Love Me For Me (Even Though I Wouldn’t Do That For You)

One of the amazing things about Jesus is that no matter where we are, what we are doing, what our story is, He loves us.  In the famous hymn’s words he loves me Just As I Am.  I can come to know Him just as I am, receive His grace as I am and start to follow Him right from where I am now.  I don’t earn it.  In fact I can’t earn it.  God loves you and me right now, no matter what.

The truth is that we all long for that.  We long to be fully known and fully loved.  We look for it everywhere.  As a believer we realize at least intellectually and theologically that God is really the only person who can fulfill that in our lives.  But that doesn’t stop us from wanting to experience that with another person or people.  It also doesn’t stop us from feeling hurt when we don’t experience it with other people even though again, we know intellectually that no one else can do that perfectly.

What’s really interesting is how this gets twisted up when we think about looking for a spouse and frankly later in marriage itself if we get married.

One way that it gets twisted is with the idea that people of the opposite sex should just like me.  If they don’t like me then it’s God’s fault of their fault.  In other words if I ask out twenty people and they all say no, there still is no reason to look at myself.  Women should like me for me after all.  Isn’t true love about loving the person no matter what?

Here is where we really fail our people in the church a lot.  We forget that getting a date is different than being in a dating relationship is different than being married.  They are three almost completely different skill sets.  We confuse attraction and love which really aren’t the same at all.

This is where the nice guy who is intimidated of girls he is attracted to says, “but they should like me for me.” or the person who is overweight or doesn’t dress up says, “I just want someone who will love me regardless of what I look like.”

But when it comes to getting a date, attraction matters.  There’s just no way around it.  For most of history there were no dates.  Attraction still mattered obviously.  But in most cultures marriages were at least somewhat arranged.  But that’s not where we are now.  And I don’t really hear very many people clamoring to go back to that.  So if we don’t want to back to that . . .  maybe we need to think about what we can do to actually get a date.

It’s sort of like when you need a job.  You have to apply. And most of the time you need to interview well.  Not always to be sure.  But typically.  So what do you do when you interview?  Study up.  Dress up.  Speak up.  Show desire for the job without acting desperate for the job.  Now obviously you could interview well, get the job and then be terrible at it.  No doubt this happens all the time.  The same is true of marriage.  People get married and then have no clue how to be married.  But this doesn’t change the fact that you have to pass the interview stage to get the job, you have to get a date to get married.

But here’s the good thing about all of this.  Most of the things (not all) that help you get a date are pretty good for you to consider anyway.  I shouldn’t be desperate for a girl.  I shouldn’t be insecure just because I like someone or I’m afraid of rejection.  I should get in shape physically anyway.  The list could go on.  Why not improve?

Now a couple of caveats that should be obvious.  I’m not suggesting that you have to be perfect or a perfect 10.  Not at all.  I’m not suggesting beating yourself up.  I’m not suggesting that if you do “everything right” that it will happen for you.  Heck I’m not even suggesting that you should marry someone that you think doesn’t love you for you.  No way!!

What I’m saying is that you can’t expect the person who doesn’t know you yet to do that. And if we’re honest here, you’re probably not doing that for anyone else either.  You’re not thinking, “I’ll marry someone that I’m not attracted to” or “I’ll marry the first guy that asks me out no matter who it is.”  Basically our message is typically, “You should love me for me – even though I won’t do that for you.”

I’m also saying, why not work on this stuff.  Why not look at the things that hold me back and deal with them.  What I’m saying is that if you “stay as you are” then you most likely will keep having the same results. What I’m saying is it’s a good thing to actually grow and develop – even if that means growing and developing in relating to the opposite sex.

The thing about Jesus is that while He loves each of us just as we are, He loves us too much to leave us there.  He’s constantly moving us forward, not because He loves us more if we move forward but because He loves us enough to want us to be free of our sin, fears, insecurities, and wounds.

Don’t Marry Someone You “Need”

A few months ago while speaking at a church, someone asked the question, “Should you marry someone you can live with, or wait to marry someone you can’t live without?”

Here is the short answer to that question.  If you are single, you are living without that person now.  Therefore you have already proven that there is no one that you can’t live without.

This question is so key though because it gets at the heart of one of the reasons in our culture that our our marriage rate is falling.  It’s the idea that we must wait for our soulmate, this perfect person who God created just for us.  We are to wait for the “right” one.  The one who will not be perfect (of course we say, no one is perfect) but the perfect one for us.

