Spouse or Robot?

This last weekend I was leading a discussion that centered around the idea of that we are not to be OF the world.  In the world yes, but not of it.  We were discussing 1 John 2:15-17 which tells us not to love the world.  But if we are not to love the world, then we have to know what the world or “Spirit of the Age” is.  If we don’t name it, then it is very easy to get lulled to sleep and passively get sucked into being a part of it.  We came up with three Spirits of the Age: Busyness, Tolerance (which really means accepting anything as truth) and Consumerism.

As I’m sure you can figure out, these worldly trends have a huge impact on us when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Now I’ll spend some time on each of these in different ways in the following weeks but for today, I just want to mess with us a little in case you think these things aren’t impacting where we are going.

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I Can’t Get The One I Want

I was talking with friend the other day about singleness and he said something that I really resonated with.  He said essentially, “I can get a date, I just can’t seem to get the one I want.”  Man I have thought that a lot.

I think it’s a common theme for a lot of guys.  The idea is that if there is someone that I really want to date, they are unavailable, live too far away, or just aren’t interested in me at all.  There are dates to be had, just not with the someone that I really want to go out with.

First lets acknowledge that in a way, as a Christian guy (or gal) we are shooting at a small target.  Here’s what I mean.  First there are all women.  But that won’t work for obvious reasons.  If we’re honest you aren’t probably going to pursue someone that you are not attracted to physically.  So that narrows the field (I’m not talking about being a perfect 10 here but someone who is in shape and generally good looking).  But even if you are attracted physically you still have to really enjoy each others company.  So the field has already been narrowed.  Now as a Christian however, they have to also be following Jesus.  So someone attractive, who you “gel” with who also is following Jesus.  Add timing and context and that friends, can be a small target.

That being said, there’s a lot of things that “not being able to get the one I want” can mean. There are traps we can fall into, often more than one at a time.  Let’s look at a few.

We can be intimidated by the people we are attracted to.  In other words, when we actually like someone we over think it or make it too big too quick.  Sometimes we’ve gone awhile without being interested in someone and so when we meet someone we mess it up. We become like the excited puppy that pees all over itself.  Or other times it’s a true pattern in our lives.  Whenever we like someone too much we end up giving them power over us and that is as I’ve noted a lot, not attractive to women.

We might have marriage as an idol.  In other words, if I can just meet the right person all in life will be right.  If we do that, whenever we meet someone who could be that person, we often put them in the sentence.  In other words it becomes, “If I can just get Sally all in life will be right.”  This of course isn’t true but it can feel true.  It’s a bad place to be.  Usually it means you have no chance with the girl.  But even if you do somehow miraculously do get the girl you won’t know how to be with her.  We become like the dog that catches the car. Not good.

This “one that you can’t get” is not perfect.  She is not the answer to your main questions in life.  She is not the only one you could marry.  There will be others.  We need to remember that no woman should be the goal or the trophy.  That will not end well.

A second angle on the “cant get the one I want” idea is there are some of us who pick people we can’t have so that we don’t have to actually get someone.  It’s usually subconscious but we can over and over again sabotage ourselves.  These are the folks who are always dating the “wrong” person.  If you always date someone you can’t marry, that’s about something deep going on inside of you.  You need to investigate that.  Maybe you don’t think you aren’t worthy of that.  But you are.

The third angle is the whole consumerism issue.  This plays out all sorts of ways.  Some guys struggle with once they have someone, they need a new someone.  It’s like they are dating an iphone.  When they first get the iphone it’s the answer to all the worlds problems.  Right up until there is a newer iphone.  There will always be a shinier new toy. There is no perfect person.  These folks bail at the first sign of trouble and then find a new person to pursue – who they don’t know well enough yet to see their flaws.

To top this all off we are inundated with all sorts of false advertisement.  I’m speaking here about everything from advertising, to the movies, to porn.  We have a perfect look, perfect romance, perfect performance that we are comparing everyone to.

So when we meet someone who seems to be THE ONE material we either freak out and can’t get them, put them on a pedestal and chase them instead of moving on, or date them until we realize they aren’t as perfect as the new girl (actual or in our mind) that we don’t know yet.

