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.

 

 

Should You Fear Divorce?

Divorce has become a regular part of our culture.  Many of us come from divorced homes and there is a huge fear of getting married and then getting divorced.

This affects unmarried people in a variety of ways.  It raises all sorts of questions. Questions about what is a biblical divorce or when it is it ok to remarry or even date a divorced person (or as a divorced person, can I remarry etc.).  There are some clear and some unclear answers to many of these and I plan to actually get into some of that at a later time (I’ve avoided it for about as long as I can).  But today I want to help us deal with fear of divorce.

As Christians we want to make sure that we don’t end up in that situation which is good. We want to choose well in a spouse with the intent of never getting divorced.  But I think we have bought into some lies that cause us to be more afraid than we need to be.  We want to avoid divorce but we don’t need to allow fear of divorce to affect our ability to get married to begin with.

So let’s clear some things up.

Let’s talk about the statistic everyone knows that says that 50% of marriages end in divorce. That is big time scary.  That’s half.  But that statistic is not quite what it seems in several ways.

For starters, that is not a first marriage statistic.  According to the census, 41% of first marriages, 60% of second marriages and 73% of third marriages end in divorce.  The point here is that the real number of first marriages ending in divorce is less than half and falling. Granted part of that is because WAY less people are getting married.

People who wait to marry until after age 25 (which is almost everybody at this point) are less likely to get divorced.  Attending college makes you 13% less likely.  Basically if you live in the U.S., your parents are married, you have a college degree and you are 26, your chance of divorce is actually pretty slim.

Still scared?  Well then be an active follower of Jesus.  One of the completely false ideas is that Christians divorce at the same rate as everyone else.  I’ve always balked at this stat – even though it makes for a really dramatic sermon.  But when you dig behind the numbers you get a completely different idea.

This is why the word Christian can be such a mess.  Think about online dating for a second.  When you join a site like Match.com, you have to pick a religion.  A lot of people will pick “Christian Other” for example.  What does that even mean?  This is why when I was online dating I put Jesus in my profile, because I knew just saying Christian didn’t mean anything.

Here are some real numbers to encourage you.  An active Conservative Protestant has a 35% less chance of divorce.  An active Catholic has a 31% less chance.  (Interestingly a nominal Catholic has a 5% less chance while a nominal Protestant has a 20% higher rate of divorce than a non-relgious person).

Here are a couple of other random statistics to keep in mind that may mess with your head.

  • In the past, men cheated more than women.  But in recent years that has changed.  In one study 23% of men and 19% of women had “cheated”
  • Men might need to be more afraid than women.  Women file 2/3s of all divorces.  In some no fault divorce states that number rises to 70% and among college educated couples in those states women file 90% of the time.
  • If you think practice makes perfect, think again.  Living together can increase the chance of divorce by as much as 40%.  More sexual partners (especially for the woman) greatly increases the chance of divorce.

So what the heck does all of this mean? 

First and foremost fear of divorce should not drive us as Christians.  It’s not that it can’t happen to us or that we should take it lightly.  But we need to understand that the odds shift dramatically in our favor.

Secondly, and maybe more importantly, we have the chance to set ourselves up to not get divorced.  Now am I saying that you should only marry a person that comes from a two parent home, is over 25, has a college degree and has never slept with anyone?  No that’s not really what I’m saying.  What I’m saying is that we can do things ourselves and make choices that matter.

The person you control is you.  You choose who to marry (I have a blog coming on some of the important things to look for in that choice).  You also choose how you live your life both now and when you get married.  You have the choice once you are married to stay married.

Even if you’ve already messed up some of the above examples you can repent and change.  You are for sure not disqualified from having a great marriage because of any of that.  God’s grace is bigger than that.  But it would make sense if you are on any of those bad paths to do an about face if you want to end up in a Godly, stable marriage.

How afraid of divorce are you?  What is that based on?  Are you setting yourself up to be in a good situation?

