This past week work brought me to a prominent city in South America known for drug trafficking. On government business transporting prisoners to the US, the whole ordeal required an overnight in the city and plenty of time at the airport and in a crammed van to and from the hotel. Two other flight crews from another company and a US Marshall were involved in the mission and with all that time together one particular Captain and the Marshal quickly made friends with each other and with me. Sadly the commonality they shared were the woes of divorce. Spending time with these two men at the end of their first marriages, they had thought would be their last, got me thinking…
I started thinking about my firsts. Naturally I couldn’t remember my first breath, but I thought about my first kiss, the first time I said, “I love you” to a boy, and then I got a bit indignant. “Why do people make such a big deal about ‘the first’?!” I mean think about it, it puts a lot of pressure on getting things right the first time (and I’m not just talking about romantic relationships here) not to mention that it raises expectations far too high.
I remember a Christian mother of three telling me (a young 20 something at the time) the story of her and her husband’s romance. She explained how once she fell in love with him (she was only 17) she desperately wished she could have saved for him all her firsts: the first time she held a boy’s hand, the first time she kissed a boy, every little ‘innocent’ first. I didn’t quite know what to make of her confession at the time. My first kiss had been with a boy I really, really liked. I didn’t see fireworks, just felt a little tingly and a bit awkward, but I didn’t regret it. And the first time I said, “I love you” back to a boy, I actually didn’t mean it, which was also a bit awkward.
Before you judge me about saying, “I love you” when I didn’t mean it, you should know I was only sixteen, and I did recant before the habit of exchanging the sentiment stuck with us; explaining that it was too soon to use the “L” word. Eventually saying, “I love you,” did become an honest habit with my high school sweetheart and I as we truly become each other’s first loves.
But I didn’t marry him. I gave him some firsts, but it didn’t work out. And now I won’t have those firsts to give to another. And for that I’m compelled to exclaim: “thank God!”
Okay, maybe I’m being a bit dramatic but my point is, there is nothing magical about “the first” anything that affects it’s actual quality. The truth is that even though I sincerely loved my high school sweetheart, my depth and capacity to love today is far deeper than it was then. Why? Partly because I didn’t hold back my firsts in fear of loosing them if it didn’t work out. I gave love the way I knew best at the time.
Now I’m not saying firsts (or seconds or thirds…) of anything should be given away as quickly as possible and without regard for timing and qualifiers. But this is not because the first time has value in and of itself, but rather the action itself has value. What I’m saying is that we may not get it right the first time, but if we keep at it we’re bound to get better (like the way I figured out how and when to say, “I love you”). I’m also saying you are the treasure. And that expression of love you have to give (whether it be to reach out and hold another’s hand or kiss them with passion) that has value based on who you are and the authenticity of your expression -regardless of if it’s the first time or not. In fact, a wise man once said, “The end of a matter is better than its beginning” (Ecc 7:8a, NIV).
So if you’re mourning your “firsts” look forward instead. If you gave your first love to someone who in the end didn’t love you back there’s more hope for you than them; as they say, ‘the best predictor of future behavior is past behavior.’ And if you married your high school sweetheart and have weathered the storms of a lifetime together, then how wonderful it must be to see how much you’ve both improved since your firsts together. When I get married (someday) I won’t be disappointed if my husband hasn’t saved for me all his awkward firsts (and he’ll sure be lucky I didn’t save them for him either ). I will however, be ‘over the moon’ exited to be sharing our “lasts” and to be engaging our matured capacities to love with each other. If you’re young (or a late bloomer) go ahead and get excited about your firsts. But remember (whoever you are) what is at last matters the most, as do you and the love you have to give now and always.