We Are Scared Crapless Of Marriage

Just over 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of about 30 juniors and seniors.  A female volunteer and I were leading a session on sex and dating (because if you are a good youth person you must do this right?).  But anyway, I asked a simple question that brought me a somewhat shocking answer.  I said, “How many of you think that you will get married one time and stay married to that person forever?”  Only about half the kids in that room raised their hands.  This was in the middle of Missouri . . . in 1999.

We so often refuse to deal with the reality of culture. The divorce rate is 50%.  49% of adults are not married.  80% of adults aged 18-29 are not married.  That is the real world. Why?

There are many reasons.  Last week I said one of the reasons is that we have become more self centered.  Today I’d like to talk about another huge reason.  People are scared crapless of marriage.

There’s this idea in the “Christian” world that marriage is less respected today.  I get that thought and I don’t totally disagree.  But I think it is a huge oversimplification of the problem.  I actually think that most young people actually do respect the idea of marriage, which is one reason they are so scared to commit to it.  They’ll do anything but get married.  They will date the same person forever, keep trying to find the perfect person, try out sex, live together and heck even have kids together.  Anything but get married.  Some of that is selfishness but some of it is just pure unadulterated fear.

What is everyone afraid of?  Several things actually.

First, in a general sense people are afraid of screwing up marriage.  They are scared they won’t be able to do it or that they aren’t ready to do it (which of course no one is).  You see they’ve seen it done mostly wrong.  It’s now more normal in our country to grow up in a “broken home” than a complete one.  Kids have grown up seeing their parents in one of two situations.  Many have seen divorce and all the cost that comes with that.  And if that is the choice then let’s not get married at all.  They don’t think divorce is ok.  They have sworn not to let it happen to them and the best way to ensure that is to avoid marriage. Believe me, I’ve talked to these people.  They’d rather have a kid out of wedlock than be divorced.  Less drama.

Secondly a lot of people have watched parents in marriages that are completely dysfunctional and they don’t want that either.  They believe in marriage but they haven’t really ever seen it work.

People are also afraid of community and commitment to others in general.  I mean think about your small group – who really is committed?  Have you ever really been completely committed to anyone or vice versa?  Marriage is the ultimate commitment. It’s the first human community – Adam and Eve with God in the middle.  That’s how it all started and it’s still the idea.  But if I’ve never had real community with anyone – how the heck do I do that with another person. . . every day. . . no matter what. . . with no exit.  Get what I’m saying? We are scared of what comes with community – fighting, getting hurt, accountability, someone knowing the worst things about me.  And there in lies perhaps the our biggest fears.

Men are afraid of failure.  We are afraid we won’t be able to do it.  Can I be a husband? Can I be a father?  I don’t know what I’m doing – can I take on that fight?  What if I fail? What if I choose wrong?  What if I’m constantly all day reminded of my failure over and over?

Women are typically more afraid of abandonment.  Not necessarily that the man will leave physically although that too.  But that he will leave emotionally or spiritually.  That somehow at some point something will happen and she will be alone.

Marriage is the ultimate test of these fears.  Making matters worse is the fact that every guy will fail and every woman will feel alone, even in the best marriage.  So why put yourself in that position.  That’s crazy scary.

I don’t have space here to go at how to face all these fears (I promise to come back to it). But here’s the point for today.  Many of us need to face the fact that we are scared.  We need to ask where that comes from because it’s not from God.  And the Church, if it is going to love singles well has to recognize and help us face those fears.  Morality is not enough in the face of fear.  More to come. 🙂

So are you scared?  What part of marriage scares you the most?  Where does that fear come from?

Can You Date A Non-Christian?

One thing that almost every Christian organization agrees on when it comes to singles (other than Don’t Have Sex of course) is that a Christian should not marry a non-Christian. Now when you tell young singles this they all nod their head, make big commitments to the Lord and dream of the perfect Christian Courtship.  This is all so simple, right up until that doesn’t happen or you meet someone who you really like, who isn’t a Christian.

Then it’s rationalization time.  “I haven’t met any Christians I’m attracted to.” “Well we aren’t really dating – they are just a friend” which is usually followed with, “well if they were a Christian I would date them but they aren’t so. . .I’ll just hang out with them like we’re dating but not call it that until we are dating and then whoops.”  Or, “Well I won’t marry them unless they come to follow Jesus but I’m hoping that will happen.”  “I’m just sharing Jesus with them.  I mean if they got it then yeah maybe but. . . ”  Here’s the problem – we will always want to date who we are attracted to and guess what, we marry who we date.

