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Unequally Yoked?

This will undoubtedly be a little controversial, but it’s important and thus, oh well.

The issue of Christians dating non-Christians is one that either gets overlooked or overemphasized, depending on the nature of the community that we’re in. Like a lot of other biblical principles, it’s easy to sometimes avoid it altogether, or wrap it up in the box of But-Grace-Covers-It-and-God-is-Love, tie a ribbon on it and never think twice again. Or it’s so shoved down our throats that we start to feel guilty if we even talk to a non-Christian guy, because what if we (gasp!) were attracted to him?

Just to relieve you of any piqued curiosity, I will start off by saying that I do not think that, as a Christian who fails but still wants to glorify God, it is best to date someone who isn’t also in the same boat. I don’t even necessarily think that  it’s “because God says so” even though, if we’re honest, that should be enough of a reason.  I think it because I have experienced it firsthand. A few years ago, I entered into a relationship with a really great guy, who I met in the kind of way that people do in movies (read: a meet cute). Granted, we didn’t have a ton in common, but I was in an unstable time in my life, fresh off a year abroad fraught with unhealthy decisions and even worse lingering thought processes as a result. In my head, I knew it was “wrong”, but I figured it couldn’t hurt to just give him a shot. I did, and we ended up dating for about three months, which although not long by other standards, was not just a walk in the park either. Ironically, after months of feeling guilty and even more separated from God that I already felt beforehand, we broke up. There was a realization that we would just never really understand each other fully. And believe me, despite my sense of relief, it still hurt – a lot. I felt like a failure.

When Jesus explains that to marry an unbeliever is to be unequally yoked, my mind of course immediately goes to images of an egg splattered unevenly in a frying pan and I’m consistently confused. And then I have to reign myself in (pun awfully intended!) and focus on the real meaning. In marriage, and really any type of relationship, we are called to carry each other’s burdens. When two cows are held together by the same yolk, there is an even amount of weight, ideally, on each shoulder. Neither cow is expected to fully carry the weight of the other, but the burden of both is shared. It is in this context that I believe it is most easily understood (thank goodness, since of course, that was the initial point of Paul even using the example). If we put ourselves in such deep connection with someone who does not share our faith – and our hope – then, undoubtedly, either ourselves or the person we’re in relationship with is expected to carry a heavier burden. Perhaps we, as a Christian, feel the need to always invite that person to church, just to satisfy our inward twinge that we’re still doing “Christian things” despite this (that was me). And the other person carries a large burden in this case too – they probably feel inexplicably unable to be good enough as themselves. That certainly will not lead to knowledge of the Gospel.

So there’s the lack of ability to carry each other’s burdens (which, we are told, fulfills the law of Christ) but there’s also something else: with this set up, codependency is inevitable. Often, if a Christian woman really cares for a man who isn’t a believer, she is often more likely to engage in behaviors or make decisions before which  previously she would have hesitated. For a man, if they’re dating the non-Christian woman, maybe it’s because they don’t feel like the women that attend church with them are the right mix of sexy and cute (can’t speak to the guys perspective all that much, so apologies if that’s way off!). The result is that one, and often both, members of the couple seek to get from the other what that person can never give them. It’s a painful and sometimes humiliating cycle, especially when observed in hindsight.

We all have battles to fight as we navigate our way to marriage, and fighting against the temptation to fall for someone who even just gives us the time of day can often be difficult to resist. In my experience, I’ve had a lot more non-Christian men seeking me out than Christian ones, and as hard as it is to admit, many are the thoughts I’ve entertained of what it would look like to date them. Perhaps part of the solution is for more Christian men to ask the women of Christ around them, and for women to be receptive. And another part, I think, is recognizing what marriage is for and how the relationship between a man and woman can really only be fulfilled through the institution. Marriage is a representation of Christ and the Church, yes, but also of Christ, the Father, and the Holy Spirit. They are all in sync with one another, fully loving, and fully aware of the Other in their entirety. There is no one pulling too much weight, or anyone left abandoned. It is intimacy bound together by the mutual everlasting comfort and joy of knowing another.

