Showing posts with label Guys and Gals. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Guys and Gals. Show all posts

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

(Much Delayed) Reflections on a Month of Blogging

Last month, I wrote 24 consecutive days, missed one, and finished out with a small bang on Sunday. I still have a dozen more ideas for posts, and plenty more to say. I am not entirely sure where to go from here, however.

Blogging takes time. Even a short post demands a certain amount of mental energy, and producing 500 words takes me at least 20 minutes. That's a bare minimum: depending on the 500 words in question, they might take me an hour to whip into a satisfactory shape. I might be able to push out 1000 words in 35 minutes—but only if I refuse to edit the piece, if I intentionally let the written record be simply what I thought at first. As any good writer—and especially any good editor—will tell you, that's a terrible strategy. So, given that I was publishing posts between 500 and 1000 words long every day, that was an average of 45 minutes each day that I spent on blogging. That, in turn, was an average of 45 minutes each day I did not spend on other things.

As it turns out, I didn't particularly miss most of those things. While there were a few days I didn't want to put out a blog post, by and large I enjoyed writing far more than I missed any of the other things I wasn't doing with that time. Halo: Reach is fun, but not nearly as enjoyable as thinking through interesting concepts, synthesizing ideas from the books and articles I'm reading, and generally forcing myself to grow by forcing myself to write.

That is part of why I love blogging so much. Like many others before me, I find that I learn by writing. I start out with a rough idea what I think on a subject, and tease out its intricacies, its twists and turns, its interesting corners by writing about it. Sometimes I find that I have to rewrite the opening of a position piece because, by the time I finish it, I have changed my mind. The process of wrestling through ideas and their consequences is transformative. At its very best, it forces me to distill vague notions down to concrete terms, forcing the vapor of my original conception to materialize into a solid shape.

Add to that the challenge of saying something meaningful day after day, and writing proves the best sharpener of my thought—and indeed, the best means of provoking careful thought throughout the day—that I know of. I enjoy writing not only for its own sake, but because it forces me to think throughout the day, not merely to drift along in the current of consciousness but to seize a paddle and force a direction through my stream of thought. It forces me to take hold of a notion and grapple with it until I understand it well enough to say something about it to others.

On the whole, I loved blogging every day last month. It was draining at times, certainly, especially when combined with a busy schedule and another major project running simultaneously. (You can see the results of that project here.) That sort of busyness is not itself a problem, at least from my point of view. My time was being spent productively and effectively, and I enjoyed it more than I would have enjoyed any of the purely entertaining alternatives.

For my beloved wife, however, the month was a bit different. She was not inside my head, enjoying the adventure of thinking, processing, understanding with me. Much as I try, I can never quite communicate the thrill I get from thinking and writing—to anyone, even her. For her, those hours not spent playing Halo were hours not spent playing Halo with her. She felt separated from me, isolated by my tapping away at the keyboard. We are different, she and I. I feel happily connected if we are sitting near each other, occasionally pausing from our own tasks to talk, or share a quiet moment of holding hands, or an amusing thought or idea from a book or our own musings. She feels connected when we are sharing the activity itself. In short: I like writing side by side, she likes watching movies together.

While there are several reasons I haven't written a post since the start of November, one is that I haven't yet worked out the balance here. On the one hand, blogging is good for me. For all the reasons outlined above, it benefits me deeply. It sharpens my thinking and forces me to think, and in the sheer mundanity of my daily routine, that's important. At the same time, my relationship with my wife is exceptionally important. If I value my own intellectual satisfaction over caring for her and making sure her emotional needs in our relationship are met, I am just being selfish. When you add in all our other activities, especially in the evening, it is easy for her to feel disconnected (even if I don't). That is not a situation I can or will tolerate. As such, I am chewing on how to both serve my wife and achieve the ends that blogging helps me reach.

When I figure it out, I'll let you know. Until then, I will be here, fitfully and irregularly as ever.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Do Duo Devotions Diligently: A Challenge to Married People

One thing Jaimie and I have slowly been working out since we got married (and even before) is how to seek God together. Both of us generally have fairly solid devotional lives: though not without our ups and downs, we both regularly read and memorize Scripture and pray. It is far more challenging to know how (and when!) to seek God as a couple. Individually, the pattern is simply: read the Bible and pray, and work on Scripture memory and pray more throughout the day. As a couple, however, we must set aside the time and work out a plan for what we will do.

(It is important, you'll note, that we each have strong walks with God ourselves. While we can support each other immensely in our walks with God, we can do so only insofar as we know Him ourselves. As ever, the Christian walk stands in tension: we need to pursue Jesus as individuals, but we do so in community.)

In the first year of our marriage, we began by praying together every morning before I left for work. That went well for a while—until I started leaving earlier and Jaimie started getting up later. The result is that we usually don't see each other until after I get back from work; aside from phone calls or text messages, the first time we actually communicate is late afternoon! Obviously, the original plan wasn't working. It also didn't really include much time spent on Scripture, and even when it was working, the time was much too brief. (I eat quickly.)

On our one-year anniversary, we made a point to review the year: what had we done well, and what had we done poorly? We also discussed the areas we wanted to work on in the year ahead (this year)—and one of the areas was our joint spiritual lives. It is important that we lay a solid foundation here now, so that by the time we have children (God willing!), we are already established in our familial walk with God. Children will simply be integrated into an existing pattern; we will not be struggling to figure it out then. (Actually, we still will, as we'll never have been parents before... but hopefully not as much as if we had no experience in pursuing God as a family!)

As the spiritual leader, the responsibility for coming up with a plan, or at least leading the discussion on a plan, fell to me. Over the next few weeks, I mulled over a few things, was Providentially guided to a few good articles, and prayed over how to do this well. The plan I came up with—the plan that we have been following since then, with varying degrees of success—looks like this:

  • Sunday: We take a walk, usually spending the first half just chatting about various aspects of life and being silly, and the second half talking about spiritual things we've been considering—new things we've learned about God, desires we have for the church, etc. We have a two mile loop, which makes for a comfortable half-hour walk: plenty of time for good discussion.
  • Monday: We pray. Our focus is on our marriage, each other, our families, and our very best friends, PJ and Katie, with whom we are as close as family in many ways.
  • Tuesday: We pray again! This time, our focus is on our spheres of ministry. In Jaimie's case, that includes the woman she is mentoring, her friends and acquaintances from class, and the foreign families she has met by riding the bus to and from OU (really neat people, and a great ministry opportunity). For me, it includes coworkers, my work on Pillar, my service on the worship team at church, and the younger man I mentor.
  • Wednesday: We briefly discuss the things we have been learning in our devotional material throughout the week. One of our goals is to have at least one concrete thing we have learned that we can share during this time—whether something new we learned about God, or an application for our lives. That challenges us to be more proactive in our own devotionals.
  • Thursday: We pray—can you tell we think prayer is important? Our focus on Thursdays is missions and ministries we support. We have a number of friends on the mission field, we are privileged to support people on staff with various campus ministries and mission teams, and there are many unreached people groups in the world—we try to pray for each of these categories.
  • Friday: We take some time to focus on our marriage. Normally, I prepare a question to ask. Sometimes we get to it, and sometimes our date night conversation naturally turns to marriage-oriented conversation, obviating the need for a prepared question.
  • Saturday: We study Scripture together. Right now, Jaimie is using a through-the-Bible-in-a-year plan, so we simply go to wherever she is reading and work through those passages together—it would hardly be fair to ask her to do double reading on Saturdays (especially given how much the plan demands). We have also done book studies together in the past—something we're looking forward to doing again in the future.

We're getting close to hitting every one of those days; doing so is one of my goals for this week. Stop back by in a week and see how we did.

Obviously the schedule has some flexibility to it; this is a general plan, not a definitive roadmap. Right now, date nights are usually Friday nights, so that's when we discuss marriage issues. However, that's already a change from date night being on Thursdays as it was until a month ago, and the schedule changed accordingly.

This schedule works for us. Different couples can and should figure out different ways to pull this off. Every night might not be an option, for various reasons (though I would encourage it if at all possible—it does wonders for your togetherness). Different times of day, and different emphases, may be necessary. The main point is that you shouldn't be drifting along, thinking a mutually beneficial couple-oriented devotional life will just happen. It won't. You need to work to make this happen, whatever the details look like.

Men, the responsibility most of all falls on you here. Most women I know would love for their husbands to step up and take the initiative to set aside even one chunk of time every week for spiritual things. The reality is, if your wife has to initiate it all the time, she is going to be frustrated and you are probably going to feel nagged. If you initiate it, your wife will appreciate it and you will have the fulfillment of doing what God calls you to do. It may not always be what sounds most fun, and it has a cost in time and energy, but the rewards are immense. Your marriage will be stronger and your own relationship with God will be deeper.

