Monday, April 28, 2008

My Love-Hate-Love Relationship

Yeah, it's complicated. Sometimes, I feel the strongest love and devotion, and other times nothing but pure hatred -- oh, the arguments! The stereotypes and cliches! The ignorance, the stupidity! But just when I think I'm over it, just when I think I couldn't possibly love again, I go running back.

Today, I think I'd be willing to propose. To Boundless, that is.

A few days ago on the Boundless Line I got into a rather heated debate with one of the writers about environmental issues -- see, he's one of those vitriolic global warming skeptics. And he somehow thinks that by insulting his opponents, he'll solidify his own position -- really, it just makes him look like a jerk.

But then, this morning, all was made right again in the sick, twisted little universe of my relationship with Boundless. Because I read this:

Dear Boundless Answers:

I had an interesting conversation with two older women of my church. I asked them if they thought that I was ready for marriage yet and they both said "no." They challenged me, asking me if I thought that I was being the "best that I could be" in every area of my life.


Should a woman totally overcome her insecurities before she gets married (to avoid bringing in that "excess baggage")?

And now, the response, from Candice Watters -- hang in there and read the whole thing. It's so great that it deserves being reproduced in its entirety here:

I don't know you beyond your e-mail, so I'm reluctant to challenge feedback from women in your church who presumably do. But I also know that if what they'd said was based on Scripture, I'd be more likely to agree with them.

What they said sounds cliché. Their assertion that you should be the "best that you can be" in every area of life before you get married scans like a positive thinking infomercial. It's based on the belief that we are not only perfectible, but also that we can perfect ourselves. It's certainly not rooted in what the Bible says about sin (that "all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God") and our need for a Savior.

Do you need to learn to love yourself before you can ever give your love to another person? Not according to Scripture. Jesus said "love your neighbor as yourself." This is something you can do immediately. No learning curve required. We're selfish by nature; that's why Jesus made self-love the measure for how we treat others. He knew we would get the shorthand of what He was saying.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism asks, "What is the chief end of man?" and answers, "Man's chief end is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever." The purpose of our lives is not to self-actualize, but to bring glory to God. How we feel about our looks, or weight, or job, or social life, or any other measure of success on any given day is, in the scope of eternity, irrelevant. Does God want us to be full of joy? Yes. Is that joy dependent on your self-image? Thankfully, no. His joy and peace are among the fruit of the Holy Spirit. They come by giving thanks in all circumstances, praying without ceasing, and cultivating the Holy Spirit's activity in your life. None of this hangs on what kind of "self-image day" we're having. Though I know in my life that the more I practice these spiritual disciplines, the more irrelevant my externals become.

What about their appeal to Adam and Eve as "worked on by God and therefore complete before they met?" It implies that somehow the first couple came "baggage-free" (a pop-psychology favorite). But you need to read only a few verses down to see what failure these "complete" humans were capable of after God was done making them. Beyond the reality that God put Adam to sleep until the surgery was over, and kept Eve that way until she was fully formed in flesh, I don't see any evidence that the two were perfectly ready for marriage, or any other serious undertaking, the way your friends implied. Adam and Eve were, as we are, fully human, with the freedom to obey or not.

I suspect when the two women you spoke with married, they still had growing and maturing to do. I did. And I do believe they meant well.

But what would be more helpful than telling you to stop thinking about marriage till you're perfect is to give specific areas of growth to be working on while you're praying for marriage and being intentional about helping it happen. Offering passages of Scripture for study (Titus 2, and Proverbs 31 for starters), examples of where you fall short on what the Bible requires, and relational support for helping you grow is the kind of mentoring you need. But it shouldn't stop there.

Titus 2:3-5 says:

"Likewise, teach the older women to be reverent in the way they live, not to be slanderers or addicted to much wine, but to teach what is good. Then they can train the younger women to love their husbands and children, to be self-controlled and pure, to be busy at home, to be kind, and to be subject to their husbands, so that no one will malign the word of God."

