will tell you I don’t do all that well) and some where it felt like sailing with the wind, I’d like to offer a few strategies for success, should you decide to try this at home.

First, start with prayer. Nobody is born knowing the Bible or wanting to read it, but God works in us, Scripture says, giving us the eagerness and the power to do it. As we open our Bibles, we can ask God to shape our desires, using prayers like the one I shared this month on my Instagram stories: “May I take great delight in your law, meditating on it day and night so whatever I do will prosper.” (Psalm 1:1-3)

Psalm 1:1-3 prayer to love the good news

Next, make a plan. Type “Bible Reading Plans” into your Google search bar and you get more than 80 million (!) results. Two of my favorites, if you just want to cut to the chase, are the Bible in One Year plan that comes with commentary by Nicky and Pippa Gumbel (you can get the readings via email or on the app) and the NIV One-Year Bible, which has the whole book pre-divided, with excerpts from the Old and New Testaments every day.

(And pssst on the plan. If you miss a day–or a week–don’t beat yourself up. Treat it like flossing and get back in the game.)

Finally, get some help. Invite a friend to do your plan with you and talk through your insights together. Get a study tool like Max Anders’ bestselling 30 Days to Understanding the Bible. And (most important) count on the Holy Spirit, our Helper, to do the job he does best: Teach you all things and remind you of everything Jesus said.

Max Anders book 30 Days to Understanding Your Bible

As you read, remember that the goal isn’t so much to get to know the written word as it is to encounter the Living Word, to read the book to discover the Author. And it never gets old.

As Charles Spurgeon put it, “Nobody ever outgrows Scripture; the book widens and deepens with our years.”

Good news, indeed.

Girl reading Scripture with Charles Spurgeon quote

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Nothing is Impossible with God

For the word of God will never fail.

I read those words–a line from Luke’s gospel–and stopped. I’d been making my way through Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest Gift, and when she got to the part about Mary and the angelic visit, a story recorded in Luke 1, I thought there must be some mistake. I knew Luke 1:37 (it was the first verse our son ever learned) and that definitely was not it. The verse I knew, and the one Robbie memorized as a preschooler, went like this: “For nothing is impossible with God.”

Could I be remembering wrong? (Maybe don’t answer that.)

I flipped open my Bible–an old NIV–and sure enough, that’s what Luke 1:37 says: “Nothing is impossible with God.”

Luke 1:37 "Nothing is impossible with God."

Well then.

Could Ann Voskamp be wrong? I didn’t think so.

Curiosity piqued, I decided to dig. A quick search on Bible Hub unearthed 30 different versions of the same verse:

Nothing is impossible with God (BibleHub.com)

The NIV (which was updated in 2011) says: “For no word from God will ever fail.”

In the NLT (which The Greatest Gift uses) it is almost the same: “For the word of God will never fail.”

But the ESV renders the verse the way I remembered: “For nothing will be impossible with God.”

A Colossal Linguistic Mistake?

How, I wondered, could the translators come up with such different wordings? Was this some sort of colossal linguistic mistake? Surely some Bible Brainiac would have noticed this whoopsie before.

(Okay, so I realize that comparing Bible translations doesn’t quicken everyone’s pulse, but stick with me here. We’re getting ready to pivot.)

As I pondered the contrast in meanings—some versions emphasizing the dependability of God’s word; others focusing on his power to do anything—it hit me: The different versions were not in conflict at all. Rather, they were two sides of the same coin.

Nothing is impossible with God because his word gets the job done.

Now, you won’t find that particular rendering in any translation, but you get my point: God’s word does not fail. It makes anything possible.

My favorite illustration of what this looks like in real life (and if you’ve been around this blog for a while, you’ve heard this one before) is when God said, “Let there be light.” Had you or I issued such a decree, we’d have to flip a switch or light a match or do something to scatter the darkness. But not God. All God had to do was speak and light happened.

God’s word makes things happen. Which is why I love wrapping my prayers in the language of Scripture, allowing the Bible–God’s written word–to shape my thoughts and desires. I want to tap into the full scope of Luke 1:37, knowing that nothing is impossible with God and that his word will not fail. I want to have a heart like Mary’s, who responded to the angel’s seemingly impossible news in Luke 1 with these words: “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.

31 Days of Praying God’s Word

I’ve never been much of a New Year’s resolution person, but I can’t think of a more powerful or satisfying way to kick off 2021 than to spend the first month praying like Mary did–asking God to fulfill his word in the lives of the people I love. And if that appeals to you too, I’d like to invite you to join me in January for 31 Days of Prayer, Mary-style.

As Ann Voskamp tells it, Mary kneels “not as a woman producing, performing, or perfecting but simply bending before a God who has all the power to dispatch angels, enfold himself in embryonic cells, choreograph the paths of stars–a God who quietly beckons every man, every woman to simply come, bend, make a space, receive.”

Our Heavenly Father has the power to do the impossible—whether the need is in relationships, character traits, health concerns, faith issues, or anything else—and his word will not fail. All we need to do is simply bend before him and receive.

