Thursday, September 29, 2011

Dating and God's Will, by M

Okay, so I really tried to put off talking about singleness for a while. This is in part because if you look at the "tags" for our blog, you’ll see SINGLENESS in gigantic letters because I talk about it approximately 10x more than either of us talk about anything else. That’s kind of embarrassing… and I wish it wasn’t constantly on my mind. But, the reality is that it is.

So, the other day, W signed me up for eHarmony. For any of you who are curious, registering a profile on eHarmony is a serious process that typically takes between 1.5 and 2.5 hours. W did it ALL… because that’s how much she loves me. Or, that’s how much she wants to live vicariously through my dating life, as now she’s just boring and married. (haha love you!) Anyway, I didn’t really ask her to do it and I didn’t get around to doing it myself because I just wasn’t quite sure I was ready for it. But, she did it anyway and after clicking on my profile and perusing my "matches" I found myself phenomenally overwhelmed. It was really strange, actually. I had this almost visceral response where I literally felt I just couldn’t take it. It was just… too much.

Why was it too much? Why was I so freaked out by it? I shocked myself with the response I had to it. So, I’ve been thinking about it, and I decided that I’ve grown to believe (what I hope is) a gigantic lie. It is this:

God doesn’t want to give me a nice, wonderful man… and He will not be pleased if I ever find one.

Hmmmmmmmmmm. That’s a big one. It’s lead me to believe that although wanting a husband is within His will, dating or doing anything about it is contrary. While there are some people that I believe are truly called to singleness for life (Jesus, Paul, the Pope(s), Mother Theresa, Shane Claiborne are all great examples) I really don’t think I’m one of them. So why do I believe that God will be upset at me for dating? Why do I feel like His only role in my dating life is one of antagonism? Does anyone else feel this way?

Thought #1 – Experience is Nature's Teacher
Part of the reason I think this way is because of my past. Although God has given me a handful of "love interests" over the past couple of years… we all know that they’ve been less than stellar, on the whole. Moreover, the longer I’ve been on the dating scene, the worse the men seem to be getting! My relationships have seriously steadily declined in duration from about a year and a half (at 19 years old) to just a couple of weeks or months now (at 25). What the heck!? Some would argue that "it’s better to have loved and lost"… but really this situation just has me increasingly discouraged. I think it’s better to have loved and lost maybe one or two great loves… loving (or liking) and losing upwards of 10+… now that’s just getting absurd. How am I supposed to believe that God wants someone good for me (and will give it to me) when experience has proven very much otherwise… over and over and over?

Thought #2 - Distraction is of the Enemy
It's a widely-accepted Christian idea that distraction is one of the primary tools that Satan uses to tempt and take down Christians. We talk in our churches all the time about avoiding distractions. Ambition distracts us... greed distracts us... pride... laziness... the list goes on. The primary argument against many of these sins is that they are inherently bad because they distract us from our ultimate purpose of serving God. Idolatry is such a grievous sin because it distracts us from appropriately worshiping God. Take even lying... the issue is not simply that it hurts others (although it does); the issue is that living the lies and keeping track of the lies is a major distraction. Any time we are consumed with anything other than God... we call it sin. But here's the problem... is there any greater distraction than love? I really don't think so. Grief is a distraction... but isn't grief really just a symptom of love? Jealousy, certainly.

So, I find myself starting to get distracted by someone... and it feels like I'm doing something wrong. Like I should be "setting my mind on things above" (Colossians 3:2) and using all of that mental space for something better. You know? But, at the end of the day, I don't think it's possible to love and be undistracted. I don't think there's a feasible way to be captivated by someone and not find it distracting from everything else. Yet, it still feels like there is sin in doing so.

Thought #3 - "Use this Season"
My final thought here is that I really think this false belief is wrapped up in the rhetoric that the church uses to talk about dating. Although well-intentioned, all of this talk of "using your singless for its purpose" and "God will give you a relationship when it's His time" also subtly communicates something else:

You're supposed to accomplish something right now and God is going to withold your spouse until you do it.

