Monday, December 12, 2005

I'm a Ramblin' Man

I sometimes think a lot about girls and relationships. Perhaps it may shock you that a 23-year old graduate student might consider such things, but I suspect not.

In any case, I've come to realizations over the years. Back before I was even a Christian, in early high school, I looked around me and noticed that there were a lot of pretty girls. What this made me realize was that looks alone shouldn't be enough to become interested in someone. If there are a lot of pretty girls, then either you go for the prettiest or you go for one who meets at least your basic standards. If you go for the prettiest, then you've got an interesting situation on your hands if you should ever find a girl who looks better. Besides, looks fade. There is some merit to the second option, though. It's reasonable to want to be with someone you find physically attractive.

Having established that physical looks alone weren't enough, the next two insights came at the same time, though I unwittingly learned them separately. The first was that it was necessary to look for someone who was intelligent and with whom I got along well. That sounds pretty basic, but it can be easy to overlook. One bit of advice I heard was "when you find someone whose faults amuse you, marry them." That may be a little simplistic, but again, there's some merit there. Some things need to be corrected in a person, but other things are simply part of their personality and if you're not okay with that, you're going to go through your marriage with some resentment.

The second realization was that the person should be seeking after God. Conceivably, this could even mean someone who did not formally accept the God of the Bible but perhaps secretly did, but that's a bit of a stretch. The girl (I'm a guy; if you're a lady and you're reading this, you know what to do) should be a Christian and devoted to loving and serving the Lord. Perhaps the question that most comes with this is how far apart Christians can be. I'm, for whatever insane reason, an Anglican. Would I pursue a Methodist? A Roman Catholic? A Baptist? A Pentecostal? Which things are negotiable, and which aren't? I tend to favor the ideas of infant baptism, sacraments as holy mysteries which are effective means of grace (a fancy way of saying that I think they actually do something and aren't just signs), and conditional salvation. What if I were interested in someone who stressed believer's baptism, held a "low" view of sacraments, or firmly supported eternal security? On which of these things can we "agree to disagree," on which can we compromise, and on which would we simply need to declare the impossibility of reconciliation or coexistence of views within a relationship?

Thus far, I'd established that I would look for someone pretty, intelligent, and godly (I considered making an acronym, but wisely decided against it). However, when I thought about it, these all boil down to "is she attractive?" Instead of simply looking at the physical dimension, I'd merely added the mental and spiritual ones. Furthermore, I've been surrounded by some absolutely wonderful ladies in my life, and when you sit back and realize that you know a lot of Godly, pretty young women with whom you get along well, you realize that you haven't been specific enough. How do you look at someone who fulfills all three of these requirements but yet still doesn't really hold your interest? There must be something more.

There may be a lot more, but a challenge I'd come up with for myself was to find something besides attraction which could justify pursuing a relationship with a girl. I have no doubt that there are many other things to consider, but one which hit me recently was the need for the young woman to be a fellow-traveller (you can remove that second L in "traveller" when you pry it out of my cold, dead hands). You and she should be going to the same, or at least very similar, places. If she has a heart for the inner city (there I go speaking Evangelicalese again...) and you want to go to Japan to minister to college kids, saying that you're going to have to be very creative is perhaps the kindest way of saying that it doesn't look as though there's a lot of potential there. When the Bible says not to be yoked with unbelievers, we often only look at one part of that. It's easy to look and see that a Christian and an unbeliever may want to go in different directions, and that putting them in a construct which only works if they're going the same direction is likely to fail. However, we should remember that Christians go in different directions, too. Paul thought Mark was irresponsible and untrustworthy, Barnabas disagreed, and so they went their separate ways, though they remained Christian brothers and presumably fast friends.

One of the things to consider is why you should marry someone. Does it make each of your ministries stronger, do they remain unchanged, or do they perhaps even hinder each other? Going back to the oxen, lets look at some possibilities. We already talked about what happens if one or both oxen seek to go in the wrong direction, but what if one doesn't want to move or is injured? Either way, the work of the healthy ox is hindered, and the condition of the reluctant or sick ox may be made worse. Either the second ox needs a better understanding of the mission or needs some help to heal, but the overall result is that ministry is harmed. It may mean putting off marriage for a while, or, if married, it may mean that ministry suffers for a while as the second ox becomes how they should be. What if one ox doesn't actually hinder the other, but is basically just along for the ride and doesn't pull its weight but merely does enough to stay with the plow and lets the first ox do all the pulling? Even if they take turns doing this so that one ox is always pulling, is this a good thing? It would seem that some reevaluation of priorities and techniques is in order. Things can't be independent, or else what's the purpose of the yoke? When animals are yoked together, they multiply their output. When one stumbles or is sick, the other can pull for a while to lesson the load for the other. Work gets done faster and better, and there's better company.

It seems to me that relationships can't simply be pursued blindly. If you ask around, most people will give advice along the lines of "have a good time; you're a responsible person and so I know things will go okay." That's really, really dangerous advice. Without supervision, it's nearly impossible to keep things on track. Whether it's phsyical, emotional, or something else, bad habits and dependencies will begin to develop. You will cease to appreciate the person you're seeing and take her for granted. Don't let this happen. Understanding yourself is hard enough; you're not going to live long enough to fully understand someone else, and thinking that you can fully understand God is just plain crazy. Mystery is important. She's a woman; she acts in ways which you'd never imagine but which charm the heck out of you. He's a man; he'll do things which you might never expect but which are meant to show you as much honor as possible. We're made male and female for a reason. Vive la difference!

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