You Can’t Have It All

Carrie Underwood accidentally stirred the the twitter pot recently when in an interview with Redbook she said that at 35 she may have missed her chance to have a big family.  This was of course one answer to one question in the interview but people jumped on it.

Now Carrie wasn’t trying to say that no one over 35 can have a kid.  She also went on to say that they have talked about adoption and they do a lot to help kids which she enjoys. But that wasn’t good enough for many who insist that there are no limits to fertility.

I bring this up because I think we need to be honest about where our culture is at. Especially as we navigate singleness, marriage and children.

First, we have convinced ourselves that 40 is the new 30 and 50 is the new 40.  But that simply is not true.  We tell folks not to hurry and grow up, to enjoy life before marriage, to take advantage of singleness.  Frankly we worship youth in our culture.

One reason the secular culture (with the western Christian culture often tagging along) worships youth is that we don’t have a right view of eternity vs. the temporal life.  Without going into a complete ten page theological dialogue here I want to address this.

In the temporal life we have a physical, and even eventually a mental peak.  What I mean is that at first, physically we are growing and then maturing.  But at a certain point, we start to age in a different way.  We have passed our peak physicality.  This is true for me at 45 years of age.  I can get in the best shape possible but odds are I won’t jump or run or even lift what I did in my 20’s.  All of my reverse dunking on the basketball court is in my past, not my future.  Eventually my body will diminish even more.  Someday, my mind will probably start to do the same.  This is called reality.

In our current culture people don’t want to peak, so they come up with ways to extend the peak.  Now I’m not suggesting that we should quit working out at 40.  Not my point at all. But the goal isn’t to stay young, it’s to stay in the best shape possible because our bodies are from God (not to mention we will feel better and all the other benefits of that).

What I’m suggesting is that worshipping youth and denying reality is not healthy.  It is especially not healthy if it is used to justify not growing up, not being committed to growth as a person while denying consequences.  I think this mentality is one of the things that really hurts single people today.

We’re telling people, and in frankly in particular women, that you can have it all.  But you can’t.  None of us can. Our choices have consequences.  If we don’t talk about those consequences with young people we are setting them up to be severely disappointed as they get older.

Now I know that there are exceptions.  I also know that science and medicine have in many ways extended not only our age expectancies but also women’s fertility.  But there are costs even to that.  If a woman waits until her late 30s to start having kids she is more likely to have trouble getting pregnant and more likely to have complications affecting both her and the child. These are actual facts.

This doesn’t even include the fact that it is harder for a woman in her 30s to get married than a younger woman.  Again, we can cry that it’s not fair.  I get that.  But that won’t make it any less true.

Now here’s the thing, I’m not telling anyone what choices to make.  What I want to suggest is two things.

First, understand that you are probably not the exception.  In other words, count the cost of your decision making.  Do you want to get married? Do you want a big family?  Then go ahead and work for that.  If that’s not what you want, then don’t.  But don’t believe the lies that you can have all that you want whenever you want it without any cost.  Live in the real world.

Secondly, I want to encourage you regardless of what you want to see the eternal view not the secular one.  What I mean by that is that when you view your life as a believer from an eternal perspective, it changes the peak dynamic.  You will still have a physical and mental peak in the temporal life.  But that’s not the end.  Instead, when you die you will be with Jesus in the present heaven, which will be better than any peak you had here.  Then at the resurrection and renewal of all things – the final heaven – you will never peak.  You will continue to grow and grow and grow.

What this means is that I can go ahead and grow up.  You don’t have to fight to “stay young” so to speak.  We can have a long view and understand that God is growing us overall, calling us to grow more and more.  That even in my aging in the temporal life, God is growing me.  There is no need to delay adulthood.  There is no reason to delay responsibility.  In fact the opposite is true.  You want to grow as much as possible.