Links to Stats from this post 

Overall divorce stats

“Christian” divorce stats

Women Divorce Stats

Cheating Study

Sexual partner divorce stats

My Picker Is Broken

One of the things I’ve heard from several people when it comes to dating is the words, “I think my picker is broken.”  In other words, “I keep picking the wrong people to be with.”

There can be a lot of reasons for this and a lot of different results.  We can can keep getting into relationships with people that we shouldn’t or keep chasing people that we can’t seem to “get”.  Some of it might be self sabotage for various reasons.  But a lot of it has to do with misunderstanding and/or mismanaging attraction.

As I’ve said a lot, attraction is not a conscious in the moment choice.  But it matters and in a big time way.  I believe its not so much that our picker is broken as it is that our attraction meter is broken.  I mean this in several ways.

For starters we need to understand that our attraction scale is skewed.  This is true for both how we see the opposite sex and typically in how we see ourselves.  Let me explain.

Let’s say there is an attraction scale from 1-10.  1 would be extremely unattractive.  10 would be extremely attractive.  This is maybe more straightforward for how guys see women because it’s more a physical thing, but the scale works for women as well, just in a different way.

I think there are very very few 1s and 2s and also very very few 9s and 10s.  Most people fall in between.  In fact it is my contention that most people fall between 4 and 7 but maybe I’m just an optimist.  There is a lot of good news in this.  For one, it can be subjective. While it might be true that a 10 is a 10 to just about anyone, one persons 5 could for sure be another persons 7.  Second we can do things to move up or down in that scale.  Maybe a six can’t be a 10, but presentation can sure make them a 7.  You get what I’m saying.

But the bad news is that this scale is not only subjective, it’s also based on context to some extent.  Here’s what I mean by that.  100 years ago if you lived in say St. Joseph Missouri (a town of about 70,000 people) you would only meet people from there.  So your context of 1-10 was sort of dictated by that.  But then came ease of travel – specifically highways and airplanes.  Now I could view people from everywhere.  This skews the scale.  As a female friend of mine once said, “the great thing about it is, in California I’d be a 6 or 7 but in St. Joseph I’m a 10”.  I remember laughing about that – there was some truth to it.

But now we have a bigger problem.  We have hundreds of channels and of course the internet.  So now the context is the world – every picture, book, story, movie and perversion.  We even have what I call the off the scale 15.  The 15 is the touched up model or the movie star guy.  It’s not real, and yet we’ve spent our whole life viewing that as the 10, when really it’s the 15 – it’s not even actually on the scale.  So our scale is skewed and we need to begin to figure that out.

This leads us to the second problem.  We have this idea that in order to marry someone, we need to be “perfectly attracted”.  We need our “soulmate” so to speak.  Not only should I be 100% attracted, but I should always feel that way.

This makes us eliminate good people that we are actually pretty dang attracted to. Remember most of us are not a 9 or 10 and we are certainly not a 15.  And yet that has become the prerequisite for marriage.

This is seriously frustrating for many of us.  We meet people that have the qualities that we are looking for, but we rule them out because we aren’t attracted enough (read perfectly attracted).  Notice I didn’t say not attracted at all.  We are at least somewhat attracted to all sorts of people.  We need to own this!  While it might be fine to say I don’t want to marry someone I’m not attracted to, it’s not the same thing to say I don’t want to marry someone I’m not 100% attracted to 100% of the time.

This is where it comes back to the picker problem.  When we keep looking for the perfect attraction, when we do feel that way, all else flies out the window.  This is part of why so many women end up with the guy who has none of the qualities they are looking for.  They are attracted so it’s now time to rationalize everything else.  Or it leads to the guy chasing the girl who won’t ever say yes, but dang it, he’s 100% attracted to her, so he has to keep acting on it.  And for many Christians it means just picking no one.  I’m attracted to the wrong people so I just won’t be with anyone.  While better than being married to the wrong person, it’s not a good long term solution.