I’m left to think that a relationship which does not have at its center the Person of Jesus Christ, if He is present to one of the couple, is at best lonely and at worst, lacking a giant essence of God’s character. God’s desire for His children to not be married to unbelievers is not a rules-based hope for humanity, but one steeped in His interest in our welfare and joy.

Believing that, of course, is certainly half the battle.

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So, before I get into this, I am going to be completely open and admit that yes, I am addicted to the Bachelor/Bachelorette franchise. I just started watching last year and understand it’s basically a piece of crap show with people getting hurt and embarrassing themselves on national TV, but yet I’m hooked. It’s probably because I do have a slightly obsessive interest in the way that people get together. And let’s be honest: it’s ridiculously entertaining.

I thought I’d do reviews on each season after they come out, complete with observations and lessons, if you will. Since my blog is based on love and the path to marriage, it’s certainly quite fitting! These particular posts will of course be silly in nature, but if you have watched the season, then you’ll probably understand. If not…well, you undoubtedly have more brain cells than me!

Observation #1: Don’t trust men who sell wine for a living.

Ben Flajnik, runner-up from Ashley Hebert’s season last year, is a winemaker from Sonoma, California who needs to wash his hair. He tends to cut women off when they’re trying to explain themselves and not listen to a thousand warning signs regarding one person. He often looks confused when he’s trying to be serious. Like so:

At the beginning of Ben’s season, I was genuinely excited to see what would happen on his season and who he would end up with. However, with each episode, I got more and more uninterested and was thoroughly disgusted at times with his behavior and attitude (but alas, I still watched). Obviously, I don’t know Ben in person and God still created and died for him, but I’m guessing that someone who spends probably 75% of the time inebriated on the job probably doesn’t have the best judgement – and let’s be honest, if I was a winemaker, you’d best believe I’d spend a few times a day “sampling the stock”. Love me some vino.

Observation #2: Pretty models always win.

Courtney Robertson, the model and “winner” of the season, was obviously the one “American loves to hate!” – Chris Harrison, Host of Da Bachela. She said all sorts of awkward things like “How’d that taste coming out of your mouth?” “I got the rooooose” and of course, “winning!”. Homegirl looks to Charlie Sheen for catchphrases. But needless to say, she of course captivates Ben first with her beauty (“Now THAT is a pretty girl”, he salivates as he first met her) and then with her weirdness. And at the end, despite the fact that she is used to getting her own way and of course knows how to play a part well, she gets the guy. Of course, both she and Ben do seem to have the best “connection” of all of the women there, so I actually do think it might last a long time. Maybe they’ll give Kim K a run for her money with a whopping 73 days.

Observation #3: Pretty models are insecure.

Poor thing. Seriously, insecurity is an issue with all of us, and I did feel for Courtney throughout the season when she expressed her feelings on camera. I can’t laugh at it though, because I struggle with it, and it’s always a good lesson to see the repercussions of trying to find your worth through anyone or thing besides Christ.

Observation #4: When a guy you’re interested in doesn’t like you, just make lots of friends instead.

It cracks me up that at The Women Tell All episode all of the girls started yelling at each other in their drunken state, and then days later on Twitter they’re all “Heeey girl! Love you!!”. I get it, it’s a high pressure situation, but these women were super catty and honestly give us all a bad rep. I went to a women’s college and honestly came across minimal cattiness while I was there, so it’s not all as it seems. (Then again, if you threw a dude into the mix, I’m sure it would come out). Still, all in all I’m glad that the girls did seem to get over their jealousy and insecurity and just learn to get along. In the wake of any heartache, female friends very much make it better. At least, if they’re good friends.

Observation #5: Standing up for Christ in a relationship will always be difficult if it’s one sided.

In particular, Kacie B’s experience on the show makes it clear just how difficult following Christ can be once our hormones and feelings are activated. It was quite obvious that Ben basically sent her home once he realized how biblically grounded her family is, specifically when it came to living together before marriage. Kacie is a believer, and it was actually refreshing to see her experience all types of emotions, including anger, and not just succumb to being the “good girl” (although she is overall perceived as that). However, since her departure from the show, Kacie has admitted that she really does want to be with someone who shares her faith and values, and that sometimes having feelings for someone who doesn’t can become messy quickly. I’m going to do a post soon on the issue of being unequally yoked soon, but for now, I think this is definitely a good lesson to learn.