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Romantic Relationship Diagram of Awesomeness

Relationships of the romantic variety can be complicated, messy, and confusing. They especially tend to be difficult when we don't communicate clearly, and when people aren't on the same page about where the relationship is or where it's headed. As I have discussed relationships with people over the last several years, walked my own path toward marriage with Jaimie, and read quite a number of books on the topic, a picture has slowly gelled in my mind.

This isn't prescriptive. I'm not trying to tell people how to date so much as I am describing what I have seen in healthy relationships. As I told a friend recently, I really don't even care what you call the stages in the chart below—you can call the courtship phase "munchkins"—as long as you and your significant other are on the same page, you're good to go.

Talking through these steps in the relationship, by whatever name, can help us present a God-honoring, Christlike picture of healthy romantic relationships to our friends and family and acquaintances. We take care of each other's emotions by being clear, not playing games, and making sure we're all on the same page—and that is significantly different from what we see in our culture at large.

First, a diagram, then descriptions of each stage, and finally some commentary:

[click for a larger version of the image]

  1. Talking (1-2 months): the phase of friendship where both parties are indicating romantic interest in each other—by flirting, spending long periods of time talking (thus the name), and so on, but have yet to actually go on a date or formalize their interest in any way. Jaimie and I spent about a month in this phase before I asked her out the first time.

  2. Dates (1-2 months): it is quite possible (and sometimes good) for people to be willing to go on dates without having a commitment to date only each other or to even go on another date. Jaimie and I went on one official date before we actual started dating, and it was helpful. (As it turns out, I asked her on a second date and she turned me down... but that's a story for another day.)

  3. Dating (3-6 months): a step beyond going on dates (though you'll definitely still be going on dates!)—a solid commitment not to see anyone else. This is a good time for exploring your interest and friendship with each other, getting to know each other's friends better, meeting each other's families, and generally having a good time. Older generations might have called this "going steady." It's also a good time not to be too serious about the relationship, and to spend most of your time in groups. Jaimie and I didn't spend much time here, and honestly it might have helped a bit if we had spent a bit more!

  4. Courtship (3-6 months): a time of intentionally seeking wisdom and counsel about whether you should get married. While the previous stages should definitely include feedback from friends, family, and spiritual leaders, this is the time when both people should actively seek input as to whether they should marry each other. Actively talk about what ministry together could look like, whether you can see yourself working toward the same goals (and indeed whether your goals are the same). If you get significant concerns raised by friends, family, or spiritual leaders—and especially if you get negative responses from more than one of those groups—you should stop and take those concerns very seriously. If you recognize that you are not going the same direction in life and ministry, and are unwilling to compromise (which may be fine!), you should stop and think very seriously about whether to continue.

    You should be willing here most of all to break off the relationship. A successful courtship, as Josh Harris pointed out, is one in which you graciously and selflessly answer the question of whether you should marry each other. Even if the answer is no, you can have a successful courtship if you honor each other throughout.

  5. Engagement (3-6 months): a time of preparation for marriage. If you answered the question yes in the previous phase, you get engaged—but in our culture, that has come to mean "planning a wedding." That's a terrible idea. Plan for your marriage instead. Take care of the wedding, of course—find ways to make it God-honoring and unique to you and your spouse—but remember that you will marry your spouse once, on one day. You will, God willing, be married to each other for the rest of your lives—many days. Don't waste this time.

  6. Marriage (life): the final phase. There is, Biblically speaking, no turning back! That's a relief. As I noted in my last post, that permanence is an incredible relief. Commitment is at its highest, and it continues to grow over time. (You can read my views on divorce, and remarriage, over at Pillar on the Rock.)

These are very general suggestions. I know a couple in the midst of a two-year engagement, and there are good reasons it is so long. I have friends who have skipped dates and dating to jump right into a courtship phase, and I am acquainted with a people who simply jumped right to engagement. All of this is therefore a recommendation, but a loose one that acknowledges the great variation in how relationships progress.

For the record, Jaimie and I were "dating" for about three months, courting for about four months, and engaged for ten. We were talking for about a month, and in the "dates" phase for about two months. That long engagement was absolutely the most difficult part of the entire process.

In each stage of the relationship, there is increasing commitment, and between each stage there is an step upward in commitment to each other. That means that you will be emotionally closer to each, spending increasing time together, and spending increasing time alone together. In dating, much of your time should be spent with friends, but the more you move out of dating and into courtship, the more time you will be spending one-on-one. You will spend a lot of time together one-on-one during your engagement, and that is as it should be. Preparing for marriage is preparing for the most significant relationship of your life, and how your marriage goes will determine much of how the rest of your life goes, as well.

Because there is an increasing amount of commitment over time, breakups are increasingly painful and difficult—but they are also more important if they are the right decision. It is a terrible idea to continue dating someone if convinced you shouldn't: you will hurt the other person significantly worse by continuing to string him or her on over time.

Increasing commitment will also lead to increasingly emotional attachment, and increasing physical desire. Personally, I think that a year and a half is frequently a reasonable timetable for the whole process, with two years as a (very) general upper bound. First, a year is generally plenty of time to know someone well enough to make a wise decision about marrying someone, regardless of how the intervening months are broken down in dating and courtship (I have them equal in the graph). Second, engagements that are longer than six months can be incredibly trying because of the temptation to sin physically. It gets hard. And yes, you can plan a wedding in only three months! I was a best man in a wedding that was planned in three months while both people were either working full time or in school full time, so I know it can be done.

Now, those guidelines are very general, and there are plenty of good reasons to vary the amounts of time in each stage. Whether it is six months each for dating, courtship, and engagement, or three months each, or various combinations of amounts of time, is less of an issue than that the stages are approached intentionally and thoughtfully. Stringing out any stage too long can cause a great deal of confusion by dint of increasing ambiguity as to the direction the relationship is going. That is especially true of "talking" and "dates," as they are already so ambiguous. Jumping ahead can make the relationship feel rushed and make later stages difficult as you haven't laid a good foundation. Again, the particulars of timing for each couple will vary based on their circumstances and personalities.

Between each phase, it is helpful to have a conversation indicating clearly where the relationship is and where it's going. For the step between talking and going on a date, this is usually as simple as clearly asking a girl on a date. Between going on dates and dating, this probably looks like the classic "Define the Relationship" talk—DTR, in the lingo of my church-going generation—in which you sit down together and say, "Let's start dating." Between dating and courtship, there might be one or several conversations, but it should be clear to both parties that there is a definite shift from casually dating to seriously deciding whether to get married. Between courtship and engagement, there is one big question and answer session. (The guy gets one question, the girl gets one answer... at least, that's how it usually works!) Between engagement and marriage, there is a ceremony in front of church, family, and friends recognizing the final commitment.

I hope you find this helpful, and I would love to hear your thoughts and comments in response!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breaking Up for the Wrong Reason

Note: I have been chewing on the following thoughts off and on for several years. I don't have any specific scenarios or people in mind here—so if you're reading this, understand that I'm not talking about you in particular!

For years, I have watched women break up with men for the wrong reasons. "Immaturity!" they claim, when what they really mean is simply youth.

I am, as anyone reading this blog knows, very much in favor of high expectations. I have frequently written (and sometimes railed) on the low expectations we set for Christians in general. I am deeply frustrated by men my age who continue to act like adolescents and so give the rest of us a bad name. I am particularly annoyed by Christian men in their twenties who refuse to step up and lead in their homes and churches, abdicating their God-given responsibility to exercise their gifts for the good of their families and communities—whether because of laziness or fear. I have little time for immaturity that is not the product of simple ignorance.

So when I say that I have seen women break up with godly men for the wrong reasons, I hope you take my meaning clearly. I am not letting men off the hook, not excusing immaturity, and not suggesting that we lower our standards. I am, however, suggesting two very important correctives: realism and humility. (I should also note that everything that follows is equally applicable with the sexes in the discussion flipped; I write as I do because it is the main way I have seen this problem play out.)

Let us imagine for a moment two early twenty-something people who meet and begin dating. Both are serious about their faith, but the woman has been a Christian most of her life while the man came to Christ only a year or so ago. He is new to walking with God, but passionate and hungry for more. She is solid in her walk, and still passionate and hungry for more. They date for several months, but eventually she grows convinced that he is simply not mature enough to lead her spiritually, and breaks up with him.

This scenario is common; I've seen it at least a dozen times over the past five years. It concerns me deeply. Here's why: in many of these cases, the woman was wrong—perhaps not to break up with him on the whole (that's between her, God, and her spiritual authorities) but certainly in her reasoning. The man she was dating was quite capable of leading her spiritually. Sometimes he was not only capable of leading, he was leading. The problem was that she didn't think he was capable because of a few symptoms of an entirely different issue. She misunderstood what she was seeing and, heeding the advice of godly mentors who told her she needed a man she could follow, broke off the relationship.

