What If Marriage Was Fun?

I’ve always liked weddings. People are mostly happy and they’re fun.  I’ve also officiated several weddings.  To me it is literally the best seat in the house.  You get to stand with two people (who you already love) as they say their vows and make a covenant with the Lord.  It’s awesome!  Sometimes they are nervous or stumble over words.  Sometimes they are focussed.  But always they are happy.

Happiness you see, is good.  Seriously, it really is.  It’s ok to want to be happy.

One of the things I’ve seen more and more of the last decade is this tendency in Christianity to try to walk back the fun.  It’s as if people seem to think that if the ceremony is more solemn that the people getting married will be less likely to get divorced. Really?!

Now I get it, I really do.  We want people to understand how big of deal it really is. It’s the second covenant of your life.   And it is just that – a covenant not a contract.  But that is good news not bad.  If it were just a contract, it wouldn’t be worth the celebration.

We also often want the people in the audience to get it.  And I get that too.  It’s great to charge the people to stand with this couple, a great reminder to those that are married, and good thoughts for those that aren’t as they consider whether or not they want to be. But here in lies the part that bothers me.

Where is the Joy?

Joy is a good thing and it is a part of marriage.  You are supposed to be excited.  What really is the point of trying to temper that?  “Let’s make sure everyone knows how somber this is so that later when it’s hard you’ll remember.”  Really?!

Marriage was created before there was sin not as a response to it, so we shouldn’t look for it to solve all of our problems. But that also means it’s a stand alone good thing. If our message is constantly, “Marriage is really tough”, “Make really, really, really sure you want to get married”, “Once you go down this path, there’s no turning back – and it’s a long road”, etc., then we can end up pushing a group of people (everyone under 35) who already aren’t getting married, further away from marriage.

I’m not suggesting that we stop telling people the truth.  In other words I’m not saying that we in the Church should soft sell marriage.  But I think we need to understand that when we say all of this stuff to the general public (be it sermon, wedding message, book, or blog) that most of the people we are talking to are already scared crapless of marriage.  They are not rushing into marriage, they are rushing away from it.

We need to stop reacting to a problem from 20 years ago and start reacting to the one we have now.  People are not getting married.

We need to share that marriage is indeed hard, but we also need to share that it is worth it. We need to realize that no one can actually understand a lot of it until they are married anyway and we are not doing singles a favor by scaring them or turning them into some sort of solemn, unfeeling, drone dater.

Dating, marriage, all of it should be fun.  It’s not just fun.  But if it’s not fun at all, then you know you’re in trouble.  (Bonus – This could be said about community, mission, worship, and on and on).

One of the fruits of the Spirit is joy and if marriage comes from the Spirit, well then. . .

It’s even in the Bible –

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with your wife, whom you love all the days of this meaningless life God has given you under the sun”

Proverbs 5:18 – “May your fountain be blessed, and may you rejoice in the wife of your youth.”

Song of Solomon – Well there is just a whole lot of joy going on here!

Marriage can be work, even hard work.  But it doesn’t have to be joyless work.  God created it when He saw that Adam wasn’t enjoying being alone.  Adam had it perfect right?  Perfect relationship with God.  Perfect relationship with nature.  But it wasn’t right yet.  There was a piece of his joy that was not complete.  God didn’t look down and say, “Well Adam’s got it pretty good, let’s make it harder”.  No, God wanted to make it even better.  

I bring all of this up because I think as those of us who don’t feel called to celibacy struggle to wait, pursue, try, quit, breakup, date, try to get a date and so on, we need to not be afraid of marriage.  We need to not feel like it’s all serious, all of the time.  It’s not the end of fun – it’s the beginning of a deeper fun.  Joy should be a big part of it.  In fact, I’d submit that its one of the main ways that you’ll know if you find it.

Is Marriage Under Attack?

There’s a lot of talk these days in the Christian community that marriage is under attack. The idea is that marriage is no longer seen as valuable or as a lifelong commitment.  I’ve heard it stated that young people don’t see it as important.

I can see how people come to this conclusion.  We are all well versed in the numbers. 50% of marriages end in divorce.  A third of first time marriages are over within 10 years. But, the divorce rate has actually dropped steadily for the last couple of decades. (That doesn’t make it good, but it’s not going up).  (This is also in spite of the fact that no fault divorce has been legal in 48 states since 1983).

