These last two months have been stupefying and amazing. I’m not entirely certain where to begin, but I want to take this opportunity to share a bit about how my life has changed, and how drastic, terrifying, and fantastically good those changes are.
A few years ago, some friends of mine had decided that I needed to start dating again (I think I had been single for a couple of years, with a few flings here and there), and introduced me to a number of potential girlfriends. Unfortunately, my friends weren’t Christian, and neither were these girls.
It was the first time I’d really had to confront the question of dating a non-Christian. After converting to Christianity, I had generally accepted that you shouldn’t date a non-Christian, but I had never considered the matter theologically. Beyond the facts of being told not to date a non-Christian, were there other reasons why we shouldn’t? Practical, rather than philosophical reasons?
There are, of course. No long term relationship will work without religious congruity. This was no clearer than in the consideration of having children.
Let’s say you’re Christian, and you date a non-Christian. You get serious, you get married, and kids come along. Important questions arise about how to raise them, what to teach them, questions of morality, what institutions will be involved in their education…
You can’t just take them to church on Sunday morning, because the two of you disagree on more than just denomination, you disagree on core beliefs. You can’t ground morality in the concept of sin and forgiveness. When those awkward teenage years come, you can’t talk about sex in the context of the Bible and explain chastity Biblically, because your mate may (and probably will) disagree with you. Even if they do agree, their reasoning will be different.
At the least, it’d be mixed messages and signals to the kid, leaving them with an ambiguous and likely shifting set of moral instructions. At the worst, they might reject both for lack of a firm foundation. Of course, that’s their choice, and you’d love them anyways, but it goes beyond the kid’s formation.
Such disagreements will cause strain on your relationship with your partner. Even before all this happens, the kids and the education and whatnot, you won’t be able to discuss a variety of topics. When a crisis happens, you won’t be able to pray with your mate about it. You won’t be able to worship together, and if you do, it will always be on your mind that you’re not worshiping the same god. You will know, provided you’re an orthodox Christian, that your mate won’t be in heaven when you get there.
It just doesn’t work in the long run. Being friends with unbelievers is one thing, and I think it’s important and invaluable. A lot of my friends aren’t Christian, and that’s totally OK. But when I looked down the road of dating a non-Christian, it just didn’t seem feasible.
To my mind, you can only truly love when you have been truly loved, and the only One who truly and unconditionally loves is Jesus. If they don’t know him, they can never really know me. I don’t want to be with someone who not only doesn’t, but seriously cannot, know me.
Why would you want to live your life that way?
As a newly married, self-analyzing, overly-introspective couple, April and I often find ourselves examining our relationship and comparing it both to other couples we know and to the general stereotypes of similar (monogamous) relationships. Our feeling is that our relationship is fairly atypical, and what works for us doesn’t necessarily work for other people. How we comported ourselves prior to marriage probably wouldn’t work for most couples, and our marriage has thus far been remarkably blessed. We still have issues, but I ask that you take what I’m about to write with a grain of salt. I’m presenting this as how I think things should be, but I don’t pretend to speak for all guys or all couples. You know your friends better than I do, so your best bet is to simply ask them.
However, I was asked, and this is my response. My friendships with members of the opposite sex have changed drastically since April and I first started dating almost three years ago, though I didn’t even realize this until after we were engaged. Prior to formalizing our relationship, the vast majority of my friends were female. I spent probably 90% of my social time with females, and felt somewhat alienated from my own sex due a lack of common interests. Every college ministry male-bonding social event revolved around sports in some fashion: watching a basketball game, playing touch football, playing basketball, going hiking, going “floating,” going rock climbing, etc. I like to read, drink coffee, converse, and write, and I’m not terribly athletic, nor do I desire to be. Women made better conversation partners, so it was with women that I spent most of my social time.
However, I met a girl at FnC soon after April and I were engaged and, after a few conversations with her in that context, I realized that I was treating her differently than I would have prior to dating April. I hadn’t suggested we get together and hang out, and I’d remained more emotionally distant than I would have done previously. I was guarding myself somewhat because I was already committed to a person.
This only had to do with a new relationship, though. As I analyzed my behaviour and motivations, I realized that the changes I was making regarding the opposite sex only applied to meeting new people. There is the potential that these changes had less to do with being in a relationship and were motivated more by the fact that I simply had less time to invest in friendships that might not last. With both males and females, I am more jealous of my time now due to my tight schedule.
Old friendships did not change for me, and this has a great deal to do with mine and April’s relationship. We trust each other completely and there are no jealousy issues. I can spend time with my friends without her worrying about my fidelity or loyalty, and vice versa. Some women worry that their guy is looking for something in those friendships, but April knows that she’s my priority.
Michelle asked what the mysterious line is between a married man and a single woman, and I think that depends on the individuals in question. But for me and my old friends, I don’t see a line. Our relationship is exactly the same as it was when I was single.
That’s pretty much the answer to Michelle’s question in a single, tiny paragraph at the end of a long, introductory ramble. Now that the floodgate’s open, though, I want to write more on this topic, but I’ll break it out over a few days so as to not overwhelm my readers. Next I hope to evaluate more why my relationships with older friends remain unchanged, followed by how a married man should behave regarding making new friends of the opposite gender.
Also, just as a sidenote for those of you who managed to read this far, April and I are planning on writing a book on marriage. As that begins development, a new blog will begin and there will be a tab for it along the top, just like there is now for stories and poetry. Since I’m starting to write these things, that might show up in a week or two.
I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairs—how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world—how he can please his wife—and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world—how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord.
I have always felt that there were two paths available to me. The first was to remain single and celibate, devoting my life to the Lord and serving Him always. I would travel around the world, spreading the Gospel and trying to help people, bringing what healing and love I had to offer to wherever I went. And while this path was appealing for its own reasons, it is one from which I recoiled. Since I was nine years old, I have dreamed of marrying and having children; building a family of my own so unlike the family in which I grew up.
The second path, then, was to marry and begin that family. Rather than traveling around the world serving God, I would stay and work, come to the same home every night, and serve my family first. God would still be a part of my life, but the necessity and truth of the situation is that my wife and children would come first.
This is, as Paul writes, a necessary and approved path for our life. But at least to Paul’s mind, it is a less desirable path, and one I have often struggled to accept. I know what I want, but I have continually worried that I have disappointed God in some way, and that my life is not as meaningful or as helpful to “the cause” as it might otherwise have been. I walk to work each day, and walk home for lunch, and home again at five, and I wonder where else I might have been. I cook dinner and play WoW and go to bed, and wonder what more I might have done.
In the end, I work to serve my church and my community, and hope that someday, through my writing, I can impact and serve the world in a way that is glorifying to God. Perhaps my concern comes ultimately from my (misplaced?) desire to please my earthly father, which has always seemed a somewhat unattainable goal for a variety of reasons. It is difficult not to equate my Father with my father, and in so doing I do God a disservice. I know this, but it’s hard to overcome that feeling.
I do not yet know what my relationship with God should be as a married man, or how I should be serving Him. I don’t know what He wants me to do, and I have trouble accepting that He is completely happy, satisfied, and supportive of my life choices. But perhaps, with time, it will become clear. I know that He is not as central to my life as when I was single, but I desperately want to discover how much of my life and attention I can give Him and still honour April. I need to find out where that line is drawn so I can walk on it more comfortably.
Then again, perhaps it never gets comfortable. I’ve heard that that’s not really the point.