2015 07 soul mateIt’s a strong idea: Each of us has a mate out there—a perfect mate. A match-made-in-heaven.

A “soul mate.”

Most people think of their “soul” as the essential, non-visible, real-me part of themselves. So in the soul mate scenario, two of these meant-to-be entities would magically connect, harmonize, and illumine the cosmos around them.

Making everyone happy.

Forever.

Growing up I never really questioned it. But I started thinking more about the idea when talking with an older friend who was contemplating divorce: “I always thought she was my soul mate,” he explained. “But maybe my soul mate is someone else and I married the wrong person!”

I get the idea of a soul mate. We want to think that either (1) we are with our soul mate right now, or (2) there is a soul mate “out there” for me somewhere (and that idea keeps me going).

Here’s why I don’t think you or I have a soul mate.

Love is a choice. It’s an act of will.

But it doesn’t seem that way when we say things like “I fell in love.” By that people often mean they got “swept away” by emotion, or had no apparent control over the starry-eyed excitement they experienced. In other words, they had no “choice” in the matter. (Or, at least, very little.)

So it must be love!

Maybe. It could also be hormones. Or novelty. Or laziness.

The metaphor “falling in love” makes it seem like the whole project is a hole in a field somewhere. And after you fall you’re stuck in the muck with no ladder.

In his latest book called All The Places to Go: How Will You Know, Presbyterian writer John Ortberg talks about how God puts open doors before us.

  • How do we know which one to go through?
  • How do we know which decision to make?

And although there is definite wisdom about which doors to avoid, and which doors to walk toward, quite often it is more about how you go through the doors in your life.

It’s not just what you decide to do, it’s how you decide what you decide to do.

It’s about character. It’s about making intentional choices.

Psychiatrist M. Scott Peck argues that real love “often occurs in a context in which the feeling of love is lacking.”

It is not a feeling.

Further, when it comes to marriage: “No marriage can be judged truly successful unless husband and wife are each other’s best critics.”

Love is not a superficial get-along-at-all-costs project. It is a build-the-other-up project. And that includes honesty and accountability.

And finding the “perfect” mate certainly doesn’t seem to be about having no differences and being fused at the hip. The prophet of Kahlil Gibran advises: “But let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.”

You’re a partnership, yes. But you’re still individuals too.

‘But Matthew, doesn’t the Bible say that everyone should find the perfect marriage or partner?’

Nope.

The biblical writers talk a lot about family and values and priorities. But Jesus was single. So was the apostle Paul. Marriage isn’t for everyone. In fact, Jesus said (in three out of four gospels) that his true family wasn’t biological: It was those who did God’s will.

(Think about that one for a second.)

So no. I don’t think you have a soul mate. I get the idea. But I think it’s a cop-out of the hard-yet-joyful work of a true love relationship.

I don’t think soul mates exist.

But I think true love exists:

  • It is a conscious choice every single day.
  • A choice to choose the one you’re with.
  • It is praying for one another.
  • It is an act of will.
  • It is, in the words of Ephesians 5:21, “mutual submission.”
  • It is deciding to love even when the feeling of love is lacking.
  • It is being each other’s best critics.
  • It is being individuals, so that the “winds of the heavens” might dance between you.
  • It is living your vows as a two-person mission project.
  • It is forgiveness.
  • It is cheer-leading.
  • It is seeking the best for the other person.

In an interview after her failed marriage to the Prince of Wales, Princess Diana said, “The greatest disease in the world is the disease of being unloved.”

May we know, as best we can, what love is—true love. And choose it. And pursue it.

Every. Single. Day.

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