Live in the Tension: Marriage

As a single young person with a desire to live wholly for God, there’s a tension that develops with respect to marriage. It goes something like this:

Thesis: Jesus is all the world to me. He is my soul-sufficiency. Take the world, but give me Jesus – all its joys are but a name. I’d rather have Jesus than anything this world affords today.

Antithesis: God said that it is not good for man to be alone. Two are better than one because thy have a good reward for their labor…Woe to him that is alone when he falleth; for he hath not another to help him up. He who finds a wife, finds a good thing.

Tension: The experience of loneliness indicates an existential deficiency. But if you have God as the center of your life, and find in Him your all in all, should He not be sufficient to supply the companionship that your loneliness betrays. Yet on the other hand, it is God who created us as relational beings so it isn’t sinful to desire human companionship. How do you reconcile the two?

Tendency: So our tendency is to lean more in one direction or the other. One side will tell young people that these feelings of loneliness betray their lack of a complete surrender to Christ which is something to be repented of. They must refocus their attention on Jesus and His work, and He will fill that void. The other side will tell you that it is God’s will for everyone to get married so that at this stage in life, to do God’s will means to focus your energies on finding a spouse.

The Problem:

1. The culture I am currently immersed in leans on the “marriage is God’s will” side, so I’ll address that one first. Clearly, marriage is God’s ideal as seen in the unfallen world but it is neither a fundamental human right nor is it necessary for salvation. Once sin entered the equation of human experience, the game changed. Our time on earth is probationary for the purpose of securing our own decisions for eternity and the decisions of others through evangelism. Everything God does in our lives here is to that end, and everything a Christian does ought to be to the same end. Take a chapter from the life of Christ and you’ll find that it is possible to fulfill God’s will for your life without ever being married.

2. The culture I came from before entering this one, often leaned towards the “repent of your loneliness” side. The call to repentance was often accompanied by appeals for deeper engagement in God’s work. However, this, I have seen, lead to a superficial Christianity that is completely detached from the reality of one’s own genuine experience with God. Moreover, it is an unbiblical demonization of a natural human inclination. You can only cover up this very real desire for human companionship for so long, and when sufficient pressure builds up, in bursting form I’ve seen my friends opt for relationships that God would not commend.

Synthesis: Given that I’ve presented a thesis and antithesis, what would logically follow in this section is a synthesis, but I don’t find that the solution is any form of synthesis to relieve the tension held between these two experiences. The answer to this problem is “yes” and “yes”. The single Adventist must both acknowledge their yearning for companionship and find their sufficiency in Christ. How to do that is what I offer as the solution.

Counterfeit: Unfortunately, Adventist culture has come to view marriage as the sum-total of Christian community and the cure to loneliness. You feel lonely? Let’s find you a spouse! It’s like marriage has come to be viewed as a graduation certificate from the lonely club. Then the marrieds, knowing the pain of loneliness they experienced as singles, sympathize with their still single friends and make every effort to rescue them from their pain by constantly reminding them that they need to find a spouse.

But here’s the deal. I know way too many married folk who are still lonely. Except that now their plight is worse off because they have nothing further to look to as a cure. Some keep looking, futilely, to their spouse to “fill that void” and their spouse’s continued failure results in marital dissatisfaction. Some decide to have children who will keep you busy enough to forget your loneliness and who, at least for their younger years, will always be there for you, mitigating that feeling of loneliness. Observing this, I have concluded that marriage is not really the Christian solution.

Solution: What we are aiming at when we suggest marriage as a solution for loneliness is actually community. Christian community where marrieds and singles, young and old, find love and acceptance. Where the very real human need to spend time with other humans in fellowship is met, while communally acknowledging Christ as the ultimate source supplying every need. What this means is that married folk actually spend time with single folk. And the goal of single folk in going to church is not merely to find a spouse but to connect with fellow Christians in authentic spiritual fellowship.

