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Archive for August, 2009

Friedrich Nietzsche was fairly mad and relatively egotistical, but he also had some good observations, like “All truly great thoughts are conceived by walking.” I don’t know about you, but about every thought I’ve had that was really worth much entered my brain a) while walking or b) while staying up ridiculously late writing an English paper. (It’s amazing the inner brilliance you discover at 3am.) Today, however, will be about a thought brought about by walking (and, I believe, by God’s mercy). While I’m not sure this thought falls into the “truly great” (or even truly scrumptious) category, it was helpful to me and I hope it will be to you as well.

I was pondering possible post topics and one thing that was bouncing around in my brain was the idea of marriage and family life as a holiness-maker, a thought inspired partly by the Girl’s Guide (and ensuing conversation with Emily) and partly by conventional wisdom. The Girl’s Guide points out that “marriage is a school of character” and I’ve often heard parents say: “I never knew what love and selflessness really meant until I had my child.” Certainly marriage is (as are, to different degrees, family life and friendship) a tool God uses to teach us, stretch us, challenge us to sacrificially love people who are sometimes beautiful and sometimes infuriating—and sometimes both at the same time. He uses it to ask us to sacrifice our own convenience sometimes, to compromise on the color of the dining room or the temperature on the thermostat.

I agree with this—marriage is one way God refines us, shows us an image of Christ and the Church, teaches us, makes us holy.  So I said to God: “God, I don’t want to miss out and live a life of selfish spinsterhood!  I want to be holy.”  As I turned this over in my head, the thought occurred to me—it hadn’t before—that perhaps the particular ways in which God wants to refine me right now are not those that marriage is best suited to bring about. Now I’m not saying that singleness, any more than marriage, is the source of super-holiness. I am only saying that, perhaps, for now, the lessons God has for me are those of patience, trust, sacrifice of comfort, living for His approval instead of for man’s or taking initiative, lessons that are, for me best learned as a single woman. In fact, I’m fairly certain that those are areas I still need to grow in and in which I have already grown as a single person.

And so while I don’t know what God’s will is for me in the marriage department, I do know that God wants for all of us to grow up in Him:

It was he who gave some to be apostles, some to be prophets, some to be evangelists, and some to be pastors and teachers, to prepare God’s people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up, until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.  Ephesians 4:11-13

He provides people and situations that allow us to be built up and build one another up. The goal here is not some earthly position or other happiness, but something which promises better: “the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.” For this end, I believe, He is willing to use any circumstances or people necessary to us gaining knowledge and developing character, whether it be learning joyful sacrifice and submission as we learn to live with another sinful human in marriage or whether it be learning patience and to trust and love Him above all as a single person. Or something else entirely. From now on, I’m going to try and give Him free rein to teach me whatever He wants by whatever means He sees fit.

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Last week, we shared a video (or two) to help you address the question, “Am I ready for marriage?”

Let’s say you decided that you’re not actually ready to get married quite yet. Perhaps you’re in love. OR SO YOU THINK. (Or perhaps, like me, you find yourself distanced from the love of your life because of things like “time and space,” and the “laws” of “physics,” and “reality” and such. You know, all those annoying little things that seem to stand in the way of one’s happiness.)

But let’s say you’re in love. How do you tell that you’re REALLY in love? Apparently you fight with your parents and elope. Or something. Here’s part one:

And then part two:

Happy Friday!

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After we were on a bit of a roll with the posting, this blog has been rather quiet, so our apologies for that. Bethany recently moved back home, and is preparing for a year of study abroad in Berlin, where she will work in a cabaret and marry an English writer. (Or maybe not.) Meanwhile, I’ve been dealing with internal stuff such as ill health and a bad attitude, neither of which are conducive to my productivity here.

But anyway, I’ve just finished reading and taking notes on the last chapter of “A Girls’ Guide to Marrying Well.” (Have I mentioned that I am slightly peeved at their use of “girl”? Girls don’t marry. Women do.) For this discussion of Chapter Four on Christian Compatibility, I’m going to switch it up a bit and first address the parts that I liked and/or agreed with, and then go into the more critical stuff.

(This is also going to be a two-parter within my series. I hope that didn’t just blow your mind. I had too much to say about the last chapter for one blog post.)

