Spouse or Robot?

This last weekend I was leading a discussion that centered around the idea of that we are not to be OF the world.  In the world yes, but not of it.  We were discussing 1 John 2:15-17 which tells us not to love the world.  But if we are not to love the world, then we have to know what the world or “Spirit of the Age” is.  If we don’t name it, then it is very easy to get lulled to sleep and passively get sucked into being a part of it.  We came up with three Spirits of the Age: Busyness, Tolerance (which really means accepting anything as truth) and Consumerism.

As I’m sure you can figure out, these worldly trends have a huge impact on us when it comes to singleness, dating and marriage.  Now I’ll spend some time on each of these in different ways in the following weeks but for today, I just want to mess with us a little in case you think these things aren’t impacting where we are going.

Continue reading

The Big Decision

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.

 

 

 

 

 

 

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.

 

 

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.

 

 

 

 

God The Great Withholder

I want to revisit one of the beliefs that I think can really hurt us as singles and even as marrieds.  It’s the idea that God has one person for me that he is going to provide but just hasn’t done it yet.

This idea is everywhere.  It is in books on dating.  It’s said from the pulpit.  It’s encouraged in small groups.  “You just need to be patient – God will bring you the one”.  “God will in His perfect timing, bring you the perfect person for you.”  “Just live your life and don’t worry about it, because God will provide.”  “Rejection is God’s Protection – she just wasn’t right for you.”  The list goes on and on.

People try to use scripture to back this idea up.  They use situations like Isaac and Rebekah and say see God will provide.  Yeah I’ll just send my servant to a well. You have to make some major leaps to make this idea scriptural.

The heart of this usually comes in one of two places.  Most people are mainly trying to be comforting.  It’s a quick, painless way out of a the “why are you single” conversation. It’s what I call help you sleep at night theology.  While it might help you sleep, it probably won’t help you find a wife.

The other place it comes from is the good hearted place of wanting to recognize that God is our provider for all things.  Well He is, but the problem is that we don’t treat that the same way in any other place.

If I came to you and said, I’m broke and I need a job, would you tell me to sit tight – that God will provide the perfect job that is just for me at the right time?  I should wait for the perfect job, and for sure not settle right?  Obviously this would be a bad idea.  You’d tell me to go look for a job.  Or maybe you’d say I need to go back to school to train for a different job.  What you wouldn’t likely do is blame God for my joblessness.

I think this whole idea is dangerous to us personally on a lot of levels.

First of all it perpetuates the idea of the Christian Soulmate.  This idea that there is this one person that God has for you.  This to me is not scriptural and frankly more a mix of bad Calvinism, Oprah theology and romance novels.  Nowhere in Scripture are you promised a wife, let alone a soulmate.  You do not have a soulmate.  In fact Jesus specifically says that there won’t be marriage in heaven.  The other funny thing about the soulmate is that the focus is typically on how they will be perfect for me, not so much the other way around.

Second is that many end up in fear of choosing wrong.  What if I marry someone that is not the one perfect person that God has for me.  This can also become an excuse where every person I date just “isn’t the one“.  Not to mention it’s a great excuse after marriage for leaving the marriage.  I mean if I meet someone who seems more like the perfect one, well then I must not have been right the first time right?

It can keep us from working on the things that get in the way of us getting married.  Our (and other people’s) sin, insecurities and/or lack of ability to communicate with the opposite sex.  It’s not anything that I’m doing, or the choices that I or others around me make.  It’s God’s fault.

But perhaps the worst thing about it is that it turns God into the Great Withholder.  God loves you and has someone for you, He just isn’t bringing them to you.  Really?!  This always get’s explained as you’re not ready or they’re not ready or something to that affect. But people get married all the time.  God thought they were ready but you aren’t?  All this does is create unnecessary anger and frustration with God.

It would also mean, as I’ve mentioned before, that God has changed His mind about marriage.  Now I know logic is dead in our culture but hang with me here.  For thousands of years, people got married young.  As recently as 40 years ago if you were 18-29 there was a 60% chance you were married.  Now there is only a 20% chance that you are.  So God used to think it was good to “provide the one” in your early 20s or teens, but now He waits to do it until you are 30.  Really?!