This would have been the correct course of action if indeed the problem was immaturity in the way her mentors meant. That sort of immaturity essentially reduces down to two things: a lack of humility and a lack of responsibility. Men who lack humility cannot be taught, because they are sure they are capable of figuring things out on their own. They are unwilling to learn. They stagnate. Men who are not responsible will not carry the relational and spiritual and physical weight that they must if they are going to be faithful husbands. Women should certainly be willing to end (or forgo) a relationship with this sort of man. (If so, make it absolutely clear why—no stepping lightly around it. Tell him the truth and pray God uses it to break his heart and make him the man he should be. You do him no favors by trying to be "nice" about it.)

Unfortunately, people often confuse real immaturity and simple inexperience. A woman may see a man who is only beginning to develop the habits she has had for years and assume it means he cannot lead. The man is beginning to read his Bible daily, developing habits of prayer, getting the basics of theology under him, and struggling to do relationships in a godly way—to break years of ungodly habits. He is relatively immature in one sense of the word: he has far less knowledge than she, far less experience than she, and perhaps even less steadiness than she.

In the long run, though, none of this matters a whit. I remember hearing Matt Chandler comment that a man's trajectory is far more important than his current position, and I think he was absolutely right. A man's position tells you where he is now, but his trajectory tells you where he will be in five years. Give a man a year with his Bible, a few good mentors, and a heart that is on fire for God and see what happens. He'll grow like an aspen tree by a stream—fast and strong. A man who is teachable and works hard at his faith will soon surpass a much more "mature" man who has stagnated for lack of teachability or discipline. The real measure of a man's ability to lead spiritually in the home is how much he is willing to work hard at growing and learning—no matter how long he has been a believer.

As I said, many women need a dose of realism and humility. Realism, because they often expect men who are relatively young in their faith—even those who are working hard at it—to have knowledge or habits that take time to form. More: because they are often modeling their expectations on men much older—their fathers, their mentors' husbands, their pastors. No man my age will look like that; we haven't had time to grow into it yet! (Ask Jaimie: I'm much more mature than I was when she met me... and nowhere near as godly as lots of other men we know!) How much more is this true of men who came to faith in college than for those of us who grew up in the church? This is where humility is necessary, too. Be honest, ladies: how many of you think you would measure up well if men held you up to the standard of your mentors or their pastors' wives?

In short, to all my single female friends: before you break up with a guy (or turn him down for that first date) because he's not mature enough, stop and look again. Is he someone who is on fire for God, who is willing to work hard at his faith and his life, who receives correction humbly? If so, stick with him, even if he isn't very knowledgeable or wise yet, because you have a treasure. He might pass you in knowledge and wisdom—and he might do it sooner than you think. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to break off a relationship. Real immaturity, the kind made up of pride and laziness, is definitely one of those—but simple youth usually isn't, in my opinion. Sometimes it's even an asset.

Don't break up for the wrong reasons!

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

Chick Flicks and Cheating

Chick flicks teach people to have affairs. Before you roll your eyes and move on, allow me to clarify. I like some "chick flicks," and romantic love is a good thing. I bring my wife flowers regularly, I take her on dates every week, and I have even watched the six-hour long BBC version of Pride and Prejudice with her. Nonetheless, my point stands: chick flicks teach people to have affairs.

How many movies can you think of that deal with life after marriage? How many of those honor marriage, rather than mocking it or glorifying infidelity? The list is short. How many movies have you seen that deal with dating and falling in love? That list never ends: it is filled with dozens of romantic comedies, dramas, sob stories, and breakup-hookup-breakup-hookup tales that never, ever go a moment past the kiss at the altar. In short, our culture is obsessed with falling in love. It knows little of staying in love, and nothing at all of the pains of committed love.

We should hardly be surprised, then, that people soon grow tired of the relative monotony of faithfulness, that they begin to long again for the thrill of the chase. Mystery and novelty are the guiding lights of our romances; they are all we have ever known. Marriage has neither in its favor, and brings with it the solemn weight of commitment. Little wonder that it is on the rocks; we have no idea how it works—much less how glorious and beautiful it is.

We are witness to a strange convergence of historical ideals about romance and marriage (from late medieval courtly love right up through 27 Dresses) and the opportunity for such ideals to be realized. Modernity affords us the luxury of choice in spouses much as it does in all other areas of life. Our culture is not unique in prizing romance. Unlike other times, though, when romantic love was often idealized but less frequently realized as a basis for marriage, it is now the decisive factor in most decisions of whom to wed. In earlier times, people generally married within their small communities and made a life together. Romance was a perk; financial stability and the ability to carry on the family name were the real necessities.

There were, without question, downsides to this. People often found themselves married to people they did not like, had little in common with, and would never have chosen for themselves. By the same token, these marriages never suffered the illusion that a spouse would somehow provide ultimate happiness and satisfaction in life, and they certainly did not entail the expectation of constant emotional highs.

Few people today are obligated to marry anyone at all. Women in particular are no longer economically shackled, and our world at large is far wealthier and far more economically mobile than that of earlier times. People thus have little or no financial incentive to marry someone they do not like. With the steady march of urban- and suburbanization, they have little geographic incentive either; for most people, an alternative romantic partner is nearly always available. Accordingly, people generally marry for romance.

Unsurprisingly, movies have continually pushed romance to the forefront of popular thought on marriage. This is nothing new; popular media has emphasized courtship and falling in love for centuries. (Read anything from Shakespeare to Jane Austen if you're unconvinced.) Movies are but the latest to take up the fashion. Like the many media before them, they portray the glories (and woes) of romance, courtship and pursuit—but never the very different glories of marriage.

Movies are hardly alone in this. Popular music (from country to hip-hop) emphasizes the same basic approach to relationships and romance. Think: how many songs mention, much less dwell on, the quiet struggles and triumphs of daily life with someone? How many, in contrast, emphasize unfulfilled longing, the insecurity of dating, and the ultimate happy ending of a proposal or wedding? Again, the examples are too numerous to mention; just turn on the radio. The same is true of novels, television shows, and even video games.

Christian nonfiction has been just as guilty of perpetuating this view. I have read numerous books instructing husbands that their wives simply need to be pursued. The art of marriage, it seems, is simply the art of the chase: make your wife feel as though you are seeking to attract her attention as though you just met, and your relationship will be perfectly healthy. Marriage will never be boring, because it will feel just like dating. Infidelity will never tempt—because the same thrills can be had in marriage itself.

The problems with this idea, wherever it is communicated, are significant.

First, this view promotes a deeply abortive understanding of relationships. Courtship itself fits the narrative perfectly, of course: it is the narrative. Boy meets girl, boy and girl like each other, boy and girl flirt, boy and girl get married. The narrative cannot fit the sequel, though: marriage is no longer the object of the relationship. A man is no longer seeking to earn a woman's trust and affections; he has earned them. A woman is no longer seeking to win a man's heart; she has won it.

This is obvious to us in all our other relationships. The beginnings of a friendship are far more exciting than its steady continuation—but most of us enjoy having friends more than we enjoy trying to make friends. We value the commitment inherent in long-term relationships with each other. We appreciate the security in knowing that someone will continue to stand by us as they have in the past. We enjoy having someone who understands us well and values us as we are. Generally speaking, we do not spend our days longing for the rush of finding new friends; we simply enjoy the time we have with our existing friends.

Only in romance do we think that the emotional rush of uncertainty and the thrill of the new are normal. But they are not normal. No one can perpetually sustain the sort of emotion that characterizes the early stages of romantic involvement. Marriage entails a commitment that, at its best, is inviolable, and much of the emotional rush of dating is the insecurity inherent in the absence of that commitment.

However carefully one treads, there is always the chance that one's significant other will break off the relationship and move on to someone else. This may not be a particularly pleasant thought, but it serves to heighten all the emotional aspects of the relationship. Even as low moments are crushing, happy moments cause the heart to soar with hope and expectation.

Further, hope and expectation are two of the primary positive emotions of courtship. They are not primary characteristics of marriage, however. Courtship's hope and expectation are toward marriage itself. Marriage, by definition, has already fulfilled those hopes and and expectations. Various desires remain, of course: dreams of what the future holds, of children and family, and of a happy life together. These are not the point of the relationship in the same way that the hope of marriage is the point of dating, though. The defining characteristic of marriage is not longing but commitment.

Finally, at a purely practical level, sustaining the level of emotion experienced in courtship is impossible. Gestures that once stirred the heart to rapturous happiness now produce contented smiles and tender hugs. We grow accustomed to each other's ways of communicating love. Holding hands may remain delightful and a helpful way to demonstrate togetherness, but it never thrills quite the same way as it did the first time. Much as a woman loves being gently kissed, she will never feel the same rush she did on being kissed the first time. It is well worth the effort to keep these gestures fresh and appreciated. Nonetheless, no amount of effort can maintain the emotional heights of courtship.