The Protestant Celibacy Problem

A couple of years ago I was asked by a campus pastor at a local Catholic University if I would be willing to sit on a panel about vocation and represent the unmarried people who don’t feel called to celibacy.  I said yes and was excited by the opportunity.

Now this is sort of funny but I was the only protestant in the room and perhaps the least educated.  Ha!  I was for sure the least educated person on the panel which included: the president of the university and his wife (married vocation – and they had been married for decades), a nun, a Jesuit Priest and a priest whose job it was to help students who felt they might be called to celibate ministry (becoming a priest or nun) discern that.

We went around and shared about our vocation/place in life.  A lot of questions from the audience were centered around how you can figure out what you are supposed to do. Everyone on the panel was great – I was in very solid company and would gladly share a stage with any of them, any time.

But the person who stood out the most (and not just because we kept agreeing with each other) was the priest.  This guy was unbelievably smart.  He also had ways of explaining the call to full time celibate ministry that I had never really heard articulated before.

What he and I both immediately hit on is that the first decision you have to make is to follow Jesus.  There is no close second.

The way he said it was great.  He said essentially, “The first vow we all have to make is to Jesus – to be committed to Him.  Then we can make a second vow – either to God to be in celibate ministry or to God and to another person.”

As I listened to this guy speak and essentially lead our time, I found myself over and over thinking a couple of things.

1. The students that go to see this guy are super fortunate.  I don’t believe he would lead them to do anything out of an agenda.  The man wanted to help people find their calling – whatever that was.  I truly believe he would be one of the wisest people they could ever consult.

2. If you’re a protestant or lay person who feels called to celibacy, you are screwed.  Because there is absolutely no help available.  I mean zero.  None.  Nada. Nothing.  Not even a whiff.  You get the idea.

Look I know that not every priest is like this, far from it.  Not even every priest in his sort of position is like him.  I get that.  But at least there’s a chance.  At least there is some sort of process.  There’s some sort of guidance.

The problem starts with the fact that nowhere growing up in the protestant church will you hear that there is even an option of celibacy.  You might now and then hear someone mention it as they skip over it in the passages in Matthew 19 and 1st Corinthians 7 on the way to talk about marriage.  Or worse they might misinterpret Paul and say that the singleness he’s talking about is seasonal.

So we start with almost no base knowledge at best and wrong information at worst.  But if by some miracle you actually feel sort of called to it or have a conversation with a wise believer who teaches you something about it, there is no one to help you discern it.

Now if you are dating someone, we’ve got counsel out the wazoo.  I mean we can counsel you how to date (or how to “court”).***  There is premarital counseling and about million books to choose from.  Heck now-adays you can even go to pre-engagement counseling. If you’re married there is of course marital counseling – heck it’s pretty much a badge of honor in the church to have been to that counselor.  Marriage is hard after all.

However if you are questioning your call to celibacy – good luck.  There’s no pre-celibacy counseling.  Unless of course you are struggling with same sex attraction – then we are all about it.

If somehow, on your own, you figure it out and begin to live that way, there’s no counseling or support for that either.  Name the last time you heard someone honor a person who made that choice.  Yeah I can’t think of a time either.  So figure it out on your own, then do it alone.  The thing is, the call to celibacy is not a call to being alone.  But that is the way we’ve set it up.

Not only does this keep people from entering this vocation, it also could keep someone from marriage. If you don’t have a clear vision of the call to celibacy and what it is, how can you decide if you are called to it or not?  If there are no models of it or no honoring of it – why would anyone even consider it?

Both marriage and celibacy demonstrate different things about the kingdom.  Part of the reason we are losing on the marriage front is that we have completely punted on the celibacy front.****  Hear me clearly Protestant leader friends – You can not have a true theology of marriage without a right, well thought out, robust theology of celibacy.

Most of us aren’t called to this.  But that doesn’t mean we should ignore the vocation or those who are (or might be) called to it.

The bottom line is we need to stop reacting to our culture, take a breath, and start at the beginning.