So what do we do?  How do we manage attraction?  I’ll say more about this soon.

By the way, this doesn’t even take into consideration that most men don’t even realize what women are attracted to at all (nor do a lot of women).  

But I really believe the first step is asking some hard questions.  What is your attraction scale? What type of decisions do you make out of that?  Where do you see yourself on your scale?  How do you know where you are? How attracted do you need to be to act on it? To stay with it?

Is Your Singleness Selfish?

One of the things that used to bother me the most in my over 20 years of singleness was when people who were married would tell me things like, “Enjoy your singleness while you have it”, or “Take advantage of where you are at”, or “Enjoy the freedom you have bro.”

Now at some level there can be some wisdom here.  We should focus on living fully in the context we are in.  It doesn’t do us much good to have marriage as an idol and constantly be thinking that my whole world would be perfect if I just met the right person.  I get that.

But I think at this point it might be fair to say that in our context today, we might be taking a bit too much advantage of our singleness.  We might be too focussed on our “freedom” at times.  It’s not like everyone is launching into early marriage.  In fact almost no one is.  So maybe we should ask some different questions.

First of all, we need to get over the fact that life is hard.  Yes married people, I get it, marriage is hard.  But we need to be really, really careful with that because in our culture we seem to be equating hard with bad.  But in the Kingdom hard and bad are not synonyms.  Hard and Joy are not opposites.  And besides, singleness can be pretty dang hard too.  Life is hard sometimes.  And sometimes it isn’t.

So one trap we need to avoid is setting marriage up as this great loss.  Like somehow if you get married your personal life is over.  That’s a lie.  It’s different yes, but not over.

But there are even more traps here.

The idea of taking advantage of your “freedom” or living it up before you settle down is extremely dangerous spiritually.

I’ve had a lot of people tell me that getting married made them realize how selfish they are. I have no doubt about that.  I’ve had a few other friends tell me that they really realized how selfish they were when they had kids.  I for sure can see that.

But they were selfish the whole time.  They just didn’t realize it.  What if as a single person we went ahead and started working on this now?

Look, if everyone was still getting married when they were in the early twenties, maybe marriage would be a good time to realize you’re selfish.  But sense only 20% of people in their twenties are married, maybe we’d better not wait for marriage to realize it.

We have a more self-absorbed world than ever.  It’s so much easier to get away with it. Do you know that 50% of single people live by themselves?  Think about that.  We go where we want.  We eat what we want. We spend money on what we want, when we want, without anyone knowing about it.  If you’re single right now, name one person who knows your income to debt ratio.  

And the world encourages it.  Go get yours first.  You’re somehow not ready to be married until you’ve got your career where you want it or all your issues worked out.  Live it up, then get married.  What kind of plan is that? A plan to stay single – or have a rough marriage.

We say this spiritually too when we misinterpret scripture to mean that when your single you are more able to focus on God than if you are married?  Really?!  That is not what it says.  If that were true then literally no one should get married.  It’s not do great ministry while you can, before you get married.

This line of thinking also starts to bleed over into keeping us single when we shouldn’t be. Hear me clearly here.  Just because you are single doesn’t mean you being selfish.  But there are a huge number of people that are single in large part because they are living and/or dating selfishly.  

What would it take for us to get married? Well we need to meet the person who looks how we want, acts how we want, makes the money we want them too or in other words, “the one who meets all my expectations and needs”.  Friends, that person DOES NOT EXIST. Am I saying settle for anyone?  Heaven’s no.  But what I am saying is that the vows of marriage are not self centered.  We don’t stand up front at the wedding and talk about what we expect to receive.  We promise what we will give – until death.

Here’s the reality, neither singleness or marriage is about me.  Life is not about you.  It’s about God and the Kingdom.  