I’ll tell you right now that in my 20 plus years of singleness I struggled with all of the above at one point or another and I definitely believed the lie that I couldn’t get the one I wanted.

So how do we fight this lie.  Here are few quick steps.

1. You have to get your identity in Christ not in getting married or “getting” a particular person.  We need to have our core questions answered by God

2. Realize that biblically speaking there is not THE ONE

3. Begin to believe that you can indeed learn to interact with any woman that you want to.  That you are capable of delivering if it counts.

4. Recognize the truth that no girl that you think you have to have is actually perfect and maybe the girl you “could get” is better than you think.

Which trap do you fall into?  Do you believe that you can get the one you want?

You Don’t Marry A List

At some point when I was a young Christian single I made a list.  You know the list I’m talking about.  The list of things that I wanted in a wife.  I’m not sure if I was encouraged to do it or if I just did it on my own, but I made it.  Several times actually.  One in college for sure and another one right out of college, a couple of other random times.

There’s a lot of interesting things about this idea.  I mean I get it.  The whole idea is don’t settle for less than God’s best for you.  But there are some serious problems here as well.

For starters there is an entire shift that needs to be made in the Church.  We are often so concerned with getting it wrong, that we don’t end up getting it at all (read that sentence again and apply it to about half of Christianity as we know it – but I digress).

There is the overriding concern that we have to keep people from “marrying wrong”.  I think 20 years ago this was maybe true.  That time is over.  People aren’t marrying wrong but along with that they aren’t marrying right either.  So maybe instead of worrying about settling for less than God’s best, we should worry more about what marriage is, how to know if I’m called to it to begin with, and how to pursue it – then let the chips fall where they may. “The List” might well keep you from “marrying wrong” but it also might keep you from marrying at all.

Secondly the list turns us into consumers.  That’s because the list, while having to do with the attributes of the other person, usually ends up being about me and what I want and expect.  Now again, there is an element of good here.  We should have some standards for who we would date/marry.  But if/when the list moves from the essentials (they must love Jesus) to the personal (they must be joyful) to the trivial (they must be blonde) we start sliding into what we prefer instead of what God commands.  And that is dangerous grounds for lots of reasons.

If we make the list based solely on our needs and wants, we are in danger of making it all about us.  And that is not biblical love or marriage.

Instead we should flip the script big time.  We need to figure out how to love another person vs. being focussed on having to be loved by another person.  Don’t get me wrong, you should definitely not marry someone who doesn’t love you.  But if our focus is on this other person being the answer to our life questions then it will be impossible to love them.  If we get married, our commitment comes from our decision to love them, not the love we receive from them.

We need to get away from this idea of finding this person who will be perfect for us in every way.  This person who will “meet all of our needs and desires”.  This person who will magically give us our worth and value within that relationship.  That’s called an idol.  It’s not the point of marriage.

When we date, or search for someone to date, with that stuff going on we are never going to get married.  No one can live up to that.  And if we do get married then that marriage will be in trouble.

Which brings me to the final problem with The List.  You don’t marry a list.  You marry a person and no matter what you think you know about them, you don’t know anything yet. Even if you can check everything off the right way, you still have no idea how all of it is going to play out over the next decades.

It’s like school vs. the work environment.  There’s passing all the tests and learning the information.  But that’s not the same as putting it into action in real time and real life. That’s part of the adventure of marriage.  It’s what makes your story together happen.  It’s good to pass the test but it’s a lot more fulfilling to live out the actual adventure, failures and all. People, along with their needs and desires, change as their story develops.  You and I are not exempt – neither are our spouses if we marry.

For proof of this ask yourself if you list at age 20 would be the same as your list today. Mine isn’t.  There are three or four things that have always been on the list, but other things have changed as I’ve grown and changed.

What’s on your list?  What is honestly important to you?  Not just the “right/holy” answers but what really matters. . . to you?  What parts are trivial?  Has the trivial ever gotten in the way of commitment?

God’s Plan For Marriage

Several months ago. while talking about my upcoming marriage, an encouraging friend said, “It’s amazing.  You’ve had to wait all this time.  And this whole time God had this plan and person for you.”  I just kind of grinned.  After 20 years of singleness in the Church, I’ve heard it all.

You know he might be right, but if he is then we’ve got a God who has changed his mind about marriage.

