About a month ago, I decided to use some inspiration from a friend to return to the blogosphere with some thoughts on love (the romantic kind), dating, and marriage. I felt especially qualified to provide commentary on all three of these since I currently have nothing to do with any of them. I wrote almost an entire post, but couldn’t ever find the time to finish it properly. Since I write almost entirely in flow, I felt it was better to simply scrap what I had written and start over now. Back to the subject, I am not anyone you would ever want to write a success story about in the realm of relationships, but it is possible that my failures (in love and dating) give me some sort of perspective. After all, nothing burns my mind like failure. Also, I am a watcher. In appropriate settings, I observe people’s interactions, their relationships, their successes and their failures. I also work with college students. As a leader in a college ministry, you cannot escape the angst, the joy, the heartbreak and the elation that goes with navigating relationships in community.
Certainly part of my motivation in writing is this is that it helps some of my friends who have experienced such pain in this area. I will go into this later, but I believe my generation is to a large degree handicapped when it comes to building healthy relationships (again, the romantic kind, but there are parallels and corollaries to friendships). I do not believe that I have all the answers, but some major cultural shift has happened in the realm of Christian relationships and it is our job to recognize that and address it.
I really think that Joshua Harris meant well when he wrote I Kissed Dating Goodbye, and I think that book did some good for some people. After all, he was really trying to point out how amazingly destructive it can be to follow our culture’s framework for dating. That’s good. The blame for what happened next really lies on myself and others for not thinking critically enough about how to apply the heart of the book to our our lives (although, part of me really just wants to blame him). Whatever the case, an interesting dynamic was created in the realm of Christian dating. I like to sum it up by saying that:
God supports marriage, but not dating.
So, before we go on, clearly Christians date. I know this. But stop and think about that statement and let’s think about maybe how it has even infiltrated our dating.
Dating someone won’t displease God if I end up marrying that person, right?
If God is sovereign and he hates dating, then at some point I just have to hope I will be attracted enough to someone to just know that they are “the one.”
And then we follow those thoughts a little further and we are looking to the altar before we even look to the first date. This is a problem. The thoughts we allow ourselves to think about another person and the choices we make in our hearts about how to regard them have incredible power to shape what we feel. We are choosing believe that we can romantically love someone without even really knowing them and then putting ourselves into a situation where we feel pressure to try and prove that we really can and do love them, thereby not offending God.
Step back just a second.
If you’ve ever attended a wedding, you’ve likely heard verse after verse about love in its verb-form. Love in action is giving, self-sacrificing, kind, patient, forgiving, enduring. But we could make the case that love in its present, noun-form is knowing and being known in a way that enables the characteristics I just listed one sentence ago.
To put it another way: to really give, to really sacrifice the self, to be kind, to be patient, to really forgive in an ongoing and enduring fashion FOR THE GOOD OF THE OTHER takes a nearly paralyzing level of transparency. It is not just vulnerability, it is nakedness- to be seen for who you are and at the same time see the other and to then give yourself to be spent for the good of the other.
There’s such awkwardness around the idea of naked, especially for single people. I believe is because, in theory, at this point in our adult lives, we are the only ones who know ourselves as we are beneath the clothes. We dress ourselves up to accent our strengths and downplay our weaknesses, which some of our friends know better than others. But at the end of the day, we are the only ones who know our form as it truly is beneath those facades. And for most of us, we simultaneously fear the judgement other eyes would render and long for the day when someone sees our body for what it is and stills loves it. And that’s just the physical reality of marriage- it’s a pretty easy jump to connect that physical representation with love on a heart to heart level.
We long at a base level for someone to see our heart in its entirety, even as we cringe knowing what they must see. But love is being the person who sees and also chooses to not run away. Being in love is when both parties commit to doing that. Now back to the problem.
If we can accept that true love involves a sort of intimate nakedness (I’m speaking at a marriage level right now, we can debate dating boundaries later), then why do we think that God would want us to choose who we marry based on the clothes they wear (figuratively)? All this angst that we put ourselves through before a first date even takes place is unnecessary.
Perhaps the only thing I took away from the movie Avatar, besides the incredible graphics, is the phrase “I see you.” James Cameron connected it with seeing past the outside of a person and looking straight into who they are. We all know that clothes, jobs, social statuses, even bodies, can be stripped away and the person remain. At my core and at your core, you know this. We are told that God himself looks past all of these things when he deals with us. That all of the distinctions that we mark ourselves by are of no importance to him. And yet, when deciding who we shall date (with the intent to pursue marriage), we look at exactly everything but that.
When you first meet someone, in that moment before they speak, you have a purely superficial impression of them- a cognitive silhouette. If you go stalk their Facebook profile, you will find more detail to add to that silhouette, it might even become a portrait. But interacting with that person, discovering who they are, has the power to turn them from a cognitive silhouette into a living, breathing, three-dimensional being. That kind of mapping, charting of a person can only be done over time. There is no Information section on all of Facebook that could bring you to know the soul behind it.
But so often we are content to know merely what TV shows this person likes, how often they like to work out, what music they listen to, what career they are pursuing, how popular they are, how hot they are. That’s dating the clothes again. Ultimately, marriage is such a good picture of God’s relationship with us because, in it’s best form, the physical, emotional, spiritual intimacy found there is beyond the “clothes.”
It needs to be said here that I’m not saying we need to expose ourselves (figuratively AND literally, don’t be a creeper) in order to find true love. There are things reserved only for marriage, and that’s one of them. I’m saying we need an understanding of the end goal if we are to properly respect the process.
If we understand love and what that means at its best, then all of our efforts in dating should be shaped by that. If you merely want a successful person to add as an accessory to your lifestyle, then do that. At the least, let’s stop pretending like we could really know someone by content of their resume.
Final thought: I don’t hate the idea of screening people based on their resume’s. But resumes are good for one thing, weeding out the people who have no business applying for whatever position is open. Beyond that, you must conduct interviews (hopefully several). I think you know what I mean here.
Love you guys.