Our culture has crafted out a time of singleness for most people.  We are not called to spend that time being about ourselves or “taking advantage of our personal freedom”.  Instead we are called to deal with our sin and advance the kingdom.  Married or single we are called to crucify our flesh.  Jesus says “whoever loses his life will find it”.  There aren’t any parameters on that.  Not marriage, not a certain age, not after certain career goals are met.  Now!

If we get married it’s not so that I can get my needs perfectly met through a spouse.  It’s so we can follow God together.  If I have kids, they aren’t mine, they’re for me to shepherd and do my best to point towards God.  And if we are single, it’s not “our time”.  It’s God’s. In other words, start dealing with your selfishness now.

Is your singleness all about you?  Where is selfishness keeping you single?  Is anyone in your life besides you?  When is the last time you made a decision based on what was best for someone else?

You Are Single For A Reason – But Probably Not The One You Think

In my 20 plus years of being single I’ve heard a lot of reasons for singleness.  Some of it was attempted pastoring or self righteousness, but most times it was attempted encouragement which I learned to appreciate because I knew people loved me.

As I’ve said almost ad nauseum here we in the Christian single culture have basically settled for spiritual platitudes that don’t really deal with the issue at hand – either individually or as a whole society.

One of those is the idea that God has you single right now. This is of course often followed by other platitudes such as “God has you single right now for a reason”, or “Since God has you single right now, take advantage of that”. Or “God has you single right now so be content in that”.

One of the big problems we have in protestant culture when it comes to singleness is a complete lack of understanding of what Paul is talking about when it comes to the unmarried.  It kills us because we keep bringing “the word” to the situation without even understanding what we are saying.  We mix and match scriptures in an attempt to make the current singleness culture fit into our favorite theological leanings.  It ends up being “help us sleep at night theology” that frankly doesn’t help many people live well single or get married.

Now before I say more and make some people really uncomfortable, let me say this clearly for the record – God may indeed want you to be single right now.  No doubt He calls us to all sorts of different things in all sorts of different seasons.  So I’m not negating that possibility in someone’s personal life.

But it is a terrible blanket answer to singleness.  It would mean that God has suddenly in the last 40 years of history decided that people shouldn’t get married until 30 or older.  Or I guess it could mean that for thousands of years people disobeyed God by getting married earlier.  I’m not comfortable with either of those answers.

First off, the bible never talks about singleness as we know it.  It just doesn’t.  In the oft referred to passage in 1 Corinthians 7 Paul is answering questions the Corinthians had asked about marriage and sexual immorality.  There was mass confusion and he was attempting to clear some things up.

Paul says a lot of things here but when it comes to the “gift” of being unmarried, Paul is NOT talking about a call to a season of singleness.  He is instead talking about a call to (or gift of) celibacy.  He is saying that some are called to serve God from an unmarried state. He is not saying you have the gift of singleness until you get married.  He is saying if you have it, don’t get married.  That is a HUGE distinction.  

What we’ve done is taken this and turned it into a way to avoid dealing with why we are single.  Or we take other things Paul says in other places and transpose it into this passage.  For example in Philippians 4 Paul says he has learned to be content in all circumstances.  We transpose that to mean, “God has called you to singleness right now and you should be content in that.”  But that isn’t what Paul says in 1 Corinthians 7.  He says if you aren’t content (read called, or gifted) in celibacy – Go Get Married!

This is so critical.  Paul is not saying if you are unmarried that you don’t have to worry about the things of marriage.  It would be more accurate to say that one of the ways to see if you are called to celibacy is to ask if you are worried about it.  Otherwise he would be saying that celibate people are better followers of Jesus than married people.  If that were true then no one should get married.

My biggest problem with this is that we end up saying to people, if you are single right now that is where God has you and you should just sit there and be content in it.  That is not what Paul says.

There are lots of reasons our society is where it is in terms of marriage.  Most of it is not God’s plan.