That's dangerous thinking. This kind of thinking turns God into someone that I like to believe He isn't. But that's totally what the church says... and it's one thing if it could be something tangible like "Hey, learn to speak Portugese because you don't know it yet, but your husband is Brazilian!" It's quite another, though, when the message seems to be "Hey, you better fix this about your [insert deeply personal issue here about body, emotions, past, etc] or else you'll never be marry-able and God knows that." Granted, no mainstream church is really saying that... but that's really what it feels like from time to time.

So, all of these things put together have caused a great bit of confusion in my mind, and, I believe in the minds of many other single, Christian men and women that I encounter. Moreover, there are a host of other false dating beliefs out there and this is only one of them. Eek. Maybe I should do a series of these? Lord knows I've encountered enough of them across the handful of men that I've dated!

In any case, I definitely think this is something that needs more prayer time in my life... Perhaps God truly is giving me a red light (and for good reason?) or perhaps this false belief is nothing more than a stumbling block created by the brokenness of the world. Whatever it is, I need to figure it out! I need to believe that God will be just as happy about me finding my future spouse as I will. I mean, He will be... right?

Monday, September 26, 2011

Who knew?

It's W today. I just got back from a lovely birthday weekend in NYC with my 2 fantastic sisters (yes, two! We have a gorgeous sister who is nearly ten years younger than us) and I am procrastinating on all of my productive yet boring day-off tasks.

Anyway, the title of this post refers to Stephen Colbert. WHO KNEW that he was sort of a modern day philosopher? Not me, until I came across some of his quotes recently. This one, in particular, spoke to me:

“If this is going to be a Christian nation that doesn’t help the poor, either we have to pretend that Jesus is just as selfish as we are or we’ve got to acknowledge that he commanded us to love the poor and serve the needy without condition. And then admit that we just don’t want to do it.”

Convicting, right? And yes, we could get bogged down (blogged down? ha!) in the fact that the US is not a "Christian nation" in reality, but that would be missing the point of what Colbert is trying to say.

The point is this: We need to stop ignoring what Jesus told us to do.

My favorite part of this quote is without condition. That's what I think we as Christians often miss. It's easy enough to give our 10% to the church or text the Red Cross for $5 after a natural disaster, or even to volunteer at a reputable soup kitchen once in a while. But do we really serve and give without condition?

I know if I'm honest, I have several conditions for my serving and giving:
-I only give to people and sources that "feel" reputable
-I only give when it is relatively comfortable for me to give, i.e. when it's not going to take away from my lifestyle too much
-I only serve when it fits into my schedule, when the place is close enough to be convenient, and the population I'm serving isn't too "scary"

I think Colbert is right. Why do I not serve unconditionally? Because I just don't WANT to do it. It's inconvenient, uncomfortable, and scary. It puts me in a situation where I'm not in control, and I hate that. I'd much rather give to the church and volunteer with the children's ministry and refuse to give the man on the corner the time of day, thankyouverymuch.

Me, me, me, me. It's scary how often my life reflects a selfish attitude even in regards to my giving and service. To be clear, giving and serving in any capacity is fantastic, and I would never discourage anyone from doing so, especially if they are confident that the Lord has led them to serve in a capacity which just happens to be convenient and comfortable.

But I think Stephen Colbert has hit the nail on the head when he calls us out, as Christians, for creating a disparity between the way Jesus gave and served and the way we give and serve. If we want to live like Christ, and be like Christ, we have to ACT LIKE CHRIST. And sometimes that means going to scary places and hanging with shady people, and giving without judgement and serving without condition.

It's easy to think that He has called other people to that reality, but not us. As long as other Christians are serving in the prison ministry and distributing food under the bridge to the homeless and taking trips to Africa, and getting their hands dirty, then we can sit back and give a litte here and serve a little there and promise to pray for those who are doing the tough work and still feel like we're going "our part."

My dad used to get on my case a little bit back in college about my future career choices and my desire to go to Uganda. He used to say, "Anyone can hand out a piece of bread," meaning, "You have a degree worth hundreds of thousands of dollars-- go do something with it and leave the easy stuff to people who can't do anything else." Which, coming from the man who paid for my fantastic degree, is a worthwhile thought. But I can't get past this idea sometimes that even though anybody can not everybody will. And if the Lord has given me a willing heart to do the dirty work, then that is where I will go.

