Tuesday, December 27, 2005

Public Displays of Affection

I was sitting at the stoplight in the left turn lane, waiting for the green turn arrow so my family and I could visit the big Christmas light show. The street to the display isn't a major thoroughfare, so the wait for the arrow was turning into a long one. My wife was turned toward the rear seats of the van, tending to the kids and some minor dispute back there. Meanwhile I was watching the car just ahead of me in the left turn lane. It was a white mid-size sedan. Nothing special. But inside was what appeared to be a teenage boy in the driver's seat and a teenage girl sitting next to him. Right next to him. Almost on top of him. He was keeping an eye on the stoplight while she was almost bouncing up and down in the seat beside him, kissing his ear and stoking his hair. I mentioned to my wife that perhaps the white sedan really only needed to be a single-seater at this point.

Finally the green arrow appeared and the teens made the left, then almost immediately made another left, pulling the car behind the storefronts of a small strip mall. It didn't take a genius to figure out what they were planning to do next. I managed to fight off the urge to circle back and sneak up on them with a spotlight and an airhorn to give them a little scare, so we continued on to see the lights. But I remembered being a teenager in love. I still remember that "can't keep our hands to ourselves" feeling and how hard it was to not act upon it. After all, it was frowned upon to have any PDA -- public displays of affection -- unless there was a compelling reason like being declared man and wife or a world war ending.

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I'm not exactly sure why public displays of affection are discouraged. Well, sure I understand why some "affectionate acts" are not for public consumption! But is hand-holding or sharing a kiss an uncomfortable sight for others? Personally, I don't mind, provided the mouths don't open and the hands don't start wandering. Yet back in my day, even holding hands was frowned upon in many contexts. And when you're in love, or at least infatuated, it's tough not to display that affection.

So why could it be offensive to others? When I was single and extremely unattached, I always felt a bit lonelier seeing others paired up. Perhaps that has something to do with it. It could be that the couple could be getting a little carried away with their display. The couple in the white sedan were way past "a little carried away" and my wife's response was an immediate, "Oh, that's just ridiculous! Make them stop it!" Another explanation could be that standards of what is acceptable behavior seem to change so rapidly that what is alright today was taboo thirty years ago. Like the bathing suits which in eighty years went from covering everything but the feet and hands to covering nothing but the absolute essentials, so too cultural standards have become much more lenient. That leaves some of us wondering how people can be so free of shame today.

I think that many people are uncomfortable with a person showing public displays of affection toward his Creator and Savior also. The world likes its Christians to be as pious as they like in private, but in public to squelch that affection. A Christian's public display of affection is offensive to some who don't know God or have developed a grudge against Him. It's so infuriating to see a person in love with God, that some will consider that person ignorant or superstitious -- there has to be something wrong with a person like that! Even other Christians start to feel upset at a public display of affection for Christ from someone else. The person who enduring a tough time or who is experiencing a low spiritual point can be jealous of the person who so obviously loves his Savior.

"How come he feels love for God and from God and I don't feel anything?" We start to wonder if that person is becoming so heavenly-minded that he is no earthly good. But in truth, we can feel cheated because we don't have the same feelings toward our Master, and we'd rather not be reminded of that fact.

Still, our love for God is not to be tempered by the peering of jealous eyes or the gazes angry, hurting souls. While we're not to call attention to ourselves a la the Pharisees of Jesus' day, our expressions of love should be natural. We shouldn't have to be ashamed to mention Him to our friends or acquaintances. In short, we are to live with a love for God so strong that we feel like the teenagers in the white sedan; unable to imagine being apart. And if that is how our relationship is, then our life is going to reflect it. Our affection for our Creator, Provider, Sustainer, Redeemer and Friend will be apparent. We'll be different than the rest in the way that we serve and act. Our attitudes toward others will be more loving and forgiving than the world teaches us to be. Even in times of trouble, it will be obvious that our hope is not on earthly things, but on a Savior from out of this world. Unselfishness will mark our lives, and joy will fill our hearts. And that is how we are to stand out in the world -- by our public displays of affection for the One who walks beside us, strengthens us, guides us, and saves us.

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