 

***We offer very little to either sex about how to get a date, what is attractive or effective for finding a spouse.  You are more likely to hear about waiting for the one and what not to do while waiting, than about how to go get a spouse.

****For an interesting read on the cost of this check out my internet friend John’s recent post.  It’s an interesting take.

The Big Decision

A little while back I was leading a small group discussion about sex and dating as it relates to working with adolescents.  Various ages of people were in the group.  Let’s call it 19-30. None of them were married (which makes sense because 80% of people in that age range aren’t).

It’s always interesting to me in these type of conversations to see what people talk about. Two things almost always rise to the surface.  First is that everyone knows that sex outside of marriage is wrong.  That message in the church is pretty clear.

But the second thing that always comes out is that people are lost on most everything else. No one knows what to do as far as dating and marriage and the messages are so mixed that confusion reigns.

The church’s message and the worlds message has become completely entangled.  The church thinks it’s being different, but really they are mostly being confusing – except of course for the sex part.

We are ok at telling people what to do in marriage.  Not great, but ok.  But my goodness our message to the unmarried is crazy.

We leave celibacy out completely which creates a giant vacuum in the conversation.  Most protestants don’t even know what it means.  We then assign the gift of singleness to all the unmarried people.  This of course screws over both those who have the gift and those who don’t.

But today I want to tackle and maybe cut through a different point of confusion.

This starts with the idea that we can avoid divorce or marriage disfunction by choosing the perfect person to marry, otherwise known as the “one” God has for us.  This of course creates the fear of choosing wrong.  So the goal is to get married – but only to the right person.

I can remember being taught (and teaching) that the second biggest decision you will ever make is who you marry.  The biggest decision of course was what you do with Jesus.

I get the point of this platitude.  You can add in all the other things we get told along this line as singles.  “Better to be alone than marry the wrong person”, “God will bring you the right one at the right time.”  I could go on, but you get the idea.

The idea here is seek marriage but be really careful.  There is truth in that.  But taken even a little to far it moves from caution to fear and/or unfair standards.

Here’s what I mean.  If we are waiting for THE ONE then we start getting into our heads what that ONE should be like and anyone who doesn’t match that we dismiss.  That leads to this weird sort of consumer dating where people are really good for us, but they just aren’t the right one.

But maybe worse, I think we have created a false fear.  We end up creating this huge pressure situation.  I mean if the second biggest decision ever, for all time, is the person you marry – how can you be sure you are making the right decision?

Let me offer a different view.

First, there is not THE ONE – or any of her cousins (the right one, God’s one, the one for me, my soulmate, the perfect match, the one God has for me, etc…)

Second, marriage is a choice – a decision.  But who you marry is only a part of that choice. Here’s what I mean.  You make a decision that you are called to be married.  In other words you are not called to celibacy. Then there is a decision to pursue that.  Then there are the qualifiers that you are looking for – the type of person.

Now when you stand in front at your wedding you get to make another choice. That is you make vows before God to this other person.  Now this actually is the big decision, regardless of who is standing there.  Marriage is not a contract. There is a legal contract but that really is irrelevant in some ways.  Marriage is meant to be a covenant and sacrament before God.

When you say these vows you are choosing to make a promise.  You are deciding that you will love, honor and cherish this person no matter what and in all circumstances.  Once you make that decision now you get to make a series of decisions over the rest of your life – the choice of whether or not to honor those vows – regardless of what else happens.  And you get to make that BIG decision over and over again.

Love is a choice – a decision.  Feeling love isn’t.  Attraction isn’t.  But love is. Otherwise God wouldn’t be able to command it.  No where in the bible does God command a feeling.

The funny thing is that until recently in history, a lot of times people didn’t really get to choose who they married.  Most of them were teenagers.  And yet everything in the scripture about marriage was true for them.  They were called to the biblical principles of marriage.  They had to choose whether or not to follow them.  Same deal today.