But one of the biggest reasons the divorce rate is going down is that people aren’t getting married to begin with.  Only 51% of all people in the U.S. are married at all.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 have ever been married.  That number is down from 60% 40 years ago. Catch that number again – 80% of adults 30 and under have never been married.

But here’s the part that should have everyone freaking out.  A lot of singles seem to not care about getting married.  They seem to be saying do whatever you want.  We haven’t quit having sex or even living with other people and having kids.  This is where the numbers are just astounding.  41% of women aged 15-44 have cohabited.  The number of cohabiting unmarried partners increased 88% from 1990 to 2007.  Most startling of all, since the late 1980’s more women in the U.S. give birth to their first child out of wedlock than as a married person.  Read that last line again!

So everyone is dong what every generation has done. . . except get married.

That is not Biblical singleness.  Let me assure you that when the Bible talks about singleness it is not talking about living with someone and having a kid or two.

But here is where I think we are missing it. I’ve met literally thousands of people currently age 15-35.  I don’t actually think young singles are devaluing marriage.  In fact, a recent survey found that 84% of women and 82% of men said that marriage was somewhat or very important.  Only 5% said that it wasn’t important at all.

The problem is they have no idea how to do singleness and most don’t know how to get married. Many are scared crapless of marriage or better stated they are scared of divorce and bad marriages.  People like the idea of marriage, they just don’t know how to do it.

Marriage is under attack but not in the way we think.  The problem isn’t that people don’t want it.

I think we need a new strategy.  We need to quit defending marriage, and start helping people figure out how to get married.  This is going to take a lot more than slogans and rhetoric.  We are going to have to get messy.  We are going to have to actually go after these people.

First we have to help define what marriage really is.  We need a right theology and practice of marriage.  This is one thing that the Church is doing very, very well.  There has been a huge movement in the last 20 years to talk about marriage in a new way with an emphasis on covenant and commitment.  We have gotten much more real about how hard that can be.  We’ve become more practical and real in our sermons and books.  We’ve stepped up Christian marriage counseling.  I’ve been hard on the Church here and there so I want to give due credit here.  The Church truly is fighting for the married.  Not perfectly of course but they have changed.

But we also have to figure out how to help the unmarried.  We have to step into the mess, not just send out conflicting and confusing spiritual platitudes.  Instead of trying to convince people that marriage is right, we have to help them become right for marriage.  We have to help them face fear, be it fear of commitment, fear of failing, fear of rejection, fear of divorce, fear of choosing wrong, fear of being let down, fear of how hard it is, or fear that they’ve already disqualified themselves.

That requires reaching out to them.  Want to change the culture?  Change how we do singleness.  Want to help people not have sex outside of marriage?  Want to deal with homosexuality, abortion and porn in a new way, and help young single people navigate this stuff?  Then help these young single people understand the theology of celibacy and marriage.  Help them pursue one or the other. Don’t just call out their sin, help them face their fear, hurt, and wounds. We need some sermons and books on this.  We need Christian singles counseling – dead serious.

Right now, over all, we are not winning.  But it isn’t because young singles don’t want to be married.  We are helping married people stay married.  It’s time to help single people get married.

You Are Not Called To Be Alone

One of the great struggles of singleness is the feeling that you are alone.  Now I know that even if you are married you can still feel that way, but it is almost a guarantee that if you are single for any length of time you will feel it.

It can be made even harder by the fact that we live in a culture that has become more and more individualized.  Not all of that is bad, we have more freedom to move different places, explore different options and take different opportunities.  But there are a lot of unintended consequences.  One of those is that we end up switching friends all the time and not really going deep.  And this can lead to feeling alone or to for all intents and purposes, actually being alone.

We end up not really knowing how to have real community.  But we need it, whether we are single or married.

In Genesis, God creates Adam and then says, “It is not good for man to be alone.”  You see God was not alone.  He has always been in perfect relationship as the Father, Son, and Spirit.  And He created us in His image, which makes us relational beings.  It is critical that we get this.

In our world we are told that it is all about the individual.  It is all about you, making your way and doing what you need to do.  It is about self advancement.  Even in the Church it can become about my relationship with God, my ministry, my spiritual growth.  Now there is truth in that.  You and I have an individual role to play in the story – but heres the key – we are not THE story.

I think one of the many reasons we have more single people than ever in history is that we are more alone to begin with.  We get used to operating on our own and going after the stuff that helps mainly us.  We are not used to working stuff out in community, let alone with another person that I have to be with every single day.  It’s hard work and even though we are made for it, we are resistant and we’ve been trained to be.