These media model for us an entire set of relational expectations which are ultimately unrealistic. Pursuit cannot continue forever. Moreover, it should not: marriage is not a continuous pursuit, but a steady commitment to remain. Marriage cannot thrill as dating (or infidelity) does; obedience to God's word is never as exciting in the moment as sin. The antidote to infidelity is faithfulness, plain and simple and boring though that answer may seem.

If indeed the thrill of novelty is not normative for marriage, what is? Are we to throw away romance entirely and content ourselves with dull and dreary days and lackluster love? Not at all. We must, however, begin to reorient our conception of love.

As has often been emphasized, love is not an emotion; it is a choice. However helpful affection is, love shows itself most powerfully when affection is at its lowest ebb. Loving someone when your heart overflows with warm emotion toward them is easy. Loving someone when you are both tired, your days are frustrating, nothing exciting is happening, and then something goes wrong—that is hard. Such moments expose us. They reveal whether we really love each other, or whether we simply enjoy the benefits we have from each other's company. Men and women who love each other will show it a little more all the time, in the worst of circumstances as well as the best.

In large part, the advice offered by the Christian nonfiction I decried above is good advice. The problem is one of terms and the expectations they engender. When the wedding ends, the pursuit ends; what remains is the far less exciting but far more meaningful and important project of remaining. This by no means indicates that the time for romantic gestures has likewise ended—such gestures are a part of remaining well. Wherever we continually set our wills, our affections usually follow. People who start running to exercise often end up as runners. People who pick up a hobby stave off boredom often find themselves outright hobbyists. And people who choose to offer and gratefully receive romantic gestures as demonstrations of love for each other often find that they continue to grow in affection for each other.

Chick flicks can only (and barely) teach us how to begin loving each other. They cannot show us how to continue loving each other. At best, they give us false expectations of marriage as an endless pursuit; at worst, they lead us to hunger for that chase elsewhere. We learn the joys of contentment from watching those who have gone before us, and by practicing it every day. Romantic love is good, but it cannot sustain us. It can only be sustained by real love—the kind that is willing to sacrifice, to stay when it hurts, to endure anything for the good of someone else at great cost to self.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Seventeen Magazine Stupidity

I have been busy working on a pair of monster posts going up at Pillar this week, so I haven't been writing as much. A nasty case of writer's block last week didn't help either. Despite my busyness, I felt the need to share one amazing part of my day, though.

I was standing in the line at Walmart, waiting to check out with groceries. The headline of Seventeen magazine (which is pure rot, as a side note) caught my eye: Finally!—the secret to getting ANY guy you want! Now, obviously, they're trying to sell a magazine, and headlines are the place for hyperbole in the art of sale. To some extent, no doubt, they're succeeding: they did, after all, catch my attention despite my best attempts to avoid looking anywhere near the garbage that is the checkout-line magazine-rack.

But really? The final secret, so that a girl can have any guy she wants? Just one short magazine article with some tips, and BAM!—she's a man magnet for whoever she sets her eyes on? Brad Pitt, Johnny Depp, and Robert Downey, Jr., look out: a horde of high school girls are headed your way with head-turning, heart-stopping, ardor-inducing secrets. You may be mobbed by dozens at once, finally being so overwhelmed by falling madly in love with all of them at the same time that you soon pass out from the sheer emotional intensity of it all. High school football captains, attractive nerdy guys, and guitar-players should also be warned: any current relationships you are in are almost certainly doomed if another girl has set her eye on you. If your current girlfriend has read the magazine, too, you are certain to face an onslaught of conflicting, confusing, and calamitous thoughts and emotions as you are subjected to the whims of every woman who finds you passingly attractive.

The sheer inanity of it all astounds even me.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Flower bazookas - 500 words, 11/11/09

To men: remember that flowers are a veritable bazooka amongst weapons of love. (There's a turn of phrase you don't hear very often: "weapons of love." I'm going to use it regularly.) You should make a point to bring home flowers as often as you can, in as many unexpected and varied ways as you can. Go to the grocery store as a generous overture, and come back with flowers. Don't do it to get a favor, or to manipulate; bring her flowers because you love her. One last thing: bring whatever kind she likes best.

Actually having work to do is incredibly fulfilling. As much as it sounds nice to get paid to sit around and do nothing, it's actually quite frustrating. Simply put, man was made to work. God designed us for it. Work became unpleasant after the Fall; it was instituted from the beginning. Thus, when we aren't working, we very soon feel useless, and life begins to become rather dull and frustrating. Having experienced that recently, I am really enjoying being able to meaningful work to the glory of God. (Though if someone wants to pay me to simply read and write...)

My content on this blog has been low all year. The reasons have varied even while the results have remained the same. Shockingly enough... that's not going to change, for what I might call obvious reasons (the new blog PJ King and I just launched). In some sense, the reasons haven't changed: part of the reasons I've written so little of late is because I was spending many an hour working on getting the HTML and CSS properly set up and building images. It's nice to finally be able to write there. Long story short: writing beats coding.

I'm inclined to think the old saying, "When as Rome, do as the Romans" has limited value. There are times and areas of life where that's good advice. There are also times when it's awful advice. For example, hypothetically speaking: if I were in a community where education and intelligence were seen as tolerable at best, would it behoove me to act uneducated and intelligent? Or should I find some other course in which I tried not to offend but did not mask my personality? Or should I tray to sway the community? It's quite a balancing act, I think.

Last Sunday night, Wildwood Community Church hosted a worship night. I was blessed to be able to participate with the worship team, as I am on Sunday mornings. There is such joy in coming before God with people of all ages, from a variety of backgrounds, to offer praise and adoration to Him. One of the great joys of this particular service was the children: in normal Sunday services, the children are all in Sunday school. Here, they worshiped among and with us. It was a small, beautiful picture of heaven.

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Where I Stand

A little over a week has passed since last I wrote here. In that time I have thought through a great deal, prayed a great deal, learned a great deal. Not least I have learend a great deal about just how much remains to learn.

Over the weekend, I took another trip to Ft. Worth to visit Jaimie. The trip was wonderful, though it had plenty of trying moments. We had an at-times very intense conversation with her parents about our relationship and timing issues. Praise God that I am not who I was a year ago, a semester ago, even a week ago. Were I still, that conversation would have gone badly. I did not do perfectly, to be sure, yet God is faithful. And as Jaimie and I continue to grow together, to work through issues in our relationship and in each of our own hearts, I am increasingly amazed at what God has done and who He is, even as I am increasingly grateful for our relationship.

She is good for me. She pushes me in new ways, challenges me to pursue Christ more fully, inspires me to walk as a man. And I'm pretty sure that well over half the time she has absolutely no idea she's doing it. She is an incredible woman, on fire for Christ, and her heart for Him and for me challenges me immensely. And this is as it should be. I am profoundly blessed to be walking down the road of life beside her, learning to love her as Christ loves the church - sacrificially, life-givingly. It is a humbling thing, a wonderful thing.

My parents are an incredible blessing and encouragement to me. I learn much from their words and their example, and I am incredibly grateful to God for the health of our family. It is no small thing that our family - though we have our issues - is so close and such a place of Christ's love. I told Jaimie recently that there are only two places in the world where I can sleep peacefully and well: my own room and bed where I usually sleep, and in my parents' house. I am grateful beyond words for the restoration that God has done in our family. Ten years ago, I could not imagine what a marvelous thing God would do in our midst.

I enjoy working hard. Spending hours on end crunching code for a program you're designing can be frustrating work, but also rewarding. I can very much see how my father enjoys it. His example of hard work has been an encouragement to me. I've learned a great deal this summer about working hard on a task, and I'm still learning a lot.

Combining that thought with a previous one: I begin now to understand things my father has said throughout the years in ways I never did before. I begin to understand the passion he has for providing for his family, the strong work ethic he has, the concern he showed for my having a degree and a job with which I can provide. I see those concerns more clearly now because I share them deeply in a way that I did not before.

I had a hard day today. A presentation on my research went badly. And I learned a great deal from it. Funny what happens when I ask for God to make me more teachable...

In the pipeline: an essay on The Dark Knight (not a review; there are plenty of those), a review of Voddie Baucham's The Ever Loving Truth, a review of Howard Hendricks' Living by the Book, and thoughts on various things I've been studying in Scripture.

God bless you all; may His grace and peace sustain you, and may His glory consume you.

- Chris

Sunday, June 1, 2008

A Godly woman

So you may have noticed that I didn't post at all on Thursday, Friday, or Saturday, breaking a rather long streak of having posted every day.

This is because my girlfriend, Jaimie, was in town visiting, and I simply spent a sufficiently high volume of time with her as to have no non-sleep time available for blogging. (We had not seen each other in three weeks... which felt more like three years.)

We had a great time, of course, and continued to grow in our friendship and our relationship. Hearing her heart is always a blessing to me - she loves God so deeply, and so very differently from how I do.