So, that’s it folks. I’ll definitely do this for Emily’s season as well, which premieres on May 14th (not that I’m counting down, or anything). I’ll leave you this video as a farewell – as a warning, it does have censored nudity due to the skinny dipping fiasco, so just as an FYI.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bh1dS4JFp4w

 

A few weeks ago, I embarked on something that I had never thought I would try: speed dating. I had obviously heard of it before, but always put it aside as something only older people do, for whatever reason. I have tried online dating for a while now, and to be quite frank, I don’t think it’s really for me. I really hate the whole process of trying to get to know someone over the Internet when meeting in person can often answer so many more questions, plus there’s the whole chemistry thing (although I do NOT judge someone purely just by that…or try not to!). So when I signed up for the event last month (I used 8MinuteDating for the record) I really, really didn’t know what to expect. For this particular company, you register first and automatically get on a waiting list; once you’ve been confirmed as registered you are then officially signed up. I found out a few days before that I was confirmed, and I had all but almost forgotten about the whole thing when I got the notification email.

I dragged one of my friends with me to chill out at the bar just in case no one showed up and it was a weird situation, and so she came in with me and we went to the bathroom to “freshen up” – aka calm me down before I hyperventilated. The first man I saw was obviously approaching sixty years old, and I decided at that point that all bets were off and that I needed to leave right away. I hung around the bar for a little bit and after seeing a few other people that looked to be in my age range, I went back in and started to chat to a few people. Two and a half hours later, the event was over, and it was actually pretty fun and something I would definitely consider doing again. I do, however, want to go through some of the plusses and minuses of this method of meeting people, because there are a few important things that came up for me. I’ll start with the negatives.

1) While it’s an obvious feature, you don’t get a lot of time to get to know the people that you are dating. It’s only eight minutes, which is helpful because it’s a good amount of time, but if you really are interested in talking to someone, it can feel a little short.

2) You don’t know who will show up. This of course can be a good thing as well, but there is definitely a chance that there are people there who are not looking for the same things you are. For me, I wasn’t sure that other Christians would be there, but I wanted to try it out anyway.

3) Cost. For 8 Minute Dating, it was about $40.00. For me, that’s a little bit pricey for just a few hours, especially considering the fact that if you want to buy any drinks, it’s extra.

All in all, the negatives weren’t that bad, all things considering. On to the positives.

1) You get to meet people in person instead of creating an image of someone over the Internet. This was huge, as very quickly it was easy to see who I naturally meshed with versus who might’ve just “looked good on paper”. It was fun getting to meet people and see who I got along with.

2) Along the same lines, I got to chat to a lot of people that most likely I never would under any other circumstances. All of the guys were very sweet and nice, and only one was questionable in terms of his expressed intentions. They were interesting and fun, and I’m definitely glad I got the chance to meet eight different people in one setting.

3) It’s good dating practice! I enjoyed the experience because it allowed me – and the guys, as well – to relax and get to know the other person in a casual environment. There was no pressure built up resulting from imagining who this person was beforehand, so it opened the conversation up to flow as naturally as possible. Even though I am an extrovert, I sometimes do struggle with being a good conversationalist especially around men, so I really appreciated the opportunity to practice this.

So, overall, it was a good experience. Did I meet anyone “special”? No. But I did meet some very nice guys, and did go on a few dates after the experience. Would I try it again? Yes, definitely. I’m going to see if my church would be willing to sponsor a Christian-based event, because I think it would a) be extremely popular and b) help draw men and women from the church out of their shells a little bit. I think the key to this, though, would be the fact that dating doesn’t have to be full of pressure! Obviously, if I’m interested in dating a Christian man, I would feel better speed dating with a room full of them. So if you’re interested in this kind of thing and live in Boston…let me know! I want to know your thoughts :).

Have any of you been speed dating? If so, what are some of your favorite/not so favorite things about it?

Hope.