Here’s what I mean.  If we play out that there is one person for you from the beginning and that God has a plan to bring you a perfect Christian soulmate, then God has changed His mind about how to deliver it.

It seems that early on God wanted us to grow up and get married at about 14.  Now this makes some sense.  I mean we hit puberty in our early teens (or earlier) so let’s do this deal.  Besides, you might only live to 40 so all the more reason.

But it gets better.  God also decided that for centuries he would deliver this soulmate through arranged marriages.  Now before you get in your head the perfect scenario for this where all parents are believers and they only hook you up with the hot chick, think again and ask yourself if you’d like your parents to pick your spouse for you when you were about 10.  As the song goes, “At 3 I started Hebrew school, at 10 I learned a trade.  I hear they’ve picked a bride for me, I hope, she’s pretty. . . Tradition.”

Not only that, but this was only done within your caste.  God didn’t want anyone to marry up or down economically or socially.  He just wanted the deal done.

But then God decided that in the “New World” things would be different.  Each person should now go and find their own spouse and everyone would have full right of refusal. (Unless you were a woman who kind of had to say yes to someone because you couldn’t get a job).

But God wasn’t done.  Not by a long shot.  He decided that even though he had this perfect person “planned” for you, that he wouldn’t be revealing that right away.  Now early on, he only made you wait until you were 18-23 (after all, He had already pushed back adulthood by 4 years – he was just getting started).

God enjoyed holding out on us so much that He decided to keep pushing the limit. In fact over the last 40 years He has been dropping the amount of people to receive the “great reveal” before the age of 29 by about a percentage point per year so that now in 2013 only 20% of those people currently receive this revelation.

To sum up God’s “plan”, if you were born 500 years ago He revealed your “one” to your parents when you were a kid.  If you were born 100 years ago He revealed to you by 20. And now, He’ll reveal it to 1 in 5 of us by 29.

Is that the message we want to send single people?  Because essentially when we drop the “God has someone for you, just wait on it”, that is what we are saying.

Here’s the truth, this whole idea is way more about western culture affecting theology than the other way around.  But worse, when we combine it with our culture, it sets up to fail, both in finding a spouse and in staying married.

I believe that marriage was meant to be a calling and a choice.  So is staying married.  Like any other calling you can of course walk away from it.

But this idea of having to find God’s one person that is perfect for me is a crazy way to go about singleness, even if it were to be true.

Among a myriad of other problems, it helps turn us into consumer daters.  We end up looking for this person that fits whatever we think God would have for us.  Right away we are in trouble.  I mean find the person who says, “God has this person planned for me who doesn’t meet all my needs and has all these personal issues”.  At the very least, if you are going to believe that God has one person for you to marry, flip the script.  In other words ask who you are perfect for instead of who is perfect for you.  That will get you a step closer to truth – Heck, that’d I’d maybe buy.

Look, I’m not suggesting that we go back to having our parents marry us off at 14.  We don’t live in that culture.  We live in this one.  I’m also not saying God doesn’t bring people into our lives because I know for sure that He does.  What I am saying is that we need to quit treating our singleness as if God is the Great Witholder and I just need to be good, and wait out this person He currently refuses to reveal to me.

God’s main plan is for us to know and walk with Him.  That is our first calling and vow.  After that we need to ask, are we called to celibacy or marriage? Then we need to pursue that calling with God, figuring out stuff that gets in the way.  We in the Church to stop giving out sleep at night theology and help people do those three things.

Is Attraction Secular?

Two summers ago I was in a rough spot emotionally in terms of dating.  I’d worked through a lot of my personal stuff and had been on quite a few dates via online and set ups etc. But I just wasn’t excited about any of it.  It’s not that some of these ladies weren’t great but I just wasn’t into it.  I joked that my give a shizz was broken.

One night while hanging out with my brother, his wife and some other friends this subject came up.  My sister in law said basically, “well marriage isn’t all about attraction.  I mean it’s tough sometimes and really it’s a decision.  You don’t always ‘feel it'”

Now those are true and wise words.  And in a sense there is an even deeper truth – you could marry anyone and if you are committed great stuff could happen.  But, as I pointed out that night, that is not how we typically start out and almost no one marries someone they aren’t attracted to.  No woman wants this as a proposal:

“Hey Sally.  These last few months have been ok.  I know we don’t really have much spark but I think we match up pretty well.  I know we’d both be committed.  We love Jesus and could learn to love each other.  So what do you say?  Let’s get married.”