So, are you giving and serving unconditionally? Have you prayed fervently about where the Lord wants to direct your time and money? Are you being honest with yourself about our requirement as Christians to go where God wants and do what God wants even if it's scary, uncomfortable, or inconvenient?

And if not, why not?

Friday, September 23, 2011

Writer's Block, by M

I’ve been wanting to update this again this week, but I truly haven’t been inspired with what to write about. Normally I have a stream of thoughts and ideas floating through my head, and this week it’s just kind of been dry. Maybe it’s because I haven’t been reading as much as I normally do… so my thoughts haven’t been stirred by anything new or exciting. As such, it’s just been “the usuals,” which are literally just a constant rotation of the following:

-I’m hungry
-Why is it so difficult to find a good man?
-Starting work at 7:20am is miserable.
-Seriously, people have having legitimate babies now?
-Adulthood is not that fun… for real.
-Why does my hair look like a rat’s nest 80% of the time?

Seriously. I’d bet that 76% of my conscious thought processes are spent on these things. The other 14% is probably broken down as such:

8% work
3% prayer (that’s bad, I know)
2% random problem solving
1% food and cooking

The other activities are relatively mindless, such as driving, cleaning, watching TV, talking on the phone etc. Haha!

Anyway, I’ve been wanting to post something brilliant and inspired, and it just hasn’t been coming to me. So there you have it… maybe I’ll have something here in the next couple of days. Fingers crossed!

Monday, September 19, 2011

An Ode to the Mega-Church, by M

Oh Mega-Church… how do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

1) I love your Sunday evening services. Thank you, mega-church, for granting me the ability to take Sunday as a second glorious day of sleeping in. I appreciate the opportunity to attend church and be wholly awake and alert for the message. I love being able to put forth my best cuteness effort, with more than 10 mere minutes to dress and do my hair. I can beat the rush for Sunday brunch and avoid crying babies and wiggly preschoolers. Love, love, love.

2) I love your worship music. Thank you for providing more than 6 barely-audible hymn singers to surround me. While sometimes the thumping bass resonates through my ribcage, I do enjoy the contemporary lyrics, electric guitar, and occasional fist pumps nonetheless. I like watching the diversity of worship – the fall-to-your-knees, charismatic former Pentecostals, the barely-moves and barely-sings former Catholic, the hands-in-the-air-wave-em-like-you-just-don’t-care born again. There truly is a place for everyone, and it’s loud enough that even the worst American Idol wanna-bes can’t really be heard. It’s just perfect.

3) I love your relevance. Dear mega-church… thank you for taking context into consideration. I love that you make God’s word as living and breathing as Jesus promises it to be. You do an admirable job of walking the line between fostering conviction and alienating non-believers. Even if you do claim to be non-partisan, I appreciate your secretly deliberate clues regarding political affiliation. Your use of hip and modern phrases like "DTR" and "Rock of Love" is charming. Thank you for this.

4) I love your elaborate set pieces and props. Honestly, who doesn’t want their mega-church jumbo-trons flanked by life-sized goal posts? The treadmill, the 20 pounds of skittles, the live camels… it all really helps drive home the life-or-death seriousness that is your eternal destiny. A special shout-out to designers of the worship music power points… I’m never more inspired than when I’m singing to Jesus and watching quiet streams flow through the wood, doves soaring over the faintest rainbows, or fields of wheat blowing gently in the breeze. Your creativity never ceases to amaze me.

5) Most of all, I love your singles ministry. Where else can I find such an assortment of attractive, single Jesus-loving men? The answer: absolutely nowhere, this side of Heaven. I reluctantly appreciate your "guidelines" for single male-female interaction, which closely resemble those of a middle-school dance. I trust that this is God’s best of us, even if we are full-grown adults, mostly capable of righteous decision-making without a curfew or a dress code. I will take your awkwardness and forced mingling and run with it… how else may I expect to meet a nice man? Wait for him to approach me as I strut gracefully towards the communion elements? That has yet to happen. As such, I love that you give us mostly attractive and yet somewhat desperate single adults a place to call home. I pray that I won’t lean on you forever.