A small word, with sometimes disastrous consequences if that which is hoped for is not attained. Hope is really what drives any of us to do anything; to continue to look for a job even when we’ve gone on countless interviews to no avail; to force ourselves out of bed and off to the gym in hopes that we will work off that slice of pizza or five we had over the weekend; to stash away in our prayers the glimmer of hope that that person, whoever they are, will finally sweep us off our feet (or let us sweep them off their feet, if you’re a guy!). Whatever shape it may take, Hope gives us a possibility for more. We thirst for it, and truly thrive off it. It’s for this reason why it hurts so much when Hope is taken away from us, or maybe even never shows up to begin with.

I’ll use an example from my own life to start.

When I was a young girl, I watched many a Disney movie. My particular favorites were The Little Mermaid, The Lion King, and Beauty and the Beast. Strangely, I don’t remember thinking that I wanted to meet my own Prince Eric, or even Aladdin (homeboy had nice abs for a cartoon though!). (I did have a crush on grown-up Simba, which looking back on it is incredibly awkward). I would say that I got most of my desire for marriage just from something that existed within me. When I was a teenager, I was introduced to the wonders of Jane Austen, and that was when my awareness of this desire became poignant. I read all of the books and took in countless versions of Pride and Prejudice, unknowingly instigating an unhealthy attitude towards romance and what relationships actually look like. At the same time as this was happening, I plodded on through high school with no one expressing interest in me and trying to figure out what the dating world looked like as a born-again Christian. It was then that I got introduced to Christian self-help books, like When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy, and the infamous I Kissed Dating Goodbye by Joshua Harris. I basically took all of the things written in those books as gospel. I thought that if I just worked on being holy and totally embrace Jesus as my “boyfriend”, He would provide me with the God-written love story He so desires for His children who actually really loved Him. And so I only watched movies with a rating of PG or less. I didn’t less to non-Christian music. And I certainly didn’t think about online dating, because that would me I wasn’t trusting in God to bring me a husband. This line of thinking existed until I went away for to study in Scotland during my year abroad, when choices I made tore down my previous worldview on dating and left me feeling broken, ashamed, and most of all, without hope. I was convinced that I had ruined any hope of a wonderful relationship, because I had yet to experience one. I felt ugly now because of a realization of the true horrors of my sin, not because I was told so by an insecure teenage guy in the hallway. I remember thinking for the first time that my hope of a marriage to a Christian man may never happen, and the hollowness that accompanied that was unlike anything I had experienced before.

For me, the most painful thing now is that I still have that fear, and in many ways it is justified. God does not promise any of us husbands, and certainly not perfect marriages because they do not exist. I have a much healthier view on marriage now than I used to, thanks to His guidance and teaching, but yet I still desire it. Something I’ve learned recently is how much the blessings God gives is not determined at all by our deserving them. Quite a few of my friends who are in relationships are wonderful, God-fearing women, and I am so happy for them. However, I do struggle with wondering what they did that I haven’t. I start to wonder that maybe if I spent an hour with the Lord everyday like they did, or seemed as confident as they are, that maybe then the Lord would see that I “deserve” a relationship just as much as they do. In essence, I let my own hope for marriage become a catalyst to scrutinize my friendships and undermine God’s grace. Now let me be clear: I am of the opinion that desiring marriage is a good thing and not bad; that there is nothing wrong with expressing such a hope. The issue is not my desire for marriage, necessarily, but the way that I sometimes perceive God’s actions in it. I assume that He is trying to skewer me into pieces by stripping away my hope with every rejection or lonely holiday that passes; that He is dangling my Hope in front of me only to rip it away right when I think it will happen. In those moments, I cry out to Him bitterly with the words of Proverbs 13:12 – “Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life”. Lord, why are You willingly making me heartsick? Do you want me to waste away and become bitter? It becomes ever so easy to wallow in my sorrow and pain, to lash out against the very One who I just want to be comforted by.

It is during these times that I am reminded of Psalm 84, verse 11: “For the LORD God is a sun and shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor; no good thing does He withhold from those whose walk is blameless“.