God is not calling you to be insecure around women you like.  He has not given you the “gift” of lack of commitment.  He has not called you to live with someone you are dating instead of marrying them.  He is not calling you to consumer date.  He is not promising you that if you are called to marriage that it will magically happen without your effort.  He has not “gifted” you with the fear of divorce.  He has not given you the “gift” of extended adolescence.  I could go on and on.

We as singles need to quit hiding from our crap in bad theology and the Church needs to get off it’s butt and quit enabling us to do it.  The Church should be the safest place to deal with all of the reasons why we are single, not just the ones that make a nice sermon.

You are single for a reason – lots of reasons actually.  Some of that may be God’s timing or calling.  But a whole heck of a lot of it isn’t.  The way out isn’t mixing and matching scripture to feel better.

You’re Ready To Be Married

About 10 years ago I was meeting with a group of young college guys who were committed to walking together.  I, along with a couple of other guys, was kind of mentoring them.  One of the young men had been dating a girl for about a year.  He had a year left of school and she was a senior about to graduate.  The question on the table that night was should they get married and if so, should they wait another year until he was done with school or just go for it.

The first question was answered quickly by all of us.  Yes he should get married.  She was an all star and he would be lucky to pull this off so by all means do it.  The second question was a bit harder.  There was discussions about jobs, money, living arrangements and the like.  In other words was he “ready” to be married?

I think we have really messed up this idea of ready to be married.  Recently I was talking with a group of high school guys, many of whom were graduating seniors. We were talking about this very question – when should they get married.  I said that they don’t have to be in a hurry, but that it wouldn’t be bad to get married pretty early.  One guy said, “If I got married before the end of college my parent’s would kill me.”  I laughed, but I also kind of cringed inside.

There is this idea in our culture that you should wait a long time to get married. You should make sure you are “ready”.  This idea comes from a few things.  

One is that we don’t want to grow up.  Marriage after all is for grown ups and I’m for sure not that.  Stay young and irresponsible is the message.  Stay in school.  Don’t get tied down.  Plenty of time for that later.

Secondly we are scared of it not working.  We think if I’m not absolutely sure I’m ready that I won’t make it when I’m married.  A huge chunk of the not ready crowd are driven by fear. Fear of choosing wrong, responsibility, commitment, or failure.

Finally we are of course waiting for the perfect person -who amazingly is not the person that I’ve been dating for the last year – or apparently the person I’m living with, sleeping with, and in our current culture having children with.

Of course there is the group that is maybe a little too “ready” to be married.  This is the those of us who are “tired of the dating scene and ready to settle down.”  We think if I can just get married everything will be right.  I’m freaking ready so why isn’t it happening.

Let me suggest two thoughts on readiness.

On the one hand I think the reality is that no one is ever completely ready. Marriage is for sure two things.  It is a gift from God that you don’t earn.  It is also a choice.  In other words at some level it could come at any time.  You are not going to be a complete person when you get married.  You aren’t through growing and changing. Even when you get married you will still grow and change.  If you marry a person today, that person (and you) will not be the same ten years from now.  In fact, part of the point of marriage is that it changes you.  It forces you to grow in new ways.  It is supposed to help you grow in Christ.

It’s also a choice.  And you can make that choice at any time.  You can either do it or not. You always have that choice.

You don’t know what will happen in your marriage.  You don’t know how you’ll change or what  you will face as an individual or as a couple.  You are not completely prepared now and you never will be.  

But that is part of the beauty of walking with God.  When we are walking with Him, he is constantly leading us into deeper stuff.  There is always more and marriage can be a part of that.

On the other hand I think you are “ready” when you are walking with Jesus and you meet someone you want to marry who wants to marry you.  I don’t think it matters much what age you are, if you have a high enough paying job or a degree.  I think what matters is do you have the capacity to deliver on the vows.  If you aren’t walking with Jesus you aren’t ready.  (For free this means you are also not ready for sex, cohabitation and children). If you are, and you think it’s right, then I’d say you might well be as “ready” as you’ll ever be.