It’s gotten to the point where it is just kind of accepted.  “I’m on my own.”  But you are not supposed to be.  Even if you are called to celibacy (to be single and not marry), you are not called to be alone.

People who are truly called to celibacy typically get this.  Priests and nuns are typically less alone than us.  Throughout time, they’ve typically lived in community.  They get that the call to celibacy is not a call to aloneness.  (By the way I learned more about the call to celibacy and marriage and the difference in about an hour sharing a panel with a priest and nun than I have in 20+ years of being in the protestant church – but I digress.)

The point here is that we are not created to be loners.  My pastor spoke on this last week and he brought it perfectly at the end.  He said, “What if you didn’t have to navigate your marriage alone.  What if you didn’t have to navigate your singleness alone?  Or your parenting? Or your career? Or your wounds? Or your success?”  Exactly!

We need people in our lives who know us.  People who know our story – both where we’ve been and where we are trying to go.  Yes I’m talking about accountability, but more than that.  Yes I’m talking about meeting together, and sharing together, but more than that.

Marriage is not the only covenant relationship available to us.  If you get married it is the number one covenant relationship in your life (behind Jesus) but it doesn’t have to be the only one.  It’s all over scripture.  Look at the early church.  Look at Aaron and Moses or Jonathan and David.

But it takes work and more importantly it means making a decision to be in it no matter what.  This kind of community doesn’t “just happen”.  If it can “just happen” then it can just as easily “unhappen”.  That doesn’t create security, trust and unity.

I think one of the huge traps as a single person is that we can, over time, become more and more independent, to the point that we are actually alone.  And alone is bad.  We are not meant to carry our burdens, sins, decisions, fears, dreams, and celebrations alone.  If we are indeed called to be married we will be way more prepared if we have real community that we have had to work at.  If we are called to celibacy then it is just as critical so that we don’t become isolated.

Do you have real community?  Who knows your dreams, fears, sins, successes?  Who knows your heart?  Whose heart do you know?  Are you single, or are you alone?

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?

Get Over Yourself

One of the big stories out of this last election cycle is the changing demographics of our country.  There has been a lot of talk about growing Latino population, the women vote, etc.  One thing that hasn’t been talked about is the fact that there are a lot less married people.  49% of America is unmarried right now.  Only 20% of those aged 18-29 are married.  That’s a crazy number.  So when they talk about the youth vote they also mean the single vote.

I don’t bring this up to talk about voting.  Someone else will have to do that research (and if they are smart they will do it).  What I want to do is write a few posts about why I think it’s the way it is out there right now.  Why is it that marriage has been delayed or even ruled out as a way of life?  What the heck is going on?  There are a lot of contributing factors but today I want start with one that is our fault.

We have become more self centered.

Now when I say this, I don’t mean that we have become more selfish, although maybe we have.  Really we’ve always been selfish.  What I’m talking about is that our whole culture is about individual accomplishment and choice.  It’s about gaining success or gratification instantly.  Even our faith has become all about a “personal relationship with Jesus”.  Now don’t get me wrong, I think we need a personal relationship with Jesus and I love that we have choices and freedom.  But is it any wonder that in that society people are by themselves?

We don’t know how to be in relationships – of any kind – let alone a marriage.  All of our relationships revolve around what they do for me.  Have an argument in your small group? That means those people don’t get me.  Disagree with how things are at church? Shop for a new one.  Not growing?  That must mean that people aren’t feeding you.  Not being treated right at work?  Time to look for the next job.

Relationships take work.  It’s just easier not to.  And after a while, it’s habit.  We live in a world that has more opportunity for connection to more different people than ever before, and because of it, we are more lonely and empty.

Everything is about self.  Self help, self improvement, self motivation.  We hire “coaches” (this is unbelievable to me that it’s an actual job) to hold us accountable – we actually pay for friends.  It’s all about us.

This translates into dating.  We are always looking for the perfect person or in other words, the person who meets our needs.  And when someone doesn’t, well then it must be wrong. We think that because we have the chance to choose a spouse that we should have one that perfectly meets our needs.

What’s funny about this of course is that if you are going to have a strong marriage then the opposite has to become true.  Like any covenant it requires sacrifice.  It’s not a contract where we sign up based on what the other person will do for me.  It’s a covenant where I promise what I will do for them – no matter what.  And most people don’t want anything to do with that.

