Finding a Romantic Love
By Zuri Davis
When my favorite priest and confessor asked me if I wanted to talk about anything before he assigned a penance in Confession, I was already prepared. A question had been burning in my mind for a few weeks now. “Father, I don’t really know how to word this. But if you could, would you give me some tips on developing a romantic relationship with Jesus?”
Growing up, I wasn’t consistently exposed to romantic love. The romantic love I did see was rather fantastical. Like Cinderella deciding to spend her life with Prince Charming after dancing quietly for only a few minutes.
When I became an adult, I searched for romantic love physically. I’d meet a man, chalk up a few evenings to romance, be disappointed when things did not go any further, and then search for someone else to remedy my disappointment. I met a lot of terrible people along this path. As a result, my trust in men waned and my hope of finding romantic love quickly plummeted.
It was finally revealed to me a few years ago, rather painfully, that I severely lacked an understanding of romantic love.
I met a guy and we became friendly very quickly. Each time I learned more about him, I wanted our friendship to become something deeper. He would ask me how my mornings were going, sent me poetry during the day, and engaged me in long conversations on diverse and wonderful topics. I valued every second of his company.
When I thought things were going a certain way, I started to push him to bed. If he loved me romantically like I had assumed, then he would show it by having sex with me. He occasionally returned the desire, but remained mostly reserved. Seeing as the deepening of my own faith and spiritual maturity were the lowest of my priorities at the time, I failed to see that he had his own struggles and was working hard to become a stronger Christian man. I pushed him so hard that his responses to me began to decline significantly. When I asked him why, he told me that it seemed like I was too obsessed with sex.
I was so hurt. Too obsessed with sex? While he had returned my affections? I was too obsessed with wanting him to love me the best way I understood?
These were the questions I asked myself during that conversation and continued to ask for a long time after. These were the justifications I used to absolve myself for communicating to him that I was mostly interested in his body.
When I made the decision to convert to the Church sometime after, it was her theological teachings of love and forgiveness that forged my path.
For so long, I allowed the shame of my various hookups to prevent me from pursuing a relationship with Jesus. It wasn’t until I learned more about my confirmation saint, St. Mary Magdalene, that I began to feel the hope of redemption. If Jesus could befriend a sinful woman, a woman often associated (though somewhat incorrectly) with sexual sin, then He could befriend me. If Jesus chose her over all His disciples and even His own holy mother to be the first to learn of the resurrection, then there was a chance for my own spiritual journey.
From there, I learned about the beauty of the Sacrament of Confession. While I was unable to attend Confession at the beginning of my formation (and I didn’t experience my first good Confession until after my confirmation), I looked forward to being able to confront the sins that long haunted me and receive real forgiveness for them.
One of the most pivotal moments in my faith formation was learning about the practice of veiling. In addition to its humbling factor, several have compared veiling before the Blessed Sacrament to a bride presenting herself to her groom at a wedding. That symbolism shook me.
For years, I believed myself to be a sort of disease, undesirable to Christian men all because I had sex before marriage (never mind the fact that many Christian men also struggle in this regard). To overcome my guilt, I veiled in Mass. I would close my eyes and imagine myself walking down the aisle to meet a love who desired me. And with this image in my head, the barriers I had previously put in front of Jesus began to crumble.
That’s not to say that my insecurities were completely erased. I still dread marriage, or at least the possibility of meeting a man in the dating process who chooses shaming over understanding.
These insecurities only pushed me closer to religious women. In fact, I’ve had the honor of befriending a Dominican sister in Nashville, who lovingly hosts me for tea, baked goods, and rosary or evening prayers at the Motherhouse whenever I ask. As I cultivated this wonderful friendship and sought to learn more about religious women, I noticed how they kept a spousal relationship with Jesus. Even as my formation matured, treating Jesus like a spouse seemed so foreign.
While wrestling with this concept from the sisters, Father piqued my interest one day when he mentioned spiritual marriage in Confession. I thanked him for hearing my first good Confession, which I can honestly say radically changed my life. In response, he said kind words from the laity were comparable to receiving a compliment from a spouse. I smirked when I heard that. After all, he was married to the Church!
Upon leaving the Confessional, I mulled on his sentiments, as well as the sentiments expressed by the sisters I met. Their relationships with Christ and His flock were so deeply passionate, but in a way that wasn’t the slightest bit sexual. Since my idea of passion included sex or some other physical touch for so long, I was intrigued by this concept.
After some weeks, it finally hit me. The relationships they talked about were born of the romantic love for which I had long searched. Which finally brings me back to the question I posed in Confession.
To answer, Father showed me a picture of The Light of the World, a painting by William Holman-Hunt. The image draws inspiration from Jesus in Revelation 3:20 as He knocks on a door and asks to be invited in. It is Jesus’ hope in this verse to dine with the person who answers.
Father noted Jesus’ clothes in the painting. He was dressed like a groom trying to meet His bride. Father encouraged me to place myself on the other side of the door. Jesus was asking to spend time with me, His bride!
Father also spoke of the soul, observing that it was inherently feminine. Even for men. Because of this, our souls long for Jesus like a bride longs for her groom.
I went to an adoration chapel after the Confession and recorded Father’s words in my journal. As I was recounting the second-half, the femininity of our souls, I thought of something that greatly confused me a few months ago. “Interestingly enough, I am reminded of a reading from St. Mary Magdalene’s feast day,” I wrote.
It was the first reading, Song of Songs 3:1-4. In this passage, a woman searched for her love but could not find him. She went into the city and asked for help in the search. When she finally found the one that her soul desired, she “held him and would not let him go.”
I distinctly remembered sitting in Mass that morning wondering what this couple’s woes had to do with St. Mary Magdalene. I was clearly not paying attention as closely as I should have because in the Gospel reading, Jesus’ appearance to her as recorded in John, describes a similar action.
Because St. Mary Magdalene loved Jesus greatly, she searched for His body when she thought someone took it away. After Jesus finally revealed Himself, the scriptures say that He told her, “Stop holding on to me.” He presumably said this because, like the woman in Song of Songs, she embraced the one that her soul loved after finding Him.
How beautiful these examples are of the desire, joy, and reciprocity that creates romantic love. Jesus reserves great love for us by desiring us, asking to spend intimate time with us. Even as he asks, he still gives us the free will to choose Him. And we reserve great love for Him by searching for Him and embracing Him each time He’s in our presence. We can also desire Him.
I would imagine the romantic love we share on this Earth is the same seeking, spending time, embracing and valuing shown to us in Scripture. With these lessons in mind, it feels like a long struggle has finally come to an end and a new era of discovery is beginning. I’ve finally found my romantic love and I am excited to fall in love like this more often.
P.S. You are enough.