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A Message to Single People and the People Who Love Them

Single People and the People Who Love Them

The other night my daughter, Von, asked me how she’ll know when she meets the right person. I asked her why she wanted to know, and she said, “Well, did you know Mom was the right person when you first met her?”

She knows I didn’t, because she’s well aware of the story. I met Kim in the 7th grade when my family moved from Edinburg to Pawnee Illinois.

I asked “Is there someone in your class that you have your eye on?”

Now, you have to understand, Von is thirteen years old. We have told her that she’s not allowed to have a boyfriend, and she’ll not be going on dates until she’s eighteen. she’s cool with all of this, at least at this point, so I’m asking the question in that context.

She said there was indeed a boy that she likes to talk to, and was just curious how she would know if he was “the one.”

What do you say to that question? Do you just repeat the things you have heard other people say – and say something like, “When it’s the right one, you’ll just know.” Do you shoot the “puppy love” thing down and say, “Oh, you’re too young to be thinking about that.” Or do you just say, “That’s a good question – FOR YOUR MOTHER!” And then leave the room screaming like a little girl and make a beeline to your shotgun.

I decided it was a good opportunity for a heart to heart talk. And much of that father – daughter talk will be covered in this post.

THE ATTRACTION

Every relationship starts off with some kind of attraction. Someone thinks someone is good looking, someone thinks someone is funny, smart, they look like they would be a good provider, a good father, or maybe they just have good birthing hips. Whatever it is, there’s an initial attraction that catches the attention of another.

This is a very surface level emotional connection, even if it feels deeper. It is a crush. It is an infatuation. At this starting point in the relationship we’re just projecting whatever fantasy we desire onto the other person. We overlook any potential flaws and we might even think their idiosyncratic behaviors are charming. It is actually quite self serving.

A real danger is to go from this crush/infatuation to full-on romantic sensual expression too quickly. This is something we are very prone to doing in our culture, and it’s very dangerous.

1st Corinthians 7:9 that “It is better to marry than to burn.”

Paul says in 1st Corinthians 7:9 that “It is better to marry than to burn.” Most people read this in the negative, like “if you can’t control your stupid lustful appetite then you might as well give up and just get married. Loser.” But, this isn’t all that he’s saying. He’s affirming that it’s appropriate to marry someone for passion and desire. It’s actually a very beautiful passage. It also makes it clear that there is no place in the life of a Christian to satisfy sexual desire outside of marriage.

GUARD YOUR HEART

I told Von that if she’s attracted to a boy because he’s cute or funny or whatever, that it’s fine and natural, but she needs to keep it on a friendship level. She needs to guard her heart. She must not give her heart to someone who doesn’t know how to take care of it. I don’t trust some boy in the sixth grade to take care of my baby girl’s heart. I said, “Imagine that you are actually taking your beating heart out of your chest and giving it to a kid at school to take care of. How do you think that would turn out for you?”

She said he’d probably drop it, forget it in his locker and get germs all over it. Exactly. Cooties. Boys have cooties.

There is a lot of pressure to find our ultimate fulfillment and satisfaction in a romantic partner. Disney has bombarded us with it. Every romantic comedy, romance novel, fairytale and epic story only begins when the hero is about to find “true love.” And once they do, the story fades out. We shouldn’t be surprised that our children begin their quest to find a soulmate when they are still writing with crayons.

The message is loud and clear: the only thing that matters is finding true love, and everything else is prologue. Singleness is a grim and subhuman condition.

But that’s not the Biblical view.

GIVE YOUR HEART TO GOD ALONE

We are to give our heart to God alone. In His care is the only place it’s safe. Some day I hope to stand up with my baby girl and the man she has chosen to marry, they’ll stand before God  and take each other’s hands, they’ll promise “to have and to hold” and all that. My hope for her is that she is standing beside a man who has also given his heart to Jesus, and they’ll promise to follow Him together.

But, she’s thirteen, and that day is not today – Thank you very much.

What are we supposed to do in the meantime, though? What’s the plan? Leave it up to the whims and hormones of our teenagers and let them figure it out on their own?

Here’s a little history on the dating rituals of the human race.