I've pondered before that women relate to God rather differently than men do, and this is more apparent to me all the time. Exactly what that difference is, I'm unable to say at this point (thoughts from people older, more experienced, and wiser than I would be thoroughly welcomed in the comments section!). I simply know that I am learning to see God differently by seeing glimpses of Him through her eyes as well as my own - and that challenges me, stretches me, causes me to go back to the Word and look at things as she looks at them: and then to grow in my knowledge of Christ, in my walk with Him. That, above all else, is why I love her: she loves Jesus Christ deeply and passionately, and is committed to following Him far more than she is to anything else in this world. And that is beautiful indeed.

Over these next few days, I'm going to try to post some less "my life" posts and begin really working on writing here: growing and learning as a writer, attempting say more than "This is what happened to me and here's what I thought about it."

And for now, I'm going to go play a videogame for a little bit.

May the inestimable and glorious grace of our Almighty God, the Father of all, fill you and control you this day. Be blessed!

- Chris

Sunday, March 9, 2008

I'm back. I think.

It's been a while...

Last month was busy. This one is no less so, but is so in different ways, I suppose (as is often the case). This semester is no less busy than the last, either - probably more so.

I've been thinking, off and on, about all that God has been teaching me - how to communicate it. Honestly, I've been at something of a loss. I'm learning much. But it's hard to even qualitatively describe, much less to quantify in such a way as to be communicable with words. They're, for lack of a better way of describing it, great sweeping vistas that are slowly opening before me, incommunicable as of yet because not yet fully understood.

Being a girl's boyfriend is an entirely different thing, in some sense, from being a girl's friend. There are many things that are the same... but there are things that are uniquely different, peculiar to this different stage of relationship. It is as though I am simultaneously made aware of my role as a man and of my utter inability to measure up in that role. I am not capable of leading this woman rightly. I am not able to do this perfectly. (Before any of you jump out, I know that perfection is not attainable in the here and now - but that does not mean I desire any less to do perfectly by Jaimie in this relationship.)

I know that I will hurt her at some point. That breaks my heart. I long not to hurt her. I long to be a "perfect" boyfriend - to get everything right, always be kind and gentle and caring and attentive and wise. But I will not... And so I thank God for the grace He so freely gives us, even as I pray that my mistakes will be few and far between. I pray that He will take even the places where I do fail and use them for His glory and our good.

There is a sense of responsibility that is deeper, more profound than I have experienced before. I imagine it must be merely a pale shadow of the responsibility that a man feels (if he is in any way in tune with God and the demands God places on men) for his wife. That thought (rightfully) intimidates me a bit - in a way that encourages me to press on in my faith.

But my relationship with Jaimie is far from the only area in which I am changing and growing.

I continue to be passionate about the gospel, about this campus, about my hall and my friends and my colleagues. I long to see God move here. I see opportunities for God to move on this campus and I yearn to see others leap at them as much as I do. I want to see myself leap at them as much as I ought to. I want to see a people broken for Christ - utterly surrendered to His will. That passion is slowly deepening, solidifying. Vision is slowly emerging. I have not merely abstractions but the shadows of plans - and that is a good thing, the answer to prayers.

Jeremiah is an interesting book. It is a book of contrasts - indeed, a book of ironies. It is profoundly literary. I was struck most by a passage in Jeremiah 3 where God asks the rhetorical, "Will I redeem such a people as this?" In context, the expected answer is clearly "no," but what is striking is that His actual answer is "yes." He is a God who delights in saving people, rescuing them, saving them - even when they do not deserve it.

This, combined with my ongoing fascination with the God of glory presented throughout all Scripture, combined with my sense of urgency about the gospel, combined with my incredible awe at the fact that we are entrusted with the ministry of reconciliation... I am awed, humbled, encouraged to press on in prayer and in vision-casting and in doing. I am emboldened in all these things to continue in the work that God has set before me.

I have been slowly pondering what to do over the next year here at OU - what direction to take in terms of ministry: how to place myself most strategically, how to be most effective, how to make the most impact, how to prepare for the time after college most effectively. I have been considering where God would lead me after college, and my ideas are shifting, changing, far from solid. I have several thoughts, all of which are thoroughly appealing at some level: grad school, seminary, work... I do not know where God is leading. I know that, as of this moment, my inclination is to finish undergrad, get a decent job and pay off what little debt I have and save somewhat so as to be in good shape to go wherever God leads, and then possibly go to seminary for training and equipping for the works God has for me. I do not, however, know if that is what God has for me, and His plans are infinitely better than mine. (I have made the mistake of not asking God His plans for me before, and it's a mistake I hope not to repeat!)

And in all of this, coming somewhat full circle, I am encouraged by Jaimie. It is not only responsibility and weight that our relationship brings - but also much joy, much encouragement, much delight. She encourages me to press on. She reminds me that I am not alone. She helps me to understand that God does use me, and often in ways I do not - sometimes cannot - see. And this is good. It helps me to press on. It gives me hope, and I have desperately needed it. It can be hard, sometimes, to press on, when one does not see the fruit of one's labor (and sometimes even when one does).

But then, that is faith: to walk on, assured of what one hopes will be accomplished and with the conviction of all that one does not see coming to pass.

So I am learning faith. But that does not say the half of it. And in all this, I have not said the half of it. As I said, it is yet beyond me to even understand fully, much less communicate.

But, that said... I'm back.

- Chris

Wednesday, March 5, 2008

Black and Pink Ball

Last Friday night, Jaimie and I attended the Black and Pink Ball (as I did with friends a year ago). It was one of the best evenings of my life (bar none) for sheer enjoyment and fun. Spending the evening talking and dancing with the most amazing girl I know, who looked positively stunning, was incredible and unforgettable.

That said, here are some pictures (click to view full size)!

Jaimie sitting across the table from me at dinner (great food at an Italian place called Victoria's here in town), smiling her beautiful smile at me.
My new favorite picture with me in it. We were at the ball itself here, with the best backdrop we could find without washing out our features.
Practicing our dance moves - or rather, looking like we are so we can take a cool picture.

You can find the rest of the pictures from that night, Valentine's Day, and some other randomness here. Enjoy!

I'm so blessed to have this girl in my life... God has given me an incredible girlfriend, and I cannot wait to see how He works in our lives.

Today marks one month of our officially being dating!

- Chris

Monday, February 25, 2008


Facts for your consumption:

I am tired.

I will be more tired by week's end.

The previous two facts do not distress me.

My emotions are significantly distressed, to my consternation and amusement.

This, too, does not significantly distress me, despite the urge to cry several times today.

This point amuses me.

All of these points are subsumed by the realization that God's grace is more than sufficient to meet me in what is really very much a trivial thing. This week shall pass, and on the other side, I shall have a deeper walk with my King, my Savior, my Treasure; and I shall have another testimony to the ways in which God's power is perfected in weakness.

I am grateful to God for good friends who uplift my heart, and the men I disciple who encourage me by their growth in faith, and Chris Goree for his wisdom and teaching for me, and an amazing girlfriend who has encouraged me immensely (more than I could have imagined) these last days. I'm most of all grateful to God for saving me in Christ Jesus.

Grace and peace be with you all.

- Chris

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Valentine's Day

Here are some pictures of my girlfriend (do you have any idea how weird it is to type that?) and me last night celebrating Valentine's Day. I am an incredibly blessed guy to have her in my life!

I am still in awe that I've been blessed to have an amazing girl like her in my life - passionate about Christ, loves people, bubbling over with joy, musical, deep, thoughtful, kind, tenderhearted, and incredibly beautiful... I don't deserve her. She's amazing.

And we had an amazing night last night.

God bless you all.

- Chris

Sunday, November 18, 2007


It has been a challenging but very good week. Challenging academically, challenging emotionally, challenging spiritually, challenging relationally - and good in every one of those areas. God is moving, as always, and at the moment I can actually see a little bit of how His hand is moving.

It is enough - more than enough, really. Faith is, after all, the essence of things hoped for and the conviction of things not seen... and faith and trust are deeply intermingled. I can and will trust Him regardless of whether I can see.

I'm praying a lot. More than I ever have in my life. It's not enough. God is continuing to call me deeper, to a greater faithfulness to serve that way. I have so much to grow in.

I am not going to be home for Thanksgiving. I will probably be with a friend here in the OKC area. (Previous plans fell through.) I miss my family like crazy - more than I have at any point in my college career. I wish I could be there for one who's hurting right now, wish I could simply be there with the rest... For the first time, I am really struggling with being so far away, being so removed and so unable to help or to contribute to the family. It is not that I have not felt these things to any extent before, but I feel them deeply, strongly, passionately for the first time since coming to college. I wish I were there.

I miss FFI folk... many are at a reunion right now, and I am glad for them. I wish I were with them. They are a family, too, of another sort.

I have a great deal of work yet to do this semester; not least among that load is the composition for a wedding.

Another pair of friends got engaged tonight. I am incredibly glad for them. (If you read this, congratulations!)