In conclusion, mega-church, thank you for what you do. Thank you for your larger-than-life approach to winning souls for Jesus. I’m with ya… and so is 30% of my monthly tithe. Because, really, I don’t want the rest going towards unicycles and ping pong tables. Although, I do appreciate both. Really.

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Justice vs. Revenge

So I have to be honest here-- as usual I'm ripping off the concept of this post from an older, wiser Christian. In fact, if you scan back through our blog, most of what M and I say is simply our perspective on what someone else has said. We read a lot, listen to a lot of podcasts and sermons, subscribe to a lot of blogs, and as such, we come into contact with a lot of pieces of insight that rock our worlds. Should you think that what you read here comes from our own strokes of spiritual genius, you are wrong. I think we are pretty good at being upfront about the original source of the content. Today's post stems from a message I heard on Sunday at church from our lead pastor, Bill Hybels.

With it being the 10 year anniversary of 9/11, (and also our 25th birthday, but that's not quite as relevant), Bill spent his message reminding us of the tragedy, asking us how it has impacted our lives and faiths, and questioning if we treated those who practice Islam, in the time immediately following the attacks, with the grace and love that Christ calls us to.

In this vein, Bill brought up a point that stopped me in my tracks. He asked if, in our patriotism, we had desired to seek justice for those who committed these crimes, or if instead we desired to seek revenge. 

Here's a quick synopsis from

Justice is the principle that punishment should be proportionate to the offense-- it includes righteousness, equitableness, and moral rightness.

Revenge is to exact punishment-- it's an opportunity to retaliate and gain satisfaction.

When I look at these two definitions, sometimes they look similar to me and sometimes they don't. I believe if I were not a Christian, justice would be synonymous with revenge more often than not. Considering the scope of this tragedy in particular, the idea that the punishment should be proportionate to the offense seems obvious—if one man orchestrated the deaths of thousands of our people, aren’t we entitled to kill a few thousands of his? And if this was the case around 9/12/01, I believe that more than a few people would feel satisfied by that turn of events.

But then I remember the Bible. Revenge means “an eye for an eye.” Justice means “turn the other cheek and believe that the Lord, who is just, will provide the punishment.”

When I think about it like this, I am incredibly proud of our military and Seal Team Six for acting with justice, not revenge, in the killing of Bin Laden. By giving him a proper Muslim burial and by not exposing the photographs of his body, our military acted in moral rightness while also honoring what is just—those that kill others may justly be killed. Justice is killing Bin Laden for his crime. Revenge is killing, harming, or discriminating against Muslims simply because they may or may not believe in radical Islam, look like, or live near Bin Laden. I think we have walked a fine line after 9/11 between our desire for justice and revenge, and I do not believe that we, as Christians, always took the high road.

Extrapolating on this concept beyond our current state of international affairs, I think finding the difference between justice and revenge is crucial in order to sustain our relationships, and the key is to try to separate our emotional response from the reality of a situation. In our relationships,

Justice says, “I will allow you to suffer the natural consequences of your choices.”

Revenge says, “I will make you feel bad when you make me feel bad.”

See the difference?

It’s easy to turn to revenge when someone hurts us. We want them to feel hurt too. We want them to pay for their actions. We want to feel better and gain satisfaction out of their misery. For example,

Justice says, “If you are constantly late to dinner, I am going to start without you because I will not partake of lukewarm food simply due to your irresponsibility.”

Revenge says, “If you are late one more time, I am going to wait until you get home and then dump your portion in the trash right in front of you the second you walk in the door.”

The revenge scenario seems extreme and even comical, but how often do we actually do stuff like this in our relationships? All the time! If we’re not careful, it’s incredibly easy to blur the line between boundaries and irrational consequences; between justice and revenge.

For some reason this post has been difficult for me to write. Not in an emotional sense, but rather that my thoughts aren’t flowing neatly as I’d like.

Basically, the idea is that we can ruin our lives by believing that we know the right way to make someone pay for actions that we deem unacceptable. As Christians, it is our job to act with justice (the Lord does not call us to be doormats—He has not given us spirits of timidity!), and to stand on the side of mercy instead of punishment, and grace instead of revenge. We must believe that our God, who is just, is correct when He instructs us not to repay evil for evil.