I’m not saying don’t be wise.  I’m saying don’t be scared.  I’m not saying you’re “ready”. I’m saying don’t let the world determine your readiness.

What do you think makes you “ready” to be married?  How would you know you were “ready”?

Should We Touch Each Other?

In the movie Tommy Boy Chris Farley’s character says to Rob Lowe’s character as they are introduced as brothers, “brothers don’t shake hands.  Brothers gotta hug.”  This is of course followed by a very awkward moment as Farley’s youthful innocence meets Lowe’s disdain.

In the Church, as well as society as a whole, we have a touch problem.  It’s real, and we need to actually start addressing it.

A few month’s ago I wrote about The Snuggery.  This is literally a place where you can go and pay money to have someone snuggle with you.  No lie.  Look it up.

As crazy as that sounds, it makes perfect sense.  We live in a world more and more devoid of proper touch.  There is a lot of abusive and sexual touch.  There is very little good touch, if we can even figure out what that means.

But the value of touch in our lives can not be understated.  It is vital and we can’t hide in a corner as the Church and just tell people no.  We need a different answer.

As a guy touch is even more complicated because touch is also a strength thing.  Here’s what I mean.  A lot of times as a young boy or teenager, touch means getting pushed around.  Are you tough enough means can you take a hit.  Are you strong enough means can you dish one out.  We get all sorts of answers to these questions growing up and those answers stay with us, even if they aren’t true anymore.

I was never a wrestle around kid.  I didn’t really know how to get hit or hit back.  Looking back, I wasn’t really weak over all, but I thought I was.  That affected how I viewed touch as I got older.  How you interact with other men physically matters and affects your confidence.

Then there is the touch of the opposite sex.  This is also all jacked up.  And in the Christian circle we are basically told don’t touch each other.  That sounds good, and I get it, but at some level, with no physical interaction at all, we just end up pushing people into a weirder and more awkward place.  If we accidentally equate all touch with shame or sin, we are setting ourselves up for failure.

When you throw in how isolated we are in daily life as singles this can be a disaster that just continues to build.  It hurts.  Touch matters.  The reality is people are doing something with their need for touch.  Touching the wrong way, burying the desire in escapism or fantasy, or just falling into isolation and awkwardness.

Many of us basically work alone.  Then literally half of us go home alone, eat alone, go to bed alone, and then get up alone and do it all again.  That does not lead to healthy touch. That leads to isolation.  Is our advice to single people going to be don’t touch?

We need a different answer than that.  The Church, and we as single people, need to engage this issue.  We need to talk about a right thinking about touch and then we need to live it out.

Touch is all over the Bible.  Jesus is constantly touching people.  This is actually one of the amazing things about Him.  He became flesh.  He lived in a place and at a particular time, just like you and me.  He sweat and smelled, and got tired and sore and He touched people – literally.  The leper, the blind, heck, even the dead.  And he was touched. Women of ill refute, came and touched him  – with their hair and kisses.  Scandalous.

I’ll admit to not having all the perfect answers to this but I believe it starts with something Zack Eswine writes in his book Sensing Jesus.  He writes, “in the New Testament, two kinds of physical touch are set in brutal contrast”.  He points out that the misuse of touch used “to consume or preserve it’s own selfish wants, lusts, desires or agendas” and in contrast a different kind that “envisions a way for Christian community to recover in Jesus how humans were originally meant to touch each other.  Physical touch is meant as a holy act.”  He goes on, “Jesus touched people.  He touched bodies.  But his was not the sexualized touch of a pornographic mind, a controlling cling, or a predator heart.  The way of Jesus’s touch graciously intends to reform our own.”

Here’s my take.  As the Church (and especially if we are going to reach out to the half of the country that is unmarried) instead of running from touch, we need to reclaim it.  In other words we need to own the discussion and do it well.  We need to freaking lead instead of reacting in fear.