I’ve written extensively about the idea of the ONE and the Christian soulmate.  These are false ideas to begin with.  But today I want to take a bit of a different angle.

I firmly believe that you should not go into marriage with the idea that you can’t live without that person.  Here are some reasons why.

First and foremost your identity has to be in Christ and not in another person.

One night when my wife and I were engaged we had a funny conversation kind of about this.  I was 40 and she was 34 and as we were discussing this very idea she said, “I could marry you today and you could be run over tomorrow.  What happens then?”  In other words she was saying if her whole identity was in me then she’d be done.  She was exactly right.

Now granted we had a little different perspective as we’d already lived a long time without each other (which presents its own challenges).  But I think this is extremely healthy.  When we put our identity in another person we are setting ourselves up.  In a sense, we end up making an idol out of the other person.

This is one of the big problems with the idea of The One.  The only ONE is God.  God is the one that we “need”.

When we set a person up as someone that we need, we can’t love them because we give them too much power over us.  It screws up our perspective.  We start looking to this person to fulfill needs they can’t.  We look to them to answer our core questions such as “am I lovable?” “Do I matter?” “Am I worth it?” “Am I valuable?” “Do I have what it takes?” These type of questions can’t be answered by a person, only by God.  And only when I have those questions answered by God am I actually free to love anyone the way God commands us to – in other words the way God loves us.

God doesn’t need us.  This is what makes His love trustworthy.  He doesn’t love us because of anything we do for Him.  Think about that.  To really love someone is to love them just because, not because of what they do for us.  Otherwise love is conditional.  The marriage vows are not conditional.  In fact, quite the opposite, they are vows that are supposed to stand regardless of the conditions.

Really if we marry someone with the attitude of not being able to live without them, we are sort of marrying under compulsion instead of making a choice.  I believe that marriage is a choice.

Ideally we would move into the marriage covenant out of love for the other person.  We know that we can indeed live without them, but we choose not to.  We choose instead to freely enter into a covenant with them.

If we enter into marriage with the idea that we can’t live without the other person, what happens if ten years in, we realize, “wait a minute, I can live without this person.”  What happens if all of a sudden I don’t feel like I “need” that person?

Really what it comes down to is that we should marry someone that we don’t need but that we want to marry.  This reflects God’s love for us.

To me, to be loved is to be chosen.  God doesn’t need us.  He isn’t sitting around thinking that He can’t live without us.  He lived without us forever in the past.  He could live without us forever in the future.  But He chose to create us.  Jesus chose to come after us.  He chose to die for us.  He doesn’t need us – He WANTS us.  He is 100% committed to us even though we aren’t always 100% committed to Him.  How amazing is that?

At it’s best, and at it’s core, marriage is meant to be a reflection of that.  I don’t need that person, but out of love I choose them regardless of what happens to them or what they do. And they don’t need me, but out of love they choose me, regardless of what happens to me or what I do.  That friends is marriage.

 

 

 

 

Can You Marry Someone You Don’t “Love”

I’ve been so blessed over the last couple of years as I’ve shared some of these ideas about singleness to engage a lot of different people.  Young singles, older singles, married people, pastors among others.  During one conversation with some people a woman said, “I don’t want to marry someone I don’t love.  I don’t think you should do that.”

There are so many angles on this idea of being “in love”.  There is the obvious stuff about romantic love vs. sacrificial love.  I get that.  Here’s the funny thing.  Married people (and I mean people who have been married for a while) will almost always tell you it’s not about romantic love.  I can’t count the times someone told me that.  And the thing is, I got it then and I get it now.  But I always chuckled because if pushed, none of them got married to someone that they weren’t “in love” with.  So while that might be true in marriage, and while it can bring perspective to a single person, it’s tough to work through and most haven’t.

Really we have to define “in love” but I’d like to back up a couple of steps.

We need to first own what I talked about a couple of weeks ago.  This idea that while there are things we are looking for in a person (such as a Christian, smart, fun, has a job, driven, likes sports . . . whatever else) those are really qualifiers.  What I mean is that what we want is someone we are attracted to who also has those things.  We need to own up to this because when we don’t, we are just in our own way.

What this woman was saying is I don’t want to marry someone I’m not attracted to. That would be a fair statement. But frankly that doesn’t have much to do with love.

We need to keep two very important things in mind.  Loving someone is not a feeling and attraction is not a choice.

