A little while back I was leading a small group discussion about sex and dating as it relates to working with adolescents. Various ages of people were in the group. Let’s call it 19-30. None of them were married (which makes sense because 80% of people in that age range aren’t).
It’s always interesting to me in these type of conversations to see what people talk about. Two things almost always rise to the surface. First is that everyone knows that sex outside of marriage is wrong. That message in the church is pretty clear.
But the second thing that always comes out is that people are lost on most everything else. No one knows what to do as far as dating and marriage and the messages are so mixed that confusion reigns.
The church’s message and the worlds message has become completely entangled. The church thinks it’s being different, but really they are mostly being confusing – except of course for the sex part.
We are ok at telling people what to do in marriage. Not great, but ok. But my goodness our message to the unmarried is crazy.
We leave celibacy out completely which creates a giant vacuum in the conversation. Most protestants don’t even know what it means. We then assign the gift of singleness to all the unmarried people. This of course screws over both those who have the gift and those who don’t.
But today I want to tackle and maybe cut through a different point of confusion.
This starts with the idea that we can avoid divorce or marriage disfunction by choosing the perfect person to marry, otherwise known as the “one” God has for us. This of course creates the fear of choosing wrong. So the goal is to get married – but only to the right person.
I can remember being taught (and teaching) that the second biggest decision you will ever make is who you marry. The biggest decision of course was what you do with Jesus.
I get the point of this platitude. You can add in all the other things we get told along this line as singles. “Better to be alone than marry the wrong person”, “God will bring you the right one at the right time.” I could go on, but you get the idea.
The idea here is seek marriage but be really careful. There is truth in that. But taken even a little to far it moves from caution to fear and/or unfair standards.
Here’s what I mean. If we are waiting for THE ONE then we start getting into our heads what that ONE should be like and anyone who doesn’t match that we dismiss. That leads to this weird sort of consumer dating where people are really good for us, but they just aren’t the right one.
But maybe worse, I think we have created a false fear. We end up creating this huge pressure situation. I mean if the second biggest decision ever, for all time, is the person you marry – how can you be sure you are making the right decision?
Let me offer a different view.
First, there is not THE ONE – or any of her cousins (the right one, God’s one, the one for me, my soulmate, the perfect match, the one God has for me, etc…)
Second, marriage is a choice – a decision. But who you marry is only a part of that choice. Here’s what I mean. You make a decision that you are called to be married. In other words you are not called to celibacy. Then there is a decision to pursue that. Then there are the qualifiers that you are looking for – the type of person.
Now when you stand in front at your wedding you get to make another choice. That is you make vows before God to this other person. Now this actually is the big decision, regardless of who is standing there. Marriage is not a contract. There is a legal contract but that really is irrelevant in some ways. Marriage is meant to be a covenant and sacrament before God.
When you say these vows you are choosing to make a promise. You are deciding that you will love, honor and cherish this person no matter what and in all circumstances. Once you make that decision now you get to make a series of decisions over the rest of your life – the choice of whether or not to honor those vows – regardless of what else happens. And you get to make that BIG decision over and over again.
Love is a choice – a decision. Feeling love isn’t. Attraction isn’t. But love is. Otherwise God wouldn’t be able to command it. No where in the bible does God command a feeling.
The funny thing is that until recently in history, a lot of times people didn’t really get to choose who they married. Most of them were teenagers. And yet everything in the scripture about marriage was true for them. They were called to the biblical principles of marriage. They had to choose whether or not to follow them. Same deal today.
We get to choose who we marry. It is a big deal and it is a powerful picture of both choosing someone and being chosen. But it’s only part of an endless series of decisions. It isn’t the final decision and when we make it that we are setting ourselves up for failure, both as singles and as marrieds.