I choked back on sobs, as the dark blue 1952 edition of Pride and Prejudice curled back instantly into the flames, along with at least seven other romance novels. I couldn’t see through the tears, as my rom-coms and 19th century dramas melted into glowing coals. Deep, gutty grief gripped me as friends surrounded me, handed me tissues one by one, and prayed.
Was I throwing my favourite books and DVDs into a fire because I thought they were sketchy, raunchy, or inappropriate? No. Half of the reason I liked Anne of Green Gables or North and South was for their innocence.
Why was I wasting so much money? Why was I throwing out a piece of my personal history? Surely God didn’t disapprove of my heart for romance, surely He didn’t hate that I loved love stories. He’s the best Author, isn’t He?
Well, “everything is permissible, but not everything is beneficial” (1 Corinthians 10:23).
I’ve been a reader for as long as I can remember. From The Boxcar Children to The Lord of the Rings, I devoured stories as fast as I could write them. The first love story I remember was near the end of the Little House on the Prairie series– farmer boy Almanzo with teacher Laura. Yep, I’ve always had a knack for putting myself in stories. The “personal application” part of school assignments was easiest for me. So, I’d dream. I’d dream of a friend that would be smitten by me and I would play hard to get but then ultimately everyone saw it coming.
I’d dream, regardless of if it matched reality.
My first encounter with Pride and Prejudice was the 2005 movie trailer. I was eleven, gripped by beautiful cinematography and blue-eyed gentlemen. At twelve, I was in a theatre seat in Kansas City first hearing of Pemberly and Lizzie and Darcy. From 12-14 I’d read almost all of Jane Austen’s books and seen many of the movie adaptions (there’s a plethora). I was the girl who adored literature, whose great-great-grandparents lived in England during that time, and who desperately wanted to avoid chick flicks that laughed about sleeping around. So, those stories were a perfect fit.
Then came Awakening Teen Camp at IHOP after freshman year. At 14, I realised how I’d been soaking in the the stories and applying them, however unreal, to my own high school life. Whether I was good friends with a guy or not, I was a good writer of what could be. Wasn’t Elizabeth clueless about Mr. Darcy’s attraction? Wasn’t Anne friends with Gilbert for years before anything ever happened? Jesus showed me how much I’d been unhealthily applying these stories to my own thought life… and forgetting Him.
So, I gave them up. I threw myself into the prayer room and getting to know Him more– filled with radical encounters. I didn’t want to get into a relationship in high school, I knew that. So I knew He was the only who satisfied.
However, after high school, Jesus started asking me a most inconvenient question: What do you want? Somewhere on the journey, I’d shut down my heart from wanting a relationship. I knew romance stories were not the satisfaction, but rather a prick-of-the-heart, pointing to what I really wanted: Jesus. So I started watching the old stories again– not as backsliding, but to learn what my heart felt again.
By the time I moved to New Zealand for university, I had a pretty good collection of these DVDs. When friends came over for attic movie nights, I’d end up watching my favourites over and over again. You haven’t seen North and South? Oh, we need to watch it!! So rather having a healthy appreciation for beautiful filmography and good language– these love stories became the only ones I knew.
Oh, I was aware that Jesus was the only one that satisfied– He really was my best friend. I knew that He was the one that filled my desires, and one day would give me a relationship for the books! But I never imagined that these books and DVDs were hindering me from experiencing what I really wanted.
Fast forward to this year, 22 and very much single (with all three siblings married, might I add). I trembled in front of the fire, heartbroken. No, not heartbroken like I have been in the past couple years. Instead, I was deeply grieved for years I’d been trying to get God to match my love story to the stories I knew so well– and never imagined that He might actually have a story that looks completely different to any I’d ever read or watched. It might actually be better. Therefore, being single would look completely different than what I’d seen, too.
I’d been plagued by thought-patterns that always tried to guess where a guy was at without having interactions with a real, raw, messy human being. I didn’t know I could be free from the pressure to always pursue friendship, I didn’t know I could have peace in the midst of a community of young singles.
Really, I had no idea.
Yet since I chucked my “treasures” in that fire three weeks ago– I’ve had just that. Peace– or weapons to fight for it. Rest– or self-control not to be a pursuer. The romance of Jesus in the Bible has come alive– in ways I always knew it could, but never fully experienced. Instead of being consumed with dreams of the future, I found it so much easier to live in the present. And a song I’d been stuck on writing? Oh, I went straight from that fire to the piano and I finished it.
Let me tell you once more, those books and DVDs weren’t “bad”.
They are just not beneficial for me, right now.
So, let me tell you this. Instead of living in stories by women who had unhappy marriages, or weren’t married at all (yep, that would be Jane Austen)– I want to live life with Jesus, the friend who’s been pursuing me since the first chapter. It’s not necessarily easy, it’s most definitely hard, but walking with Him continues to melt my heart day by day (and He’s going to blow me away with a love story one day, too!).
You give me what I need
Restorer of Broken Dreams
You give me what I want
Healer of Broken Hearts
No loss could compare to that gain.