This is such a hard deal on a lot of levels.  First we really can’t help who we are attracted to.  Attraction isn’t really a choice.  Now what you do with attraction is and we need to get a hold of that.  But still it’s hard.  Also there are a lot of really cool non-christians. Ha!  It’s true right? And there are a lot of Christians that aren’t cool (funny, exciting, adventurous, hot etc).  Not only that, but guess what, everyone is created in God’s image and everyone can love.  That’s right even non-Christians can show love.  Crazy I know.

What makes this even trickier is that the Bible is not as clear here as we might like it to be. The problem is the Bible doesn’t talk about dating at all and when it comes to who to marry, really we’ve got one passage that says it straight up and another that kind of leads to the idea.

Paul in 2nd Corinthians 6 talks about not being unequally yoked.  While this is not about marriage I think it’s obvious that if we aren’t to be partners with unbelievers then it’s not a very big leap to assume that would include the biggest partnership of your life.  And in 1st Corinthians 7 Paul says that widows are free to remarry but they must marry a believer. That’s about as straight up as you can get.  But that’s it.  And before you try to go old Testament Israel marry within the tribe on me, remember Hosea.

But we have to live in reality and reality is this: If you are following Jesus then your life is heading in a direction.  And that direction, regardless of how much you like them or how much you have in common etc, is not the same as that of someone who is not.

There are all sorts of other problems.  It is easy for this other person to become your mission.  In other words you are somehow going to win this person to Jesus.  Here’s the thing, it could happen, but it could not happen and then you spend the rest of your life in different places.  Not to mention that they might end up pulling you in their direction – away from God.  This is a cheesy analogy but one person is standing on a chair and the other is on the ground.  Is it easier for the person on the floor to pulled up or the person on the chair to be pulled off?  As a bonus you are WAY more likely to fall into sexual sin.

Also, how can you have a covenant marriage with you, this other person and God, if this other person doesn’t believe in God.  Biblical marriage is a covenant, not a contract or an agreement.

But most of all, it is harder to follow Jesus and almost impossible to do ministry.  I have been in full time ministry for nearly 17 years.  I have worked with literally hundreds of people serving in our work.  Like anything missional, it’s hard and people leave for all sorts of reasons.  But the number one reason people get taken out – sexual sin.  The number two reason that usually leads to the first – dating someone who is not following Jesus.  This happens directly and indirectly.  The person who is not a Christian is going to have a hard time supporting you giving your life away for the Kingdom, which if you are following Jesus is exactly what you are called to do.

This raises other questions like, What is Christian enough? and How do I know who to marry?, and I plan to address some of that soon.  I also concede that this might not be “law” so to speak.  So tell me what you think?  Is what I’m saying right?  Are you rationalizing a relationship you’re in right now?  If you’re dating a nonbeliever how has that affected your walk with God?

What A Girl Wants – Attraction

I once chased a girl 2000 miles.  Yup you read that right.  Here’s the super short version. There was this girl I really liked.  She was a strong Christian and I was totally taken with her.  We communicated some and then she moved 2000 miles away.  She cut off communication and I showed up in her town a month later.  She was of course shocked but she met me and we went to dinner.  She asked why I was there, and I said, “Because I want you to know that you are worth coming 2000 miles for”.  She was moved by that, and I went on to share more.

The next day we went to a great show and then had coffee.  She said she felt the need to respond, which I agreed would be good, Ha.  She said, “No one has ever come 2000 miles for me.  But I’m just not there.”

I’ve told this story in many contexts and I’m always amazed at how many women say, “If someone would do that for me, I would be in.”  You know what I tell them?  I say, “No, actually what you mean is if the guy who you want to come 2000 miles for you did it, you would be in.”

As I’ve talked about before, we as guys have about zero understanding of what is attractive to women.  We latch on to various misinterpretations and then try too hard to fulfill them.  We think if we are nice enough, or cool enough, or strong enough etc that we will be attractive.  We also hear women talk about what they want and we think we understand but we don’t.  This is especially true in Christian circles as I’ll come to in a second.

Gentlemen, time to pay attention.

Women say all sorts of things.  They might say for example that they want a guy who is: a true gentleman, a good communicator, in touch with his feelings, is strong, is passionate, is sensitive etc.  But that is not exactly what they mean.

David DeAngelo gets it right when he says,  “The REALITY is that when a woman says one of these “I want a guy who” statements, she actually has an IDEAL guy in mind, who ALSO happens to be a one of these things”

In other words she wants someone who she is attracted to who also has this or that quality. And guess what – it is no different for Christian women.  When a woman says, “I want a guy who is in love with Jesus” or “who will lead our family”, or “who has passion for the church”, what she means is “I want a guy who I’m attracted to who also has those qualities.”

