I think the key here is found in the first noun, heart. The Hebrew for this word is leb, also used figuratively for the feelings, the will, and even the intellect. The biblical view of the heart is not the intense intoxication of romantic passion as we view it today. Leb means more than subjective attraction or ardor. Our feelings are only one-third of the package; the other parts are the will and the mind, which are usually far more objective. As much as our culture is currently concerned with how we feel about various things, Scripture is more concerned with how our feelings should be governed by what we know to be truth about God. (Isn’t it amazing that the Psalms so consistently end with praise to God no matter where they begin?) So if you find matters of the heart to be confusing and arbitrary, this is actually good news! The Bible is telling us that we have more tools to work with in romance and friendship than our culture would tell us.

In the middle of a series of articles about beauty and fitness in a women’s magazine, I once found this important nugget:

“Despite the conventional wisdom, being married boosts happiness only one-tenth of a point on an 11-point scale, and most people are no more satisfied with life after marriage than they were before, says Richard Lucas, Ph.D., a psychologist at Michigan State University in East Lansing who analyzed 15 years’ worth of data on 24,000 people. Although happiness rises after exchanging vows, most people return to their pre-marriage level within two years. (The same is true for people who win the lottery.) ‘People need to have realistic expectations,’ Lucas says. But if your marriage does not bring everlasting happiness, he adds, ‘it does not mean it’s not a good one.’”

Only two years of wedded bliss after all that fuss and scheming to get there?! We shouldn’t be surprised; this mainstream study confirms what we read throughout the Bible. God has designed us to find our ultimate fulfillment in Him, not in anything He’s created. Therefore, it’s not surprising to read that the author of this study found out that “people are no more satisfied with life after marriage than they were before,” and that he cautions readers to “have realistic expectations.” A realistic expectation of what or whom is merely left to the reader’s inference.

Our culture uses this phrase a lot – “realistic expectations.” But, really, what’s a “realistic” expectation? In some ways, I think that’s the secular counterpart to the Christian phrase, “guard your heart.” We casually toss those phrases around, and we freely give them as advice to one another. But they have a way of stopping a meaningful conversation short, as though everyone involved knows exactly what it means to have realistic expectations or guard your heart. If we did know, the lucrative self-help publishing industry wouldn’t exist. The truth is, relationships are messy. They require risk. But the Bible doesn’t leave us in the dark here. In matters of the heart (whether or not we get married) there are four perspectives to consider:

  • Ourselves
  • Our husbands
  • Our “brothers”
  • Our unions

When we examine romance through these four perspectives, I think we’ll see how we can live wisely all the days of our lives, and earn the trust of our future husbands. In this column, we’ll look at the first point, and in future columns we’ll explore the last three points. (By the way, this topic is a tough one for me. I’ve learned a lot in recent years – mostly the hard way – so I need to rely on a “multitude of counselors” for their wisdom and their pithy quotes. The good news is that I’ve done all the reading for you!)