Now I’m not saying that it couldn’t work.  Heck, I’m not even saying that it shouldn’t work. But what I am saying is that is not the world we live in.

Here’s a question we need to ask in the Christian dating scene.  Does attraction matter? Or better asked, is attraction a secular phenomenon?

There are some in the Christian culture who would say, it’s not about attraction.  Now there is some wisdom in this.  It’s important for people to gain an understanding that marriage is not all about sexual attraction.  This is where the secular idea of romance has led us astray.  The secular model implies that you must always feel this or something is wrong and you should end it.  That is consumer dating/marriage and it is for sure wrong.

But, in the Church, often times we act as if attraction shouldn’t matter or at the very least, we don’t know what to do with it.  We know that it can’t be the only thing, but we don’t seem to know what role it should play.  Often in an attempt to push back against the secular idea that we must always be attracted, we end up negating it almost completely.

I think this is a huge mistake.  Attraction has to be part of the conversation.  We can’t just attack the secular version without owning the reality of attraction.

It’s a mistake we make all of the time.  Too many times throughout history the Church has denied the obvious.  We’ve basically said that science or reason or philosophy is wrong, just because we don’t like the reality.  Or, maybe worse, we acquiesce parts of the battle and fall back to a defensive position.  In so doing we end up with a God of the Gaps.  In the science example God becomes the God of the stuff we can’t explain by science.

The biggest problem with this is that God owns it all, including science and in this case, including attraction.

God created us and he gave us the feeling of attraction.  It’s not a bad thing.  It is part of what makes us want to get married.  Yes the secular world has perverted it.  But that doesn’t mean we get to ignore it, we have to instead take it back and put it in it’s proper place.

We don’t get to just say that it’s not all about attraction and move on.  We have to actually deal with what healthy attraction looks like.

I get that “back in the day” there were arranged marriages and you got what you got.  (In fact one of the theories about the origin of not seeing the bride before the wedding was so that the neither party would make a run for it because they weren’t attracted).  But unless the Church is willing to go back to arranged marriages (future blog) then we are going to have to deal with attraction.

The truth is we need some serious help here.  There are some who unless they are “perfectly attracted” won’t commit.  That’s completely unrealistic and we need to step in. There are others who don’t know how to handle themselves when they are attracted and we need to step in there as well.  Finally there are those who unknowingly keep making themselves less attractive.  In true community we need to have the guts and honesty to help them as well.

We need to own and understand attraction because God does.  It’s not the problem, our response to it can be.

What has the Church (your Christian community) taught you about attraction?  Has it helped or hurt your singleness and/or marriage?

Comparison Is An Enemy Of Attraction

Have you ever had this happen?  You meet someone and you are instantly attracted.  You go out a couple of times and then you become less attracted.  Now there can be a lot of reasons for this.  Instant attraction is only a starting point and as you get to know someone you usually need to become more drawn to them as a whole.

But part of the problem is that our culture have somehow combined consumerism and sexuality. 

We are constantly “trading up” for the next best thing (especially us Apple folks).  We use it and toss it – or at best recycle it.  We don’t save or reuse much of anything.  This is in our head and affects our way of thinking.

Along with that we are constantly inundated with sexual images.  It’s everywhere. . . all the time.  A friend once said, “I’d just like to be able to check my email without seeing a half naked chick.”  No doubt.  This isn’t just a porn thing, although that exasperates the problem.  It’s all around us.  The checkout line, the sideline, heck even the burger line. Even worse, for the most part these aren’t even real images.  They are doctored to be “perfect”.  If you haven’t seen the incredible perspective on this from Cameron Russell you should watch it.

This kills us because we are in a constant state of comparison shopping.

Comparison is an Enemy of Attraction.

Driscoll talks about that when you are married, your wife should be your standard of beauty. He’s right on in that particular analysis.  You have to fight for that.  But as a single person this creates all sorts of dilemmas.

