Welcome, booklovers! It probably comes as no surprise to you that this week’s Top Ten Tuesday has a romance theme. In fact, That Artsy Reading Girl has given us free rein this week to come up with our own romance topic. After considering any number of ‘favourites’ lists I could have made, I eventually decided to do something a little different and actually look at the reasons why I like romance novels. Specifically Christian romance novels.
A few thoughts before I give that list, though. Firstly, I’m not trying to claim that ONLY Christian romance novels fulfill this list, nor am I saying that EVERY Christian romance novel fulfills this list. I’m not saying that secular romance novels don’t or can’t do some of the things on this list. But I am saying there is a reason why I gravitate towards Christian romance when I’m looking for a romance read, and these are my top ten reasons for doing so.
One other thing before I get to my list. A lot of people look down their nose at romance novels. Even as an romance lover, I’ve sometimes been tempted to reply to the question, “What are you reading?” with the response, “Oh, just a romance novel.” As though it’s somehow less than I should admit to. But here’s the thing. We are relational beings. We crave relationship—literally—from the moment we are born. What could be more natural than looking for that in the stories we read as well? And as you will see from my list below, there are many reasons why romance novels don’t have to be ‘just a romance.’
1. God is the Author of Romance
As far as reasons go, I’m not sure it’s possible to top this one. Hence it’s at the top of my list. Have you stopped to think about this? We all know God is the author of love. God IS love! But that’s not necessarily the same thing as romance. Romance is typically associated with the initial stages of ‘falling in love’—with that period of getting to know someone as a potential life-mate, of actively cultivating a more intimate relationship with that person—and all the fluttery, jittery, euphoric feelings that go with it.
Well, guess who wired our bodies to feel all those fluttery, jittery, euphoric feelings! Scientifically speaking, the chemicals in our body go a little haywire when we become attracted to a potential mate. Adrenaline and norepinephrine put our bodies in a state of high alert—racing heart, sweaty palms, tongue-tied, dry mouth—and yet dopamine levels (the brain’s reward and euphoria chemical), particularly if we discover our feelings are reciprocated, are often comparable to someone on a cocaine high!
God could have created us with nothing more than an instinct to mate, but he didn’t. He wants us to experience joy and pleasure in that relationship, and designed us so that would be possible. And Christian romances can celebrate that in a God-honouring way!
2. Exploring Consequences
Of course, all of these chemicals free-wheeling through our bodies don’t necessarily make for the best decision-making conditions. Which brings me to my next point. Books allow us to experience the consequences of poor decisions in a safe environment. In the case of Christian romance, that includes scenarios that the rest of the world see as perfectly normal, eg sex outside of marriage.
Experiencing the emotional consequences of poor decisions made by characters can be a deterrent against making similar poor decisions in our own lives, but it can also help inform us how to best respond if we do find ourselves on the other side of a poor choice. Mistakes can’t be undone, but we can choose how to handle the fallout.
3. Deepening Our Understanding of Relationships and What Makes Them Work
Not all decisions are made consciously. Some behaviours and responses are purely instinctual or ingrained in us as a result of previous experiences, but that doesn’t mean they’re going to foster a healthy relationship. Sometimes it takes observing those behaviours in others to recognise them in ourselves. Sometimes, it’s by watching a character discover that behaviour in themselves that we can begin to understand the motivations of people in our own lives who may behave in the same way.
4. Growing in Grace
We all make mistakes. We all have our areas of weakness and our moments of selfishness or poor judgement. But that doesn’t necessarily stop us from looking down our nose at others when they slip up, or from holding a grudge when we’re negatively impacted. Or for judging those who make life choices we disagree with.
When we walk alongside these characters, we’re presented with an opportunity to grow in our ability to empathise and extend grace. We might not like or agree with what they’ve done, but we can seek to understand them rather than judging them, and through the other main character, we can even learn to love them. We also have an opportunity to experience the impact when that grace is extended to those who need it, and the pain when it isn’t.
5. Holding on to Hope
For romance to turn into a happy-ever-after, it often takes work and adjustment. And a certain amount of risk. When you allow yourself to love someone, you’re becoming vulnerable to them, and depending on what’s happened in the past, that might be an overwhelming thought. Romances can remind us that it’s worth taking that risk with the right person.
Sometimes there’s a mountain of hurt that needs to be pushed through before a happy-ever-after becomes a possibility. Perhaps it’s pain that has been carried over many years, perhaps you don’t feel worthy of love, or perhaps the person who was supposed to love you has hurt you deeply. Is it worth working through that pain to come out on the other side? Romance novels give us hope that it can be.
6. Escaping for a While
Some days are just tough, aren’t they? If you were a computer, you’d turn yourself off and on again! Or maybe just off!! Well, reading a book can have the same effect, if you choose the right one. Maybe a romcom or a light romance fits the bill. It can be just the thing to escape for a couple of hours, or even just ten minutes (if you have more self-control than me!) and you can come back feeling refreshed—or at least like you’ve mustered the energy/resolve to get through the next hour.
7. Reviving Your Romance
If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, you’ll know that the heady euphoric feelings of those early days don’t stick around forever. Not with the intensity they had at the beginning, anyway, and that’s not necessarily a bad thing! But it does mean that if you don’t make the time and effort to keep romance alive, particularly as marriage progresses to the busyness of children and increasing demands on your time, it can quickly fade into the background of everyday life and become something you take for granted rather than cherish as you once did.
Romance novels can help remind you why you fell in love in the first place. They can help remind you that it’s worth putting in the extra effort to woo your other half, even twenty years after your first date.
8. Countering Culture
We live in a world abounding in false messages about love, particularly romantic love. In our culture, self-happiness is the ultimate determiner of what is right. For Christians, that honour goes to God. And it means we aim to conduct our romances in a way that honours Him.
We’re not perfect. We make mistakes. And there is great value in Christian novels that acknowledge that (as mentioned above). But there is equally great value in romances where characters deny themselves in the pursuit of a relationship that brings honour to God. That means saving sex for marriage, it means cultivating a friendship that forges a deeper connection than mere physical attraction or lust, and it means not entering into a relationship with someone who is not also a Christian, not matter how deeply you love them.
9. Exercising the Conscience
The conscience and the will are kind of like muscles. The more you exercise them, the stronger they get. Reading books that reinforce your sense of right and wrong strengthens those muscles so that, when you’re faced with a similar situation in real life, you’re conscience and will are already more inclined to move in a certain direction. And when you’re battling the heady emotions that can accompany being in love (or being disappointed in love), you need all the help you can get!
10. A Picture of Christ’s Love for Us
The Bible frequently uses the metaphor of a groom and his bride for God’s relationship with Israel and Christ’s relationship with the Church. Christ exemplified the ultimate demonstration of love when he took on the punishment for my sins by dying at Calvary: “Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13)
God calls husbands and wives to love each other with a similar kind of sacrificial love—a love that seeks to honour and serve our spouse before ourselves; a love that wants the best for our spouse, even if it comes at a cost to ourselves. When I encounter that kind of love in a novel—in either romantic or non-romantic relationships—I’m sold.