Growing up in church, Christian kids, teenagers, and young adults are told frequently and fervently that in romantic relationships, Christ must be at the center. "Christ-centered relationship" is a phrase uttered from the pulpit, in Sunday school class, and in small group Bible study quite frequently, and it is met most often with personal reflection on relationships, subtle head nods, and occasional murmurs of agreement from the listeners. I have always been the personal reflection type, so when I would hear that Christ needed to be at the center of my relationship, I began not only to wonder if He was, but also consider what that would even look like practically.

What does it really mean to have a Christ-centered relationship? Is that going to church or Bible study together? Praying together? Talking about spiritual progression or challenges? Serving together? Knowing without a shadow of a doubt that God put the two of you together and intends for you to stay together? Planning on marriage? Remaining pure? Praying about and for the relationship independently? Reading Christian books together?

Many of those activities and habits are important to a Christ-centered relationship, but it wasn't until pondered my own relationship that I realized that alone, those miss the mark. It is so important to do all of the activities that I mentioned as much as possible, but I don't believe that they indicate that Jesus is at the center of your relationship on their own. Not only that, but if you measure your relationship by checking off tasks on a religious list, two things will happen. First, you will never feel like your relationship measures up. You can always be better at praying, serving, worshipping, or studying together. No matter how much you do, it will never feel like you've done enough. Additionally, you will miss the entire point. Jesus intended for Christianity to be based upon a loving relationship with Him, not a spiritual checklist. It's about heart, not just words, and sometimes not even actions. Why would He expect our relationships with one another to be any less heart-focused?

The reality of Christ's presence in a relationship lies in the way the two people in the relationship interact with one another. Jesus says, "By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another" (John 13:35, ESV). The essential mark of a follower of Jesus is love for others, and I believe romantic relationships are meant to be the epitome of this. Having a Christ-centered relationship means loving each other in the ways that Jesus calls His disciples to love.

That means putting the other person's needs or desires before your own. It means meeting each other with grace and forgiveness in every moment because to be human is to fall short and be in need of grace. It means checking the plank in your eye before you go to point out the speck in the other person's. It means being encouraging, it means doing kind things for each other just because you can, and it means helping each other lovingly when you stumble.

Christians can't miss this point. Christ-centered relationships are about loving one another in a way that reflects Christ's love for us, and that is always a matter of the heart, not empty religious phrases or superficial activities.