We get to choose who we marry.  It is a big deal and it is a powerful picture of both choosing someone and being chosen.  But it’s only part of an endless series of decisions. It isn’t the final decision and when we make it that we are setting ourselves up for failure, both as singles and as marrieds.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Top Reasons “While You’re Still Single” Lists Are Bad

So I recently read an article about “enjoying your singleness”.  It was basically a list of all the things you should do while you’re “still” single.  Many articles have been written about this.  “7 Things To Do While You’re Still Single.”  “10 Great Things About Being Single”  “6 Things To Do Until You Meet The One”  “10 Ways Take Advantage Of Your Singleness”  “What To Do In Your Season Of Singleness”.  “Blah, Blah Blah.”

There is so much wrong with this mentality and we have to, HAVE TO, change it.

Where to begin?  Staying in the spirit – here is a list.

1. These lists assume that your singleness is temporary.  Usually very temporary.  The idea is that you will for sure get married soon – so soak up all singleness has to offer now. Don’t worry, it will happen, but don’t miss all the great stuff you can have as a single.  Yeah, I’d say about age 28-29 I was pretty ready to miss all that stuff.

2. Often times these list come off pretty self centered.  Basically the message is go out there and be about you because once your married it’s not all about you.  Here’s the deal, it’s not all about you now.  It never was and never will be.  This is not “your time”.  It’s God’s – every time.

3. If it’s so great and there are all of these great ways to live single (and if marriage is so hard) then why in the world get married?  And we wonder why people are waiting forever.

4. The funny part is that a lot of these list are made up of things that for the most part are not really about taking advantage of singleness.  They are about engaging life.

Some things commonly on the list –

  • Travel – see the world – yes this is much more fun alone than with a spouse.  Um no
  • Save money – long run this is not even remotely true – and to top it off, 50% of single people live alone – so they aren’t even saving on that.
  • Do more ministry – yes because all the people who do ministry are single – oh wait. .
  • Hang out with friends – yes because we all know that once you get married you are required to drop your friends.  I mean all my friends that got married dropped me – oh wait, no they didn’t.  Yikes.
  • Spend more time with God – this is just terrible.  Yes there is a calling to celibacy that some have in which they have a different sort of vow with God.  But this is not true for the “not yet married” or the singleness that these authors are talking about.  In fact I would say that wanting a spouse can be more distracting than having one.  Let me promise you this – I have not prayed less since becoming married.  If we are honest, no matter what our context we need to be in constant relation with God.  If being married means being further from God then God would not have instituted it before sin.

Look – all of these things are good.  But they aren’t good to do because you are single. They are good to do period.  You should engage God, others, your friends, your job, and for sure if you’re married your wife, your kids.  I get it, it looks different married than single. But you know what it looks different in all sorts of different seasons.  There are always transitions and movements.  Situations evolve and change – jobs, moves, kids, deaths. Not just single vs. married.

5. On another note, none of these list deal with why you are single (A better list might be – “10 Things To Help You Get Un-single”).  They don’t deal with what you might be doing wrong, what might be holding you back, what fears you might need to face, what wounds you might need to seek healing for, what sin you might need to repent of, or even if you should consider if you might be called to celibacy.

It assumes that you don’t need to do anything.  Just kick back and enjoy this “season” until God brings you The One.  The whole this is where God has you right now mantra.  Look, it may be where He has you.  It may also be a combination of 100 other things.

Here is my encouragement to you friends.  Single folks – don’t do any of the things on the list because you’re single.  Do them because they are right and good.  Don’t do them thinking this will help you when you get married.  Don’t save money so that you’ll have more for marriage – save money because it’s smart – married or single.  Don’t engage friends thinking you won’t get to later – engage them because it’s healthy to do so.

Whatever you do, don’t delay marriage just to do these things thinking that you’ll miss out on something you could do single.  That will always be true.  There will always be sacrifice. But you know what, staying single means missing out on stuff too.  There could just as easily be a list “10 things you’ll miss if you get married after 30”.