Now here’s the thing.  God is the Great Provider.  But His provision looks a little different than this.  First of all we need to get in our heads that He is not as much our provider as He is literally our provision.  Read that again.  God has given us all we need regardless of our context because He has given us Himself.  We need to start here or all else is foolishness.  The beauty of living in this is that I can live life to the full in any context including single or married.  If I get this, then I am free to search for a wife, instead of The One. If I get married, I’m more free to actually love my wife.

If we walk with God, He will provide opportunities.  But we have a role to play in that and we live in a fallen world where we and everyone we interact with (including someone we could marry) make mistakes and bad decisions.  I believe that God indeed brought my wife and I together.  I fully believe that He was in that.  But I also believe that we both chose to do something about it.

Here’s what we really want.  We want a system where either we don’t have to do anything or where we control everything.  But neither of those are right.  Neither require actually walking with God.

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?

You Are Not Your Marital Status

When I was a young kid what I wanted more than anything was to be good at sports.  I practiced a ton.  I played imaginary games in my driveway and back yard.  I dreamed of playing for my favorite pro and college teams.

When I got to my freshmen year of high school I was still dreaming.  I wanted to be a star.  I wanted people to notice me and I wanted to win.  I remember seeing the seniors in their letter jackets with patches for championships and individual awards.  Oh yeah I wanted that.  And I got one.

I lettered in basketball my sophomore year and got my jacket.  My junior and senior year I racked up awards to sew on and newspaper articles to put in the scrap book.  And I had a couple of championship patches as well.  I wore that jacket with pride.  People knew who I was, not just in my town but the ones around it.  I had “arrived”.

Here’s what funny.  I graduated in May, went to play football in college.  Do you know how many times after May 31 1991 that I wore that jacket?  Exactly zero.  Because now I had new things to drive me.

Now there’s nothing wrong with wanting to be good, working hard and accomplishing something.  And really so what if I then made new goals.  But here was the bad part.  The whole way, I thought if I could just get good enough, my life would be full.  I thought it would mean a lot more than it did.

The truth is that my identity was wrapped up in it.  It wasn’t just what I was doing, or the context I was in.  It was who I was. And that is why the empty feeling when it’s over.  It’s a feeling most of us know.  The big project is over, you hit your bonus and get to buy that item you wanted, you meet a ministry goal, or heck for that matter, your favorite teams wins a championship.  You enjoy it and then it’s gone.  If your identity is in it, there’s emptiness.

This is a huge trap when it comes to singleness and marriage.

First of all, if you have marriage as an idol you’re in trouble.  In other words if you think that if I can just get married then life will be ok, that’s going to make both singleness and marriage (if you get married) rougher than it has to be.  Marriage is not the answer to “what is missing”.  That’s setting yourself up to fall.  I’ve known people who have gotten married (accomplished their dream) and then thought, “now what?”.  That is a rough place to be. Marriage is a beginning, not an arrival and that’s understating it.

But as a single, there is another trap.  That is that your identity get’s wrapped up in the whole thing.  It is so easy to make one of two big mistakes.  The first is to be dominated by the desire to be married.  The second is to shun the whole process.  Both of these are desperate and often angry, places to be.

Usually what I would do was swing wildly back and forth between the two.  In my early 20’s I was constantly desiring a spouse.  I wanted to find the “one“.  Or I thought I had met her and of course then had to chase her down.  But then in my late 20’s after crashing and burning over and over, I just decided to shun the whole thing.  F it.  I would bury myself into work.  Of course I still wanted marriage, but I wasn’t going to actively pursue it.  God would just “bring me someone” anyway right?!

I spent a lot of time mad.  Mad at God.  Mad at other guys who didn’t deserve what I should have because I was a “good” guy.  Mad at women who weren’t attracted to me (because they should all be attracted to me right?).

But in the middle of all of it, it became my identity.  It was constantly a part of my prayers, conversations with friends, heck conversations with anyone.  What can we pray for?  A wife.

Whether I was constantly pursing or saying F it, it was still what I was about.  And that is the trap we have to avoid.

The reality is that we need our identity in Christ.  We need to know that married or single that comes first.  As I’ve pointed out before, you can get married next week, and two weeks later your spouse could die in a car wreck.  Are you a single person?  A married person?  Know what I’m saying? Not to mention as long as you need someone, you can’t love them well.  They have too much power.

We are not what we do.  We are not our marital status.  Our identity should not be defined by what we do, or the context (marital or otherwise) we live in.  Our identity should play out in what we do, and in the context we are in.

What is your identity in?  Are you dominated by the search?  Are you hiding by doing nothing?