That magical space: Finding freedom in the sacrifices of love

There is no fear in love, but perfect love drives out fear because fear has to do with punishment, and so one who fears is not yet perfect in love.
-- 1 John 4:18

Last summer, one of my favorite quarantine binge watches was Jane the Virgin. I never saw the series when it was actually on TV, which is probably for the best, since basically every episode ends with some sort of insane twist, and I’m honestly not sure how I would have survived a week or more between installments. As a millennial in the age of streaming, I’m baffled that people had to live this way for so much of TV history. The humanity, y’all!

Of course, not all of the characters or plot points are what you might call “wholesome,” but there’s so much I adore about the show. From the telenovela-style storytelling that appeals to my overly dramatic side, to the narrator’s ability to make me laugh out loud every single episode, to the constant tug-of-war between Team Michael and Team Raphael (both on the screen and within my own heart!), to the simple fact that Rogelio is totally my #Brogelio, the series has definitely earned a place on my top 10 list.

Furthermore, like any good show, Jane the Virgin goes beyond mere entertainment to convey some fundamental truths about the human experience. Prior to my binge watch, I had just finished reading Interior Freedom by Fr. Jacques Philippe, a book that I will be recommending to anyone and everyone until my dying day. Thus, the many facets of freedom — freedom to be ourselves, to accept our lives as they are, to live in the moment, and to overcome the fear and shame that so often hold us back — were top of mind. So not surprisingly, I identified quite a few examples of the concept throughout the show, and one scene in particular was so powerful that I still think about it often. I’d like to share it on this Valentine’s Day — a holiday that often feels overly commercialized at best and riddled with anxiety and baggage at worst — since it reminds us of one of the most beautiful aspects of love.

The scene comes from Season 2, Episode 17, which centers on Jane’s bachelorette party (so #spoileralert if you haven’t made it that far). Despite Jane’s best efforts to plan a responsible, low-key evening, the festivities become increasingly wild thanks to her fun-loving mom, Xo, and best friend, Lina. Meanwhile, Jane’s fianc√©, Michael, is at his “bachelor party,” aka a 5-course meal and trip to the spa courtesy of his future father-in-law, Rogelio. Needless to say, neither Jane nor Michael is thrilled about how the celebrations are unfolding. Toward the end of the night, both groups find themselves in the same place at the same time and decide to throw a joint afterparty, and Jane and Michael finally start to have fun. Later, after all the guests have left, the two sit together on the couch and discuss everything that has transpired.

The conversation then turns to their wedding vows, and Jane admits that even as a writer, she’s been struggling to put her thoughts to paper. However, her bachelorette party actually helped her to realize why: “It’s simple,” she tells Michael tearfully. “With you — you make me feel safe in the best way. My mom kept telling me to lose control, but I couldn’t until you got here. Because I know you’re watching over me, instead of me always having to watch over everyone else. So tonight is not my last night of freedom; it’s my first night of freedom.”

Bam, folks. Mic drop.

When you are truly loved by someone — whether a family member, good friend, or significant other — this bond creates a kind of magical space within which you can enjoy a certain degree of freedom. You can grow and change and dream and cry and make mistakes and simply be yourself, trusting that the relationship is not only strong enough to handle it but actually strengthened by this kind of vulnerability. Like Jane, you can let your guard down and discover a sense of peace and security in situations that might normally trigger discomfort or fear.

This magical space becomes an official — and in the Church, covenantal — reality in marriage, when two people publicly vow to stay by each other’s side, in sickness and in health, til death do them part. Unfortunately, our culture so often portrays marriage as a forfeiting of freedom. The very concept of bachelor/bachelorette parties suggests the need for one more wild night before exchanging vows, and the term “settling down” implies that once you’ve said “I do,” you and your spouse suddenly become Mr. and Mrs. Boring McLame.* And of course, by getting married, you do give up some pretty big things: You are no longer able to pursue a romantic relationship with anyone besides your spouse. You can no longer consider only yourself when making decisions and building your life and routines. You’ll have to communicate, collaborate, and compromise like never before. But what do you gain in return? The freedom of love.

The most freeing relationship of all, of course, is our relationship with the Lord. Even the most well-intentioned people will fail us at times, and we will fail them, too. But God loves us perfectly, and as we read in the First Letter of John, “perfect love drives out fear.” I return to this verse again and again when I find myself overcome with anxiety, especially when I worry that my loved ones might finally tire of my weaknesses and decide to blow this popsicle stand after all. The Lord will never leave us. Even at our worst and most sinful, we will never be too much, or too little, for Him. If our minds were capable of fully comprehending this — of understanding the magnitude of His love for us — there wouldn’t be a single speck of room left in our hearts for anything but love in return. Fear and worry would be Marie Kondo-ed right out. And although my anxiety disorder is likely something I’ll have to manage for the rest of my life, I’ve made a lot of progress over the past few years, and I’ve seen glimpses of what fearlessness could truly look like. We certainly sacrifice a lot when we decide to take up our crosses and follow Christ, but in return, the boundaries of that magical space expand to encompass every area of our lives. I can’t imagine a more liberating existence.

So this Valentine’s Day, instead of rolling my eyes at all the overpriced candy, cards, and flowers that have flooded the aisles at HEB or entertaining the ghosts of Valentines’ past, I want to focus on those in my life who, despite their imperfections, serve as a tangible sign of God’s perfect love for me. (Ok, I’ll probably still roll my eyes at HEB a little.) Over the years, my mom has often said to me and my sisters, “There’s nothing you could do that would make me stop loving you.” As a child, I remember being baffled by this idea and trying to think of counterexamples to prove her wrong. As an adult, I’ve stopped trying to find a loophole and have instead begun to accept this kind of fierce, beautiful, boundless, and undeserved devotion. (The woman is an Enneagram 6, after all.) Because ultimately, her words point to an even greater reality: God’s fierce, beautiful, boundless, and undeserved love for me.

*Side note: I think this concept of becoming a “boring adult” has more to do with age/maturity than with marital status. As my unmarried friends and I traverse our late twenties and early thirties, we find ourselves swapping crockpot recipes, opening Costco memberships, purchasing homes, investing money, following actual skincare routines, and thinking that 10 pm sounds pretty darn late. We’re becoming “boring adults,” no spouse required!

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