This will mean confronting wrong touch and helping both the wrongly touched and the toucher deal.  As men it means dealing with our insecurities and learning our strength and then offering it – physically.  With the opposite sex on a date it means reaching for her hand without thinking about reaching into her pants and realizing that they are not the same thing.

What we can’t do is say, don’t touch, don’t experience that or grow in it, and then if you get married don’t worry, it will just turn on.  That’s ridiculous and irresponsible.

What do you do with your need for touch?  What would holy touch look like?  What have you learned about touch in your life?

Why Men Struggle With The L Word

Last week I wrote about how all men question their sexual prowess.  If you haven’t read last week’s posts, and you are a guy, I’d strongly encourage you to do that.  We ended the sexual prowess post talking about the real question we need to be answering – “Am I a good lover?”

I believe as men we often struggle with love and intimacy. I think as a single this can become a huge deal in our life.  Often we can go long periods of time without touch or loving words.

I want to say more about physical touch soon, but today I want to focus on the problem we have with the words, “I love you.”

I’m not talking about the way we say it most of the time.  I’m not talking about the sarcastic, bro fake intimacy, of “I love you man” crap.  I’m also not talking about “I love you” when we mean, “don’t be mad at me”. Nor am I talking about the “I love you” when we mean I’m desperate for you to like me.

I’m talking about being able to say it and mean it in the straight forward, no excuses, expecting nothing back, “I love you.”

This is frankly just hard for a lot of us.  There are a lot of reasons and it goes way deeper than the whole macho stereotype.

For starters many of us never heard it from our fathers.  This isn’t to say our fathers didn’t love us, although there are many of us who do come from that.  What I mean is that they didn’t know how to say it either.  Moms said it to us which is good when you’re little but if you only hear it from her you’re in trouble because “I love you” becomes feminine.  And most guys don’t want to be that.

When we don’t hear it from a man, when we become men, we don’t say it.  And I’m not just talking about saying it to a woman.  I’m talking about saying it to your parents, to your friends, to a mentor, a disciple, to your kids.

It’s like when it comes to the surface we kind of swallow it.  There are still times in my life when I know it’s what needs to be said and I choke it back.

Saying I love you – especially saying it in a serious way – requires vulnerability. What if you say it and don’t hear it back?  We can often be afraid to “go there” even with those close to us.  It feels risky.  It feels like I’m opening up some part of me that I’m not sure I want to expose.

The truth is that you can really only be a good lover if you are secure in who you are.  And the only way to be secure is to know that you are loved.  Ultimately only one person can answer that.

Let’s say that you had a 10 minute meeting with God.  In that 10 minutes God (who knows your whole life – all that you’ve done, all that you want, all that you are doing and dreaming) is going to tell you what is most important to Him that He wants you do know. What do you think he would tell you?

I’ve asked a lot of people this question.  Mostly people say something the effect of, “He’d tell me this was good or this was bad, or that I need to work on this or that.”  Some people say, “I’d hope He’d tell me why this or that happened.”

But I’m convinced that what He would do is spend the entire ten minutes telling you He loved you.  Oh if we believed that!  Oh sure we know that God “loves us”.  We know it theologically, heck even logically.  We can quote it, preach it and put it on a bumper sticker.  But living out of it – that’s a whole other thing.

Part of the reason we have a hard time saying it, is that we have a hard time hearing it.  I know this was true for me for a long time.  It was like when someone said it to me I would kind of squirm inside.  It stirred something but I didn’t know what to do with it.

As a guy we need to work through this area of our life.  How comfortable are we at receiving and giving out those words?  As a single person we often don’t have a built in place to do that, but we have to develop it anyway.  We have to become lovers.  It’s part of becoming a true adult.