First, I appreciate the authors’ criticism of “soul mates.” They reiterate that marriage is a ministry that can be difficult at times, and that love is a choice that must be made every day. The authors offer non-negotiable traits that Christian women should look for in a husband, creating a short but spectacular list:

–A man must be a believer.
–He must be able and willing to provide for his family.
–He must love sacrificially.
–He must be honest, have a good reputation, and strive for the qualities of a spiritual leader. (See Acts 6:3, 1 Timothy 3:1-7, and Titus 1:6-9)

But on top of these things, they reminded readers that women must expect to marry a sinner who will not be perfect—he will be in need of grace and “realistic expectations,” even in a “good relationship.” They also noted that younger men are works in progress that should not be unfairly compared to more mature, refined, etc. men of 50 or so. The men we marry should also love Jesus more than they love us. We should also pray about the entire situation.

Ta-daaa! All wonderful things, I must say.

But … I will not lie, this was a fun chapter to read. It was pretty funny, for after getting fired up about the first chapter, generally agreeing with the second and third threw me off a bit. I was starting to think, “Aw, man, am I just going to be agreeing with this the rest of the way?”

Oh, no, my friends. No, I am not.

They did dispense with the “soul mate” idea, but not for the reasons it has always bothered me. Christ completes us. Another human being cannot. But they do not mention that. Perhaps because a Christian woman is already expected to know that? I hope that’s the reason. But still, it was unsettling for it to be left out.

So instead of a soul mate, what should we be looking for? Not looks, apparently:

“Charm is deceptive, and beauty is fleeting; but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised” (Proverbs 31:30). The Bible is telling young men to search for a woman of character; looks won’t last, but character never leaves. The same is true when you’re searching for a man. Marriage is 98 percent living and 2 percent looking — so learn to value character over appearance.

That’s my favorite Bible verse. But I think many people take Proverbs 31 a bit too literally. Doing so is the spiritual version of a model on the cover of Vogue—idealized and humanly impossible—and often we miss the spirit of the instruction for the sake of the words. Young Christian men who are over-eager to find a “Proverbs 31 Woman” may become preoccupied with finding a woman who fits the old-fashioned idea of the perfect housewife, who literally arises before dawn to make clothes and bake bread and weave blankets. In seeking this woman, they may reject one who may not be the greatest cook, but does have the “strength and dignity” of verse 25, who speaks with the wisdom and faithful instruction (verse 26) and is still a hard worker (verse 27). Just not in the conventional sense.

(I love it that no one seems to take literally the verses in Proverbs 31: 3, and 31:6-7:  “Do not spend your strength on women, your vigor on those who ruin kings” and “Give beer to those who are perishing, wine to those who are in anguish; let them drink and forget their poverty and remember their misery no more.”)

I DO want to know where they got the “98 percent living / 2 percent looking” statistic. Are you literally, physically blind at some point in your marriage? Do you not look at your spouse while you’re “living” marriage? What does this statistic even mean? Of course character should be valued above appearance—it runs deeper, and it lasts longer. But from a practical standpoint, in choosing a spouse, you are choosing someone you are going to look at for the rest of your life. Doesn’t it stand to reason that you want to choose someone you like to look at?

I’m not saying appearance should be top priority, I just don’t think it should be disregarded. I don’t think there’s anything wrong with wanting a mate of both character and beauty. Humans were made to admire beauty, desire it, seek it—but not to be deceived by it. God chose David, a man after His own heart, to become king over Israel. (I Samuel 13:14 and Acts 13:22). But David was still a hottie (I Samuel 16:12). Did God create this entire, breathtaking world—with the jeweled colors of the hummingbird, the shapes of the clouds, the rhythm of the sea, as well as the human form—only for us to say “Appearance is unimportant, don’t consider it” ?

In defense of character, I have mentioned elsewhere that a person’s conceived appearance can change with further acquaintance. Their physical attractiveness is heavily dependent on personality, character, intelligence, etc. I might think that a guy is hott until I find out that he cheated on his wife, strangled a kitten, or practiced voodoo. Or that he was just generally a jerk. But a less-attractive guy can become more handsome, if I get to know him and find out that he’s fun, or very kind, or interesting, or some such combination. And I’m not saying, “Oh, he has all these good qualities, I will overlook his less-attractive exterior for their sake.” I mean that I actually perceive him as more physically attractive because of these unseen qualities.