HISTORY OF DATING

Marriage used to be an institution for the common good of the whole community. Marriages used to be arranged by the families of the young couple. There were financial and social motives involved, You had to marry into a family that your family wanted a connection with, you had to marry someone with which you could afford a home and children. Romantic love might have been one of the reasons for marriage at times, but it was only one.

By the nineteenth century the motive of marrying for love became more dominant. A system of courtship was established, where a man was invited to call on a woman and they would spend time together with the family on the porch or in the parlor. The man was invited into the woman’s home so they could get to know each other in the context of her family, and her family got to know him. Interestingly, it was the woman who usually invited the man to call.

Somewhere after the turn of the century modern dating developed, in modern dating the young man didn’t come into the home of the woman, but rather took her out for entertainment to get to know her. As this kind of dating spread throughout society it individualized the process and removed the family almost completely from the early stages of the relationship, and it also changed the focus from friendship and character assessment to impressing the girl by spending money and having fun together.

The more recent social change in dating is the hookup culture. Since getting to know a person of the opposite sex in a dating environment is difficult and can be awkward, and learning to communicate and deal with someone who is different takes time and patience, The hookup culture is an attempt to bypass any of the difficult relationship work and go directly to recreational sex. Sex with no commitment. This is our current cultural norm.

This leaves us as a society with no clear path to finding our mate for marriage, so as Christians, what are we supposed to tell our children? If we’re not just going to let them figure it out on their own what do we do? Impose an archaic old-world system of courtship on our thoroughly modern teenagers? Lock them all up in a vault until we are ready to arrange a marriage for them? Pretend it’s not happening and let their mother figure it out?

I don’t think the solution is to institutionalize any particular moment in our cultural history. I believe we should have conversations with our kids about our hopes for them.

THE CONVERSATION

We can warn them about the dangers of giving their heart and their body away outside of the covenant of marriage. How it’s a bad idea to awaken their sexuality and feelings with longings for things that are best not aroused at this point in their life, because they can’t be properly satisfied for years to come. We can discuss parameters and standards, based on God’s love and His Word; which is the only way we can help them navigate the dangers of this modern world. We can teach them about the love of Jesus and His endless grace and forgiveness.

My young friends: Don’t let your boy-craziness cause you to lie to your parents, disobeying them, dishonoring them and marginalizing them out of your life. Don’t let your girl-craziness drive you to see your sisters in Christ as objects, feeding your lust and following your desire rather than the conscience that the Holy Spirit has given you as a guide. Give your heart to Jesus and no one else.

It’s not going to be easy. In this highly sexualized, pornographic, individualistic society we are going to have to become extremely countercultural if we are going to help our sons and daughters succeed where many of us have failed. I’m asking that you will pray about this and ask for wisdom, something has to change.

A BIBLICAL APPROACH TO BEING SINGLE

What about single adults? Did you think I was going to leave you out of this discussion? There are a lot of adults who are single for different reasons. Many of them not by choice. What are they supposed to do? How can we, the church, their friends, family, brothers and sisters help them? Should we all just join the hookup culture and ask for forgiveness later?

Let’s look at a Biblical approach to being single.

Timothy Keller, a pastor in New York City has written an excellent book called “The Meaning of Marriage.” His church of four thousand people at one time had three thousand single members. He said this:

“Single people cannot live their life well without a balanced informed view of marriage. If they do not have that they will either over desire or under desire marriage and either of those ways of thinking will distort their lives.”

from THE MEANING OF MARRIAGE by Timothy Keller

By the way, I highly recommend this book to all of you. Whether you are married, single or raising children, this is the best treatment I have found on the subject. I think reading it will enrich your understanding of marriage and give you a solid Biblical foundation to work from. Throughout this message I’m quoting and paraphrasing from the book all over the place. I’m telling you this now so no one can accuse me of plagiarism later. If I say something that sounds really smart, just assume it either came from Keller’s book or the Bible.

OVER DESIRE OR UNDER DESIRE

People are tempted to either over desire or under desire marriage. We either turn marriage into the end-all be-all solution for our happiness. Or we fear and avoid it like it’s a failed institution from a bygone era. We need to avoid both extremes.

If you are in a single season of your life, the first thing you need to do is Trust God and thank Him for your singleness.