As you read your Bible this month (or this year), be alert to verses that might serve as prayer prompts. If you’d like help with the picking, you can download a 31-Day Prayer Calendar here, or join me over on Instagram or Facebook, where I’ll be sharing a new verse every day in my Stories, something to help us pray for our children or for anyone who’s claimed some space in our hearts.

Today’s prayer is for a loved one’s salvation…

Prayer for Salvation from Acts 26:18

Heavenly Father,

Turn _____ from darkness to light…that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among your people, those set apart by faith. (Acts 26:18)

Amen

❤️

P.S.  If you’re looking for some more good prayer prompts for your kids (or grandkids!), this post from my pal Susan Alexander Yates reveals three crucial things we can ask God to do in their lives.

And if you’d like a place to record your scripture prayers–as well as God’s answers–this year, I want to remind you about my most favorite prayer and planning journal, The Growth Book

The Growth Book

The Growth Book comes with space to record goals, prayers, memory verses, and more. This year, I ordered the bonus pack of “Study Deeper” stickers to help keep me organized as I learn about different topics. And I went ahead and printed some pix of our crew to tuck into the pages of the journal and serve as prayer prompts:

Family Photos as prayer prompts

If you want a Growth Book for yourself or a friend, use the promo code “growingin2021” (exclusive to JodieBerndt.com readers!) to get 10% off. I don’t make a commission on sales; I just love sharing my favorite things. 😊

HAPPY NEW YEAR!

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A light to scatter the darkness

I think I’m addicted to light.

I was, actually, diagnosed with that SAD disease in my early twenties (a verdict that came as good news when the doc said a trip to Florida was the best cure for what ailed me), but it’s not just sunlight that makes my heart sing. I’m drawn to all kinds of light: candle light, firelight, even the refrigerator light that glows such warm welcome in the wee hours of the night.

I love light, and when this year’s Grand Illumination–the one-street wonder that kicks off Christmas in our neck of the woods–got cancelled due to Covid, it came as a blow. Not a surprise, given the stadium-sized crowd the event draws every year, but still. An emotional setback.

Christmas lights have a way of keeping the gloom of winter at bay. They fill hearts with hope. And in a year that seems bleaker than most, I find myself drawn, like the proverbial moth, not just to lighted windows and trees, but also to Scriptures that come with the power to push back the darkness.

candle-light-in-the-darkness

Verses like Isaiah 9:2, which heralds the coming of Christ: “The people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of deep darkness a light has dawned.”

Or John 8:12, where Jesus reveals himself as the light of the world and makes an incredible promise: “Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”

Or John 1:4-5. Here, John says that Jesus gave light and life to everyone, piercing the darkness with a flame that nothing could ever snuff out or smother.

The-light-shines-in-the-darkness-verse

Isn’t that…remarkable? Here we are in the waning days of 2020, surrounded by a world of darkness–families unable to gather, loved ones sick, churches closed–and yet God says we have light. We have the light of life. We are encircled by, and enfolded in, Jesus–a living beacon the darkness can never extinguish.

I don’t know about you, but to me that comes as very good news.

Still, though, there are days–seasons, even–when the clouds try to press in. Days when we know the light’s there, but we cannot perceive it. Days when the gloom settles heavy.

If that’s where you find yourself now–if you need to Christ’s light to kindle hope in your heart this Advent season–can I invite you to lean in with me? I don’t have all the answers, of course, but here are three things that might help.

First, allow Scripture to scatter your darkness. The Bible says that God’s Word is a lamp for our feet and a light for our path. But don’t just read the words on the page; speak them back to God in prayer form. Here’s how John 8:12 might be prayed:

Lord Jesus, you are the light of the world. Teach me to follow you so that I will never walk in darkness but have the light of life.

Second, shed some light on your soul with a life-giving book. I’m loving Ann Voskamp’s The Greatest GiftIt’s meant to be an Advent devotional, tracing the promise of Christ through the Old Testament one December day at a time, but I feel like it would work as a post-Christmas reading. I expect to be digging in all over again, come the dark days of January.

Ann Voskamp book "The Greatest Gift"

And finally, hang some lights.

When Robbie heard the Grand Illumination was cancelled, he missed barely a beat. He spent a couple of days climbing ladders, straddling balconies, and burrowing into the bushes, and then, as darkness fell, he ushered us all out into the yard. Threading his way from outlet to outlet, cord to cord, plug to plug, he lit up our night.

It might not have been the Grand Illumination, but it was our illumination. And it was marvelous.

And honestly? When January rolls around, I think we’ll keep the Christmas lights up. The days will still be short, Covid will still be long, and I’ll probably want to crawl into a hole and wait for the first crocus to spout. I will need–I will cherish–the visible reminder of who Jesus is.

He is the light, and the love, that no darkness can douse.

❤️

P.S. People, as it turns out, are not the only creatures who love light.

I know this because Quarantine Kitty–the one Virginia scooped from the SPCA nine months ago when she fled New York City as the pandemic started to spread–does not go outside. And when the rest of us went out to ooh and ahh over Robbie’s handiwork, the cat did her own light inspection.

Evidently, they taste as good as they look.

Window light with candle intact

Where the candle tip should have been

Quarantine Kitty with Christmas decor

 

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