So, my charge for you today is to watch carefully what stirs in your heart when you feel hurt, betrayed, or angry. Are your actions seeking justice or revenge? Are your desires following after Christ or after the world?

Sunday, September 11, 2011

The Design of Diversity, by M

This post is going to be a little bit of an addendum to my previous blog about finding a "biblically-qualified" spouse. So, if you haven't read that one... maybe you should!

Here's the thing: I'm pretty sure those of us who are not married, or not yet in a serious-to-the-point-of-probable-marriage relationship, spend a heck of a lot of time thinking about who it is that we will eventually marry. We make lists of what qualities they will and won't have, we mentally note all of the cute things that men in the moies do that we hope they will do, and we watch and scrunitize all other men (taken or not, married or not) and keep a mental tally of what we hope for and what we certainly wish to avoid. Let's be honest, it totally happens... a lot.

And so, we take all of this time, and lists, and hopes, and tallies, and dreams, and desires, and we make a nice little mental file that we label "husband!" and it all seems well and good. Those of us who are Christian women also make very sure that all of those biblical qualifications are snugly situated in the file, and all of those secret-warning-signs-that-tell-you-he's-not-really-a-Christian-even-when-he-might-say-that-he-is are left very much OUT of it. And then we wait, and we look, and we try to be patient, and we keep our eyes peeled... and we wait some more, and we look some more and we think that one day we'll stumble upon someone who just fits perfectly into the little husband mold that we've built for ourselves. And then we'll know that it's the right one because it just fits... like magic! Like God designed it!


Okay, so I went to this meeting at church on Friday and I heard a statement that has kind of haunted me all weekend. And it wasn't even intended to speak at all to this issue of who ends up as our husbands and who doesn't... but I can't get it out of my head, and I can't stop thinking about how it pertains to this. Maybe that means it's something worth paying attention to? The statement was this:

We tend to see others as flawed versions of ourselves.

Think about it. It's true. We have conflict with the people who are most unlike us because we literally cannot figure out why they just can't get it together and start thinking the way we think and being the way we are. We rarely value difference... In fact, perhaps the only time we readily value it is when it directly benefits us. Think about it. Pretty much every other time we find difference to be frustrating, annoying, bothersome, etc. That's not much middle ground; either it's fine because we're benefitting, or it's impossible because we're not.

So then this leads us to another thought, which is this:

We tend to value people and traits more highly that are the most like us.

Again, we all totally do this. Of course, we think that we were all designed and/or raised the "right way" and that the things that come easily to us do (or should) come easily to others. It's so very difficult to understand how something so natural as our gifts should be challenging for someone else to master. So, we tend to gravitate towards people who share our gifts, and we also tend to value those people more highly than others.

Here's the rub, though. In doing this... in gravitating towards people like us... we align ourselves with people who not only have the same strengths, but who also have the same brokenness. I like the word brokenness here better than the more conventional word "weakness." Because let's be honest, two people with two equally weak legs can still run a race, albeit slowly. Two people with equally broken legs. Um, no. Not at all. The Bible makes it clear that we are all broken... not simply weak.

So, God in His great wisdom and mercy designs diversity to solve this problem. If one person has a broken foot and one person has a broken nose, they can complete that race, certainly. It won't be pretty, but that's the nature of the fall, right? This is not news to us; God tells us throughout the Bible that His design is diversity and that diversity is intended to grow us, help us, complete us (in some ways), and strengthen us (1 Corinthians 12). We know this. Woo hoo! It's all good!

But really, here's the thing that's been haunting me about it. I have made my little mental husband mold out of traits and characteristics that I value. Which means that I've crafted my future husband to be made up of all the same ingredients that I am... Which means that I've been potentially setting myself up to run the most important race there is with two broken legs. And let me tell you what... I have found men like this, and they just fit so nicely into the mold I had in my head... and the race was ROUGH. And the race ended with far more broken bones than we started with... both of us limping away in opposite directions. Why am I surprised? And why do I continue to think that it will work the next time, even though I refuse to change the formula?