For starters what should my standard be?  How attracted do I need to be?  I mean we are kind of attracted to all sorts of people.  Should I just be attracted enough?  On the one hand, realistically, you are not going to pursue someone you are not attracted to.  On the other hand, no one is going to be 100% attractive all the time.  Not to mention that how fired up we are totally affects how we view someone.  If we have the “in love” eyes we can make anyone look good.

This is actually a good thing.  But in today’s culture of comparative shopping (dating) it lasts for a lot shorter period.  There will always be someone else and if your standard is the image you see everywhere, well then you are never going to get married, because that’s not real.

So how the heck do we fight this thing.  It’s one thing to know it – we all know it.  It’s another thing to actually engage and fight against it.

First you need to honestly ask yourself what your standard is.  What are you comparing everyone to?  If it is the ideal image you need to start to do whatever it takes to change that.  A quick note here – if you are looking at porn it will affect your ideal image.  It does a lot of other things as well, all bad, but it for sure does that.

Secondly, you need to quit looking at women and start talking to them.  I don’t think I can stress this enough.  When you get past the “she’s so hot” stage you’ve got a whole other ball game going on.

Next, if you are initially attracted that means they are attractive.  Now you may get to know them and be turned off by personality or whatever but that is not what i’m talking about. She is still attractive.  What’s funny about this too is that every woman has like a thousand faces and moods.  Beauty is influenced from so many different things.  It comes from the inside, not just the outside.  Want to see an attractive woman? – Love her well.

One other thing to do is flip the script and just start with the idea that the person you are with is most attractive to you.  As you date longer this will be about way more than physical or initial attraction.  Just start to realize that no one else is better for you.  This begins to move us toward what Driscoll is trying to get at as we move away from consumerism to commitment.  Sometimes initially you have to hang in there, especially if you have been hardwired to compare and consume.

Finally, the problem with compare and consume is that it is all about us.  If we are ever going to move beyond a few dates and towards marriage, we have to transition towards commitment and giving.  Attraction get’s us in the door – but it doesn’t take us to the finish line.
It’s a battle, but it’s not one we have to lose.

What is your standard of beauty?  What do you compare the people in your life to?  Are you stuck in comparison dating?

Are You Addicted To The Search?

In my early 30’s I had kind of a “come to Jesus” time when it comes to dating and the search for a spouse.  I had done pretty much everything wrong up until that point and worse, I had not really dealt with a lot of my own insecurities, sin, and woundedness. But thankfully the Lord (directly and through others in my life) met me in that and I was able to work through a lot of stuff.

That led me to actually be able to succeed. Here’s what I realized right away.  As a friend of mine said, “When you’re a guy in his 30s who has himself figured out – it’s a buyers market.”  What he meant was there are a lot of available women looking for that.

Now to be clear, I was kind of relearning how to date but even then I began to realize he was right.  And once I figured it out it was even a little overwhelming.  I went on a lot of dates which taught me an important thing that I talked about last week.  There is always someone else. Always.

Now it is important for us to know that but it can also lead to other traps.  I floated on the edge of some of these but I’ve seen some of my friends and other guys really fall into them.

We live in a consumer culture.  We want exactly what meets our needs and we are always looking for the next thing that will do that.  This is bad for the spouse search.  It can lead to us bailing every time that someone doesn’t meet our needs.  When we see imperfections in the person we can think there is someone better.  Why commit if there could be someone better?  This is a huge contributor to divorce.  If I’m married and it isn’t going well, that must mean that I didn’t marry the right ONE and there must be someone else.

After all there will always be someone else.  Always.

It doesn’t matter how hot someone is, there will be someone hotter. There will also be someone smarter, more fun, more adventurous, funnier, more understanding of my flaws, etc.  Always.  Even if you are married there will be other people you are attracted to.  That isn’t going to stop.

To be honest, at some level it’s always fun to meet a new person.  I mean there is this new hope that they could be the one you’ve dreamed of – who is “perfect” for you.  Some can even become basically obsessed with dating.

Online dating is a great way to see this.  There is always another profile (usually far away geographically – I swear it’s a conspiracy by the online dating sites to keep you there).  I mean you could stay online and meet people for the next ten years. If you are always dating and it never goes anywhere, I’m going to go out on a limb here and say that might be partly you. Ha.

