Valentine’s Day is right around the corner. Red and pink garland, heart-shaped waffle makers and conversation candies line the aisles of our favorite stores. It’s the time of year when stores, TV shows, and movies especially like to tell us what love looks like. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a sucker for cutesy decorations, romance and flowers; it’s just that this display can’t help but remind me of all of the times I’ve fallen for things that were less than love. Maybe I’m not the only one. Now, a disclaimer: this is not an anti-Valentine’s Day/Singles Awareness pity party. This is, however, a celebration of lessons learned, hope, and true love. 

Have you ever received mixed signals and believed that a friend had feelings for you, only to discover that it was only in your head? I have. Multiple times. And the thing is, these have all been well-intentioned, holy men who simply didn’t realize that sometimes their words and actions communicated to me that they wanted something more than friendship. 

Thankfully, by the grace of God and encouragement from many wise loved ones, I’ve mustered up the courage to have difficult, yet clarifying, conversations with the friends who were sending mixed signals. Setting boundaries has given me the opportunity to uphold not only my own dignity, but also that of my brothers, who have not only risen to the occasion, but even thanked me for helping them grow. I’m even more grateful for their friendship now than I was before, because I see in them the pure and genuine love of Christ. And knowing where I stand in these relationships gives me the freedom to be open and better prepared for whatever the Lord has planned for me. Setting boundaries and defining relationships has been so freeing! It’s never easy, though.

Recently, I sat in a chapel praying about yet another one of these humbling conversations. I was so confused. Again. So I prayed, “If I keep mistaking friendly affection for flirting, how will I know when someone actually wants to pursue me? What will it look like?” –Maybe you’ve asked the same type of question: “What does true love look like?”– I looked up at the crucifix and heard Jesus answer, “Like this.”

Now, this particular one is not your average crucifix–Jesus’s body is all dried up and sickly-looking. His arms are not completely stretched out, but curled with His hands near His shoulders and His knees are bent at a sharp angle. His neck is tilted upward and His whole body looks as if Jesus is writhing in pain. His body is all one dark gray color, and seems to be made of brittle cement that could crumble with just one touch. Not exactly a pretty sight. But with this crucifix, Jesus not only reminded me that He pursues me daily and that I am worth dying for, but that the right person will bend over backwards to demonstrate their love for me and that I won’t have to wonder. That, my friends, is what true love looks like, and Jesus wants to give us a love like His.

We’ve all been deceived by false love at some point in our lives, or have simply settled for what we thought was love. Whether we’ve been wronged in a relationship, given in to social pressures, or chased after something that only existed in our heads–we’ve experienced the disappointment and hurt that follows. Maybe you’ve been left wounded with insecurities, fears or hopelessness. If any of this resonates with you, I encourage you to take it to Jesus in prayer. Try looking at a crucifix and praying with this passage:

“Let love be sincere; hate what is evil, hold on to what is good; love one another with mutual affection; anticipate one another in showing honor.” (Rom 12:9-10)

And if you’re in the kind of confusing friendship I described above, I challenge you– have the conversation. Seriously, you can do it! Or if you’re the one “just being a good friend,” think about the other person’s feelings and assess whether or not your actions prudently communicate your real intentions. Don’t be afraid, because the Lord will reward you with clarity in your relationships, and like His love on the cross, that clarity will set you free!

By His cross, Jesus heals us and fills us with hope that true love exists and that we, in fact, already have it. This Valentine’s Day and everyday, let Jesus show you what love really looks like.

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