The Many Shades of Singleness, Part 4: Dating

datesThis is Part 3 of a series of reflections on singleness, sparked by public comments that “intentional singleness without the “gift of celibacy” is “at best, a neglect of a Christian responsibility”.

Such strong comments naturally strike hard. Matters of the heart are delicate. There are enough subclasses of singles, enough sensitivity around the issue, that I find such opinions – in this case, from Dr. Albert Mohler – falling short of the mark even with the right caveats.

For one, many wise, obedient street-level singles would say that their efforts to marry have been divinely thwarted (Part 1 of this series), a God-operation Scripture accommodates but Mohler does not. “You don’t have to tell me that marriage matters,” they’d sigh. “God’s told me no.”

For another, the “gift of celibacy” isn’t easily delineated. Some people have it who don’t yet think they do; some happily married people once swore up and down that they’re 21st-century Pauls. And some singles confuse the gift with irritation over being herded into a congregational marriage machine (Part 2 of this series) instead of being loved for who they are.

But my first thought upon reading Dr. Mohler’s comments? “If you want to know why marriage is fading, sir, you could look within your own circle.”

Now…I do not want to make this another Joshua Harris bashing session.

Please, Jesus, spare me from that. Poor man.

But…while the reasons for singleness’ increase are many – the “me first” or “boy culture” Mohler refers to, the rareification of good prospects – the muckraking of dating in some Christian spheres also bears examination. Many single Christians would love to marry. They simply feel the tools have been taken away from them. And it’s got them frustrated.

I know too many such singles to dismiss this as a factor. There’s enormous hesitation around even everyday interactions, and I’m not talking about the Graham Rule. I have single female friends who get theologically nervous about even walking up and talking to a guy they’ve noticed. I get leaving pursuit to men. I love that. But when they don’t even feel permitted to invite him to church or Bible study, of all things, I grow concerned. It’s possible to for our system to be so legalistic that it no longer serves either God or man. Especially if they’re actually mainly concerned about what people will say.

“How can you learn anything without practicing?” a friend asked one day at Panda Express. He was chasing the first gal God led him to pursue(!) and it was daunting – the flowers, the listening, the art of it all. And this was a righteous, mature guy. It’s a chronic problem today that humbly yet confidently (and righteously) pursuing a woman’s heart is lost knowledge. We want to pursue. Many women want to be pursued. But there’s a vague sense that it’s just…wrong somehow. So we abstain.

The result? We are…single. And wondering…single because that’s God’s perfect will for his 21s-century church (an idea for which I’ve never seen any Biblical support), or single in the same way that submitting no resumes tends to leave you jobless?

The confusion strikes right at the practical. Harris told the story of how his father was instructed by God not to pursue his mother when they met. God knew she was fed up with immature Christian guys and that traditional wooing wouldn’t work. God worked it all out. Somehow. Though the “somehow” was never really explained.

You can imagine how this unique story imprinted upon skittish young hearts and theologies in all the wrong ways.

To be fair, the common anti-dating sentiment in its present form is not necessarily what Harris intended. Messages get distorted. They jump gender and maturity lines. And Harris, to my admiration, has been starkly honest recently in refining his own teachings.

But we’re still left with two decades of echoing opinion that labels pursuit in all forms – from solo coffeeshop chats to dating websites – as “training for divorce”.

In the interim, dating has been replaced with…well, nothing. Sit back, serve somewhere, and hope to get noticed (that’s not why we serve, by the way). In other words, something awfully close to passivity is held up as 1) true surrender, 2) more romantic, and 3) a guarantee that God will preserve your marriage. Because spending time alone at a restaurant with someone just looks too much like the world.

The last thing Christian males need these days is more passivity.

I imagine Mohler would agree. I imagine we’d all agree.

Now, Christianity may not have died out on earth because fewer Christians are dating; indeed, for some people, total inaction has worked just fine (and some Christians just shrug and date anyway). But any leeway given to passivity among us young men is something I’ll never feel good about.

By the way, I’m not saying any of this to give myself permission to date. I don’t like to. Some of us are introverts. And dating is exhausting. The time and money, the repeating of the same information, the minefields of rules and expectations and toxic dates..eh. Maybe there’s a reason we all embraced Harris’ ideas with such relief.

I also acknowledge that this “wait on God” teaching is largely directed at believers who are too eager to marry – dating rabidly, making poor partner choices – in hopes of giving them holier alternatives. I totally sympathize. I also still think it’s throwing the baby out with the bathwater (and y’all know how I feel about that). Or Nyquil, as a better metaphor – going after the symptoms and not the virus. Hearts are what need healing there, not removing social tools that work fine for adults.

In the end, there’s no explicit Scriptural guidance for either side of the debate. There are principles for not doing anything stupidly or selfishly. There are examples of God directly matchmaking. Or giving individual dispensations to avoid certain things, which are absolutely proper if confirmed through prayer and church support (I have friends in that group, too).

But a blanket command is just not there. Which puts the matter squarely in Romans 14 territory – those who date shouldn’t judge those who don’t (or parents who don’t permit it), nor should those who don’t judge those who do.

I believe God does lead some people to date people they won’t marry. That’s my testimony and that of several friends. I believe a properly constructed Christian’s life can include divinely-appointed relationships before marriage. Mine includes two so far. My friends are now happily hitched (or about to be). Our experiences were bummers, but not nasty or depressing. We survived. We learned. And, by God’s grace, we moved on.

 

I’m just some bozo let loose on a keyboard, but if you ask me, Christians should feel free to date. It should be done prudently, prayerfully, with good discernment of the other’s character and the readiness to move on if needed, and probably not every month. But it shouldn’t be condemned. Assuming responsibility for God’s purposes in our lives is not tantamount to “taking things out of God’s hands”. It’s just…life.