In 1st Corinthians chapter seven the Apostle Paul says Singleness is a gift from God, just like marriage is a gift from God. When you’re single and lonely, though, you might want to return the gift; like an unwanted puppy.

One time Kim and I took a puppy to a her nephew’s birthday party and gave it to the little boy as a gift. Her brother got so mad at us because he had bought this really expensive electric truck, the kind you can ride in around the yard, but the birthday boy was only interested in the puppy – that he wasn’t even going to be allowed to keep. You should probably think twice before you invite my wife and me to your child’s birthday party. But, singleness isn’t that kind of gift; you can’t give it back.

THE GIFT OF SINGLENESS

All of us are single for part of our life, and I think we need to be thankful and content in that season. It’s the right thing for what God is doing at that time in our life. It might be for a little while, a long while or it might be for always. In whatever state we find ourself, married or single, we have to learn to be thankful. It doesn’t mean that you have to be satisfied being single, or that you’re not gonna feel lonely; it doesn’t mean you won’t desire marriage.

But, marriage is not going to be the solution to all your problems. Marriage is not going to be your savior. That’s Jesus’ job.

Well meaning Christians can say some pretty unhelpful things when trying to comfort the single and lonely:

They will say things like, once you are satisfied with God He’ll bring someone special into your life. As if God’s blessings are earned by how content we are.

They’ll tell you you’re being too picky. As if God is frustrated by OUR high standards and needs us to lower the bar for Him to find someone for us.

They’ll tell you that as a single you can commit yourself wholeheartedly to the Lord’s work. As though God requires emotional martyrs to do His work, of which marriage has no part.

Maybe the worst of all is when they say before you can marry someone wonderful, the Lord has to make you someone wonderful. As though God will only grant marriage to us once we are sufficiently sanctified and made holy. So, go on that diet, suck in your gut and memorize some more Bible verses.

If you are single, It doesn’t necessarily mean you are either too spiritually unstable to possibly deserve a husband or wife, and it doesn’t mean you’re too spiritually mature to possibly need one, either. If you’re single this is God’s best for you, at least for now.

I know this isn’t easy to hear. You sitting here in a church filled with shiny happy married people, or at least that’s how it probably looks to you. And it might make you feel even more alone, maybe even resentful.

What is God’s Word to single adults?

HONOR GOD WITH YOUR SINGLENESS

First, He loves you, and if you desire marriage, that’s a good thing. Even though I’m telling you to be thankful for this season of singleness, even though I’m saying you shouldn’t despise the gift of singleness, I want to encourage you to trust God’s timing.

It’s okay to pray for Him to bring someone into your life. As you’re praying, keep your eye out for the person He is sending your way.

And when He does, and you are attracted to someone, invite them into your community. You gonna be in full crush/infatuation mode and that’s okay. It’s perfectly natural. So, invite them to hang out with your church family, to worship together on Sunday morning, go to a Bible study group together, serve in the kitchen, help out with childcare or mentor youth on Wednesday nights, go to Mission Fit and let Mike Hicks carve you both into a couple of Greek gods. Here’s a crazy idea; hang out with your Christian married friends in regular life, try to be in as many different group situations with family and friends as you can fit into your calendar. Take your worship leader and his family out to dinner and let me size ‘em up for you. That won’t be awkward at all.

DON’T TRY TO DO IT ON YOUR OWN

Don’t get in a big rush, let the friendship and relationship grow; Take your time. Get past the crush, the infatuation. Get to know them. See how they interact with different people in your life. My point is, don’t hide this part of your life from your family and friends. Let your community, your church, your family, and your work friends, let us all help you actually get past the mask of this potential marriage partner. You shouldn’t try to do this on your own.

And don’t avoid conflict. Find some things you disagree about, and fight about them. Better to find out how they deal with disagreement now than later. Then repent and forgive each other. Learn how you’re gonna walk in grace. Show each other that you can make changes – out of love for each other. This is how you’re gonna find out who they really are.

But, listen; You need to avoid the traps of our demonic culture.