I think this happens to most people if they give it a chance. It shows that, yes, character is not only more important, but it influences physical attractiveness. Physical attraction is still something to be regarded. This is why it cannot be the foundation of a relationship. But it can still play a role. It brings people together through the first spark of interest, for one thing. And one of my favorite Boundless contributors (and I mean that ironically) said her husband is “more spiritually mature, more seasoned, even more handsome” [emphasis mine] after 10 years of marriage. And she says that is a good thing. So clearly appearance is a factor in attraction and relationships. It’s just not the most important thing.

But what gets me in this Guide is that they seem to assume that if a woman does not want to marry a man who meets the admirable criteria listed above, it is because he’s not good-looking enough. But there are so many other reasons not to want to marry a particular godly man!

If you’re holding out for perfection, or have a long list of must-haves, it’s possible you’re overlooking some good men who are already in your life. … Even if he’s shorter than you. Or younger. Or bald. Failing to meet our worldly expectations—our romantic shopping list—is no liability if he meets biblical ones. That’s the only list that matters.

I said before that their non-negotiable list is wonderful and should be followed when determining the foundation of a potential relationship. But the quote directly above oversimplifies things. There are plenty of other things that go into finding a mate and establishing compatibility. Even if you don’t believe that God created each of us with an ideal mate—except for those gifted with singleness—you can’t believe that any Christian can be married to any other Christian with successful results. I know a man whose first wife was a Christian, but they divorced because she was essentially mentally unstable. And this man meets the criteria, and they shared a Christian faith. And yet there were other things that contributed to the failure of their marriage.

Bethany tells me, “If there are people one couldn’t room with, there are people one couldn’t marry.” Spot-on.

The Guide takes nothing about personality into account. There are some people I absolutely cannot stand to be around, and it’s not because they are terrible people. I know another guy who is both godly and good-looking, who meets every important quality for a Christ-follower, husband, and father. But thank God he’s married to someone else, because our personalities are very different and sometimes I just want to smack him.

Personally, I have some very radical political beliefs, and while they are not un-Biblical, they’re not exactly mainstream. Not every Christian man, no matter how open-minded or loving, could stand to live with me. (And I don’t want someone who can “put up with” my personality. I want someone who loves me for who I am, quirks and all. And vice-cersa.) Although I’m not even sure if I want to have children someday (a cardinal sin to the crew of the S.S. Boundless), I have some very decided beliefs on how I would raise them if I did have any, and I would want a husband whose ideas mesh with mine. And what of differing beliefs when it comes to non-salvation-related issues? What about life goals? Or cultural differences?

These things are important, too, and while not as important, they can still be deal-breakers!

You and your husband are not going to agree on everything all the time. But aren’t there some things that you don’t want to clash about for the rest of your life?

As for those annoying little habits that just aren’t going to change? After marriage, they still aren’t going to change. Some people just can’t live with certain things, and that’s just the way they are.

Bethany says, “I really have very low standards for the beauty of a potential mate. But there are definitely some people I really couldn’t live with.”

Exactly.

But in the Guide, they seem to believe that a woman who does not want a particular man is basing her decision on “selfish” reasons. Once (and only once) I was asked out by a young-man friend of mine. And by “asked out,” I don’t mean, “let’s get coffee,” but “let’s pursue a relationship.” He had the non-negotiable qualities previously listed, but for a variety of reasons that included personality differences, non-salvation beliefs, and attraction, I decided against this. I knew that this relationship would not last, even if I chose to give it a go, and I knew that ultimately we would make each other miserable. I was 100% certain that God was leading us in different directions. It broke my heart to tell him I didn’t think it would work out, but guess who met someone else and is now happily married?

And was I selfish to do this? According to the Guide, I was. I should have settled. Looking back on all the things we both would have missed out on if things had gone in another direction, I still know I made the right choice.

So ladies, even if he’s a single, godly man (if you currently have such an option in your life), that doesn’t automatically make him marriage material for you. Any cause for hesitation deserves another look.

In my next post: Chapter Four of the Guide, continued, with discussions of loving one another, what women can do to encourage guys, and staying objective.