Perhaps it is true in some sense that the Lord does favor those who seek Him out – that He draws near those who draw near to Him. But that insinuates that He does not favor those who don’t deserve it, which is to say, all of us. We know this not to be the case. If we are in Christ Jesus, God has promised us not to withhold any good thing because we are blameless in His sight. I’m not sure what good things mean in this context – I’m guessing it is the presence of the Holy Spirit, or Christian community, both of which are incredible blessings that I have myself experienced, and certainly not because I have done anything to deserve it.

A few weeks ago, I heard a sermon at my church about the Saturday following Good Friday. For the disciples, they had no idea that Easter Sunday was coming. They were waiting in hopelessness, darkness, despair, for something that they didn’t even realize was about to happen. The speaker remarked that God allowed the disciples’ despair precisely so that they would come to an understanding of what true Hope is. Obviously, because of Jesus’ resurrection, my ultimate Hope (and yours!) as indeed been fulfilled already. It absolutely is true that no matter how poignant my desire for a husband is, it is nowhere near my deep need for God’s presence in my life and the next. That Hope was fulfilled at our lowest point, and so I believe that even when I feel despair, there is always a tiny glimmer of Hope that says that I’m still in my waiting time. To be brutally honest, I don’t want to even think about the possibility of staying single the rest of my life. However, what I do know is that I can only take things as they come; that I will continue to be hopeful every morning despite my fears and insecurities, and that I want to continue learning to hope in what is eternal. I don’t know why I haven’t been pursued in a deep way yet, and it does leave me in a state of feeling unloved and unnoticed at times. Sometimes, I wonder why I consistently try to remain positive when my hopes in this area are dashed again and again. I just don’t know.

Perhaps part of it is that my Lord embodies Hope, and I don’t want to let go of that no matter how painful the journey is. I want to be aware of God’s presence in my Easter Saturday of waiting, so that perhaps I am not so surprised when my Easter Sunday finally arrives.

Today I’m going to discuss something that has been an issue of contention within my own heart, and also a huge topic of controversy when it comes up in general discussion. My thoughts have changed quite a bit when it comes to this issue, and honestly I think it is one of the things that I’m most confused by when it comes to Scripture, and specifically Paul’s writings in 1 Corinthians.

When I think about the “gift of singleness”, I think of what it was like to be a child at Christmas and receiving a Gap sweater instead of the doll I wanted. I felt like I was getting the short end of the stick, and that my mother really didn’t understand how much I desired the doll. My young heart misread her intentions, and felt like she was purposefully not giving me the doll because she wanted to teach me a lesson, or simply because she didn’t want to see me happy. Obviously, I know now that that wasn’t the case at all, but that apparently the doll had been in high demand and she obviously hadn’t been able to get hold of it. That wasn’t her fault, but the feelings of frustration and loss were still there.

In all honesty, I approach singleness in the same way twenty years later. I feel like I’m being handed the short end of the stick when it comes to lifestyles, and that I’m being given a gift that, while perhaps is more useful for the time period, is not what I really desire. The result is that I feel the Lord is purposefully doing it to make me squirm, or to test me into trusting Him when I’d rather just scream. The thing is, discussing the “gift” of singleness needs to go beyond my own personal feelings if I’m ever going to be able to look at it objectively. With that in mind, I’d like to go into a deeper discussion of why Paul’s statement on this is so controversial and why I either agree or disagree with general Christian thought on his writing. In order to do that, though, I need to reference the particular writing which causes the controversy. Here it is:

“I wish that all of you were as I am. But each of you has your own gift from God; one has this gift, the other has that. Now to the unmarried and widows I say: it is good for them to stay unmarried, as I do. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion”. 1 Corinthians 7:7-9.

To be bluntly honest, sometimes Paul really gets on my last nerve.  I find that this verse, and also this one, leads to my feeling frustrated and slightly confused as to whether my desires are things I’ve created on my own or ones that the Lord has given me. When Paul starts off, he does say that obviously we all have our freedom in Christ and that if we are not called to singleness, we should marry. I personally went through a stage after I first became a Christian where I thought that some people were given the “gift” of singleness in order to best glorify God and that if you were really truly holy, you would want to be single. However, once I discovered Boundless.org, I got to read articles and books that claimed that lifelong singleness is really something set aside for those who feel that they can go their whole lives without sex, companionship, and children that marriage brings and not feel bitter about it (see the context of this quote in this article). I do think that Paul is alluding to at least the sex part of this issue in 1 Corinthians 7. Obviously, God created marriage and it represents the sacred relationship between Christ and His church, so as an “institution” marriage should be revered and honored. However, I think what Paul might be suggesting is that people who do not have the “worries” of marriage are better able to serve the Lord.

