By Phil Martin
Feb. 26, 2014
The night before, frustration from failed relationships this past year nearly brought me to tears. Although I was upset, I felt like I finally realized what I’ve been wanting out of friendships and romantic relationships all along. Surprisingly, it is not love at all.
What is it do I really want? And, why am I seeking it heavily from those I find attractive? The question came up a few months ago to discern why I have historically sought close friendships with all and deeper relationship with people I find physically attractive and appealing.
Appreciation is what I’ve really been longing from people, and I’ve mistaken that for love. It finally dawned on me as I was reading Psalm 139 (my favorite psalm of the Bible).
To better understand what I’m talking about, let me try to define what appreciation is. I’m not an expert, but please stay with me:
According to my American Heritage Dictionary of the English Language, appreciation is “recognition of the quality, value, significance and magnitude of people and things.” An alternate definition my dictionary offers is as follows: “awareness or delicate perception, especially of aesthetic qualities or values.”
I remember an organization on my campus suggested a more general definition of appreciation at a Sunday meeting. More simply put, I believe a speaker then said appreciation means “to be fully known and fully understood.”
The second and more basic definition of appreciation resonated with me as I read Psalm 139. In verse three, David offers another way of defining appreciation; here he says God is “acquainted with all [his] ways”. It began to make more sense with what I’ve experienced in my adolescence and young adulthood.
As far as romantic relationships, I’ve been wanting to meet a future spouse who can can “fully know” and “fully understand” who I truly am to the deepest aspects of my person. I’ve been wanting to meet someone who can thoroughly perceive me, from my character to my outward appearance and find me desirable.
Along with seeking attention and approval from women, I’ve also been chasing acceptance in friendships through their measure of appreciation for me. Check my Facebook timeline, for example. You’ll find that I often share my favorite smooth jazz music — only because I know 95 percent of my friends do not listen to it. Therefore, I hope my friends will appreciate me for my unique music taste. I also wear red and often mention that red is my favorite color — only because I hope people will appreciate this association with me. I’m sure there are other ways I subtly try to be “fully known and fully understood” by my friends to feel accepted.
Despite my hopes to be appreciated — to be “fully known and fully understood” — by people in my life I’ve often become disappointed. I think about high school. People I knew in those four years dated more than once, but I remained single. I thought I was undesirable and that something was horribly wrong with me. This worry about my singleness accelerated my fear and feelings of loneliness from that time and into college. However, I soon realized that dating in the way my high school classmates did would have done more harm to me. Many of those relationships I witnessed lacked true commitment and vision for growing and maintaining relationship with the two people. Many of those relationships also lacked devotion to God. In effect, these relationships seemed shallow, risky and unfocused. Therefore, I would have felt the sting of emotional attachment after a meaningless and godless relationship dissolved.
Although I’ve always been single, I feel I have felt the sting of emotional attachment. I tend to invest a lot of my emotions into friendships, especially towards women in my life I’ve felt attracted to. I have often developed feelings for people in hopes that they would fully appreciate who I am. Many times I’ve become disappointed also because American culture practices many shallow relationships. Someone I spoke to compared our culture’s relationships to a peach: We have cordial interactions with new people we meet and begin to know (the surface and succulent fruit), but then we eventually reach a point where the relationship goes no deeper (the pit). For me, I’ve always wanted deeper relationships (analogous to a coconut or melon in relationships practiced in other world cultures), where I want people to continue delving into more layers of my being until I am “fully known and fully understood.” Unfortunately, people in my life can only go so far beyond the superficial in having relationship with me appropriately.
To conclude, last night I realized that only the Lord, our God, is truly capable of appreciating me — fully recognizing my qualities, character, aesthetics, and total being to the utmost level. Check out David’s words in Psalm 139:1-3:
1 “O Lord, you have searched me and known me!
2 “You know when I sit down and when I rise up;
you discern my thoughts from afar.
3 “You search out my path and my lying down
and are acquainted with all my ways.”
I have to say I felt peace and bliss when I read this, especially the last verse. Community with people is good; God intended all of us to have community with one another. However, I will never attain appreciation from people to the deepest level I have always longed for. Not from my family. Not from my best friend. Not from a future spouse. But, only fully from Jesus because he is well acquainted with all my ways — “fully knowing and fully understanding” my entire being. Satisfying my great desire is for sure a mark of my brokenness, and why I desperately need the love of Christ to complete me beyond what people can provide.
Now I have to relearn what the heck love is. Remember, I have sadly mistaken appreciation for love. I also need to understand how I can appropriately provide love as a man of God, more than just merely receiving it from others.