Both attraction and love are real.  Here’s the good news.  When you love someone, I think attraction can grow, and attraction can lead you to love someone.  But when we confuse the two all the time it can keep us single and/or make us bad spouses if we do get married.

Love is a choice.  I can choose to love literally anyone.  This is why it’s a command.  Jesus is not commanding you to feel something. Jesus isn’t saying, “Be attracted to God with all your heart. (Yes I get that we should be and one day will be).  He’s not saying, “be attracted to your enemy.”

Think about this, everyone’s favorite little marriage verses, like, “Husbands love your wife as Christ loves the church”, or “Wives submit to your husbands” have nothing to do with attraction.  Most of the people that Paul was writing to were married through arranged marriages in one form or another.  Not all certainly but the point is that those commands aren’t based on how you feel about it that day.  Love is a choice.

Attraction is not a choice.  Here’s what I mean by that.  As someone I was team teaching with put it a few weeks ago,  Attraction is not an in that moment conscious decision.  Read that again.  Am I saying attraction can’t grow?  No.  Am I saying that you can’t lose attraction?  Of course not.  What I’m saying is that you don’t go out and say, “I’m going to feel attraction for this or that person.”  In that moment you either feel attracted or you don’t.

Now I have a post coming about attraction and how what I’m going to call our attraction meter is completely hi-jacked. But the first step is acknowledging that it matters.  The question is not does attraction matter, but how much should I allow it to matter.

If the question is, can I marry someone I don’t love, then the answer is well sort of.  But if you get married you are commanded to love them so you might want to figure it out.  On the other hand if the question is can you marry someone you aren’t attracted to, the answer is clearly yes.  The hardest part about this for the single person (the part that no married person likes to admit) is that to do so would mean you’d first have to date someone you weren’t attracted to.

Am I saying that you should marry someone you aren’t attracted to?  Not really.  I didn’t. But you could.  What I’m saying is at the very least, own that you are looking for attraction.  I’m saying who you marry is a choice – attracted or not.  Really you could choose to marry a lot of people irregardless of your attraction level – many of whom would have the qualities you say you are looking for.

I’m not saying we should ignore attraction.  In fact I’m saying the opposite.  We need to understand it – what we are attracted to and why, what makes us attractive to the opposite sex and why, and what to do about it all.

How attracted do you need to be to marry someone?  To go on a date?  Which is more important to you – your attraction to someone or the qualities you are looking for?

Jesus Can Help You Attract Women

For over 20 years I’ve been inviting people to know and follow Jesus.  One of the things I like to do when I have time is to juxtapose two stories from the bible.

The first is the story of the wealthy young ruler who approaches Jesus.  The man kneels before Jesus, offers him some flattery and then asks what he needs to do to have real lasting life.  Jesus first brushes off the flattery and then tells him that he knows the rules of the kingdom.  The man says he”s kept all of those.  So not only was this man well off, but he was apparently a good guy.  But something was still missing.  Jesus then essentially says, “Sell everything you have, and come with me where I’m going.”  The man went away sad because his wealth was the center of his life and he was not leaving it.

The other story is from Luke.  In this story in the middle of the day, after teaching from his boat, Jesus tells Peter to go out into the water and drop his fishing net.  Peter basically tells Jesus that to do so is completely ridiculous.  They had worked all night (the right time to fish) and not caught anything.  But he does it anyway.  He then pulls in the catch of a lifetime.  He has to call others to help.  This was THE catch.  He could have just thanked Jesus and made a killing at the market.  But instead he realizes what is going on and falls to his knees. Jesus says, “Come with me.  From now on you will fish for men”.  Peter leaves THE catch on the beach and goes with him.

It’s the same invitation.  One man says yes and another says no.  One is with Jesus and the other is not. This theme plays out all through scripture.

There’s obviously about a zillion things we could pull from these stories.  But what I want to talk about today is that we as men can actually learn a lot from Jesus about how to approach and attract women.  Seriously.

Jesus was a guy that everyone wanted to be with.  People were drawn to Him period.  He knew His identity.  He was confident, strong, caring, smart, powerful, fun, charismatic, and fully alive.  He was exactly himself always.  He had integrity.  He initiated.  Quite simply Jesus was the most attractive person ever.  Jesus was hot!

Now Jesus knew that celibacy was required to accomplish His mission.  But you can bet women wanted to be with him.  So what can we learn from Him about pursuing women if He didn’t?  A lot actually.