I both agree and disagree. Considering I’m writing this blog, I come from a position that is much more on the side of Boundless. I personally believe that if you have a desire to be married and all the things that traditionally come with it, then it is better to get married than not to. I also think it is something that God is calling us to.  I especially believe that some of what Paul is saying leads to people being afraid of marriage and using it as a way to support their fear of commitment and real intimacy. However…

In our culture, the process of falling in love and getting in married and lifted up as the ultimate life experience. In the church and outside of it, we are all bombarded with messages of “If I only had this…” and “You’re missing out on this if you don’t have it!” and, perhaps the most poignant, “You’re not worth as much without this”. All of these messages, compounded with the desires that we are already experiencing, feed off each other and result in destructive self images and even more dangerous perceptions of God. We are led to believe that our Father is withholding something good from us to purposefully make us have a less-than-stellar life. So we go around His way and seek what we think is what will truly give us life – which in this case is relationships and marriage. Adam and Eve, anyone? When we as Americans Christians are so focused on thinking that the other person will fulfill us, our thoughts and devotion is indeed removed from God and placed onto another fallible human being.

Falling in love and getting married does not mean that you have received a special blessing from God that sets you apart from everyone else. While marriage is a huge blessing and a wonderful thing, it is also in many ways devastatingly intimate; our real selves are exposed and we really realize we have nothing to hold on to but God Himself. Western culture, egged on by the false representations given to us by Hollywood and music, only likes to think about the thrill of it all; the chase, the rose colored glasses that love gives. Real Love, however, is brave enough to take the glasses off, see the filth and grime that is our souls, and love despite that. I’m not at all saying that Paul is suggesting that the “grace” of singleness is to remove us from this situation, as we are called to love even when we feel and receive nothing in return. However, I do think it speaks to the fact that committing to marriage does mean that we need to be prepared for everything and anything, good or bad. For many people, the bad costs them too much, and they divorce. In Paul’s mind, perhaps he was thinking that if there are people who go into marriage with a mindset of self service, they would be better off staying single. I have to say that I would agree with that.

I certainly do not have any of the answers, let alone all. As mentioned above, I deeply desire to be married and I do believe that the Lord will call me into it – I grow the most when I am daily being in community with others, and marriage is the ultimate iron sharpening iron experience. I’m also just going to say that the thought of staying celibate and not having any children for the rest of my life honestly makes me a little bit nauseous. However, I do think it comes down to how we are willing to trust God and where we can learn the most from it. I don’t know why I don’t have the one thing I desire more than anything except God Himself, and to be told that it’s a “gift” to feel as lonely and overlooked as I do sometimes makes me want to scream. The thing is, God has told us to cast all of our anxieties on Him, for He cares for us, and that He will never leave us or forsake us.

I hope this post made sense, and if it didn’t, it’s probably because I’m still confused! I don’t know why some people are single and others aren’t. I don’t know why men aren’t asking the women in their church out. I don’t know why the women aren’t responding when they do. I guess my only real source of consolation is that whatever the “gift” of singleness looks like, be it longtime or temporary, God is always the ultimate Giver. Based on His standards of the Ultimate Gift (salvation for all achieved through Christ’s death and resurrection) I want to feel confident that He knows what He’s doing.

I think, though, that the path to truly obtaining that confidence is probably really known as that thing called life.

A watched pot never boils.

This phrase always frustrates me, mainly because I’m quite an impatient person. When it comes to cooking, I  I get very frustrated when I’m staring at that pot waiting for the water to boil…because I just appreciate instant gratification, to be honest! I’ve learned to just give up and walk away in defeat. This, of course, can relate directly to that whole being patient while waiting for “that person” to show up.

