I met my knight in shining armor at school one day. He whisked into the building, swept me off my feet, and we rode merrily into the sunset to live happily ever after.

Well, not exactly. What actually happened is that a somewhat eccentric single man who collects and displays replicated medieval armor and weaponry all over his house clanked into the elementary school building, clumped down the stairs, and mesmerized my fifth-graders with his hands-on exhibit of the age of chivalry — all at the request of a damsel in distress (me, trying to interest fifth-graders in learning on a warm Friday afternoon). As he made the long trek from the office to my classroom, students and teachers alike gaped at the fairy tale figure come-to-life right outside their classroom door. He seemed not to notice that he sounded like a combination of the Tin Man and Jacob Marley as he moved down the hall. Wearing a full suit of armor was all in a day’s work for my knight. When he finished his unusual presentation, he packed up his weapons, kept most of the armor on, and drove off into the afternoon sun in his Toyota pickup (without me).

Admittedly, he was fascinating (when was the last time you helped a knight put on his gauntlets?), but he wasn’t real. Medieval knights don’t exist anymore, but their long ago feats earned them a permanent spot in fairy tale lore. They are the representatives of a bygone era, when real men speared each other with lances and prized women hung their golden tresses out of stone towers (the things they did for love).

Medieval knights may not exist anymore, but the ideal for love that grew out of that era lives on. The legendary chivalry of knights on behalf of fair maidens has mushroomed to mythic proportions and given us a working vocabulary for “love,” encompassing phrases like knight in shining armor, riding a white horse, damsel in distress, Prince Charming, swept me off my feet, Camelot, and — for those still without a prince — the ladies in waiting.

We all know this idea of love is unrealistic, but somehow we still hope for it. I know this because I watch blockbuster movies where perfect strangers meet, fall in love, and live happily ever after — all in the span of two hours. I watch “must see TV” sitcoms where the commercials take longer than the tidy resolutions of major relationship crises. We know this kind of love isn’t true love, but we can’t quite get it out of our minds. For most of us, “falling in love” means finding a relationship based on mutual attraction, satisfaction, and delight. When one of the people in such a partnership stops being attractive, satisfying, or delightful, we often fall out of love, walk away from the relationship, and look for another one.

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Our understanding of romantic “love” is badly diseased and has, unfortunately, infected our understanding and practice of non-romantic love, too. Nearly all parents say they love their children, and yet thousands of children know they will never measure up to their parents’ hopes; love apparently includes expectations — and resulting disappointment. Friends who said they’d be friends forever drift apart over the years and miles; love obviously has limits. Love as we’ve experienced it in romance, family, and friendship can be superficial, conditional, and temporary.

Into this lovesick culture comes a Church that, according to its Founder, will be known by its members’ love for one another (John 13:35). And into this Church come an enculturated people who are a little fuzzy about what true love is — primarily because they’ve rarely, if ever, experienced it. Thankfully, such fuzziness doesn’t have to persist, because into this confusion comes the purest definition — and example — of love: God Himself. God is love. He, in His Person and activity, defines what love is and how it works. He provides the motivation, the model, and the manner in which we truly love each other.

Wendy Widder graduated from Cedarville University in Cedarville, Ohio, and has completed her Master of Divinity degree at Grand Rapids Theological Seminary. The wearer of six bridesmaid dresses, Wendy knows the single life. She also knows the church life after spending a lifetime there in both volunteer and paid positions. She is the author of Living Whole Without a Better Half and A Match Made in Heaven.

Taken from Living Whole Without a Better Half  © 2007 by Wendy Widder. Published by Kregel Publications, Grand Rapids, MI. Used by permission of the publisher. All rights reserved.