AVOID THE TRAPS OF OUR DEMONIC CULTURE

Crush and infatuation can quickly turn into resentment and bitterness. A lot of times the modern dating relationship goes from being blind to each other’s weaknesses and serious flaws – to being angry and disillusioned; where you can’t even see each other’s actual strengths anymore. This happens because we think falling in love means jumping in bed, and we give our hearts and our bodies away too quickly.

It leads most modern people to believe that it’s unwise to marry someone before they have lived with them for a couple years. But, that’s not the solution; people who have lived together before marriage are MORE likely to divorce – not LESS. Since modern dating is little more than entertainment venues and sexual encounters, people turn to living together because they don’t see any other way to get past the dating facade and really get to know someone.

We need to rethink what we’re looking for in a marriage partner. We need to repent of our obsession with how much money they make and how sexy they look, and start being more concerned with their character and what they believe.

Christians should seek to marry other Christians. Even a casual reading of the Bible will prove this. If you are not putting your Christian faith and following Jesus higher than your attraction to another person or your desperate loneliness, then you are making a mistake that’ll have lasting impact on both your faith and your marriage. If you marry someone who doesn’t share your most important and core beliefs then you’ll constantly be making decisions that your partner won’t understand at all. The most important and central aspect of your life will be a bizarre and mysterious blind spot to your spouse – as long as they’re outside the faith looking in. It’ll inhibit true intimacy and trust. If they are not a believer they won’t “get you.” You’ll either more and more have to hide your faith from them, or you’ll annoy the hell out of them and offend them at every turn. Or worse, you’ll choose to marginalize your faith in Christ and embrace your spouse instead. These are both bad ideas.

So, guard your heart. Give your heart only to Jesus, it’s the only place it’s safe.

We all know how intoxicating the sexual attraction is gonna be when you get close to someone. Don’t drive your new relationship under the influence. This isn’t the time to go on vacation together, or to spend private time with the two of you alone. Friends don’t let friends drive drunk. Especially in bed.

THE SILENT CONVERSATION

Man, we need to learn how to talk with our Christian friends about all this stuff. We don’t talk about it with them because we don’t want anyone questioning us and getting in our business. We live in a hookup culture so everyone assumes the worst about every relationship. We’re all so easily offended. We don’t want anyone to judge us for the dumb stuff we’re doing, and we don’t wanna start conversations because we don’t wanna come off as judgmental; so we just don’t talk about it at all. That’s not true friendship. That’s not real love.

Truly loving someone is helping them to follow Jesus. He is very clear on the matter of sex outside of marriage, He doesn’t want us to do it.

BUT WHAT IF IT’S TOO LATE

But, what if you are in a relationship that has already become sexual, maybe you are already living together. You hear this message and it feels like nothing but shame, law and guilt. You’re wondering why you picked today of all days to come to church. Maybe you even brought that special person with you to hear this awesome message of condemnation and hellfire. If you wanted to feel bad you could have just stayed home and hit yourself in the face with a frying pan, right?

IT’S NEVER TOO LATE

I’m not saying any of this to shame anyone. This is not about being righteous by doing things perfectly. None of us are going to do any of this perfectly, let’s just get that out in the open; you’re not and I’m not. We’ve all seen too much, experienced too much and done too much to pretend that we are pure and spotless. None of us are going to be sinless and pure going into our marriages, or remain pure once we are in our marriages, and none of our children are going to be either. We gotta fight the temptation to hold other people to a higher standard than we hold ourselves.

So, relax.

LOVE IS LAW AND GRACE

Here’s the thing; Love is both law and grace. Jesus said that the summary of all the law and all the prophets is to, “Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength and love your neighbor as yourself.” And at first glance it might seem like Jesus is letting us off easy; He’s like a breezy cool hippy saying “all we need to do is love each other, man!” But, if you think about what He’s really saying, I think you see these are not really soft words. These are probably the hardest words He ever said. It’s impossible for me to love God with all my heart, soul, mind and strength. Impossible. And if that isn’t bad enough then He says I have to love my neighbor as myself, and I don’t know about you, but I got some pretty unlovable neighbors.

What is Love?

Love is sacrifice. Love is letting someone else have the final say. Love is being patient with someone when they’re bugging you. Love is being kind to someone when they offend you and hurt you. Love is not wanting something just because someone else has it. Love is speaking higher of other people than you speak of yourself. Even the people that put you down and make you feel stupid

Love.

