(adapted from Authentic Beauty)
He was someone I had known for years. He had been a close family friend. He had many appealing qualities, but I had never really thought about him in a romantic way. It was true that he had a sensitive and tender side that I had seen on a few occasions. But he was also extremely passionate about truth, and I felt that sometimes he came across a little too strong on certain points. To be honest, he intimidated me. It also seemed that he was a little too involved with “church stuff.” When I thought of him, I was reminded of Sunday school lessons with flannel Bible story characters or gold offering plates – this was not exactly the atmosphere for true love!
He was one of those people with a piercing gaze that can see straight into the depths of your soul. Because of this, I had gone out of my way to avoid him for the past few years. For some time now my life had been a chaotic mess of compromise and confusion. I didnʼt want him to see what I had become. If he found out what I had done, I was sure he would sternly reprimand me and remind me that it was too late for me to ever discover anything more. But I soon realized I was very, very wrong about him.
I found him waiting for me by the apple trees near my back gate one day as I headed out for a morning walk. I was startled to see him there, surprised that after all these years and all the times I had ignored him, he still wanted to spend time with me. I gave him a tentative glance, and he smiled at me – a tender, intimate smile that made my heart lurch in spite of itself. I quickly looked away.
“Can I walk with you?” he asked in a gentle voice. I nodded, still avoiding his gaze, and he fell into step beside me. We made our way in silence for a while, listening to the occasional chatter of a squirrel or high-pitched chirp of a robin. I kept my eyes on the gravel path at my feet.
“Iʼve missed you,” he told me simply. Though it was obvious to both of us that I was the one who had put the distance between us, there was no hint of accusation in his tone. I bit my lip and nodded again, unsure what to say in response.
We walked a little farther, and I realized his presence was both refreshing and comforting. I could feel his tender eyes watching me, silently telling me how important I was to him, though I could not figure out why. Nothing else was said during the rest of our time together that day, but I sensed that something more was about to happen between us. I just wasnʼt sure if I was ready.
Our friendship slowly grew. The more time I spent with him, the more I realized how utterly different he was from any man I had ever encountered. In him, there were none of the sex-hungry glances I had received from the guys at school, not a trace of the flirtatious teasing that had always surrounded me, and not a strain of the seductive charms I had grown so accustomed to in men. But somehow I knew that he loved me. That he deeply desired me. That he found me beautiful. I hardly dared to hope that I had finally found the one man that could fulfill those long-forgotten dreams of mine. Even if he could be my prince, I was sure I had found him too late.
“This is completely crazy,” I told myself aloud one night as I tossed and turned in bed. “He wouldnʼt want someone like me.” I was convinced that his love for me would shrivel up in a second if he truly understood how many mistakes I had made. I didnʼt think I could risk becoming attached to him. I had been hurt so many times that I didnʼt know how much more pain my heart could handle.
I had another worry. He didnʼt live his life the way anyone else did. He stood out like a neon billboard on a lonely desert highway. He was mocked and misunderstood by quite a few people in my life. I knew he would not fit into my world, would not be accepted by my friends, and would not be at home in most of my surroundings. How could I possibly love someone like this? What did he expect me to do – walk away from everything just to be with him?
I wrestled with my fears for weeks. He never pressured me to make a decision. He simply reminded me, in a hundred different ways, that he loved me and that he longed for me. He was infinitely patient, tender, and sensitive – the kind of prince I had dreamed of for as long as I could remember. He made the immature, self-centered guys who had historically gained my affection seem like pitiful counterfeits. After seeing the real thing, I couldnʼt believe I had fallen for such poor substitutes. But at the same time, I couldnʼt help wondering whether or not he might just be too good to be true.
The more time I spent around him, the more something inside me desperately wanted to just surrender and fall into his waiting arms. But I was afraid to let myself trust him. I was afraid of what that decision might cost me.
Over time, gradually, like the moving of the hour hand, my guard came down. No matter how many times I pulled away from him, his love remained unmoving, like a majestic, unwavering mountain over-looking a tumultuous ocean. I had even tried to convince him that I was not good enough for him. Iʼd told him tearfully how I had compromised my life, heart, and body over the past years. But I sensed that instead of judging me, he was inwardly weeping over every piece of my shattered heart. Coming face-to-face with this kind of infinite kindness left me stunned.
One morning, as I was sitting alone on a bench in the crisp spring air, I felt him softly approach me. He didnʼt have to speak. I took a long look into the unfathomable depths of love in his eyes, and I melted. With tears coursing down my face like a cascading waterfall, I fell into his arms and told him passionately that my heart belonged to no one but him. At that moment, my life, my pursuits, my friends, everything I had built my world around, faded away into nothingness. None of it seemed even remotely important anymore. Nothing mattered now but him.
As I whispered my devotion to him, a brilliant peace crept steadily into my heart and began to quietly mend its broken pieces. His eyes were wet with tears of unspeakable joy. I felt like an eagle gliding freely along the majestic mountain peaks following an afternoon storm. I had finally found my prince. He had gallantly searched for me and rescued me from my horrible dungeon of captivity. He had loved me in spite of my wretched, ugly condition. He had taken the filthy rags I was clothed in and given me the sparkling gown of a beautiful princess. His amazing love had fully revived my shattered, wounded, bleeding heart. And though I knew that now I must sacrifice all I had ever known in order to be with him, there was not a shred of doubt lingering in my mind. It was like giving him a pile of worthless pebbles and receiving a houseful of priceless jewels in return.