Obviously, trusting God with each area of our lives is so important and helps us to shape our perspectives on life. Having faith in the Lord in this particular area has always been difficult for me, because I do care so much about it. That being said, one of my least favorite phrases is that which states, “When you’re least looking, he/she will just show up!” Basically, I think this is crap.

To start with, I truly believe that none of us get to that point where, as single adults looking to get married, we “stop looking” for a meaningful relationship. If you are not interested in marrying or have the gift of celibacy – which I will focus on in my follow up post – then that’s a different story. But for those who desire marriage and want to pursue it, surveying the scene, as it were, is one of those things that just happens. At my church, dozens of single young adults meet each week and have a mingle sesh after Bible study groups finish. Although I am an extrovert and love meeting new people, this part of the night is one of the most stress inducing for me. The entire time, I find myself trying not to bite my fingernails or anxiously pull at my hair as I watch the scene of mingling and flirting unfold before me, all while I stand there probably looking ridiculous. I feel crippled, despite my desire to make people feel welcomed and appreciated. The truth is, I do secretly hope each time that maybe someone will approach me, or I’ll get into a conversation that just seems to tie me together with some poor unsuspecting brother. It’s even worse when I’m actually interested in someone – poor sod! No matter how much I enjoy spending time with the women in my small group (and I do, immensely – they’re basically my surrogate sisters), no matter how encouraged and excited I feel about the Lord, I enter said mingle sesh with anxiety and hope. I’m by no means “not looking” – and I’m pretty sure I’m not the only one.

I think the main thing that I’m trying to express, albeit very imperfectly, is that when people tell you that you just have “to not look and it will just happen!”, it smacks of condescension that is beyond aggravating. Additionally, it is usually the case that the people telling you this are the married ones! Now, I’m not suggesting that we all go around admitting how much we actually are “looking” for other people (although that might be somewhat freeing). I do think it is important that I learn to be content in all circumstances through Jesus Christ, and He has called us to nothing less than that. The thing is, that’s not the same as feeling like I have to get to this strange state of “I’m not looking” so that I can actually meet someone and it will be all great. That is unhelpful, inconsiderate and in many ways dangerous advice to Christian singles. What it really comes down to is that there is a lie in this statement that suggests that we have to act or be a certain way before the Lord blesses us with something that is meant to further our holiness. Dangerous, dangerous.

Obviously, the stories of “I wasn’t even looking and he just showed up!” do exist. I think that for most of them it’s certainly not the whole story, and I actually want to suggest that this is just a disclaimer, promoted to ensure that the person does not get exposed to accusations of “desperate!” or even worse in the Church, “not content with God alone!” The truth is, Jesus gives us people to fulfill needs, desires, and relationship with. It is okay to want them, people. Perhaps if we start being more open about the fact that we’re “looking”, we might find our way to other people who are freed by the possibilities that this opens up.

Friendlationships

“Men and women can’t be friends”. – When Harry Met Sally.

I first saw this classic film only a year ago, and despite a few moments of questionable things within it, I greatly enjoy it and do have to admit that I think I agree with this statement – for the most part. For those who haven’t seen it, the basic plot line of the movie is that two friends, Harry and Sally, meet when they drive to New York City to start life after college. They part ways after driving together, and meet up several times over the course of twelve years, during which time they eventually become friends. Ultimately, as one might expect, they fall in love and get together at the end. The above quote is said by Harry during their initial drive to New York, to which Sally adamantly disagrees at the time. I think that the plot’s progression serves as a way to prove that Harry’s point is well founded – and that is what I’m exploring here. As it pertains to this post, I think it’s important to discuss how  close friendships between men and women in the Christian community – and elsewhere – can lead to a lot of heartache, confusion, and dashed hopes that otherwise could have been avoided.

To begin, I obviously think that healthy, life-giving, and respectful friendships between men and women are to be encouraged and sought after in the Church. It’s important to have friends from different walks of life and both contribute and learn from them. There’s a reason that there are both men and women in this world – God shows His glory through each and so we need to explore how that is done. However, I do think there needs to be more boundaries when it comes to relating with single members of the opposite sex. If left unchecked, some of these friendships turn into what I’ve heard been called “friendlationships”. You know what I mean; a guy and a girl hang out day in and day out, have inside jokes, meet each other families….so much so that people assume they’re dating when they’re actually not. In general, my opinion is that these scenarios occur because of the lack of three key points: 1) intentionality 2) open communication and 3) limiting amount of time spent privately with a person of the opposite sex. Let me explore these three things a little further.

