The Relationship Script

I remember when the concept of reality shows first came out. It was a fascinating idea to watch people’s lives without the traditional and predictable plot structure. It didn’t take long though for this to be a misnomer. There is not much reality in these scripted shows anymore. Instead, they build upon stereotypes without any real interaction between people. I’ve come to realize that marriage, or any relationship, can follow this same unfortunate trend.

Like those false reality shows, there should be no script for relationship. When my husband and I were young and dating, I would have denied any mention of my expectations. I could have quoted you all the wise sayings concerning this, but my expectations were too deep for me to see. They were just what I thought was right. They were embedded in my heart, and I was blind.

We all do this, male and female alike. We build upon the stereotypes of our understanding and craft an idea of what should be. We do it with ourselves and our partners. What ensues is a battle–a battle for power. Whose script will win? The one who pushes and pushes or the one who retreats?

I ’ve learned a lot over the past sixteen years of marriage, but I’ve mostly learned that I still really don’t have a clue. I have read many books on marriage, studied God’s Word on it, and, while I can identify the traits of a godly marriage, I still haven’t figured out how I should be. This is hard for me. I like structure and plans for improvement. This desire drives almost every area of my life–but it cannot drive my marriage.

I wish I had known so many years ago that a script just doesn’t work. It can’t work because there is no freedom or authenticity in it. In fact, God rejected this approach from the very beginning. When He created Adam and Eve, He could have laid down a complicated law of how to approach Him and interact with Him. Instead, He walked with them and gave them only one clear boundary that was not to be crossed. The rest He let them understand in the context of relationship.

They didn’t have how-to books on how to relate to God. They just had Him.

God’s truth is truly a divider, getting down to the deepest parts of us. And deep down I want to know a script, and I want to do it right. However, to truly relate to God, I must surrender this desire and the false security it brings. I want to come before God without an agenda. I want to come as I’d always dreamed true relationship would be: as myself, weak and vulnerable.

l will start by not evaluating myself, except in regard to the clear boundaries God has set. I will find that girl whom I know is within me, the one who just wants to be with the Beloved. My heart responds to God’s offer in Hosea 3:15-16a (ESV):

“Therefore, behold, I will allure her,

and bring her into the wilderness,

and speak tenderly to her.

And there I will give her her vineyards

and make the Valley of Achor a door of hope.

And there she shall answer as in the days of her youth,

as at the time when she came out of the land of Egypt.

And in that day, declares the Lord, you will call me ‘My Husband,”

That simple faith and that simple interaction will open the door for me to be who I am. And, then, maybe I will know how to be in a relationship, in a marriage, that is a true reflection of reality–one as free and authentic as it was meant to be.

Advertisements
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

What I Learned About God from Watching Hallmark Movies

pexels-photo-289237

I must admit that I enjoy Hallmark movies.  I say that with some hesitation because I’m actually really picky about my movie choices–to the point of being annoying.  There is something that pulls on me though when I watch those cheesy, predictable romance movies.  I’ve tried to ignore that part of me. I try instead to listen to the other part that knows better, that understands that what is being portrayed is not what real romance looks like.  But I can’t help it.  This desire for romance resonates deeply within me, and I want to understand why instead of being embarrassed by it.

I’ve come to wonder why women are naturally drawn to romance.  Even though our culture has changed so dramatically in regards to sex and relationships, women are overwhelmingly the consumers of romance movies and novels.  While this does not apply to every woman, it is prevalent enough to warrant some investigation.

The Desire for Romance

Many might argue that it is simply a matter of conditioning and that women are raised to think that their lives are only meaningful if a man is in it.  I was not raised this way though.  I was raised by my single father who taught me that I could be anything I wanted to be; who had philosophical discussions with me all throughout my growing up years, and who allowed me to travel around the world even though I was only a teenager.  And, yet, I still wanted romance, even craved it.  

This continues to be the case for many, even in our time of casual sex and no strings-attached encounters.  In fact, in a recent article in the New York Times called “For Best Hookup Results, Use Your Words, O.K.?” a recent college graduate explores her own misgivings.  She talks about how after a no-strings attached hookup, she was thrown off guard by her lover’s sweet words, telling her she was the “girl of his dreams.”  He says all this, acting like he is interested and then never contacts her again.  She is frustrated that she was so easily duped and considers why she was.  She reveals that, even though she wasn’t seeking it, she still desired love.

