Attraction Vs. Action

One of the constant conversations on this blog is the idea of attraction.  I’ve written a ton about it and even have whole posts about it.

Today I want to sort of clarify a few thoughts about attraction.  Many of these I’ve said before but I thought it might be good to put a few main thoughts into one post.

First off it is important to understand that the feeling of attraction is never, for any person, a choice.  It is not an in the moment conscious decision.  From day one, none of us, or at least no one that I know, has ever said, “I’m going to feel attraction for this person and not this person.”

This is true for every person.  This is even true, if I may be so bold, for people who would be attracted to the same sex – once or always.  Attraction is a gut level feeling.  I see someone or meet someone and I’m attracted, or I’m not.

Let me say again, the feeling of attraction is not a choice.

However, what we do with that attraction is a choice.  This is also true for every single person.

Attraction of course awakens desire to do something about said attraction.  But the truth is that I don’t have to, often should not, and frankly sometimes am commanded not to act on that attraction.

Here’s an obvious example.  Let’s say that I’m married.  I feel attracted to someone who I’m not married to.  I’ve made a vow not to act on that attraction.  I’m commanded in the scriptures not to act on it.

Here are a couple of other examples.  Let’s say that I’ve made vow to celibacy.  I meet someone and I’m attracted.  My desire says that I want to act.  But because of the vow that I’m committed to honoring I should not act on that.  Just because someone is called to celibacy does not mean they never feel attraction or never have the desire to act on that.

Or let’s say that I’m attracted to someone that I know is not a believer and/or is bad for me and my walk with the Lord.  I’m for sure attracted, but I don’t have to act on it.

This leads to a second point about attraction:  There are many things that influence the feeling of attraction.  Some of these things we can actually work on and might impact over the long run who we are attracted to.

Things like past sexual events in my life, what I believe about myself and God, looking at porn or reading “romance” novels, how I’m feeling that day, or even how much I’ve had to drink can influence my attraction to someone.

I can also feed or not feed attraction.  If I am attracted to someone that I know I need to not pursue, then I can either feed that or not.  If I start to respond to it, or put myself in the position where the attraction will grow, then I’m setting myself up.  This leads to the classic, “I know it’s not right, but I can’t help what I feel so I’m going to act on it at least a little” scenario.

Instead, I can admit that I’m attracted, but recognize that I shouldn’t pursue it and avoid situations that will further that attraction and increase the pressure to act on that feeling.  You may not be able to help what you feel, but you can for sure help what you do with it.  Again, attraction and acting on attraction are two completely different things.

The inverse here is also true of attraction.  Some people get frustrated because not enough people find them attractive.  We need to recognize that we can work on being more attractive.  We can learn what is and isn’t attractive. We shouldn’t have in our mind that we have to “perfect” to be attractive but that’s not a reason to not attempt to be attractive to the people that we want to pursue or be pursued by as the case may be.  I’m not talking about being “fake” here, but you aren’t going to pursue someone that you aren’t attracted to, so you can’t expect that from someone else.

Finally we have to think about how we handle ourselves when we feel attraction to a qualified person.  Do we start to try too hard, cling too much, become needy, desperate or controlling.  Or maybe the opposite.  Do we run, avoid it because we don’t know what to do with it.

Here’s what we can’t do.  We can’t pretend that attraction doesn’t matter.  That is living in the pretend world.  It absolutely matters.  Attraction is from God.  Now it’s all jacked up thanks to sin, no doubt.  But that’s true of everything.

There’s a lot of freedom here.  If we can understand that attraction is not a choice but that action is, we can work on both.  If we equate the two, then we will constantly be in trouble both in how we view ourselves and others.  I need to run both attraction and acting on it (or not acting) through the lens of my walk with Jesus.

Condemned To Celibacy?

Recently I attended a conference on healthy sexuality.  It was very well done and the spirit of the event was super encouraging to say the least.  Within the many different topics and conversations was of course the discussion of how a person who is attracted to the same sex should live out their life.