In the context of Christian community (aka church) the marriage question is then placed in its proper place. God is sufficient to meet all our needs and has already made provision for our need for human interaction through Christian community. (Oh I could say so much about community so I’ll reserve my comments for another blog post.) I realize though, that we do not always have the benefit of good Christian community – hence living in the tension. Without denying our need for human companionship, we find our soul-sufficiency in Christ.

ps: you know how in Gethsemane Jesus yearned for fellowship in His sufferings but the disciples fell asleep on him, THREE times? Well, what did God end up doing to support Jesus? He sent an angel to minister to Him. Be faithful, trust God, and if it becomes necessary, God will even send an angel to provide the companionship you need!

At least two more blogs on living in the tension are forthcoming. One on the tension of sanctification and another on the theological tension of biblical revelation. Keep thinking with me…!

Why I’m Glad I Attended a Women’s College

From childhood, I just always had this desire to accomplish much (I think all kids are like that…!) and the epitome of success, in every sphere that interested me, seemed always to come in the male gender. Name the profession, and the most successful in the field seemed always to be a man. To be successful, I unwittingly concluded, you had to be a man.

So intense was my desire to succeed, that I determined to integrate as much of the male socialization into my self-guided enculturation as possible. I’d hang out around the car with Daddy as soon as I could get out of the kitchen, watching closely to absorb how a “real man” behaves.

It came to the point where my mother and two older sisters had to organize an intervention of sorts… “It’s ok to cry” was their clarion appeal. Not that I never cried. But I was careful to mask my tears, mimicking the behavior of the men I had observed in situations that might elicit tears. The message had reached me loud and clear that shedding tears was a sign of weakness. And the weak never succeed…

Wellesley was the first time I remember seeing women of intellect, with drive, passion and vision being celebrated. My science professors were women. The university administrators were women. Of course there were men too. But it was just inspiring to see women in roles that I had grown up associating with maleness.

Conversations with my Wellesley sisters were also of a different caliber. Before, female discourse seemed, of necessity, to center around men, family and, friendship. At Wellesley we talked about faith, politics, philosophy, social justice issues, food… 🙂 Not that we NEVER talked about men… But boy-talk was not the conversational highlight that really got a lunch table going.

The appreciation I gained for women’s contribution to the world is inestimable. In a nutshell, I guess you could say that I experienced the breadth of a woman’s intellectual capabilities. And discovered that women, as women, are capable of critically engaging their world for its betterment.

Probably the chiefest lesson gleaned through my Wellesley experience and moreso, in the friendships nurtured thereafter, is that you don’t have to be a man to be successful. But that statement requires a bit of unpacking.

You see, there are successes that society celebrates, then there are those that go unnoticed. A father who is involved in his children’s rearing, for instance, is not celebrated in the same way that a workaholic man climbing the corporate ladder is. The organizational skills of a mother who runs an orderly household are not as highly celebrated as those of an event planner.

So in my childhood, I only counted those things as successes that I saw being celebrated as such. It took me seeing women in the roles I had come to associate with success to believe that it was even possible for a woman to attain to such a thing as success. But time has taught me that society does not necessarily celebrate true success. And that the successes of women often fall into those categories that go uncelebrated.

So I wonder out loud (or out write)… What if, rather than trying to attain to what the world calls success, we worked to redefine success. Instead of trying to fit women  into the mold of success concocted by a deluded society, what if we set a new agenda. Interacting with Wellesley women taught me that women are capable of not only attaining to those benchmarks society calls success, but of taking it a step further and shaping the world they are a part of.

This challenge, especially behooves upon Christian women who actually believe in a Creator God who designs with purpose in mind. Success, inasmuch as it devolves upon accomplishing set goals, would be defined by the goals God has in mind for women to attain to. We need a new standard for success (which is actually the old standard if we’re talking about God’s ideal). Dare I say that this redefinition is as much needed for men as for women!

I’m dissatisfied with the status quo. We can do so much better. We must. And by God’s grace, if we are willing, at least within the culture of the church, we shall. And the development of this dissatisfaction is precisely why I’m glad I attended a women’s college.

Are we using the right standard?

Are we using the right standard?