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Many young women eagerly await marriage. But are they prepared for it?

ARE YOU?

Find out now:

As always, happy Friday!

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First of all, I would very much like to create that magazine if it doesn’t already exist. It could have fabulous and helpful features like “51 ways to re-heat and disguise that casserole you made last week that really would easily have fed 12 hard-working adults” and “How do I know if these mushrooms are actually spoiled?” and other such gems. You’re excited already. I can feel it.

Secondly, one of the phrases I say at least once a week (this is not a discipline, it just comes up) is “I am so thankful that my family _____.” I am, among other things, really thankful that I get to use that phrase so often. My family does give me lots of reasons to do so. And one of those reasons is the subject of this post.

When I was a senior in high school, one of my Christmas presents was a 5-piece place setting of Fiestaware. It was in some fantastic color like cobalt. (Mom, if you’re reading this, I must say I love this chocolaty brown. Just an idea…). The next year she got me the same thing, in another but equally fantastic color.

When I went away to college, I had four place-settings and we put them into storage, which at our house means means that when I was finished with college and was getting ready to move, it took a long, hard search that included a rescue dog to find them. When I moved into my first real apartment last fall I took them with me and have enjoyed using them to serve up the experimental meals I have been concocting. At least the plates look nice.

So, you may be asking yourselves, why do I relate this moving tale?  It is because I am so thankful that my mother realized that having nice housewares was not the exclusive right of married people; that she knew that some people would like pretty dishes, blenders, and tool boxes while still living the single life. It’s because she knew that being married and being a grown up are not synonymous. And for that, I am so thankful.

Now I know that all of you might not have quite as much affection as I do for kitchen appliances and other such things. But I bet you can relate to the strange adjustment to adulthood, made all the stranger when the transition occurs more gradually, without some major event like a wedding to make it stand out.  But I believe it is very important as a single person for me to live my life right now, just as I’m planning to, not waiting for marriage to make “real life” start. And, for me, having nice things in my kitchen helps me live that way. So thank you, Mom.

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This time, I’m writing a post that says “Happy birthday!” to ME!

One should never trust a woman who tells her real age. If she tells that, she’ll tell anything. ~Oscar Wilde

In honor of John Hughes (R.I.P.), and in honor my birthday, which did occur in the 1980s, I wanted to post a video clip from Sixteen Candles, particularly the kiss at the end. (Jake Ryan, call me!) Unfortunately, YouTube coughed up nothing I wanted that can be embedded, and nothing good enough to link to.

So instead, I’m still posting a FF in honor of my birthday, but I do so in mourning, since my birth occurred 220 years too late.

Out of the approximately 4,872,995 blogs I follow on Google Reader, one of them is the delicious  “Duchess of Devonshire’s Gossip Guide to the 18th Century.” 18th-century England happens to be my favorite historical period/location, so it’s no surprise that I love this blog. Yesterday, they posted a “Hunk Alert,” which was interesting but heartbreaking, as I found out that my soul mate (which I don’t even believe in!) did exist, but he is long dead.

I actually thought, “Oh, he would be perfect! I wonder if he was a Christian.” Then I looked up the “Eclectic Society of London,” of which he was a member, on Wikipedia, and found that it was a society established by the Anglican Church with a particular focus on foreign missions and the abolition of slavery. And John Newton, who penned the hymn “Amazing Grace,” was a member!

Not to mention the blog also described this man with the specific phrases “dark and brooding” and “dry sense of humour,” both of which tend to make me weak at the knees.

So, yes, big *swoon* then.

Oh, wait. He’s dead. Curses!

R.I.P., Your Grace. I’m sure we would have made a splendid match.

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After reading chapters 2 and 3, on Purity and Community, respectively, in A Girl’s Guide to Marrying Well, I found that I honestly agree with most of it, so this post won’t be quite as fired-up as Part One.

There are a few things that rankled, but others may consider it nit-picky or irrelevant for me to address them.