I am lonely, in so many ways, right now. And yet, I am very contented. Funny, how the two can stand together so easily, not opposed at all. I trust God with where I am right now, and that diminishes the desire for deeper companionship not in the least.






Trepidation. Even fear.




All mixing together in a single churning mass.

Different from before. Not for the same reasons - and for exactly the same reasons. I look back a year, and things were so different. I was so different. I hardly recognize myself. I look back two years, much less three, and I do not know the man I see in my past. Praise God.

A year ago, I asked out the first girl I'd asked out since coming to college. She said no. I'm glad - not because I think ill of her at all, but because of all God taught me through that. 52 weeks to the day. Looking back, I shake my head in awe of all that the Spirit has done in me in the time since, and even all He did in the weeks immediately following. The whole last year is like that; that instance is but one memorable example (and neither the strongest nor the worst).

Many of my friends are dating or engaged. Others have recently broken up. For some, there is perhaps a relationship on the horizon. For others, there are neither prospects nor overwhelming desire. For some, there are broken hearts and frustration. For all of us, there is a need to trust God with where we are.

God has blessed me richly in every way. I am learning to thank Him for that instead of dwelling on what I do not have in a particular instant. We have been given much.

I have a busy day tomorrow. I have church in the morning, lunch with an old friend from high school in the early afternoon, several hours of composition (I'm hoping to get about two minutes of music written) in the later afternoon, final dress rehearsals in the early evening, dinner, and then a Student Composers' Recital. I'm terribly excited about all of the above, most particularly the lattermost. Few things are so rewarding as hearing one's own compositions performed. And I have many friends coming, for which I'm incredibly grateful.

All that to say, God is good, though my mind is a tumbled mess at the moment. I bid you all a good night. May Christ rule in your hearts forever!

- Chris

Thursday, June 21, 2007

"You're a great guy, but..."

Quick recommendation before I sleep tonight. I'm tired. But I have to highly recommend this article from Boundless, called "You're a Great Guy, But..." by Suzanne Hadley. It's an experience I'm familiar with; indeed, I've joked with some friends in the last year that the seven most terrible words for a guy are "I think you're a great guy, but..." because the basic meaning of whatever comes after that is exactly the same: "I'm not interested." God often uses that for His glory and for the advancement of His purposes in our hearts; but nevertheless it's not a pleasant thing to hear. Suzanne does a great job of addressing both men and women in that situation, and I really respect the way she presents the best ways of going about that rather sticky conversation.

As a side note, I have to say that the two girls with whom I've had that conversation nailed it: delivering it respectfully and in a way that affirmed me, while still noting firmly their lack of interest. That's a hard thing to do, and I respect them immensely for doing it and doing it rightly: in a way that honored God.

It is now time for a brief bit of Bible study, journaling, and then sleep. Tomorrow is coming quickly! God bless you all.

- Chris

Saturday, June 16, 2007


Just some questions I've been mulling over (in no particular order, and expecting no particular answers):

Why I am here at the Institute? Not in a general sense (I know that God has called me here; even in this questioning I have absolute assurance of that) but in a specific sense. Why this place at this time? What purpose has He in this? What, precisely, is He doing in me in this season? How is He using this in the bigger scheme of things? What am I supposed to be getting in the midst of this? I'm not here for the reasons most others are; that much is clear. I'm not dealing with the same things; I'm not confronting the same struggles and issue. I'm certainly no better than the others here; but I am in a different place. So why am I here?

Be Thou my Vision, O Lord of my heart;
Naught be all else to me, save that Thou art.
Thou my best Thought, by day or by night,
Waking or sleeping, Thy presence my light.

Why do guys not stand up and lead the way they ought to? Don't get me wrong; I see guys here and there doing it. But overall, the pattern I see is lethargy and laziness, a general malaise that has slipped into our culture and our way of life until at last we lounge about, doing little - and nothing of consequence. Where are the men who will rise up with passion and righteous anger to defend the family? Where are the courageous men who will valiantly fight for the Gospel and the redemption of a fallen culture? Where are the men who will come to their feet with a shout and stand firm over issues of right and wrong? Where are the men who will dare to lead in their relationship with the woman in their lives?

Be Thou my Wisdom, and Thou my true Word;
I ever with Thee and Thou with me, Lord;
Thou my great Father, I Thy true son;
Thou in me dwelling, and I with Thee one.

Why do we play these emotional games with each other? I see so many guys stringing girls along. They're "just friends" - but they talk for an hour and a half every night. If the guy is interested, get up and pursue! As my pastor in Colorado Springs has often said (about many things), there comes a time when we simply need to fish or cut bait. This dilly-dallying in the middle is folly; and it brings pain. Why do the girls put up with it? Why do they let guys string them along when there are other men waiting to pursue them - but who won't, because the girl is interested in the other guy. The one she's "just friends" with. Why do we use each other like that, to fulfill our emotional needs without the necessary commitment? [There is a place for guy-girl friendships, as I have written before - but we as guys in particular need to not be a hindrance to the girl we're friends with or to other guys. If I am keeping a guy from pursuing a girl I'm not romantically interested in by my friendship with her, I need to get out of the way, plain and simple.] Why do we keep toying with each other, instead of dealing with each other seriously, realizing the impact we can and often do have on each other's lives?

Be Thou my battle Shield, Sword for the fight;
Be Thou my Dignity, Thou my Delight;
Thou my soul’s Shelter, Thou my high Tower:
Raise Thou me heavenward, O Power of my power.

Why am I doing this - right now, at this time? Why am I sitting here blogging? Do people read this? Why did I get asked if I wanted to review books? My readership doesn't justify that. Not at all. I'm not influential; people don't pay attention to what I write overall. [Which is fine by me.] Why? [Side note: yes, I've been asked to do some book reviews beyond those I have done so far, possibly including some interviews with the authors. I'll let you know when those are coming.] Why am I doing this?

Riches I heed not, nor man’s empty praise,
Thou mine Inheritance, now and always:
Thou and Thou only, first in my heart,
High King of Heaven, my Treasure Thou art.

Why has God called me the way He has? Why am I the one that He has chosen for the things He has, for the calls He has laid on my heart? It is certainly nothing in me; of myself I'm a rather tragic figure - prideful, stubborn, obnoxious, and at times far too serious and intellectual. Why did He make me this way? For what purpose have I been formed as I am, and for what reason have I been set apart the way I have? And where are those who will walk alongside me this way, who share the passions and the vision that He has laid on my heart? How am I to walk forward, to carry out all that He has called me to? And where, precisely, is forward from here?

High King of Heaven, my victory won,
May I reach Heaven’s joys, O bright Heaven’s Sun!
Heart of my own heart, whatever befall,
Still be my Vision, O Ruler of all.

I don't know the answers to any of those questions. And that's okay with me.

I'm tired, right now.

Tomorrow is going to be a long day; indeed, this will be a long weekend to end a long week. Yet God's grace is sufficient - indeed, far more than sufficient - to meet my every need.

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly host
ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due His name;
worship the Lord in the splendor of holiness!
- Psalm 29:1-2

God bless you all. May you be kept in His perfect peace - the peace that surpasses all understanding - this night. My prayers are with you.

- Chris

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

When God Writes Your Love Story Review

Last weekend, I finally followed the advice of several friends and picked up When God Writes Your Love Story by Eric and Leslie Ludy. The book is one of several extremely well-selling books on the topic of dating that has appeared since Joshua Harris sparked an ongoing discussion about Christians and dating with the publication of I Kissed Dating Goodbye over a decade ago. Unlike many of the other books in the genre, though, this one does not aim to either directly contradict or reinforce the message that Harris presented (see, for example, my earlier review of Cloud and Townsend's Boundaries in Dating). Rather, the Ludys simply set out to provide, from their own history, a picture of how a God-centered view of relationships changes the very nature of those self-same relationships.

The book is essentially an historical narrative told variously by Eric and Leslie Ludy (each one contributing different chapters); the contents of each chapter being those useful for making the particular point that the Ludys are attempting to communicate at a given instance. We follow the Ludys from their teens through their early twenties, including some glimpses of their courtship, as well as pictures of previous relationships and the general church culture in which they were surrounded.

Their history is probably fairly typical for many Christian young adults today: they both grew up in a church that taught them "Don't have sex," and little more: no justification beyond "It's bad" and no explanation of the notion that chastity extends far beyond technical virginity. Both compromised significantly in their relationships during their teens - Leslie looking for commitment and sacrificing herself physically in vain attempts to gain it; and Eric as part of a desire to fit in with the other guys in his group of friends (notably, a group that includes Christians). Along the way, both encountered the truth of Christ in a way that forced them to reevaluate their life patterns - to examine their choices in the light of a God-centric, rather than self-centric, existence. Eric dedicated himself to waiting to date until God made clear that the woman in question was the one he was to marry. Leslie committed to wait for a man who would pursue her in a Godly way, setting Jesus Christ as the foundation of the relationship. Both decided to let God be the center of their lives - including their love lives - and then to bear the consequences of that decision.

