Editor’s note: The following is a report on the practical application of Clare and Eli's book, Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up About We (WaterBrook Multnomah Publishing Group, 2012).

Many Christians focus intently on finding someone to marry and then trying to live happily ever after in those marriages. They place such importance on romantic love that they may come to think of it as the pinnacle of their spiritual pursuits.

God doesn’t place nearly so much importance on marriage, though. Yes, God did create marriage to fulfill good purposes in people’s lives on Earth (there’s no marriage in heaven). But romantic love is just one expression of love, and Jesus wants those who follow Him to learn how to love as He does. 

Focusing too much on marriage can distract you from Jesus’ greater call on your life: to learn how to wholeheartedly love God and other people. Whether you’re single (as Jesus chose to be on Earth) or married, you can learn to love the best when you shift your focus away from romance and toward Jesus’ example. Here’s how:

Realize that singleness and marriage are equally valuable states. Although people in many church cultures unfortunately often make single people feel inferior to married people, God values single people just as much as He values married people. While many churches are oriented around nuclear families headed by married couples, from God’s perspective, the worldwide family of believers is what matters most. So if you’re single, don’t feel as if you have to get married to be complete or fully loved, or that you have to settle for a potential spouse whom you don’t truly sense God calling you to marry, simply to get married by a certain age. If you’re married, don’t pressure the single people you know to get married, but give them the freedom to follow God’s plans for them, in His timing. Rest assured that God loves you and wants to work powerfully through your life, no matter what your current marital status.

Love your neighbors. Expand your list of people to love to include many more than just the people who are closest to you, such as your spouse (if you’re married), other family members and friends. God’s call for you to love your neighbors means loving everyone you encounter in life – all the people around you now, plus all the people you happen to meet. If you spend so much time and energy focusing on finding or attending to a spouse that your life becomes myopically centered around marriage, you can’t faithfully love your neighbors as God intends. Decide to make it a high priority to reach out in love to the people you meet every day – especially people in need (such as those who are poor, sick, imprisoned, or outcasts in society). Spend time daily in prayer and meditating on Jesus’ words in the Bible about loving your neighbors. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you start seeing people as God sees them, and to give the compassion you need to treat them with real love.

Love your enemies. Ask God to help you love those difficult people you know – the ones who won’t return your love. Rather than holding grudges against them, ask the Holy Spirit to guide and empower you through the process of forgiving them. Instead of avoiding your enemies are even just putting up with them peaceably, Jesus calls you to pray for them and express real love when interacting with them. So keep in mind that all people are worthy of dignity and respect because God has made them, and ask God to help you relate to your enemies through the power of His love working through you.