When it comes to romantic love, many of us would have favourite verses from the Bible.
But I’d wager that 2 Corinthians 6:14 wouldn’t be one of them.
For those of us who develop feelings for non-believers, it might be a struggle to accept a message like “do not be yoked together with unbelievers”.
25-year-old Gillian Wong was one such believer. She first met Gary Teh (27) at the beginning of her university life in 2015.
She bonded with Gary during freshman orientation. Soon after, they had dinner together and started texting.
That was when Gillian developed feelings for Gary: “Before I knew it, it was like I was sucked into this whirlwind.
“My head was spinning, my heart was moving faster than I could process — too fast for me to even stop and think.”
When Gillian was finally able to collect her thoughts on this developing romance, she decided to reconsider their relationship.
Gary was shocked when he heard this, and started asking question after question about Christianity.
Gillian could not answer him, and that made her began to question her own faith.
“The more I thought of it or tried to give him an answer, the more I questioned why Christianity is made up of so many rules,” said Gillian.
“I started to realise that from young we were taught Bible stories and all these things, but I hadn’t stopped to internalise all of it and just knew them in my head, not in my heart.”
During this confusing period, many church friends and leaders were concerned for Gillian. They spent time with her and gave her advice.
Despite this, Gillian felt lost.
“My head was a mess. And at many points, I just didn’t want any more advice because I felt like I knew the right thing to do,” she said.
“I was just struggling and just needed someone to listen, empathise and understand.”
“… we were taught Bible stories and all these things, but I hadn’t stopped to internalise all of it and just knew them in my head, not in my heart.”
Gary himself struggled to comprehend the situation.
As such, when Gillian broke the news that she wanted to break it off, he felt “labelled as not good enough” because he wasn’t a Christian.
“I wasn’t even a Christian and didn’t know much about Christianity, but I felt God was against me,” recounted Gary.
“I felt denied and rejected more than anything — I wasn’t given any chance but a straight no.”
THE HONEYMOON PERIOD
They agreed to never meet again, but their story did not end there.
Their feelings led them back to each other, and the two kept meeting up time and again.
Eventually, Gillian felt so frustrated she decided she no longer cared and started dating Gary in earnest.
At that point, Gary believed love had overcome religion.
“I was very happy and convinced that I was going to love this girl with all my heart to show her that she doesn’t need a Christian man,” he said.
While the couple had fun during this “honeymoon” period, for Gillian, under this happiness was turmoil.
Many nights after good dates, she found herself breaking down, in tears.
She shared: “I knew at those moments that Gary just wouldn’t understand me and this struggle, because he didn’t understand the God I knew.
“There was a hole in my heart. This feeling that something was just not right.”
That feeling also affected Gary, as it resulted in them breaking up many times.
“All this noise would then be shut out as the semester starts, when we usually just spontaneously get back together and hang out again.
“Then when the holiday hits, church camp comes and friends tell her what they think, she changes her mind and wants to break up again.”
He added it felt horrible to be hurt by Gillian, only to receive love from her soon after.
GILLIAN’S ROAD BACK TO GOD
Gillian also quarrelled with Christian friends and family over this relationship.
She recounted: “My mother was very disappointed in me and told me things like ‘Gill, the day you get married would be the saddest day of my life’.”
Things got so bad, she even left church in the latter part of 2015.
Nevertheless, despite the walls Gillian put up, God never stopped working to bring her back to Him.
He spoke to Gillian through the people around her.
Gillian’s roommate, a childhood friend from church, would constantly point Gillian back to Christ through conversations they had.
Gillian still loved watching Christian movies as well. As she watched movies like War Room and Miracles from Heaven, God began to soften her heart.
“I couldn’t help but cry, and I knew it was something more than my emotions,” Gillian recalled.
“It was as if someone was calling out to me, reaching out to me.”
Eventually, Gillian returned to church a year later.
But she still had her walls up, and did not want to broach the subject of her relationship with Gary.
During one particular service, however, Gillian found herself crying uncontrollably from the start till the end.
She said: “That was when I felt all my barriers starting to come down.
“I said: ‘Okay God, I don’t know what is happening and I don’t know where to start, but here I am, and I just want to restart’.”
GARY’S ROAD TO GOD
While Gillian was returning back to God, Gary was actually on a spiritual journey of his own.
At first, he only accompanied Gillian to church to “appease” her.
After all, for the first time in his life, Gary had finally met someone who felt so “right”, and he was determined to do anything for her.
However, after over a year of attending church, Gary took steps to explore the faith for himself.
“I went out on my own to a church that belongs to me. I did that because I didn’t want Gillian to be my reason to go to church,” he said.
“I wanted to stare straight into God’s eyes and have this conversation with Him. I wanted to know if He’s real, or if it’s just a cloud of lies with laws to keep their members in the church.”
So in 2016, Gary followed the only other Christian friend he knew to Impact Life Church. He even joined a Life Group (LG) and made friends there.
But during this time, Gary still faced obstacles on his journey to learn more about God.
For one, his parents lived in Malaysia, and he usually visited them during weekends. To attend Saturday church services, that meant having to sacrifice precious family time.
Later on, his friend who brought him to church also left.
While Gary kept pursuing God, he began to have doubts from all of his questions.
- Why is it that only I’m not able to experience what others experience?
- Why do people speak about God like He’s living in their heads?
- Why do people worship Him like He’s the answer to all their problems?
He was frustrated with faith and getting impatient, until “everything changed” during a worship segment one day.
While Gary stood there, unsure of how he could find God, a verse flashed on the screen.
“Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives; the one who seeks finds; and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened.” (Matthew 7:7-8)
Gary realised God was telling him to keep seeking. He realised then, that there was one more step he needed to take.
A GREATER LOVE
The couple had a long relationship journey ahead of them even after Gary accepted Christ.
Gillian still felt unsure about committing to Gary as their relationship “started in disobedience”.
In the latter part of their university years, they also tried to prioritise their walks with God before their relationship. So Gary and Gillian only truly explored a relationship together after they graduated.
That was when they became more involved in each other’s lives, attending Hope SINGAPORE together and joining the same LG.
There they learned more about each other, both the good and bad parts.
“We had many problems but we were always able to work through it and emerge stronger,” explained the couple. “Over time, even with the fights, it seemed to feel right.
“We could see how much each other had grown, and grew in respect for each other. We also gained more trust that we could point each other to Christ.”
Gillian and Gary eventually got married this June.
Although they had experienced years of struggle with earthly love to get to this point, God in His mercy worked through it to help them find a much greater love in Him.
“I used to think that God was stopping me from loving someone I want to love,” shared Gary. “But I was wrong, God was holding me back from a relationship until he has taught me how to truly love someone.”
“Now I’ve learnt that the laws are there for us to have a fruitful marriage… and following His laws are for no one else but our own good.
“This gift of love is unlike secular relationships — this love we can get only when we obey His commandments to love.”
Today, Gillian and Gary also gained new insights into their relationship.
They realised while they differ on many things, being aligned in following God ensures they have a shared worldview, lifestyle and priorities to base their relationship on.
The couple have found that it is upon this godly foundation that they can relate to each other’s struggles, gently correct each other’s mistakes and support each other in every way.
They have found this is what it means to be equally yoked. So for those of us who desire a relationship: let us first look to the Lord.
Then He will give us whatever we need — the very best — as we live our best life in Him.