 

I’m glad you tuned in today. If you found this post to be of value, please feel free to share it on social media. Thanks a bunch!

 

 

Well Done, Faithful Single

victory(This post originally debuted last summer, but I’ve picked up a great many followers since then, including not a few singles. I’d like them to hear this. Even if you’ve read this before, I hope it might make for a better-than-usual Monday.)

No preaching today, Christian single.

We’re taking a break from all the well-intentioned talk of God’s plan (true), trusting him (true), or anything along the lines of You need to do X before God marries you off (meh).

Because sometimes I wonder whether the church realizes just how holy your choices have already been.

 

Any chump can get married. All it takes is someone who’s vaguely compatible, a justice of the peace, a slip of paper, and a convenient failure to really think about what you’re getting into.

On the other hand, someone who looks at a Savior who keeps saying no, yet still pronounces “I trust him” to the watching world? That’s a rare gem. One who has learned something about that Savior.

You’ve faced countless breakups and rejections with grace. You’ve gotten a master’s degree. You’ve been around the world on missions, only to disembark the plane and find nobody waiting to pick you out of the crowd. You’ve fought tooth and nail for purity. You’ve tithed until it hurts. You’ve turned down romantic opportunities that would have left you unequally yoked. You’ve wondered why God created you with that ______________ that seems to hurt your chances of finding someone. You’ve bought a house, a pet, and possessions, rather than waiting for a spouse to come along and build your life.

And you’ve given your confusion and tears, as best you can, to God.

Well done.

Seriously.

If you’re single and still pursuing God, still in church, still serving and trusting and living to the fullest right now, I want to say well done. I believe God is saying that. I believe he is pleased with you. He sees you. Having walked your path for many years, I personally think you deserve a party. Anyone who stays faithful through the denial of a heart’s desire is deserving of vigorous kudos.

Because that’s holiness.

I’m sorry if your circle has failed to tell you this. They mean well. Even if they tell you to be content, find your satisfaction in Jesus, celebrate singleness as a Biblically valid lifestyle, and then turn around and reserve all the parties for newlyweds and new parents.

God has noticed. He has noticed. He comforts you. He parades you as he paraded Job – “This one gets it!”. Don’t let cries of “first world problems” belittle your years of patience. Singleness isn’t always easy. Going without a heart’s desire never is.

None of us have a perfect record. It doesn’t matter. You’re persevering. God cares about your disappointment and offers his comfort. I’d hug the stuffing out of you myself if it weren’t insanely awkward. If you’re okay with not knowing the next step, if you’ve found your love for God swelling and outgrowing the earthly longings alongside it, then you’ve reached your mountaintop. Getting married was never the mountaintop. Knowing God was.

And he is immensely pleased with you.

“That’s fine for him,” an honest corner of our heart responds. “But what about us?”

Peter seemed to wonder the same thing as he watched the rich young man fade into the distance, asked by Jesus to surrender the treasure of his heart:

Peter said to him, “We have left all we had to follow you!”

“Truly I tell you,” Jesus said to them, “no one who has left home or wife or brothers or sisters or parents or children for the sake of the kingdom of God will fail to receive many times as much in this age, and in the age to come, eternal life.” (Luke 18:28-20)

We singles certainly haven’t given up “all we have”, but Jesus casts a wide net. He affirms sacrifice of many kinds. Here’s what we can know: no matter what you give up for the Name, you won’t feel cheated in the end. God knows how to leave his people feeling rewarded.

I’m convinced this includes singleness. Some of us are asked to lay our desire down for a few years, some a decade or two, a few for our entire pilgrimage. But the promise of Luke 18 can be trusted. It comes from the Son of God, who knew better than anyone the spaciousness and compassion of his Father’s heart.

What’s more, if you also maintain faith in the Father’s generosity and his potential to answer your prayer even now – wow.

To have enough confidence in God’s goodness to keep putting your heart out there, to keep placing hope in his power while still letting go of exactly what that power will bring? Thats remarkable faith. Not everyone gets there.

In fact, sadly, very few do. The wait can bring an edge of resignation – burying a desire, dismissing blessing. It seems holy. It’s merely spiritualized pessimism – perhaps bitterness. Walling yourself off from possible disappointment.

Ever heard one of those “God wants access to every locked room in your life” sermons? Your desires are another room. He wants in. Not to lecture or destroy, but to indwell your entire heart.

Whatever happens, he is proud of you. He won’t forget your surrender.

If the words of some random blogger don’t do it for you, hear again the words of Christ:

I assure you that everyone who has given up house or wife or brothers or parents or children, for the sake of the Kingdom of God, will be repaid many times over in this life, and will have eternal life in the world to come.” (Luke 18:29-30 NLT)

If God Could Change Saul, He Can Change Donald Trump

lightCongratulations, Mr. President-Elect. The odds have proven to be in your favor after all.

You all know that a few weeks ago I posted about my personal reluctance to vote for Donald Trump. I laid out my convictions as best I could; I made clear that we each had to do what we each thought was right. Well, we did, and here we are. (How I voted will remain private to me.) Yet I think I am still safe in saying that some of us retain concerns over Trump’s character. There remain unanswered questions.

So now our question is how a Christian responds to his election in the midst of this fog.

Well, we show respect befitting the office. Hence the formality to open my post. God told us to honor governments and officials, and if I’m going to talk of character, I have to follow God’s commandments about mine. We also remember that God is the only one who really knows where all this is going; he’s the one holding each man’s destiny. It was that thought that led me to think of the Apostle Paul. It was a reminder of HIS life that broke open my fog and revealed a staggering vista of the ocean of God’s grace, compelling me to break an earlier no-more-Trump-on-this-blog promise and write this post.

If God can change Saul, he can change Donald Trump.

This is serious business, folks.

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