To introduce a talk, I once showed the classic Walt Disney clip of Snow White singing “Someday My Prince Will Come” to a roomful of college-aged girls. Their response was dramatic. Many raised arms in the air and shouted, “Yes!” Some stood on their chairs with their hands clasped over their hearts. Some whooped. Some cheered. Some hollered. Some pretended to swoon. One or two had tears streaming down their cheeks.
The response when I showed the same clip to a roomful of mostly married middle-aged women, several weeks later, could not have been more different. Most looked disinterested. Many laughed and sneered. Some rolled their eyes. Some shrugged a shoulder and went back to having conversations with their girlfriends. Not one woman pumped her arm and shouted, “Yes!” Not one.
The reactions were telling. The college girls had hearts filled with hope of meeting their Prince Charming and living happily ever after. They eagerly anticipated that marrying Mr. McDreamy would fulfill their desire. The middle-aged women had hearts filled with cynicism because their Prince Charming hadn’t delivered the happily-ever-after ending they had hoped for. Mr. McDreamy had turned into Mr. McDreary and Mr. McDumpy. They had the gut-wrenching suspicion that no one would ever meet the longings of their hearts. The nods, tears, and “yeses” for these women came when I talked about the pain of disappointment. It’s not that their desire had died. It’s just that they were wearied and wounded from all the years of hoping and yearning. They still hadn’t found what they were looking for.
Looking for love
In the Old Testament, the prophet Jeremiah tells the story of a woman desperate for love. As a young bride, she loved her husband—she delighted in him as he delighted in her. Then, her commitment was tested. Other men enticed her with the passion, thrill, and adventure of illicit sex. She took the bait. Lover after lover passed through her arms. With each one, her level of satisfaction decreased, and her level of desperation increased. She ended up so needy and so skilled in the art of pursuing illicit love, that even the most experienced whore could learn new secrets of seduction by observing her tactics. “How well you direct your course to seek love! So that even to wicked women you have taught your ways” (Jeremiah 2:33).
Who is this needy woman? It’s God’s bride, the nation Israel. In Jeremiah’s time, she turned her back on her exclusive devotion to God and made alliances with the surrounding nations, embracing their morals and their gods. She played the whore by forsaking His love and pursuing relationships with them. She looked to them instead of Him to meet her needs. But the meaning of this allegory is much broader than that particular historical situation. It’s also a lesson for women today.
Martin Luther once said, “Whatever your heart clings to and confides in, that is really your god.” Most women yearn to find love in the arms of a man. Their heart yearns for earthly romance more than it yearns for the reality to which it points. Romance—finding their Prince Charming—is the hope they cling to and confide in. Romance is their god. Jeremiah’s narrative portrays their story. It speaks to all of us who “direct our course to seek love”—and who turn to men rather than God to find it. It tells the parable of every woman who feels deep desires, longings, and needs, and tries to fulfill them in the wrong place and in the wrong way.
The tragedy in Jeremiah’s tale is that the woman foolishly turned her back on the true lover who could meet her needs and embraced false lovers, who couldn’t possibly satisfy the desires of her heart. The Lord told His bride that it was as though she had spurned a natural spring of pure, fresh water and sought instead to satisfy her thirst with the stagnant water from a self-made, leaky cistern. He says, “My people have committed two evils: they have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns that can hold no water” (Jeremiah 2:13).
Passages in Jeremiah (2:13, 17:5-8) demonstrate that looking for love the wild way differs substantially from looking for love the wise way. Here are two lists that summarize how:
Looking for love the wild way
- She forgets or neglects her relationship with God (“whose heart turns away from the Lord”).
- She thinks that a relationship with a man will (or ought to) meet her emotional needs (“trusts in a man and makes flesh her strength”).
- Her heart feels lonely and needy (“uninhabited salt land,” “parched places”).
- She hacks and digs at the relationship, and makes demands of her man to get him to fill her perceived need (“hew[s] out cisterns for [herself]”).
- She demands that the relationship provide her with something it cannot possibly provide (“cisterns that can hold no water”).
- Her relationship repeatedly disappoints her (“broken cisterns”).
- She feels anxious and afraid when the relationship falters (“fears when heat comes,” “anxious in the year of drought”).
- Her heart slowly shrivels and dies (“like a shrub in the desert”).
- Her life is spiritually barren and unproductive (“shall not see any good come”).
Looking for love the wise way
- She faithfully pursues a relationship with God. (She “trusts in the Lord.” She has not “forsaken” Him.)
- She knows that only a relationship with God can meet her deepest needs. She does not depend on men to do this (“whose trust is the Lord”).
- Her relationship with God nourishes her spirit (“like a tree planted by water”).
- She sends her roots deep into God’s stream to meet her emotional needs. She does not demand emotional satisfaction from people (“sends out its roots by the stream”).
- She knows that the Lord will sustain her if a love relationship goes through difficult times or in the absence of such a relationship (“does not fear when heat comes”; “is not anxious in the year of drought”).
- Her heart remains alive and grounded in God’s love, regardless of the state of her earthly relationships (“leaves remain green”).
- Her life is spiritually fruitful and productive, regardless of the state of her earthly relationships (“does not cease to bear fruit”).
Which way best characterizes the way you look for love? The “Girl-Gone-Wild” puts her trust in man—she looks for some guy to be her savior. She tries to monopolize his time and attention and makes demands to try to get what she wants. The “Girl-Gone-Wise” trusts in the Lord. She has a Savior, so she doesn’t need or expect a guy to meet her deepest needs. She is not desperate for a man. It’s not that she wouldn’t enjoy a healthy relationship. She would. But she draws her identity and strength from a much more reliable source.
The Girl-Gone-Wise does not “trust in man and make flesh her strength.” Her heart relies on the Lord. She is “like a tree planted by water, that sends out its roots by the stream, and does not fear when heat comes, for its leaves remain green, and is not anxious in the year of drought, for it does not cease to bear fruit” (Jeremiah 17:8).
The image is a powerful one. It’s not that the wise woman never experiences pressure-cooker “heat” in her relationships—or that she never faces a year of relational drought. But she withstands those tough times. She doesn’t get fearful or anxious when they come, because her relationship with the Lord nourishes and sustains her. She doesn’t rely on the cistern. She doesn’t dry up spiritually or emotionally when a man disappoints her. She doesn’t have to hew out cistern after cistern after cistern, desperately trying to find the water she needs. Her roots go deep.
If the love of her life disappoints, betrays, and wounds her—or even if she never marries—she will not dry up. Her leaves will remain green, and she will not cease to lead a spiritually productive and satisfying life. Her well-being does not depend on a man.
Looking to man—to a Prince Charming—to give what only God can supply is an exercise in futility, frustration, and pain. And it can lead farther and farther away from the place where that longing can truly be fulfilled. The Girl-Gone-Wise knows what the deep longing in her spirit is all about. So when she feels needy, she directs her longing and sighing Godward (Psalm 38:9). She understands that only as she delights herself in the Lord, will her needs be met. He is the One who gives her the desires of her heart.
Adapted from Girls Gone Wise in a World Gone Wild, by Mary A. Kassian. Published by Moody Publishers, Chicago, Illinois. ©2010 by Mary A. Kassian. Used with permission.
Mary Kassian is an award-winning author, well-known speaker, and distinguished professor of Women's Studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. You can hear more from Mary about being a wise woman in a world gone wild on a recent FamilyLife Today interview.