As one who believes in Health At Every Size and is a minor player in the ongoing Fat Acceptance movement—which should be self-explanatory—I resented the Guide’s use of the phrase “overweight and unattractive” when it suggested that women cultivate inward and outward beauty. (Side note: For a fascinating illustration of the fallacies of the BMI measurement, click here.) I think you should take care of your body and eat balanced, varied meals and participate in exercise, of course, but there’s something to be said for natural weight ranges and different attraction preferences. I don’t diet, and have maintained a stable weight for about a year now. And as for physical attractiveness, I can tell you that I know several women who find “chubby” guys more attractive, and I’ll agree with them in some cases—though I tend to have a broad range in what I find attractive. Doubtless that goes for guys too. But I don’t think “overweight” (over what weight, anyway?) should be lumped with “unattractive.”  I think that’s unfair, ungracious, and lazy.

Sorry, I just had to get that off my chest. Back to the Guide.

The problem with reading a guide—or at least a chapter within a guide—on purity is that I’ve become kind of jaded, almost numb, to such instructions. I think it started with reading I Kissed Dating Goodbye at the age of 12. And it’s not because I am so enmeshed in sexual sin that I don’t care about it anymore. It’s that, having never had a boyfriend (hence the phrase “perpetually single”), I’ve had so little need to maintain boundaries that sexual sin is almost a foreign concept to me.

And I’m not trying to say, “Look at me, I am super-holy,” or “Wah wah, nobody wants me.” I’m just saying, it’s hard to relate. Not that I’ve never faced such temptation before—that’s another story in itself—but God saw fit to remove me from those circumstances before I had the chance to do anything stupid.

Make no mistake: I’m all for purity and abstaining from sexual intercourse until marriage. But I’m also wary of the black and white approach that many of the Guide‘s contributing authors seem to take on physical intimacy in a dating relationship.

First, there’s the argument that, because humans were designed for sex (Really? Just that? Nothing else? Interesting.), a godly man and woman should avoid physical contact when dating because it will start them “down the road” or “along the slippery slope” and other metaphors for simply going too far. As though one kiss will make people lose all control and, before you know it, you’ve lost your clothes and have no idea what happened. So couples should be careful when walking hand-in-hand down the street—because even that bit of physical contact may prove too much, and in the next few minutes they’ll be so overcome with passion that they may progress to hugging, and then one peck on the cheek turns into making out, and then suddenly they’re committing public indecency and getting arrested.

This is yet another situation where balance is so important. I do understand their reasoning for saying that men and women should maintain purity by having as little physical contact as possible. I just don’t think it’s always the best approach.

For some people, even a little bit of alcohol is enough to jump-start a drinking binge. For others, a few drinks now and then is perfectly satisfactory. Still others don’t see a need to drink all. In all cases, drunkenness is still a sin, but for each person, the pathway to sin, and the temptation to sin, is different.

I think that physical intimacy works similarly in people. Because of their past, their mindset, or simply because of their individual physical and emotional makeup, some people are unable to kiss without it igniting a rapid chain of events leading to intercourse. Others can. Some people see hugging as a more sexual form of physical contact than others. In all these cases, fornication is still a sin. But the temptation presents itself differently to different people. For some people, having almost no physical contact only heightens the mental, emotional stimulation, leading to lust in the heart—which is still a sin. (Matthew 5:28, anyone?) For others, and I imagine myself part of this category, the occasional touching, hugs and kisses, are useful, nay essential, to “tide one over” until the relationship can be consummated within the bond of wedlock.

But as I said, I’m not promoting moral relativism: In all these cases, the sin itself does not change. It’s just that the path of temptation can be different for different people.

The chapter on community was pretty great, though of course it was a little over-the-top for me in some areas. But after surviving a period when I faced serious temptation (as referenced earlier), I got a better inkling of the importance of having Christian community, for encouragement and accountability and prayer and all those things. On the mission trip a few weeks ago, I REALLY realized the importance. It’s one of those things that you don’t quite realize how much you need until you get a little taste, and kind of hard to describe. So yes, please, find a trustworthy Christian mentor, and build up a Christian community of all ages. Have a “panel” ready for when you start wondering if this guy is the one, where they can observe and rank him and give you their opinion (“He’s bow-legged.” “He just kicked that dog.” “He is the answer to all your dreams.” I hope your panel’s input will not be so wildly disparate.)

Anyway, that’s all I have to say about that. Tune in next time for the thrilling conclusion, Chapter 4: Christian Compatibility. It’s going to be delicious.

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