Now this wasn’t a conference where people were demanding that anyone live a certain way and it was all non-confrontational, but the general answer was that from a biblical perspective that person should not be engaged in a same sex sexual relationship. In other words they should live a celibate life.

In response to this, one person said, “So basically we are condemning them to a life of loneliness and isolation.” I’m quite sure that this person was far from the only one in the room thinking that way.

I’m not going to dive too far into the topic of homosexuality today (I have a couple of posts that I can share if I ever decide I want to go viral).  But instead, I want to respond to this person’s understanding in a very different way.

I can’t speak for him, but I can deduct that the reason this gentlemen said what he said about celibacy is at least two fold.

First, in evangelical culture, we have completely left out the call to celibacy, the gift of celibacy and those who for one reason or another end up unmarried and yet desiring holiness.  Literally we have spent about 500 years of protestantism screwing this up.  It’s a real problem.

Because we have no place for or theology of celibacy, we then only dust it off for special cases.  Because we have no place for a heterosexual to pursue the call or gift of celibacy, we look like idiots suggesting that the homosexual should be “condemned to that”.

This comes from the Church’s nuclear family idol.  Marriage and family are seen as THE path to holiness and wholeness.  You can’t go around preaching that message for decades and then dust off the other path for a few people.  But that is exactly what the evangelical leadership of our generation has attempted to do.  Obviously that’s not working out very well.  This comes partially from an adaptation of a secular belief into our evangelical culture.

That is the secular belief that sexual fulfillment is a right.  Not only do I have the right to sexual fulfillment, but in the secular culture, I have the right to fulfill that sexual desire in just about any way I want (assuming everyone is an adult and “consents”).

Now evangelical culture has not adopted that belief.  Instead they have adapted it to their own framework.  The evangelical culture says that each person, at least each man, can not possibly contain their sexual desire.  It must be fulfilled.  The message is that it is controlling you, bigger than you, bigger than your moral agency, bigger than your spiritual maturity.  Therefore the only answer available to holiness is marriage.  Marriage makes you an adult.  Marriage makes you mature.  Marriage makes you holy.

Now let me be clear in case you are new to the blog.  I’m extremely pro marriage.  I think that most people should pursue marriage.  But, we cannot assume that in our theological, and practical teaching.  In fact, by assuming that we hurt not only those not called to it, or unable to achieve it, but we hurt even those who do get married.

If the way to holiness is marriage then what we are saying is that the person called to celibacy, the person with the gift of celibacy, the person born without desire to get married, the person who can’t get married, or the person who doesn’t desire the opposite sex, cannot be holy on their own.  By doing this we are literally agreeing with secular culture that sexual desire must be fulfilled in order for a person to be whole and holy.

This is basically what Justice Kennedy said in the supreme court decision on Gay Marriage.  He writes of those wishing to marry, “Their hope is to not be condemned to live in loneliness, . . . ”  Sound familiar?

If celibacy is something that someone is “condemned to” then we are all in a lot of trouble.

Was Jesus “condemned” to celibacy?  Paul?  The early Church Fathers?  The Pope? Do we really want to see celibacy as a punishment?

This is what we have helped set up.  This is why we can’t afford to answer the culture by adapting it into a Christian Version. Its why our answer to an increased delay in marriage, and people fulfilling sexual desires in ways other than marriage can’t be simply – marriage will set it all right.

Instead we have to rescue the celibacy of the New Testament.  We have to rescue the idea of family from a focus on the nuclear family to a focus on the family of God.  We have to have a more complete theology (or picture if you will) of how celibacy and marriage are both pictures of the Kingdom and both paths to holiness and wholeness.  If we don’t, then we all lose.  It will get worse.

The Church, including and starting with each of us in it, is the only hope of something different.  We have to be counter cultural, not just sub-cultural.  Read that line again.  It might be from the Lord.

We have to lead, not follow, not just respond and react.  If the Church (read all of us) don’t step back and consider the whole picture of celibacy and marriage, no one else will.

Marriage Isn’t What Makes You Holy

This is my final post in response to Al Mohler’s words about the “sin” of delayed marriage. As I’ve said before, I’m not really singling Mohler out other than that I think his words represent a lot of what Christian leaders think and teach.**  We’ve discussed the nuclear family idol of the Church already, but I want to talk about a part of that idol that is often left out.