For starters we need to recognize that if we walk with Him we can become all of the things that I listed in two paragraphs above.  If I’m in Christ then I can know where my identity comes from.  I should be becoming more confident, strong, caring, wise, etc.  Of course I’m not Jesus and therefore can’t live that out perfectly, but I should be becoming it.

But more than that we can learn from how Jesus interacted with those he called.

Jesus loved people.  He invited people to join Him, in all sorts of ways. Some joined him for a while and left.  Some walked away.  A few went with Him.  Here are a few take aways in terms of dating.

First, Jesus was inviting people to something.  As a man we need to be inviting the woman to come with us.  They are not the goal.  I’m pursuing a goal and I’m looking for someone to come with me in that.  This is a huge thought.  Women want someone who is going somewhere.  Call it ambition or direction or whatever, it is attractive.  If we don’t know what we are about and where we are going as well as how to communicate it, we run the risk of not being attractive, or of attracting the wrong person.

Second, Jesus asks and invites but He never begs.  This is actually true through the entire Bible.  God does NOT need us.  He wants us.  He loves us.  He pursues us.  But He is not begging us to be with Him.  He invites the rich man to leave it all, but he doesn’t beg him to.  In the same way we shouldn’t beg someone to date us.  Women like being wanted, but they can sense when they are needed.  If we can’t live without them, they don’t want to live with us – at least not for the long term.

Jesus, even though it saddened Him, let people walk away.  When the rich man walks Jesus doesn’t hesitate and say something like, “Hey wait a minute.  You know what, you obviously kind of like me and I want this to work out.  So how about you sell half.  Heck bring the rest with you and we’ll use it.”  He lets him walk.  It is good to pursue a woman.  It is a terrible idea to chase her.  Jesus was not (and is not) a stalker.  He is not waiting for us to make His life complete.  No one should hold that power over us either.

The reason we know Jesus loves us is that even though He doesn’t need us, He wants us. Some people say yes to that and some say no.  The truth is that you can’t love anybody that you have to have.  Love is a choice, not a compulsion.

If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear.

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?

If I Get Married, Can We Still Be Friends?

Let’s say after a few visits to a church you decide to join a small group. You go to sign up and after taking down your general information the person running the sign up asks you, “How much money do you make?”  After you recover from shock, you say, “Excuse me? Why does that matter?”  The person warmly smiles (because that is what we do at church) and says, “Oh, this year we are going to be doing a couple of lessons on money, so we are setting up our small groups by income level – you know so that people are kind of in the same boat so to speak, and can identify with each other better.”

What would your reaction be to that?  Or how about if you go to a church with Sunday School classes.  What if there was a people with a lot of money class and a people with no money class.  You know because people with different income have different needs, experience different struggles and of course like to hang out with people just like them.

Here’s the best part about this – if you get a big promotion – you get to move to a new group.  Of course if you get demoted – well . . . .

In my opinion, one of the great problems in our Christian communities is that we have become all about affinity.  We hang out with people like us.  The problem is the kingdom doesn’t look like this.  

Just look at Jesus’s disciples.  I mean it was not very often in those days that you would have a fisherman, a zealot and a tax collector hanging out together. . . every day. . . for three years. Actually it doesn’t happen today either.

But they did.  Why?  Because they came together around Jesus.  And a funny thing, it worked.  In fact we are having this conversation because it worked.  But this is not how we like it.  We like comfort.  We like the people who look, act, and think like us.  There’s a lot wrong with this but for me the main problem is we are ripping each other off.

I bring all this up because there is often this weird divide between singles and marrieds in the church.  In fact I would say that the divide is more apparent in Christians than non-Christians.  There are a lot of reasons for it.  We can make idols out of family, marriage, or even singleness.  The Church in our current culture is pretty marriage centered and often treat marrieds and singles differently.

But a lot of it is that we are just so self focussed that we rule out anyone in a different context.

I see this all the time.  Sometimes it’s the married peoples fault.  They get married and just kind of abandon their single friends because somehow magically they now identify more with them than those they were friends with before.  But then there are single people who give their newly married friends almost no choice because they start treating them as if now they have some sort of weird disease – “they’re married now so you know. . . ”  To top it off, many churches (and ministries) are set up in such a way that when you get married you have to switch groups/classes/etc.

And of course no one who is in a different place could possibly be helpful.  The married person doesn’t think the single person could possibly understand and speak into their married life, and the single person knows that married person just doesn’t get their plight.