The authors adopted a simple conversational style for the book, as has been common in books of this genre since Joshua Harris relaunched this conversation over 10 years. They address the reader with honesty and a candid tone that is simultaneously invitational and instructional, without ever crossing into lecturing. Half the chapters are written by Eric, half by Leslie; but their voices are similar enough that remembering which person is telling the story (or giving the challenge) requires glancing at the header for each chapter, where the narrator is specified, and paying attention to contextual clues throughout the chapter. I never got confused in the transitions, which speaks well of both their writing and the invisible editor's hand; getting lost in this sort of back and forth (especially when the changes are relatively random, as here) is easy enough to do. Each chapter includes both personal historical narrative and directed challenges to the reader; and each chapter closes with a set of questions for further thought and practice of the principles the Ludy in question had laid out.

The book has considerable merit: unlike many entries in the genre, the focus is not on rules or principles for improving one's relationships with the opposite sex, but rather on a complete change of heart and attitude with regard to not only relationships but life in general. The Ludys took the entry point of romantic relationship and used it as a springboard to discuss the notion of wholehearted pursuit of Christ - living a life that is truly centered on Him. Their central argument is that it is a Christ-centric and surrendered life that is truly worth living, in every aspect of our lives, including romance. They note that God's plans for us are far better than our own, and thus that He deserves our trust in this (as in all other) areas. This was a refreshing change from most of the books on the subject, which tend to focus significantly more on us than on Christ (to my knowledge, the only real exceptions here being Harris' books). Their picture of purity as being a matter of chastity rather than virginity was also pleasant - and unfortunately also rare. Their telling of their early history and the ways that God changed their perspectives, brought healing to their hearts, and prepared them for their future marriage is excellent, and the exhortation to follow their lead was encouraging - particularly to others brought up in the same church culture that they were (which is a significantly higher percentage than it ought to be).

The book has, in my opinion, two significant demerits. One of these actually stems from the merit listed above: in choosing to focus so intensely on the general question of surrender to Christ's pattern for our lives, the Ludys actually spent very little time discussing what God's writing of one's love story actually looks. This is not intrinsically a bad thing; however, in the context of a book proposing to do precisely that, the fact that they spent so little time on it was more than slightly disappointing. Their purposes would have been better served by either finding a better balance between the themes of general surrender and Christ-centric romance, or by writing a book that wasn't supposed to be about romance but about general surrender. The second demerit flows out of this, as well as out of their basic stylistic choices. By centering the lessons they tried to teach on their own lives, the Ludys created an expectation of seeing how their love story played out - what it actually looked like in practice once God was writing their love story. However, there was almost none of this: indeed, what is present is almost entirely incidental. The Ludys, though they did a good job of laying the foundation for why one should have a romance (and life) surrendered wholly to God, simply did not fulfill their unspoken but essential promise to then demonstrate it. I've no doubt they can do so, because the hints that we do get of their relationship sound wonderful and exciting. Yet by not expanding on that part of the story - in many ways, the most important for demonstrating the veracity of their claims - the Ludys simply leave the reader hanging. From a literary sense, the book never reaches a climax at any level - not in terms of its narrative, nor in terms of its lessons; it simply continues until it ends.

I think the book is good on many levels. Certainly I recommend reading it, especially for those who have come from a past with damaging relationships and broken hearts. While I still think that Joshua Harris' books Boy Meets Girl and Sex Is Not The Problem [Lust Is] (formerly Not Even A Hint) are the best books on dating/courtship and lust respectively, I rank this one as being best after those that I've read thus far. I very much appreciate their Christ-centric focus.

In Him,

Wednesday, April 4, 2007

21 Questions

I'm taking a brief break from the studies - which are thoroughly insane this week; I have a huge amount of homework that will hopefully be finished by midnight tonight (until I start on next week's, of course); in the meantime, I hope you enjoy the following articles from BLOG and MABLOG, a fairly well known Christian blog (I've not done more than glance at it a few times, so no recommendation overall, but the few entries I've read from over there have been pretty good). These particular entries are questions to be asked by a father (or pastor) of a woman being pursued by some prospective suitor, and questions that a prospective suitor ought to be asking about the woman he's pursuing - questions that set a challengingly high standard.

To the parents out there, these are good questions to ask potential suitors of your daughter, or to ask your son about the woman he's pursuing. These are the kinds of questions I want my future father-in-law to ask me. And thus, to those of you my age or anywhere around it who are still in the pursuit stage, these questions set the standard we ought to be aiming for in our own lives, so that we will be suitable helpmeets to those we eventually marry.

21 Questions for a Potential Suitor
21 Questions for a Potential Wife

Sourced: Boundless Line

God bless you all, and enjoy!

- Chris

Friday, January 19, 2007

On Male-Female Friendships

While this post is general and it is my hope that everyone who reads it will be blessed and encouraged, there are a few people I have had in mind as I was writing it, hoping and above all praying that it would be encouraging to you and provoke you to think again about this question of friendships between guys and girls. You each know who you are. If you disagree with me, and I expect that some of you may, that's fine. Too, I know it's long. But I hope that you'll take the time to read this through and really think and pray about it; and if the Lord so leads you, I'd love to talk to you about it.

Thanks to yet another provocative discussion going on at the Boundless Line, a conversation I had Monday night, and a set of ongoing circumstances with someone who is now an acquaintance of mine, I've spent a lot of time recently thinking about the topic of friendships between guys and girls. There's obviously a great deal of feeling caught up in discussions like the one going on over at Boundless, and I'm sure the same is true almost any time the topic comes up, for the simple reason that guy-girl relationships are among the most complicated and confusing areas in our lives, particularly (though by no means solely) as young adults. Given all of the above, I'm taking a little time to present some of my thoughts on the topic, hoping they'll be at least a little edifying to some of you. [Certainly, there are plenty of times when the same issues come up later. However, they tend to be most frequent as young adults, roughly from the onset of adolescence to whatever point someone gets married. While that period can extend well into one's life, that is rare. Furthermore, I've yet to experience that particular circumstance, and as such I will not comment except where I do have personal experience, except insofar as I'm referencing the comments and thoughts of others older, more experienced, and wiser than me.] I have to preface this by saying that I'm really re-evaluating much of this in light of this theory, which I was first introduced to today. It's certainly not complete - and the blogger describing it makes this very clear - but it does have a certain amount of accuracy to it, even from my own personal experiences.

Men and women are different; of that there is little doubt. (Those few who do doubt it have clearly never met a member of the opposite sex; if one has, there is no doubt!) That simple fact, stated in just a few words, shapes a great deal of human history. Indeed, beyond man's relationship with God and his inherent fallen state, it is the relationship between man and woman that has almost singularly defined the tale of our past, and that continues to define our present. The great romances remain, defying every change brought about by culture and history, from those in ancient times, through Shakespeare, right up through the modern romance and romantic comedy films. Whole nations have legendarily risen and fallen on these interactions. We should not then be surprised that every interaction between the sexes from puberty on is fraught with complications. Some of these are natural, and some of them are needless. The moment that any hint of attraction enters the arena, simple friendships become increasingly difficult to maintain, and for that matter to first construct. This does not change - not from the early teens through early adulthood (and, by accounts of those older than me, not even after that).

There are two separate but related issues that arise here. One is the issue of attraction, and with it pursuit, rejection, marriage, and so forth. The other is friendship between people of opposite sex where romantic intentions are not present. The former is exceedingly complicated. I have little experience with it, and that all full of so-called failure (though I have little doubt that God had His purpose even in that), so I will not in any way attempt to discuss an area in which my expertise is non-existent. Rather, I will look to the second area, where I do have a good deal of experience. For as long as I can remember, I have had good, close, female friends in addition to my close male friends. I also have two younger sisters, with whom I am becoming increasingly good friends (and it is to my chagrin that I have not made a greater effort to do so previously). It is from this experience and from Scripture that I will draw my arguments in the following discussion of the topic. Any true wisdom here is from God. All the mistakes are mine alone, and I am sure there are some, though I have tried to avoid them. I pray the former greatly outweighs the latter and that any who read this are kept from being mislead by any of the latter.

There are a few schools of thought regarding friendships between men and women percolating about in Christian circles at this time. I will attempt to address them each in turn, insofar as I am able to do so. One is that men and women should avoid all close friendships with people of the opposite sex except in the context of pursuit and then marriage. Friendships between men and women who are not romantically involved, in this view, should never include any time spent alone; nor should they spend large amounts of time together. Instead, their contact should be limited to interactions in groups at church, Bible studies throughout the week. Another view is that any male female relationship that is not crossing sexual boundaries is allowable. In this perspective, as long as both parties are comfortable with the relationship and it is well-defined, there is no problem, regardless of the degree of intimacy involved. The final view is somewhere in the middle, and harder to define for the simple reason that there is no commonly held version of this view: it varies person to person, and even circumstance to circumstance for individual people. Generally, people holding to this view value the notion of "guarded intimacy" but do not fully reject close friendships between people of the opposite sex. I will clearly state my bias here and now by stating that it is into this last group that I place myself, for what I hope will become clear are good reasons.