Over the past several years, I have interacted with thousands of young women my age. Rarely have I met one who didnʼt relate to my childhood longing to become a beautiful princess. Whether we were a tree-climbing tomboy with skinned knees or a tea-pouring cherub in ringlets; whether our ambition in life was to run a household or run the United States – there seems to be a common bond we share; a deep, unshakable, intrinsic longing to be tenderly cherished forever by a noble prince to whom we may entrust our heart. We long to experience the kind of amazing, breathtaking love we read about in fairy tales, hear about in love songs, or see unfold on movie screens. Most of us would even be willing to give up everything we hold dear just to ride away into the sunset with the man of our dreams.
But we live in a culture that is out to destroy all such dreams with a vengeance. Most of us are incredibly young and naive when our innocent hopes are trampled, whether by an abusive father, a divorce-riddled family, a merciless sex predator, or simply the cruel taunts of our classmates. Wounded and desperate, we embark upon a search to find value, to find someone who will accept us, approve us, cherish us, and tell us we are beautiful.
Growing up, I was privileged enough to have a wonderful mom and dad who reminded me often that I was special and loved. Many girls arenʼt so blessed. But even with the positive influence of my parents, I gradually allowed the culture to convince me that in the eyes of the world I was considered worthless and ugly.
Almost every young woman I meet has, to some degree, bought into this same lie. Like I did, many young women willingly offer their hearts, their emotions, or their bodies to anyone who seems like he might somehow fulfill that deep longing within – only to be used and violated and left holding shattered dreams. Others starve themselves or willingly become sex toys, in the hope that by doing so they might be found beautiful and valuable. Some simply give up all hope and decide it is not worth trying anymore; they plunge into depression or drivenness and keep the pain buried under the surface for as long as they possibly can.
Our culture tells us that instead of dreaming about giving our heart to some mythical knight in shining armor, we would be far wiser to spend our time looking out for ourselves. Sadie, a frustrated college sophomore, wrote me an email not too long ago that included this statement: “This may sound crazy, but I am starting to get the feeling that every guy I meet is only spending time with me because he wants to use my body.”
But unfortunately, it does not sound crazy. It sounds like reality. No wonder so many young women are throwing their hands up in defeat and settling for a broken heart and shattered dreams. In todayʼs world, it can be nearly impossible for us to believe that there could ever be anything more.
After hearing about my love story with Eric many young women have told me, “Leslie, itʼs not fair! You married the last true knight in shining armor on the planet! No more exist!” Yes, Eric and I did have an amazing love story. However, my love story with Eric is only a small reflection of a much deeper intimacy that I share with someone else…the Prince I wrote about earlier. The One who was waiting for me that morning by the apple trees when I went out for my walk. The One I finally surrendered to on that unforgettable spring morning a few months later. The One who passionately loved me, tenderly held me, and deeply cherished me in a way I had never before experienced, in a way that fulfilled all my childhood longings and desires. The One who rescued me from the dingy prison cell I had wandered into, cut the iron chains away from my feet and hands, tenderly washed me clean from my life of sin, transformed me into His princess, and carried me away into the sunset to His land.
My true Prince is not Eric. My true Prince is Jesus Christ. Eric, with all his amazing qualities, could never meet the deepest needs inside my heart the way my true Prince has. If not for the tender love of my true Prince, my love story with Eric would not have even been possible. The romance of my love story with Eric is only a faded glimmer of the spectacular beauty of the love story I share with my Jesus Christ. In fact, my childhood longing to be loved and cherished by a tender knight that I could follow to the ends of the earth was placed in my heart by Him. Jesus Christ alone can fulfill that desperate longing.
So many of us, though we claim to know Jesus Christ, are still longing for our deepest desires to be fulfilled by someone else. We frantically seek the man of our dreams, giving ourselves completely to one relationship after the next, hoping that when we finally find the right guy our romantic fantasies will become reality.
Most of us donʼt ever realize that Jesus Christ is not a flimsy flannel board figure from a Sunday school lesson; that He is not a stern dictator looking down on us from heaven to make sure we obey His rules; that He is not a distant being who is too busy running the world to care about the details of our day-to-day lives; and that He is so much more than someone we say we believe in to keep ourselves out of hell when we die.
He is the Lover of our soul. Our true Prince. The One we have been longing for, searching for, and dreaming of since childhood. The One who will love us the way no one else can love us; the One who will cherish us forever; the One who will transform us from a hopeless girl in rags into a beautiful, confident, radiant princess. He is the One who makes us ready for true, lasting, human love. And He is the One who meets our deepest needs when human love falls short.
No matter how many times our dreams have been shattered, or how many times our heart has been trampled, or how far we have strayed from Him, our Prince is standing outside our dungeon window, tenderly calling out our name, patiently waiting for us to hear His voice and invite Him to rescue us from the bleakness of a life lived without Him. He is passionately longing for us, eager and ready to hold us, wash us clean, heal us, and carry us away to His land to cherish us as His princess forever. This kind of fairy-tale romance between a young woman and her true Prince does not come without sacrifice. It does not come without pain. But it is the most priceless gift we will ever be offered. And it is the most beautiful and fulfilling existence we could ever know or imagine.*