The thought of throwing out the list, the tallies, the expectations, the hopes, etc terrifies me. Yet, it's becoming ever clear that my own mind and heart is not to be trusted in truly knowing what is best for me. So what am I left with? What are we left with?

1) Accepting possibilities
2) Preparing for curveballs
3) Praying, praying, praying, praying.

...and not praying that God will give us just what we want. I'm talking, praying, praying, praying about whether the one we have (now, maybe, or in the future, God-willing) might just be the one He wants... even if it doesn't look like we expected.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Conditional Vows?

W here! I first want to encourage you to go back and read the post before my last one. M wrote a FANTASTIC post about being "Bibically-qualified" for marriage and for some reason it got posted before my "wednesday psych lesson" even though she wrote it after. If you haven't already, please check it out! It's one of my favorites that she's written.

Back to the topic at hand. Conditional vows. I've been thinking about this a bit recently, as T and I just attended our 5th wedding of the summer this past weekend. As such, I have been inundated with vows. One of the best things about going to a wedding as a married couple is that you are reminded of exactly how you felt and exactly what you promised to God and to your own spouse when you got married.

Most of you probably know what the promises love and cherish one another regardless of circumstance (in sickness and health, in plenty or want, for better or worse). T and I added some additional promises:

I take you to be my wife/husband, my partner in life, and my one true love. I will cherish our friendship and love you today, tomorrow, and forever. I will trust you and honor you, I will laugh with you and cry with you. I will love you faithfully through the best and the worst, through the difficult and the easy. What may come I will always be there. As I have given you my hand to hold so I give you my life to keep-- so help me God.

The vows are pretty clear. I will be faithful. I will trust you. I will value our friendship. I will always be your wife.

The underlying commitment, then, is my promise to T that NOTHING will ever prevent me from following through in these ways. This is unconditional commitment, and this is what is intended for marriage.

This all seems pretty straight forward until I start thinking about the "exit ramps" that our society has created for leaving marriage. Examples include:
-A cheating spouse
-An abusive spouse
-An addicted spouse
-A spouse who leaves you first
-A spouse who has broken his or her vows

Given any of these circumstances, it is not only acceptable but often encouraged that a person leave a marriage. And when I look at this list, I completely understand. There is no part of me that would ever want a person facing an abusive or addicted spouse to stick around in a dangerous situation.

But what this means is that our vows ARE conditional. What we are committing to is not, "I promise these things regardless of circumstance," but rather "I promise these things for as long as you follow through with your end of the deal."

And this is dangerous thinking. We can see in our society how these "exit ramps" created for extreme cases are exploited to justify divorces that result out of diverging passions, irreconcilable differences, and the assumption that something better must be out there.

I know that I have only been married for two months, and that marriage is complex and challenging in a way that I cannot yet understand. But, I have been married long enough to know that if I hold up my vows only as long as T does, we are screwed from the start. We are sinful people who are bound to make mistakes along the way. Hopefully they'll be minor (maybe an infraction in honoring each other rather than a slip-up in faithfulness, for example), but I simply cannot assume that if T makes a mistake, it gives me permission to do the same.  Our commitment must be SO unconditional that we commit to each other even if we break the vows themselves.

I don't really have an answer to this weighty topic. My thoughts range from, "Where do we draw the line?" to "How do we protect those who need it without undermining the gravity of a marriage commitment?" and "How would you even continue to love someone unconditionally if they have not done the same for you?"

I think the most promising answer comes from looking to the Lord and the example that He has set forth in Christ-- a gift of grace (received freely even though we did and do not deserve it) with a promise that we can NEVER do ANYTHING that will make the Lord stop loving us.

This is why we strive to love our spouses like Christ loved the church-- so that we can say, with the power of perfect grace residing in us, that there is NOTHING that our spouse can EVER do that will prevent us from loving them. And this means that we love them even if they do not love us, and we keep our vows even if they do not hold up their own, because this is the example that the Lord has set.

So, how do we reconcile this fact with the reality of abuse of and infidelity? How do we keep ourselves from adopting an "I'm in if you're in" attitude toward marriage? What do you think?