The first view is predicated on the notion that any relationship other than the marriage relationship that involves strong degrees of emotional and/or spiritual intimacy are inappropriate. There are several reasons why people hold to this. First, there is the view that anything not allowed when in a marriage relationship should likewise be not allowed when outside of a marriage relationship, for the reason that the people in question most likely will be married at some point in the future. (I have, in order to make a point, temporarily assumed even this extreme position myself in the past, as some of you may recall.) This extends from physical contact to all emotional and spiritual openness between people. While rarely put in such stark terms, this view is relatively common in the Christian circles today. A friend recently explained to me that she had observed her parents and noted that they had close friends of the opposite sex besides each other. This is a fair observation, and I believe her parents are setting a Godly example. From their example, she extrapolated the notion that she should have no close male friends (and, in general, that people should have no close friends of the opposite sex) other than a person with whom she would be considering marriage or to whom she were actually marriage. Inherent in this view is an extremely high regard for the sanctity of marriage, and with it for the purity of that relationship. People who, like my friend, hold to this view, so highly value that future relationship that they want to save all their emotional and spiritual intimacy for that one person. As well, people holding this view typically see themselves as seeking to guard both their own and others' hearts from unnecessary heartache and difficulties that God did not have in store for either party, by avoiding the seemingly inevitable entanglements of attraction - attraction that often goes unreciprocated.

This is not only understandable but in many ways admirable, and honestly I find it a tempting view at times. I find, however, that I ultimately cannot hold to it for a number of reasons, some of them Biblical and others purely experiential. I will begin with the latter, as they are the less important of the two. I know from having had many close female friends that it is quite possible to have close friendships without falling into the difficult straits brought on by attraction. It can be difficult, but it is possible. Furthermore, as I look back even at relationships that did have a great deal of pain in them from unreciprocated attractions, I find that I do not regret them in the least. They helped shape me into the man I am today. I gained valuable insights into humanity's spiritual condition, into the character of God, and into the nature of both men and women in specific, from those relationships, and I would not trade even those insights for having had less pain. More importantly, though, I would not trade the impacts that we had on each other's lives by being friends; I would not for anything in this world give up the ways I got to be a help to them and they to me simply because of the possible (and in many past cases, very much actualized) pain present therein. Rather, I count that cost as insignificant compared to the value of what we gained in knowing each other.

There is furthermore a logical flaw in this argumentation, for in taking the position that because married people should have no intimate opposite-sex friends, neither should those who are not married, a crucial point is missed. Specifically, that the married persons do have a close friend of the opposite sex. And that is meeting a need in their hearts. While we are clearly not meant to have the same degree of intimacy before marriage, we do need the insights and giftings of those members of the body who are different from us, and God created men and women different for precisely that reason among others. We compliment one another. When we ignore that gifting in our own pious desire to be holy without seeking what God Himself says about it, we are grave danger of holding ourselves to a higher standard than God does, and being "holier than thou" to God - of raising ourselves in pride to say our ways are higher than His - is a dangerous place indeed. I doubt most people who hold to that position consciously embrace this mentality (quite the opposite, I am sure!) yet, based on Scripture, that is precisely what they are doing, from what I can see.

Why do I say that? Quite simply, it is because as I look at this argument from a Biblical standpoint, I find myself disagreeing unable to hold to it. First and foremost, there is no passage in the Bible that explicitly deals with the topic. We must work from inference from other passages, both prescriptive and descriptive. We know that we are not to defraud one another sexually. We know that Timothy, as a young pastor, was told to treat younger women as sisters, with absolute purity. It is from these passages and a few others like them that proponents of this view often draw their support. These are compelling arguments at some level - at least, they are if one takes the view that no close friendship between men and women can be pure unless it be in marriage.

Most people that I have seen that hold these views come to the Bible with it and then seek justification for their view. This manner of examining the Bible - eisegetically, rather than exegetically (letting the text speak for itself) - is dangerous, and indeed is the foundation of heresies many and varied throughout history. By no means am I suggesting those holding to this view are heretics; rather I am pointing out that it is unwise to do. And certainly I am not innocent from having done so in the past. On this topic I have done my best to examine the whole picture presented by Scripture with prayer, aware of my own biases and fallibility, and I can stand only on what I have found, hoping that I have not been deceived by my own fallen nature. Why do I think these views are flawed? For the simple reason that the record of the rest of Scripture first does not explicitly address the issue, and secondly does not confirm this thesis in its presentation of descriptive verses, even about Jesus Himself. First, in the Timothy passage, we see that younger women are to be treated as sisters, with purity. In fact, the analogy of the members of the church as being our brothers is used throughout the New Testament. The notion of "brothers" or "brethren" has the connotation of being immediate family in this usage, because all have become adopted children of God. Yet, nowhere are we given instruction not to be close friends with our siblings. To the contrary, they are given to us as great gifts, and likewise our brothers and sisters in Christ are given to us as gifts. Indeed, we are given to each other for mutual edification and sanctification. To this end, we should not scorn the gifts that God has given us in each other, but rather guard them carefully and wisely. Furthermore, from the example of Jesus Himself we have considerable evidence that close friendships with women were a significant part of His life and His ministry. We see Paul establishing strong spiritual relationships with women along the way in his ministry. We see John addressing a beloved woman in one of the letters that is divinely inspired. Clearly, the notion that close friendships are inappropriate doesn't hold up, then.

At the same time, we are not each other's, and in view of honoring each other's future spouses, guarding each other's purity, and seeking above all to bring glory to God, it is clear that there ought to boundaries on non-romantic relationships. There are topics that ought not be discussed, emotional lines that ought not be crossed, spiritual intimacies that ought not be shared, and physical boundaries that ought not be stepped over. We cannot guard each other's hearts if we have laid them bare before each other; we cannot keep safe each other's hearts for the future if we have given them away in friendships here in the now. I have yet to find any Biblical support for this theory of guy-girl interactions. At the same time, there is plenty (most of it above) to suggest that we need to be careful to honor and guard each other's hearts. We have a responsibility to keep our relationships from crossing lines of intimacy that would be better reserved for the context of marriage. Certainly we should never find ourselves being mentored by or mentoring a person of the opposite sex. There are too many opportunities for relationships of that sort to cross the line between what is appropriate and what is not. Nor should we be baring our souls to friends of the opposite sex, no matter how close. There are parts of ourselves that ought to be kept special for the person we marry. Even in that context, there are issues that are better left dealt with in same-sex relationships than together. There is also an inherent danger that we can let a friend of the opposite sex act as a substitute, a fill-in relationship, instead of having the courage to step out in pursuit (or in being pursued) by someone to whom we might be married. Using a person is never permissible, and we always need to guard against it. That is not to say that any comforting or intimacy between people of the opposite sex is inappropriate, of course, but rather than we are not to substitute friendships for romantic relationships leading to the ultimate romance of marriage. Though friendship should be the basis and foundation of a marriage, there are different kinds of friendship involved in these relationships. As Lewis put it, one kind of friendship has the two people walking side by side toward a common goal; the other has the people facing each other, even as they pursue a common goal together. So we must always be mindful of how we are approaching these relationships.

There are friendships that model brotherhood and sisterhood to one another, and demonstrate to the rest of the world that redeemed relationships do not have to be centered on sexuality and emotional fulfillment, but rather can be subsumed to the obedience of Christ and the goal of mutual service and edification. Those friendships - those siblings that God has blessed us with - are some of the greatest gifts we can ever have, and to deny them in an attempt to make ourselves holy in ways that God has not called holy is quite simply to deny God the opportunity to bless us beyond what we can ask or imagine. I know that my own close female friends have blessed, encouraged, and taught me a great deal. To those of you who have sought to honor God by cutting yourself off from these friendships, I hope you'll stop and look at it again and spend some time praying about it. To those of you who may have tried to honor God but have ignored the ways we need to guard each other's hearts in guy-girl relationships, I hope you as well will seek our Father's wisdom in this area of considerable vulnerability. And to those of you who, like me, have found yourself seeking God somewhere in the middle, I encourage you to continue looking for greater wisdom in what that means and where the lines ought to be drawn, because - like those on either extreme - we are sinners in need of all of God's help so that we don't cause each other to stumble. Above all, let us seek to honor and glorify God in all of our deeds, in our words, and especially in the thoughts and intentions of our hearts as we approach these relationships which, redeemed, are a great gift, but left enslaved to the curse, are tragedies waiting to happen.

- Chris