Here’s what’s funny about this for me.  I’m 40 years old.  I’ve never been married – I’m about as single as you can get.  And in six months I’ll be married.  So can we still be friends?

All of my mentors are married.  A whole lot of things on this blog come from conversations with them. At the same time a whole lot of people I mentor are married – will I now suddenly be a better mentor to them?  Once I’m married do I still have stuff to say about being single or am I now clueless?  Will more married people now trust me because I’m married?  Really, if you want to be un-single should you listen to the person who is always single (I once told someone I could teach them how to not get married. Ha!) or the person who figured out how to get married?  We could play this game all day.

The truth is we need each other.  We singles need to learn how to love our married friends and vice versa.  It can be complicated.  It takes being intentional. It takes having a right theology of singleness and of marriage.  It means not lifting one up over the other but lifting Jesus up over both.  It probably means being uncomfortable.

Is your community divided?  Whether you are single or married, are you willing to be intentional with those who aren’t?

Why Do You Want A Spouse

One of the simplest stories in the Bible happens in Mark 10.  Jesus is leaving Jericho and there is a large crowd with Him.  I’m sure it was a crazy scene, with people all around wanting his attention.  But from the street, Bartimaeus the blind man cries out to Jesus.  At first the crowd dismisses him but he cries out all the louder.  Jesus stops and says bring him here.  Then He asks him the big question, “What do you want me to do for you?” Bartimaeus says, “Lord I want to see.”  Jesus heals him, everyone celebrates and Bartimaeus follows Him down the road.

I love this story for a lot of reasons but I think the main reason is Jesus’ question.  I think about how at different times I’ve cried out to Jesus and I wonder what it would be like if He stood in front of me and said, “What do you want me to do for you?”

I’ve thought about this question and I’ve asked a whole lot of other people to think about it. What would my answer be?  Would I take the easy route, and toss out world peace or something like that for the answer – I mean I could say that but I wouldn’t mean it and Jesus would know.

What’s interesting is while we all know this story, if you go back a couple of paragraphs, Jesus asks the same question to James and John – yeah I’d never noticed it either.  Their answer is way more honest than mine would probably be.

What do you want?  It’s such a huge question.  For a long time (like 15 years long time) I think I would have answered, “Jesus I want a wife”.  But I would have been wrong.  I mean I did (and do) want a wife, but that isn’t what I was really seeking.  You see whatever your answer is to that question, you have to ask one more – why do you want that?

In other words “Why do you want a spouse?” That’s a question worth asking.

What we want, really I think, is the answer to our core question which is, “Am I loved?” This is asked all sorts of different ways.  Am I valuable? Am I good enough? Do I matter? Do I have what it takes? Am I beautiful? Do your eyes light up when I come in the room? Am I accepted?

We want to know that we are loved – not just know it in our head, but in our heart.

The first place we get that question answered in our lives is our parents.  But somewhere along the line, we start to seek the answer from the opposite sex, and while this is a bad idea if you are married, it can kill you as a single person, because the answer is always no. Do I have what it takes? Apparently not.  No one’s eyes light up for me.  Am I good enough (insert pretty enough, successful enough, thin enough, any other enough).  I guess not because I’m still here by myself.

Or maybe worse, I can be single and keep needing this question answered again and again by yet another new person.  One person seems to answer it but then it runs dry.  I break up and someone else seems to answer it for a while and then I repeat the cycle.

One of the traps of singleness is the thought that if I finally get the right person (who of course will be perfect and perfectly answer this question – no pressure though), then I will know I’m loved.  This can happen whether I never have a date or I’m constantly dating.

But here’s the good and bad news – Marriage doesn’t answer that question.  

Marriage does answer two big questions -“Will I get married?” and “Who will I spend the rest of my life with?” But it does not answer “Am I loved”, not at the core. Only Jesus can answer it and we have to take the question to Him not a spouse, or anyone else. Married people know this (at least hopefully) but if we can get this as a single person we have a huge leg up.

First, it means I can be a complete person in Christ as a single person – I don’t HAVE to get married.  Second, If we know this truth, we are automatically more attractive.  A loved person is hot!  Seriously!  Finally, if we do indeed get married, we will be able to love the other person way better.  Really, you can only love another person if you first know you are loved.  And if we get married that’s the whole point.

So, it’s you and Jesus in the road.  What do you want?  Why do you want it?