Mohler sets this up by basically saying that you are made an adult by getting married and if you wait too long (however long that is) you are going to make it tougher.  He states:

Delaying marriage until the late 20s or beyond often allows a person to develop unhealthy lifestyle patterns that become difficult to break once he or she is married, Mohler said.

“The corruption of delay, the injury that comes by delay, is multiple,” Mohler said.

“If we claim for ourselves, either as men or as women, the right to define ourselves as adults who will get married when we get to it, we’re defining ourselves in pretty specific terms. Let me be clear: The longer you wait to get married, the more habits and lifestyle patterns you will have that will be difficult to handle in marriage.”

Now remember, I’m for marriage.  I’m for getting married sooner than later if you are called to it.  But this crosses the line in several ways.

First, the statistics don’t back this up at all.  In fact the divorce rate of people getting married after 25 and with a college education is ridiculously lower than if you get married younger.  I’m not saying you can’t get married younger but the reality is that our culture has changed.  We’ve lengthened adolescence.  The delay of marriage is both a cause and a result of that, but we have to be careful here and deal with the current reality.

But the bigger issue here is the idea that we can’t be mature if we aren’t married.  The way this usually gets talked about is the idea that Marriage Makes You Holy®.

This is the bell that evangelicals have been ringing lately.  Marriage is hard.  Marriage is not about making you happy it’s about making you holy.  Which is sort of true . . . sort of.

This talking point creates all sorts of weird dichotomies.  Let’s look at the messages we are receiving.  It goes something like this:

Marriage is really hard.  But you should hurry up and get married.  You are able to focus more on Jesus and be less distracted as a single person.  But marriage is how you become more holy.  You need to be a man and get married.  But being married makes you a real man.

Confused yet?

Here’s the thing: Regardless of your marital status you are called to holiness.  We are called to grow and that includes the proverbial “growing up”.  But marriage doesn’t guarantee that. There are lots of immature married people.  For sure there are lots of spiritually immature and unholy married people.  Marriage itself doesn’t make you holy.  Jesus will if you walk with Him.

You see marriage isn’t the answer or the problem.  We’re the problem. Our sin is the problem.  Jesus is the answer.  The context of marriage can indeed lead us to deal with our sins and wounds if we let it.  But if I’m single, I need to deal with those same things, and you know what? –  You can. Right now.

People always told me when I was single that one of the things they learned when they got married was how selfish they were.  But what’s funny about that is that they were already selfish.  They didn’t become selfish when they got married, they just didn’t deal with it until they got married.

In some ways it was an advantage for me when I got married later in that I already knew I was a sinner.  I didn’t need a wife to show me that.  Now I do see it in some new ways to be sure.  But you can’t sit around and wait to get married to deal with sin.  That’s a terrible idea.  And you don’t have to.  You can deal with your sin now.

We don’t need to fear marriage and we need to quit underselling it.  Telling a bunch of people who aren’t getting married how hard marriage is seems to me to be sort of counter productive.  Marriage is good and can be fun.  It actually can make you happier.  I’m happier.

God can indeed use marriage to make you more holy if you let Him.  But He can, and wants to, use your singleness to do the same thing.  God always, every single day, wants to grow us to be more holy.  Regardless of context.

When we count on marriage in and of itself to do that we are adding to the idolization of it.

 

 

**Recently someone has suggested (on social media) that I am unnecessarily picking on Mohler.  They have suggested that Mohler doesn’t actually believe what I’ve attributed to him.  First, I want to be clear that I have nothing personal against Mohler.  However, I in no way feel that I have misrepresented him here.  I have for sure not misquoted or even taken his quotes out of context in any way.  If he doesn’t believe it, then he should think about how he says it.  I think he does believe it, as do most evangelical leaders – not out of malice or ill intent – but out of modern evangelical tradition on the subject of marriage of which I was once beholden to as well.  Their premise is wrong to begin with in this area and it’s killing us.  What they are doing is not working.  At all.