How comfortable are you with “I love you”?  What did you learn from your father about “I love you”?  This weekend is father’s day.  Could you call your dad and legitimately say, “I love you”?   How do you feel when a man says it to you now?  A woman?  How do you receive it?  How comfortable are you with saying it? When it comes up in your heart do you speak it or swallow it?

If you had 10 minutes alone with God what would He say to you?

Are You Good In Bed?

Earlier this week I shared about three questions that all men wrestle with in some way.  “Are you good looking or not?” “What is the worst thing you’ve ever done?” and “Do you have a small or big penis?” All of us have answered these questions in our head, but almost no one has answered them out loud – at least not in any meaningful way.

And yet how we answer them affects many aspects of our lives, none more so than how we interact with women.  This is because all of these answers affect the core confidence we need that in order to pursue, attract, and eventually love a woman.

These questions have to do with three areas of our life – our self image, our shame, and our sexual prowess.  I’ve written a lot about our self image, and I wrote this week about our shame.  Today I want to talk about the third question.  So buckle up men.

The issue of having confidence sexually is gigantic in how we feel about ourselves as men and therefore how we interact with women.

First, let’s just admit that this is true.  Men are about performance.  This is why everywhere you turn you see sexual enhancement drugs, workouts, and techniques.  A man’s greatest fear is failure.  As Eldrege says, every man is asking, “Do I have what it takes?”  No where is this more true, or more scary and vulnerable, than sex.  Nowhere!

Every guy is asking the question do I have what it takes to be good sexually with a woman. In simple terms – “Am I Good In Bed?”  Every Guy.  Our answers are all jacked up.

Most of us began to have the question answered when we were very young.  There are so many factors.  Do you have a father that even broaches the subject?  What happens in the boys restroom in elementary school?  What are you comparing yourself to?  The guy next to you?  The guy who developed before you?  The guy in the porn video? (Average age a male sees internet porn for the first time is now 11).  It can also be affected by our view of sex, abuse, being emasculated by peers or parents or both.

Sometimes the answer is that we are “small” and that we don’t have what it takes.  Often we get no answer at all.  Almost never do we get a positive answer in the right way.

So we of course go and try to answer it.  We might dominate women or become extremely sexual to prove our prowess.  This is the guy who lives for sex and is always out to, “get some”.  We might seek to control the answer by fantasizing or looking at porn.  But this usually just brings about shame, and can undermine the question once again.

And in the Christian culture, for the most part, we are told to bury it, kill it, or starve it.  In fact, we are told basically, “Don’t look, don’t touch, don’t explore, but don’t worry you’ll magically know what to do when you get married.”  It’s like there is supposed to be a Christian switch when it comes to sexual prowess.  Don’t have any, and then man up and have it.  Really?!

It seems to me that most Christian guys end up in one of two camps.  Be a Christian but have sex anyway which leads to the obvious problems.  Or, we go without touch, without intimacy and therefore end up freaking out when we get to it. Sex becomes this taboo thing. We end up having fear and passivity around women, especially a woman we are really attracted to.  We don’t know what to do, partly because we aren’t sure we could do it – as in literally “do it”.

We live in a culture in which the average guy gets married at  28-29 years old.  What that means is that in the Church we are asking a guy to go about 15 years of his life (during the most crucial time when he is answering all of his life’s questions – including this one – for the first time) to not have sex.  My contention is this:  We can ask him to not have sex, but we CAN NOT ask him to not have an answer to this question.  Because he WILL answer it.

While this affects how we interact with women, its much bigger than that.  This answer affects how I do other things in my life.  It affects how I relate to other men, how I relate to my own body and self image and even how I interact at work and play.  This question matters.  I would submit that even if I’m called to celibacy in the kingdom, I’d still better have an answer to this question. It’s crucial no matter what.

In my next post I’m going to take a stab at what I think the Christian community can do to help guys answer it.  But before we can get help, we need to check what our answer is to the question right now.

Do you have what it takes to be good sexually with a woman?  Where does that answer come from? How have you tried to answer it?

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?