This passage suggests that the younger women in need of spiritual nurture and practical training are already married. The passing on of wisdom from the one generation to the next is to take place in the context of marriages already formed. If, as is the case in our culture, the younger women are having trouble finding and marrying godly husbands, then helping them do that should be the first order of business on the older women's to-do lists.

When are you ready for marriage? When you're no longer a child; when you're ready to take on the adult responsibilities that marriage brings. That doesn't mean you can use that as justification for avoiding responsibility ("I'm just not ready"). Unless they're specially gifted for celibate service, Christian men and women should be gearing up for marriage in their early 20s. It's not only their best time for meeting mates, but also their most fertile time for forming families. If you don't feel ready or willing to take on adult responsibility, the solution isn't more passage of time, but likely, accountability from the older believers in your church.

Which brings us back to your dilemma. To get the most help from the women in your Bible study, I think you might need to re-tool your question. Instead of asking, "Do you think I'm ready for marriage?" you might say, "I believe, based on what I read in Scripture, that believers are called either to celibate service or marriage (Matthew 19:11-12). I know from my desires and drives that I'm not specially gifted for celibate service, so what I'm wondering is, based on your understanding of Scripture, what are the things I need to be working on to prepare for the responsibilities that come with marriage and motherhood?"

Then, based on what they answer, you might follow up with, "Would you be willing to pray with me about those areas and pray for me that God would make me more like Him and bring me a godly husband?"

It's not enough to seek out older believers. The goal is mentors who rightly divide the Word. It will be to your benefit and His glory.

OH, gosh, you guys. The advice this girl's older friends gave her used to drive me BONKERS. I knew far, far too many jacked-up people -- Christians who were FAR from baggage-free -- who'd made it down the aisle to believe that God only wills marriage for people who've learned to love themselves or become complete in themselves or whatever (puke).

If you have single friends, I beg you, don't give them this advice. Don't tell them they have to take time out of their search for a spouse in order to become more Godly. And don't let it slide if they say, "Well, I'm just going to take this time to work on myself, because I need to be content in myself before I try to look for a wife/husband." Challenge them. Remind them that God's in the business of using imperfect people in his grand story of saving a people for himself -- he even blesses imperfect people! He gives them the incomparable gift of salvation, together with every other spiritual blessing in Christ Jesus.

Furthermore, he uses our daily lives, our circumstances, and our relationships to sanctify us. Every part of our lives falls under God's sovereignty, and as Christians, every moment of our life is spiritual -- not just the times when we're reading our Bibles or sitting in church or talking about Jesus or whatever, but the times when we're stuck in traffic or reading blogs or talking about sweet vs. unsweet tea. In other words, we don't have to take a silent retreat or avoid complicated relationships to discover God's will for us as individuals or in community -- our Father guides us in our REAL LIVES to make godly, appropriate choices, and he transforms us into the image of His Son through our REAL LIVES.


Jacob said...


Have you ever had the urge to create an online magazine that caters to single, adult Christians and name it "Boundaries?"

Erica said...

Amen :)

Jonny said...

Wow, that was a long post. It took me 3 weeks to read it.

My Mum once told me I wasn't ready for marriage.

Del said...

I was surfing the web and I saw something about you moving to Australia. Is this true? Are you still in Louisville? I miss it.

angela aka mrs. maverick said...

what's up l-boogie?

just throwing in my nickel. when i was a single woman, i hated the testimonies of married women who would say "really spiritual" things like- " i didn't even want a husband, but God brought one in to my life" and "i told God i didn't want to be married, i was content with just serving Him" and other deep sounding hooplah as such.

i was like, Lord, why are you doing all this for these sisters who claim they don't want a man- i want one, so send him on down.

so glad He eventually did! we got married to fulfill Scripture.(1 Cor. 7:2) was i all that then- nope. still aint- but Christ. hallalujah!