…I find myself thinking it will all get better when I find romance.  When I have a man who wants me despite how fallible, loud or political I can be.  Someone who, with a kiss, can snap me out of my self-pitying reverie.  I think about how long I’ve been ready to find the beauty in another human being, to caress the scars of someone as flawed as me and to feel that person reciprocate.   

Why do we have this desire that is so strong that all the cultural conditioning in the world can’t seem to stop it? Perhaps we were created to crave and value relationship.  Maybe it is something we should celebrate instead of despise.

Women Under Attack

Right now, when the very idea of what it even means to be a woman is under attack, this very fundamental, feminine trait should be explored, instead of dismissed.  Have you ever wondered why those things that are traditionally feminine are always considered inferior?  

Going back to the very beginning we see the roots of this anti-female litany—Satan Himself. It is easy to cast the white male as the main perpetrator (though history can attest that he is certainly not the only or most pervasive abuser). Instead, we must consider the spiritual dimension of the age-old problem.

In the garden, Satan targets Eve. He makes her doubt her place and God’s goodness. He deceives her with statements meant to pit her against her God. Adam, in turn, says nothing, yet seems to wait to see what happens. This story seems to paint the woman in a negative light and in some ways it does. But have you ever wondered—why did Satan go after her?

The Imago Dei

I believe it is because the female persona reflects a very unique and specific attribute of God. When God is moved to creation He clearly states in Genesis 1:27 (NIV), “So God created mankind in his own image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”

That means there are attributes in both males and females which encapsulate God’s very identity. And the female attribute must be so important that Satan saw fit to attack it again and again—in the garden and every day since.  We, as women, offer a part of God that this world can never see unless we are here. Our suffering does not remove our dignity; it highlights the special purpose for which we were created. And while this longing for love makes us vulnerable, it alone can show the world the tender heart of God, who has made emptied Himself for us (Philippians 2:7).

After the fall, God’s promise of redemption even comes through Eve in a prophecy that can only be fulfilled by a woman. And if we look at Mary, perhaps we see a bit of that divine character that Satan despises: her courage, her loyalty, her single-mindedness-carrying the biggest secret in history, as she doggedly walks forward to the end.  She’s the most vulnerable woman in history but also the most hopeful.

And, let’s not forget that deep longing for relationship in every woman which reflects God’s own longing for relationship.  Perhaps our longing for romance is misguided in that it focuses its hope upon another fallible person.  However, the problem is not in the longing.  There is nothing weak or foolish about relationship.  In fact, it is the bedrock upon which life must be built. It is also the loose thread being pulled in our culture that is causing it all to unravel.  The desire to love and be loved, to know and be known, is a reflection of God’s own heart.

“Thus says the Lord, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom, let not the mighty man boast in his might, let not the rich man boast in his riches, but let him who boasts boast in this, that he understands and knows me, that I am the Lord who practices steadfast love, justice, and righteousness in the earth.  For in these things I delight, declares the Lord.” (Jeremiah 9: 23-24 ESV bold and italics mine).

God emphatically states that this is His heart’s desire–to be understood and known.   

My Feminine Gift

Therefore I will reject the anti-female rhetoric which states that to desire relationship is silly.  I will instead embrace and relish this longing that is at the root of the Gospel which is in itself an invitation to relationship.  I will work hard, though, to not allow myself to be distracted by the offerings of human romantic love, however delightful, as a means of satisfying this longing.  Instead, I will direct my wayward heart towards the One who truly understands this need, and who meets and sanctifies it.  I will not be embarrassed by this any longer for I know that this is part of my feminine gift to the world–the gift of love. After all, the Jesus Storybook explains it perfectly:

The Bible is most of all a Story…it’s a love story about a brave Prince who leaves his palace, his throne—everything—to rescue the one he loves. It’s like the most wonderful of fairy tales that has come true in real life!