It’s time to drop the handy dandy platitude lists attempting to soothe our hurt and justify our context.  Dive into life from wherever you’re at.  Jesus said He came to bring life to the full. Engage it – single or married.

 

 

 

Paralyzed By Choices

Just over a year ago, I was driving home during a huge storm with wind, rain and some hail.  I remember thinking, “Man, I hope my car doesn’t get hail damage.”  Then as I turned onto my street and headed towards my house it happened.  I hit what I at first thought was just a huge puddle as I saw a huge splash.  But then all of a sudden I realized that instead I had driven directly into a flash flood.  It was up over my bumper and my engine stalled.

It’s amazing what goes through your head.  At first I tried to restart my car – um that wasn’t happening.  Then I rolled down my window to survey the situation.  It was not good.  I shut the window because we wouldn’t want the leather to get wet.  Water started seeping in. (For free – if you’ve ever wondered how long you would have in your car if you drove into say a lake, before water filled up the inside of your car . . . answer. . . not very dang long.)

All this to say, my car was completely totaled.  Water got in everywhere.  I was sad as I really liked my car (which was paid for) and planned on driving it for about another 100,000 miles.

Fortunately Nationwide really was on my side and gave me a very fair amount for my car. But now, I needed to find a new car.  So I of course had to set up some qualifications for this car. I wanted a car similar to my old car with the same features (heated leather seats, v-6 engine, sporting looking, lots of leg and head room, moon roof, at least 30mpg, etc). But I had some restrictions.  I was committed to not having a car payment for example.

So I set out to find “The Car”.  Shopping for a car is sort of crazy these days.  Almost all dealers have multiple locations and websites.  You can go online and search cars, values, compare and contrast.  But of course you need to go test drive it.  This is a big decision.  I mean whatever I get, I’m planning on driving a long time.

I did it all.  I booked marked cars online.  I went to a ton of dealers.  I gave my number to dealers who would call me if something came in close to what I was looking for.  I test drove easily 15-20 cars.  I almost pulled the trigger a couple of times but decided no, or the car was sold.  Once I had one that I really liked but I couldn’t afford it.

Finally, at a dealer two hours away, I found a car that worked and a dealer who worked with me.  I had my car.  It wasn’t perfect, but it was a solid choice.  I still like my car a year later.

Friends, that was searching for car.  Now find go and find a spouse.

We live in a world with a ridiculous amount of choice in all categories. Groceries, restaurants, items at restaurants, Cable TV, hundreds of channels.  Really there is a choice for everything.  We’ve bought into the idea that more choice is good. But with more choice comes more confusion, indecision, panic, regret, and anxiety*.  No where is this more true than our current dating culture.

When you go back in history, our choices for a spouse were much more limited.  For most of history you had basically no choice.  You married who you were arranged to marry.  But even in recent history, you married who you knew.  You grew up in one geographical area, met someone you were attracted to, and tried to make it happen.  You maybe had a few choices and comparisons.

Today because of travel, technology and urban explosion, we live in a world where there is always someone new to meet.  You could literally spend your life going on first dates.  And if there are all these choices, then there must be the right choice.  That one perfect choice.

Our Christian dating culture just exasperates this whole idea.  You are looking for the right one. Not only are looking for someone you are attracted to and get along with, but there are all these criteria.  Do they love Jesus?  Are you equally yoked?  Are they THE ONE God has for you.  Talk about pressure.

Throw in the fear of choosing wrong (this is for life after all) and we often end up paralyzing ourselves.  We have so much choice that many of us can’t choose.

The question becomes how the heck do you know?  How do you choose?

Am I suggesting we throw out our qualifiers and criteria?  Not exactly.  Am I saying attraction doesn’t count?  Heck no.  But what I am saying is that we can’t live in fear of choosing wrong.  We need to hold it loosely to be sure.  Its to our advantage to know that we can walk away, that we don’t have to choose a person.  But at the same time there is no perfect person and no perfect decision.