1) Intentionality. This one’s the most important in my opinion, as everything else is bound up in it. I’ll start off by saying that I do have quite a few male friends, and at this time they are only “just friends”. There is nothing legalistic or weird about these friendships; we greet each other warmly and engage in good conversation. We spend time together in groups, and I cherish my friendships with them.To be fair, I have hung out with a few of them on a one-on-one basis, and while I think that’s okay to some extent, it is the continuing on in this way that can be very dangerous. When two members of the opposite sex are investing in each other  but there is no intention of anything beyond a friendship, it’s a recipe for disaster. This situation does seem to happen often – I know of quite a few people who seem to spend so much time together that people ask if they’re dating – and either the person know or they’re being set up for misguided expectations. For both men and women, there are things you can do to avoid this situation. Men: if you’re interested in a woman, ask her out. To do something alone, like coffee, or ice skating. Then ask her out again if all goes well. At some point, it is best to let her know that it’s a date and not “just friends” hanging out, because otherwise, she might make excuses and not take the experience seriously. Also, it’s very flattering to have someone be upfront and honest in these situations – please, please respect her in this way. If you continue to spend time with her with no commitment, you’re being selfish and disrespecting her. (I’m sorry for the harsh words, but it is a serious issue). Now, for women, we have a similar problem in this scenario, and that is that we let these friendlationships go on and on because we’re too scared to lose the friendship over it! Quite frankly, we’re being wusses. We would rather settle for an ambiguous are-we-dating-or-not friendship rather than being alone, but we feel flattered. But we’re also settling for a false representation of what a relationship should look like.

2) Open communication. To follow up on my last point, this is of course imperative. I already touched on the fact that both parties need to be able to communicate about the situation in a loving way. Men, if you’re not interested in a woman and you’ve spent one-on-one time with her consistently, be honest and tell her that. It won’t be easy and chances are your friendship will be negatively affected at first, but it really is worth it in the long haul. Ladies, communication can help so much in these scenarios. I know it’s scary, but I really, really think it’s necessary to confront your guy in question and ask him where you stand. Again, this is really only applicable if you’ve found yourself in a situation where you’re spending copious amounts of time together alone. Obviously, you don’t want to do this to all of your guy friends (so awkward!). I do think that there’s nothing wrong with approaching the guy and asking him to lead; to respect you by figuring out what this whole friendlationship is. If the guy freaks out or gets angry, let him. He clearly doesn’t respect you enough – or perhaps even like you enough, to step up to the plate.

3) Time. It’s the seemingly most obvious one. Basically, as much as possible, avoid spending loads of time where it’s just the two of you together without the aforementioned intentional communication in place. If you see each other two or more times a week without anything spoken of to “seal the deal”, as it were, you’re playing with fire. Of course we all like to feel wanted, needed, and appreciated. However, it does become an issue when there is no commitment that goes along with it. How you spend your time reveals a lot of where your heart lies – and if you’re choosing to go along with what feels good or comfortable without a commitment, you’re selling yourself short and depriving yourself of the selfless, God-honoring gift that committing yourself to someone represents (I am absolutely guilty of doing all of these things).

So, to sum up, I would say that “friendlationships”, while appearing to be a solution to the confusion of dating, often make the path to marriage all that more strained and murky, especially for Christians. Additionally, having a string of friends of the opposite sex where you’re both being co-dependent on each other might have dangerous consequences in the future, not the least of which could be what happens if you come across a friendly person once you’re married. If you have the foundation of commitment already in place, that might make those temptations a little easier to resist. And honestly, we do everything through Grace anyway, so knowing that you have a God who fought for you AND intercedes for you is so encouraging! One last thing though: Christ made a commitment to us, and it led Him to the cross. In fact, that was the point of His commitment. Commitment never involves a promise of an easy life. However, it does involve a look into what true Love is and how it’s played out, every day. That, I think, is worth the pain of all the times that come before it.