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

Loving Thy Body as a Christian Witness

girl-looking-in-mirror

I have spent most of my life having ambivalent feelings towards my body which largely depended on how well I felt it measured up to certain expectations.  As a non-believer growing up, I placed a great deal of my worth on whether or not I was pretty and smart.  Born with naturally curly hair that likes to frizz, I actually had nightmares where I was humiliated because of the ugliness of my hair.

When I became a Christian in college, I was immediately taken with the reality of the spiritual realm.  To me, this made the physical irrelevant and more of a cross to bear in our brief sojourn here on earth.  Many of the authors I read, particularly the heroic missionaries, seemed to echo this same sentiment, valuing spiritual things above physical–some to the point of martyrdom.  

For several years, I lived in disdain of physical things–refusing to wear makeup, fasting often, and looking at the world with derision.  However, I found this mindset a bit difficult to maintain.  The body is awfully hard to forget. It is quite demanding in its needs.  I would grieve and moan about the body’s limitations feeling a kinship for Paul who exclaimed, “Who will deliver me from this body of death?” (ESV Romans 7:24)

The problem with this mindset, though, is that our life here becomes an exercise in tolerance (and not in a good way).  I have tolerated my body while waiting for my new body in heaven.  This never struck me as odd, until I joined the launch group for Nancy Pearcey’s new book Love Thy Body.  I have read several of her books before, and her work has challenged and sharpened me.  I expected this book to equip me with a better argument with which to engage the secular worldview in its culture of death and unbiblical sexuality. It does not disappoint in this area.  However, not far into the book, I was forced to confront my own wrong thinking in regards to the body.

Pearcey discusses in detail the mind/body split that has occurred over centuries of philosophical debate.  On one hand, the empiricists have argued that which is known or can be understood is the material world.  There is no spiritual dimension, and nature, including our bodies, are just machines with no meaning.  

In reaction to this are the transcendentalists who argued that what is most important is what happens in the mind. Meaning is created individually, rather than as a larger metanarrative or story. Today, in the postmodern view, it is believed that there is no real meaning in the world.  In fact, it is believed that there is no meaning except what is imagined in the mind—with complete disregard for the physical world.  This has been exemplified in the disregard of the physical and biological reality of gender.  

Pearcey comments:

Scripture teaches that the creational differentiation of male and female is a good thing.  Our complementary nature speaks of our yearning for union, which in turn reflects the divine nature–a God who is Trinity, differentiated Persons in relationship with one another.  The question is, do we accept that created structure or do we reject it? Do we affirm the goodness of creation or deny it? Do we see the body as a reservoir of meaning, a source of moral truths? Is there a teleology of the body that we are called to respect? Or do we see the body as just a piece of matter with no moral message?

The two camps now are those who value the body and the message it sends, and those who do not. Christian belief uniquely brings two worlds together–body and mind both matter.  

However, in the Christian world, we have absorbed this anti-body rhetoric in ways we have not realized. Though we stand in opposition to abortion, euthanasia, and sexual immorality–we do not always clearly articulate why.  

As a Christian who has worked in ministry for many years, I know that life is important–I am pro-life and a believer in the sanctity of marriage.  Despite this, I have lived every day in a mindset that is not particularly pro-body.

Pearcey’s questions “Do we see the body as a reservoir of meaning, a source of moral truths?” and “Is there a teleology of the body that we are called to respect?” have forced me to evaluate my own understanding of my relationship with my body.  I do not struggle with gender dysphoria or same-sex attraction, yet I can see there are many ways in which I work against the created world.  

One is my attitude towards my body.  I have looked in the mirror only to notice those things that I don’t like.  I have said hateful things about myself.  I have watched myself age with fear and loathing. Another is my attitude towards time.  I have numbed myself with Netflix and Facebook rather than engage in real life.  I have tried too many times to escape. In fact, it was reading Andy Crouch’s Tech-Wise Family that helped me see how often I use technology as way out of interacting with others.  

We are meant to live this kind of life together: the kind of life that, in the end, is completely dependent upon one another; the kind of life that ultimately transcends, and does not need, the easy solutions of technology because it is caught up in something more true and more lasting than any alchemy our technological world can invent. (204)

Crouch speaks of living “embodied” lives where we aren’t sucked into the easiness of a technology-driven world, but we spend time doing things, making things, and interacting with others.

