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.
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?