I want to talk more about how to choose and what I think a couple of qualifiers that I personally think everyone needs to consider.  But for today I want to leave you with a couple of questions.

How has this plethora of choices affected you?  Have you ever been paralyzed by the fear of choosing wrong?  Have you accidentally convinced yourself that there is the one perfect choice?

Do you want to know the craziest part?  Love itself is a choice.

 

* For a great article on choice in our culture read this from The Economist.

 

 

Are You Afraid Of Choosing Wrong

When I was a little kid I loved when my parents would take me to the toy store.  The huge toy store that I remember was called Children’s Palace.  It was AWESOME!  I mean it had every toy.  I could spend all day in the Star Wars and G.I. Joe aisles.  There were endless action figures and vehicles.  Now the vehicles were usually for the birthday or Christmas lists but most times we went, I got to pick out one, and only one, action figure.

When I got just a little older the stakes were as I was there to pick one to spend my own allowance money on.  While on the one hand this was cool, it was also kind of stressful. There were a lot of figures and I had to choose one, just one.  Usually I would narrow it down to two or three and I would spend a lot of time (or at least what seemed to be a lot of time) trying to decide.  I’d look at them both, considering all sorts of things about them. And finally I’d pick one.  Sometimes it was the best.  Other times I had little kid buyer’s remorse and thought, “I should have gotten the other guy”.  There is a lot great about this – it’s great parenting actually – you can’t have it all, you have to pick, but you get to.

As intense as it was, that was a toy.  Now choose someone to marry.  Yikes.  

And here in lies two of the things in our culture that has created more singles than ever before. The first is that we have more choices than ever before.  We get to choose if we marry, who we marry, and when we marry.  What’s crazy of course, is that until about 150 years ago, almost no one ever had one, let alone all three, of those choices.

I was talking to my dad about the breakdown of the family in America.  I asked him why he thought that happened?  He said, “I have a theory on that” (not surprising knowing my dad).  He went on,  “100 years ago you lived in rural America and you were 18 and you met a decent girl – You married that girl because you might not meet another one.”  As funny as it is, he’s exactly right.  But then there were big cities, cars, planes, and now the internet.  The choices are endless.

And then you add to that an extreme fear of buyers remorse.  My generation and younger are scared crapless of getting it wrong.  Half of our parents are divorced, some more than once.  In the Church we’ve been told how hard marriage is and how it has all these standards.  We don’t want to choose wrong.  We have friends who marriages are brutal or who are divorced already. People are scared.

We know intellectually that there is no perfect scenario but the fear can drive us to not marry.  It leads to all sorts of things I want to touch on more later.  Things like: serial dating, fear of commitment, looking for the perfect person, consumer dating (what can they do for me), cohabitation (I’ll live with you but I’m scared to marry you), looking for faults with everyone and much more.  All of these things get in the way of marriage and can lead us to stay single even when God has not called us there.

But guess what, we probably aren’t going back to arranged marriages, although I know some people who will do it for you, so that means you are going to have to choose.  And there’s a lot good about that.  It gives us some ownership in the process and it makes us responsible.  And at the end of the day when we are married we are responsible for that.

We are going to have to choose.  How will you do that?  

Look for a blog about that soon, but here are some things to consider.  Maybe we could use some help.  Number one we need to walk with God and ask Him a lot of questions. And, we need community.  I don’t think I could write enough blogs about that.  We need people in our life who know us and who can be in this stuff with us, people who would say, “I’m worried about this one and here’s why,” or, “quit being an idiot and marry this person already.”

Finally we need to face this fear and ask if it is one of the things keeping us single when we don’t feel called to be.  We need to ask what we are really afraid of and ask God to help us fight through.  Choosing wisely makes total sense – that is from God.  Being paralyzed by fear – that is not from God.