This is what it means to live in appreciation of the physical lives God has given us.  It is more than just affirming the right to live and to live in respect of God’s design.  It is also to live intentionally. Instead of begrudging the process of cooking, we can enjoy the steps, reveling in the ability to create a meal.  Instead of being frustrated by the monotonous processes of the day, we can take every moment to be grateful, living with an expectation that God is in even these processes, infusing them with meaning. Instead of hating my body’s imperfections, I can remind myself every day of the wonders of life and movement.  In this way, I can understand what many approaching death or experiencing paralysis or other issues already know–that we shouldn’t take for granted what we have in our physical bodies, especially if they are healthy!

This intentional living could be our greatest Gospel witness.  We will communicate with our lives, and not just our mouths, that this life, this physical being that we are all experiencing, is important.  It’s not random or meaningless, but it is valuable and infused with wonder.

This understanding is necessary.  After all, God promises to restore the heavens and earth, which means our eternal lives will be lived in a similar environment.  Romans 8: 21 says “…creation itself will be set free from its bondagae to curruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God.”  There is more going on in this present life that is relevant to our eternal state than we can understand.  It is for this reason that we cannot diminish its importance–both in our larger understanding of life and in the smaller, everyday actions of living.

This helps me view my everyday life with new vigor.  I’m not just tolerating this world until I get to the real place.  What I do here matters, how I live is important, and my body is a gift that I should cherish. There are levels of meaning that I have yet to explore, but I now see life as more than repetitive actions without meaning. Instead, I see a world of wonder and an invitation to join something beautiful.   

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

Not an Excuse, But the Gospel

This time of year is difficult for many because of the pain of loss, among other things. For me, I feel most sharply the loss of my father. Tied so tightly to this grief is a deep guilt. You see, the last few years of my father’s life, I was very busy. I had three small children, a husband, a job, and lots of distractions. And I thought I had more time than I really had. I had no idea my father would die suddenly from a heart attack with no warning, no goodbyes.
 
All I can think now is how our last contact had been a brief text message and nothing more. I feel the weight of my promise to fly him down to Florida that I never fulfilled. All I wish for is another chance to tell him one more time that I love him, and that I’m sorry I’m not a better daughter.
 
When I share my grief and guilt, everyone wants to tell me that it’s not my fault. I was busy, and it’s understood. But I don’t want a pass. I don’t want to excuse what I know to be a lack of other-centeredness.
 
This is where Gospel message is needed. I messed up. I don’t need to pretend it didn’t happen. I don’t need to excuse it. I just come to the one who paid for my mistake. When I come to God, He doesn’t minimize what I’ve done–He takes it in all its hideous, selfishness and He lays it on the sacrificial lamb to be paid for in full. And then I am forgiven. My weight is removed not because I am not guilty, but because He took my guilt for me.
 
So I still mourn, but I also accept the grace being offered. And this Christmas, as we all bear the weight of our sin and the sin of others, we can choose grace also. Not because the actions didn’t matter but because His sacrifice is so able to pay for it all.
Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment

The Finished Unfinished

Two years ago, we bought a house we love. It has beautiful stone covering, a fireplace (yes, in Florida), and a large, lovely yard with mature, long limbed trees. It’s also about forty years old. When we purchased it, we knew there would be some work we’d need to put into it. Two years later, we’ve started checking off those big items that needed to be replaced or modified. We’d like to feel that we are coming to the end of our list, but every time we sit to discuss it, we find a new list of things that must be done. It seems the work is never finished.

It occurred to me today that this finished unfinished work of home ownership is a lot like God’s work in the world. On the Cross, He finished His purchase of our futures. In every day life, He continues His investment. His work is both finished and unfinished.

Just like my house, my life is a work in progress. I am not yet who He has created me to be, but, just as I can see my future completed house in my mind’s eye, God has a vision for who I am to be. And, unlike my house, His work is everlasting and perfect.

Posted in Uncategorized | Leave a comment