I had a quasi-mentor many years ago say that college was the most self centered time of life.  The idea was that it was all about finding yourself and everything was about you, figuring out what you want to do, who you want to be etc.  I think in our youth worshiping culture we’ve decided to extend that way past college.

All of this is often subconscious and in a many cases not all our fault.  We’ve been told by the world to live it up and by the Church to “take advantage our our singleness and be focussed on the Lord.”  So why leave for sacrifice?  We are conditioned to view it this way.

Here’s the truth.  A whole lot of us, in a whole lot of different areas of life, need to get over ourselves.  It’s just time.  We need to own that we naturally think this way and that it affects how we view of life, including marriage and singleness.  We need to learn how to have actual friends including ones we can argue with.  We need to learn how to come to a small group, meeting, church, or job asking what we can offer not just what we can take away from it.  We need to quit looking for who can meet our needs and start looking for someone that we want to be in it with, no matter what.  We need a singleness and/or a marriage that is bigger than self.

Is There “The One”?

If you’ve been single long, you’ve had this conversation about why you are single, and someone says these words, “Well I guess you just haven’t met THE ONE yet, but it’ll happen”.  Now if you are younger you might say this yourself, but usually the older you get the less you say it because you realize, 1. it might not happen – after all it hasn’t yet, and 2. there is not just one.

You read that right.  I’m declaring it right now, right here.  There is not THE ONE, at least not in the way we usually talk about.

Now I can hear some married people disagreeing with me (mostly women – no offense just being realistic) but I don’t think there is any biblical, empirical or any other ‘cal evidence that backs this up.

You could maybe, and I mean maybe, make the case before the fall that there was just one.  But even that is shaky.  Marriage is pre-sin, but I think THE ONE is a post sin way of coping.  What about when someone marries someone and then they die, and they remarry – did God have two “the one’s” for them?  This idea that God has chosen just one for us sounds very romantic, or very Oprah, but I don’t think we are promised it any where. Which I think is actually good news and good for us – which might be why God set it up that way.

THE ONE is killing us out there.

For starters, let’s realize what most of us mean when we say this is – the one who is everything I want, the perfect one, (or more religious sounding – the perfect one for me). This is not marriage or realistic.  Getting married is not about finding someone who meets all of my needs or fulfills me. That’s romanticism at it’s best and consumerism at it’s worst.

This stuff can lead us, sometimes for years, to think that if I can just meet THE ONE then everything will be alright.  No it won’t! Because even if you could, THE ONE gets old, or sick, or hurt, or is mean to you, or veers away from God, or breaks your heart, or lets you down.

When it comes to finding fulfillment there is only one THE ONE and that is Jesus.  I know it sounds cheesy but it is essential we keep this in mind.  If we get this wrong everything will be messed up.

If we don’t get ahold of this we will be continuing to make marriage and THE ONE an idol.  

But there are even more side problems, including but not limited to:

  • Getting married, being let down and being able to declare, “Oh I must have gotten this wrong.  There must be a different ONE for me.”
  • Searching for a person that we are 100% attracted to all the time.
  • Thinking I’ve found THE ONE and then messing it all up because of the weight I put on the relationship or living in fear of losing THE ONE – which leads to all sorts of mistakes.
  • Putting huge pressure on every dating relationship because I have to figure out if they are THE ONE. This is a crushing pressure that almost no one can stand under.  And for free – if they can, something is off – everyone messes up – everyone.
  • Waiting for God to bring me THE ONE instead of engaging others and getting to know people.
  • Thinking someone that got away is THE ONE and spending all my time and thoughts figuring out how to make something work that is long over.

I want to be clear that I’m not saying that we should just go marry whoever.  Not at all.  I’m also not saying that God doesn’t bring you someone.  He brings people into our lives all the time (and not just romantically). We need to choose wisely and with the Spirit because even though there is not THE ONE we will hopefully only do this one time.

So here are some practical helps.  Maybe start by fighting the idol of THE ONE.  Jesus is the only person who can fulfill us.  Next, when dating people maybe instead of asking God if this is THE ONE ask questions like, “Do you want me to marry THIS person?”  If I’m not dating, maybe ask God, “send me someone You’d like me to marry” instead of, “Send me THE ONE.”

Finally, don’t ask, “Is this person THE ONE for me?” but instead ask these big questions:

1. Am I good for this person?  Are they good for me?  Are we good together? and if yes, 2. Do I want to covenant to love and care for this person the rest of my life, no matter what?

Once you answer yes to those – you will have THE ONE.