Please know that this article is the result of my own processing, and is not a proclamation that I have it all together. These two most recent articles about relationships (“without the destination” and this one) have not been hastily-written or thoughtlessly-posted, but rather have been written with a lot of careful and heartfelt consideration (with counsel from trusted community). You may not agree, and that’s okay. Just know that what I write is what I’m learning for myself, not self-righteous advice I’m arrogantly offering the lowly around me. The reason I allow these lessons to be public is to allow God a chance to relate to others who are also learning. God has used my past failures and heartbreaks in that way. I have a book to prove it. And I trust that He will continue using my brokenness to somehow bring blessings out of the pain.
And with that, let’s begin.
It’s pretty common practice to list out the characteristics of who we want to spend our lives with. We make checklists like this one:
The person I want…
- is confident, intentional, and servant-hearted
- gives and receives love in a healthy, God-honoring way
- has strong values about following Jesus and staying faithful to Him and the person she chooses to be with
- is adventurous, fun, at least mildly athletic, oh… and attractive, of course!
I’m obviously biased, but I think my checklist is rock-solid, and not just to describe someone else. My list of ideal characteristics in my partner is also a description of who I should be striving to be. It’s the Golden Rule from kindergarten. And Jesus happens to teach an unusually similar concept in Luke 6:37. Simply put: the standard by which we measure other people must first be applied to ourselves.
I think it’s good to ask God to bring us someone who fits the description of what we desire. After all, the person we marry represents the second most important decision we will ever make (behind who we believe Jesus to be). We should take it very seriously and look for a match that is healthy and fair. Marrying someone with the intent to change them, or worse, to save them, isn’t what God had in mind when he designed it. If you don’t believe me, read Genesis 2.
It’s when we start gathering our expectations from movies, books, and our outsider’s observation of the seemingly-perfect relationships of others when our checklists start to get messed up. They start with standard, simple characteristics, but then easily advance into unrealistic expectations of perfection that we don’t even live up to ourselves. I wonder how often this happens not out of pride or arrogance, but as a result of not being first comfortable with God’s love for us. When we look to the love that other people show us (attempt to, anyway) to determine our value and self-worth, the responsibility we put on their shoulders is far too heavy for them to carry. If God’s love isn’t enough… no one else’s ever will be either.
What if singleness wasn’t about idly waiting for someone who meets my expectations to come along, or prowling around for a new opportunity to swoop in and save someone’s day? What if it was about learning how to exemplify our own standards of giving and receiving love by practicing with our friends, family, co-workers… even strangers? That learning process happens as a natural byproduct of pursuing and developing an individual relationship with Christ, which makes sense because our personal relationships with God are what marriage is meant to reflect and celebrate in the first place. Healthy relationships aren’t formed out of desperate attempts to let others fill a void or cure us of our unloveableness. Healthy relationships are expressions of the confidence and faith we’re meant to already have in God’s love for us. They’re nothing but mirrors of that love.
The only person I will definitely be spending my life with is…. drum-roll please… myself. Regardless of my relationship future, I will always be the one person I can’t get away from. Not even for thirty seconds. So why not make sure who I am is someone I’d like to be around? If I need to change something in myself, it’s my responsibility to pursue those changes and create new habits. I can unlearn just about anything, and it’s no one else’s responsibility to fix me. That’s not at all to say we won’t still have to unlearn (or relearn) things and change after we’ve married. Of course we will. But if marriage is the career, singleness is the internship.
Personally, I feel like I owe it to whoever I end up with to recognize and get comfortable with God’s love for me before she ever comes along. To start training the mirror of my heart on the light of God’s love so that I can reflect the love I see and feel from Him as clearly as I can for her.
Before a marriage was finalized, a Hebrew man would leave the engagement ceremony at the bride’s house and go back to his own family’s home to build and prepare a new place for him and his wife to live in. He would be on his own for a year or more working to make the roof that he and his wife would live under as strong and reliable as possible. Then, with his father’s blessing that the new room was ready, he would travel back to his bride and finally bring her home.
Singleness is not about waiting. That implies no work is being done. Singleness is about working with God to build our hearts into strong houses that are at least sturdy enough to live in by ourselves.
For more thoughts on this, read my article from last week.