Let that settle in men. If you don’t get this you will constantly be beating your head against the wall.  You’ll keep trying all the wrong things.  You’ll continue to be frustrated as you watch women choose to marry people who are not as strong in those areas and you’ll wonder what the heck just happened.  You’ll keep getting, “He’s a great guy. . . I just don’t know”

Look, you can be as solid a believer as you can be but if you don’t know how to pursue/interact/attract women then it probably isn’t going to matter.  

Now some guys get this and instead have a commitment problem (as promised more on this later), but there are a whole lot of us who struggle with this.  Typically no one, and certainly not the church, helps out.  The first step is realizing that if I’m in my late 20s or older and single not by choice or calling – chances are I might be misunderstanding attraction.

Just flip it around fellas.  Let’s be honest, when you think about the woman you want to end up with you think about certain qualities but it assumes you are attracted.  This is just reality.  So when you are filling out your online profile and say you want a “proverbs 31 woman” (which by the way if you are putting that in your profile that is a sign you definitely don’t get it) what you really mean is you want a woman who you are physically attracted to who also has those qualities.  You aren’t looking for just any woman who has those qualities.  Guess what, same thing for the ladies, only it doesn’t have as much to do with appearance.

The point is – attraction matters and if you don’t accept that as fact then you are going to miss it.  No one I know has married someone they weren’t attracted to. Being “christian” enough, or really any other “enoughs”, isn’t going to change that.  The good news is that even though you can’t make someone attracted to you, you can work on becoming more attractive.

Are You Single, Married, Or A Follower Of Jesus

I moved to St. Louis just over eight years ago.  It’s a great city and I have grown to love it. Just like any other city it has it’s own culture.  I’ve learned there are a few really important things in St. Louis.  The Cardinals, Budweiser, Ted Drewes, and where you went to high school.  No lie this is one of the first things people ask a new person they’ve just met, “Where did you go to high school?” People identify certain areas of town and certain schools with particular stereotypes.

This search for identity is a constant in our culture.  Where do you work?  What church do you go to? Where do you live? And of course, are you married or single?

It is so easy to fall into this trap.  We often identify ourselves as married or single first.  Now to some degree this makes sense.  The truth is that married people do deal with different things than single people. But it becomes a problem when it becomes our core identity. When our core identity is in anything other than Jesus we are heading towards trouble.

This is harmful for both marrieds and singles and it can be even worse for those who are parents.  We become wrapped up in our context instead of our savior. We start hanging out with only the people who are in our same context. We start seeing our relationship with Jesus through the lens of our situation instead of the other way around.

I’ve seen this shine through in my prayer life. For a long time the number one thing I prayed about was my singleness.  So much so that I struggled to pray without mentioning it. Whether it was asking God to bring me someone (or a particular someone), being mad at God for what was going on in that area of my life, or just generally complaining about it – a huge majority of my prayer life has centered on it.  This doesn’t even get into my thought life and all that goes with that.

I would go so far as to say this even happens with the word Christian.  We end up saying we want a “Christian marriage” or a we need to date in a “Christian” way.  What does that even mean?  The word Christian is one of the most confusing words in the world.  It means so many different things to so many different people.

What we need to be is Christ centered.  We need Jesus to be in the center of our marriages, singleness and yes if we are so blessed, even in our parenting.  I see a lot of people raising “Christian” kids, but very few raising their kids to be Jesus followers.

You might say, “Well Justin that is all semantics,” but I’d submit that semantics matter, a lot actually.  We need to stop trying to be Christian and start trying to walk with Jesus.  I can do a lot of right Christian things without even involving Jesus.

If Jesus is our identity all of a sudden there is a whole lot less to be divided about.  All of a sudden we can be in community with all sorts of different people, married, single and otherwise because now our common bond isn’t our situation but instead is Jesus.  It means that we can learn from each other in the context of Him instead of our particular context.

Jesus wants to be in the middle of it with us.  He wants to guide us in our own unique setting and He wants us to walk with all sorts of people regardless of theirs.

So let me ask you, how do you identify yourself?  Do you have a Christian marriage or a marriage that Jesus is leading?  Are you looking or a Christian relationship or a Christ centered one?  If we are marrieds or singles we are always going to be divided.  If on the other hand we are Jesus followers who happen to be married or single, then we’ve got a whole new ball game.