Saturday, August 24, 2013

The Perfect Relationship, and How We've Got it All Wrong

Every time I've begun to write this, a little voice in my head reminds me how intimidating the prospect of writing on this subject is, and I'm inevitably drawn to try something safer, like wetting my finger and seeing if all my light sockets work. I can't say the subject itself scares me. I'd be fairly confident saying that during my involvement with Christian ministries and churches in college, romantic relationships were one of the most heavily discussed subjects among my peers. Unfortunately, saying the topic bordered on obsessive more often than not is a bit of an understatement. There is (and was) nothing inherently wrong with the sheer amount of discussion the topic inspired. We are relational beings with relational desires and I would be the first to say I believe that those are wonderful and healthy God given and God pleasing attributes. But even healthy God given yearnings can earn a place in our lives they don't deserve.

Then there are these constant nagging voices saying that people will think I'm prideful because I've had successful relationship thus far and I'm simply throwing my wealth of knowledge in their faces. But truth is, I've been single for 96% of my life, and after a year of being in a relationship, I still struggle with a lot of single-minded (selfish) tendencies. Yes, in case you missed it, I just equated singleness with selfishness. They are certainly mutually exclusive, but there is plenty of overlap as well. More on that later; I'm getting ahead of myself. The point I've so successfully skirted up until now is that my ideas of what a relationship looked like were severely challenged and reworked after I found myself in one. Unfortunately, many of the false and outright ridiculous ideas I'd developed were directly inspired by...other Christian singles. Ugh. Why doesn't anyone realize what a bad idea that is? Shouldn't we look to someone who actually knows something about the subject to discuss it? It's like a bunch of guys sitting around looking at pictures of Lamborghini's and deciding they know everything there is to know about the mechanical realm of expensive automobiles. Would anyone take these people seriously?

I think one of the biggest issues is that we allow a lot of anxiety and uncertainty to take root in this area of our lives. We ask questions like, "Does God want me to be single all my life?", or "Is there a 'perfect' match for me somewhere out there?", and on and on it goes. It certainly isn't the only area of our lives that inspires worry. I'm sure the same could be said about academic and career challenges. It's an enormous unknown staring us in the face and it scares us (rightfully so I might add). One of the biggest things I've learned in regards to life in general, that certainly applies to relationships, is that we want explicit answers so badly. We want to make an equation that will solve all of the unknown questions in our lives. Throw out your user manuals, my friends. Trash the self help books and take a minute to sit down and calm your breathing. There is no formula. Not in relationships, and certainly not in life. What's worse is we take this attitude of wanting all our questions answered, wanting everything "ready made", straight into our relationships. We want to know how many kids we want, what kind of school we'll send them to, and whether or not we'll have a dog before the first date. Who came up with this lunacy?

I always heard that a sign of a "Godly relationship" was a couple who was thinking about marriage right from the get go. This is a point well worth expansion, but more often than not I think the ball gets dropped on this one. It's like when you were a kid and the fact that Jonah was a total asshole got left out of the big fish story and we all sat wide eyed soaking up the parts about fish vomit and the scary Nineveh people. Thinking about marriage for most of us means worrying about marriage, which then gives way to a "job interview" mentality when looking for potential partners ("I could never go out with someone who..." I'll come back to this one in a minute). The point that should be made here is you should have a direction in mind while dating. As a Christian I think this should be true in any relationship, and much more so in a romantic one. So what's wrong with thinking about marriage right from the start? Nothing. And everything. Remember when you were little and you'd have a new best friend every five minutes? Or you'd decide someone was going to be your best friend before you even met them? It's kind of like that. Isn't it funny how those relationships felt so forced, trying to turn that person into your best friend? While in contrast, the friendships you just allowed to develop and grow on their own often went much further? Okay, clearly I'm not saying we shouldn't think about marriage as an end to dating. What I am saying is that we allow or worries, anxieties, and selfish attitudes towards relationships to overcome us to the point where we want everything worked out before we even find our footing in the relationship.

With the former points in mind, I come back to my previously unresolved comments concerning selfishness and pride. "I'd never date someone who..." is the beginning of a very dangerous game, and I've heard this statement thrown around a lot in Christian circles. Clearly as Christians we should have standards. But they need to be the right standards. I see so many people caught up in this "ready-made" attitude they lose their focus and start developing unrealistic standards for the hypothetical person they will never meet. I was just as guilty here as anyone else. I swore I'd never date someone who wasn't as "spiritually mature" as me (of all the disgustingly prideful and pompous attitudes one might have, I think this one would rank right at the top). Who do I think I am? Who am I to put my own sinful standards of what I qualify as spiritual maturity on someone else before I would think of dating them? While this idea began innocently enough--a desire for the person I date to build me up in my faith rather than drag me down and stunt my growth--it turned into an embarrassing display of my pride, selfishness, and ignorance concerning the way life and relationships happen. If you're preparing for the obligatory cliche, "It's not my place to judge", don't worry, you won't hear it. I think this area should absolutely be approached with discernment and wisdom. But that does not give us excuses to have our potential partners filling out applications and matching them with our preconceived list of the ideal match for this position in our lives.

I'm not saying it's wrong to consider different issues that pose challenges to us in our dating relationships as Christians. It's not wrong to read books and talk to our peers about them. These are all profitable and I benefited greatly from many of these things. What I am saying is that somewhere along the way, it seems this aspect of our lives became monumental. It became such a huge part of our lives that we developed unrealistic ideas about its place in our lives. The point, if there is only one to be made here, is that this is what happens when we give things, even good things, supremacy in our lives over God. Relationships are wonderful and vital to our walk with Christ. But they are not God. When we hijack something that should simply serve as a very small, visible, albeit imperfect representation of what a relationship with a perfect Savior should look like, and make that thing our standard of perfection, we are bound for disappointment, disillusionment, and failure. Our relationships, romantic and platonic alike, will never replace a relationship with our Creator. He is the only person who will ever satisfy our need for a perfect relationship.

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