It’s easy to become addicted to the search.  Some of us have been searching for a long time. Its what we know. We’ve also been told by our married friends, cocky single friends, and even the Church that we should never settle.  While that’s true on some level it can be a standard that practically guarantees singleness.  We get so comfortable looking for the ONE that we become completely uncomfortable being with even the right one.  It makes it hard to commit if there could be someone better.

We need to understand that marriage is a choice and a covenant.  It is a decision to love another person the rest of their life regardless of what happens.  It means being all in.

We need to change the question.  We need to stop looking for the perfect person and start looking for the right person.  Now the right person may feel perfect and probably should a lot of the time, but no one will feel that way all of the time and if we expect that, then we will never actually commit to anyone.

We need to know that there can always be someone else.  It gives us the freedom to pursue without fear.  But at the same time it doesn’t mean that we have to always pursue the next person.

So where are you at with all of this?  Are you addicted to the search?  Are you looking for the perfect one or the right one?

Do You Consumer Date?

We live in a crazy consumer culture.  I mean we always have to have the latest thing that will somehow fulfill our latest need.  Have the Iphone 4? Don’t worry the 5 will be better, faster, more features.  So you better have it – and right now!  I had the same phone for like 6 years.  Now I get a new one every year. (Full disclosure – I’m so totally going to go get the Iphone 5)

We used to save stuff, protect stuff and use it again.  Nothing was disposable.  Now almost everything is.  Now granted with harder economic times this has changed a little. But not much.  We have a desire, there is a product to meet it.

This attitude of consumerism has leaked into every area of our culture – including the church and for sure dating and marriage.

It starts with the idea that dating and marriage is about meeting my needs.  This is part of the problem with the idea of THE ONE.  The idea that there will be one perfect person that will satisfy me or meet my needs.  This is of course false – Jesus is the only ONE.  But that isn’t what we often think.

This can cause us to go through date after date or even relationship after relationship.

We try them all on and see if it fits just right.  Which it never does.  As soon as we figure out that this person isn’t meeting our needs, it’s over.  There must be a better product (person) out there for me.  Time to trade in the Igirl 4 for the newer model.

The truth is there will always be another person.  There’s always someone hotter, who gets me better, who will meet this or that particular need.  There will always be someone else. Always.

This can also keep us from ever having a date.

It’s like all we do is window shop.  We look at someone and determine before we ever meet them if they could be THE ONE.  We determine they aren’t because of this or that factor.  We might even test drive them.  Let’s all hang out together and get to know each other as friends.  Really?!  We end up ruling people out before we ever even pursue them. Why – well I’m not attracted to her this week etc.

Some of this happens because we are just flat afraid of choosing wrong.  We’ve seen so many relationships go bad.  But some of it is we just need to get over ourselves.  I mean when we consumer date we are basically saying, “Hey I’ve got all my stuff together so I need someone who can meet my desires and needs.  So as long as you do that we are good to go.”  Everyone wants to consumer date, but no one wants to be consumer dated.

Here’s the best part – sometimes in Christianity we accidentally reinforce this idea.

We tell singles (young ones especially) that the person they marry should have all these traits.  We tell them what they are looking for – the Proverbs 31 woman or the Ephesians 5 guy.  Hahaha.  I mean who lives that out perfectly?  I can remember as a young Christian making a list of “requirements” for this person (plus she had to be hot of course – I mean you have to be attracted).  This did keep me from marrying the wrong person I guess, although it also helped keep me from marrying any person.

Now I’m not suggesting that we should have no standards – especially as a follower of Jesus.  But at the same time you don’t marry a list.  You marry a person.

This is why our understanding of marriage is so important.  It’s a covenant not a contract. It’s not a freaking purchase.  It’s a commitment for life.  Think about the vows you take (at least most of the time).  They are all about what you are going to do.  You don’t say, “I promise to be with you as long as you love me the right way.”  No!  “You say I promise to love you no matter what happens.”

This is soooo hard for most of us.  It really is.  But changing this mindset changes everything. All of a sudden I’m not looking for this person who can meet every need the way I want.  Instead I’m looking for this person who I’m going to choose to love no matter what.  Those are two totally different things.

So, are you a consumer dater?  What is it you are really looking for?