To love God is to do things His way. Jesus said, “If you love me keep my commandments.” Commandments like not having sex outside of marriage, even when we really want to. Even when everyone says it’s okay.

So love is law, and love is impossible, but love is also grace.

Because when love is shown to me, it feels awesome! When someone is kind to me I love it. When people seem to be fond of me, it’s like pure joy. When people are patient with me even though I forget to go to an important meeting, or I forget to tell them something they needed to know, or when I’m having a bad day and acting like a jerk; I love when they are patient with me, and show me grace. When I say something offensive and they choose to not be offended; when someone wants me to have the better seat, the bigger portion, when they’re more excited about my idea instead of their own, when they sacrifice their time and they help me with something; when they forgive me for the things that I’ve said or done! Oh, man, then Love is grace. It’s grace upon grace. I don’t think there’s anything in the world better than that.

So, love is law and love is grace.  It’s law when I’m doing it – and grace when I’m receiving it. Jesus said “greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for a friend.”

“Greater love has no man than he who lays down his life for a friend.”

See, laying down your life isn’t any fun when you’re the one doing it, but it’s an amazing and glorious honor when it’s done for you. And it’s true in all the little things, too – it sucks when we have to sacrifice for someone else, but it makes our day when they do it for us.

But, we’re still sitting here under a cloud of shame and guilt, aren’t we? What are we supposed to do about that?

STEP ONE – CONFESS

Step one – acknowledge it. Don’t try to justify yourself in your particular situation. Don’t get mad at me for bringing stuff up. I have stuff, too. Chances are if we feel guilty it’s because we ARE guilty. Call it what it is. Confess it. I have sinned and fallen short of living a life that loves God.

STEP TWO – GOD FORGIVES YOU

Step two – hear these words, “Jesus is the one who laid down His life for His friends.” He took the hit for us. He knew love was impossible, so He did it for us and He laid down His life for all the selfish things we’ve done.

Yes, you blew it, but God forgives you. There is no condemnation for you if you are following Jesus. You’re not able to love God or your neighbor, but you still get to receive God’s love. Breathe that in. Breathe in God’s forgiveness and let it wash all over the guilt you are feeling. Let it wash all that shame away. Breathe in God’s love and breathe out your guilt and shame.

STEP THREE – YOU ARE GOD ARE COOL

Step three – realize that you are a forgiven child of God and He wants what’s best for you. There’s nothing you need to do to earn His love. You and God? It’s cool – you’re in.

STEP FOUR – REPENT

Then repent. Make a change. Have the hard conversation. If you’re living with someone, having sex and not yet married, talk about how you need to find other temporary living arrangements, move up the wedding date – start following Jesus together. Not out of guilt and shame or obligation, but as a thankful response to the love and forgiveness that God has shown you in Jesus.

I hope this have given you some things to think about.

Marriage is the most important relationship that any of us will have on this earth. It affects every part of our life, so we need to start with a right understanding of what it is.

The reason that marriage is so painful and yet wonderful is because it’s a reflection of the Gospel which is painful and wonderful at once. – Timothy Keller

When a bride and groom stand in a church wearing their best clothes they are not trying to fool us into thinking that’s the way they always dress. The bride isn’t wearing white because she wants us to believe that she’s as pure as the newly fallen virgin snow. The groom isn’t wearing a rented tuxedo because he wants to fool us into believing he’s a limousine driver or doesn’t own any of his own clothes. Instead it’s a picture of an ideal future hope. A future in which we stand in front of God, fully alive and recreated as sinless and spotless, dressed in white and glorified.

What if we looked at marriage as a way to help each other become our future selves, the people that God has created us to be, through sacrificial love, and deep spiritual friendship. What if we saw the mission of marriage as the way to have a person in our life who speaks the truth to us and loves us; helping us see our personal habits of sin, and helping us grow out of them by walking with us through repentance and forgiveness; Loving us unselfishly and showing us grace. What if we saw the mission of marriage as a way to show the love of Jesus to a person even though we see them for everything they really are. Naked and ashamed.

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