Being a leader in a 20-somethings ministry, the whole dating/relationship question is one that comes up a lot in conversation... pretty much anywhere we are - restaurants, bathrooms, road trips, parties, church services - you name it - any time, any place, someone is either thinking about it or talking about it. I'm struck often as I watch the "goings on" by how emotionally driven we can be. I'm right there, too, sometimes, but having had the privilege of watching several of my closest friends get married and start families, and listening to them talk about the joys and struggles of marriage, things they're glad they've been through, things they would have done differently if given the chance... I find myself with two thoughts: 1) if and when I do date/court/marry, I want to do it *wisely* - which means, to a certain extent, not letting how I *feel* determine my actions, or rather, submitting my emotions (as fun as the giddiness of "falling in love" can be) to God and seeking His kingdom purposes first and foremost, even in the context of relationship; and 2) for all that I'm about to present my subjectively objective thoughts on the subject, I'm also really looking forward to a few sparks someday...
Anyway, without further ado: whack two, three, four - something - at SPARKS:
Have you ever seen Seven Brides for Seven Brothers? It's a great movie. Lousy sets (the result of a poor budget - no one knew how successful it would turn out to be); great story... Well, okay... actually it's terrible, it's so freaking sappy, and some of the lyrics are simply hysterical... ("Bless your beautiful hide" - and that's all I have to say about that...) but I have loved this movie since the first time I saw it, and probably always will. It's a "good" story... mostly because everyone ends up "happily ever after." All seven girls end up married to seven colossal jerks who have learned how not to be jerks anymore. It's great.
There's a song in the movie called "Goin' Courtin'" in which Milly, the woman who married the oldest brother, is teaching the other six guys how to treat women properly, and she uses this phrase in the song: "goin' sparkin'." What is that?! I looked it up last night. To spark is to woo, or to court, as per the 1787 definition. (Don't you feel all historically, grammatically, and musically educated now?) :)
Sparking. I think it's somewhat telling that we would (at some point in our history) call it that. We don't use "woo" or "courtship" all that much either, anymore - although, thanks to Josh Harris, those words are back in the 20-30somethings' frame of reference. There's something there - an underlying belief that there's something "sparky" to this thing called "love" - and there is - but my question is, have we blown that out of proportion? And I would say we have... or at least, Hollywood has, and we've believed them...
Attraction's important, and I'm not belittling it - it needs to be there; I get that. But is that - or should it be - where it all starts? I'm not so sure. For example, it is a fact that arranged marriages statistically do extremely well. I actually know someone who married someone his parents chose for him. Difficult? Oh, yes. It was a tough decision for him, culturally, spiritually - he wrestled with it for ages. But wherever they are, I am sure they are happy -because I knew him - a little, anyway - and it's just the way it would go, because of the kind of person he was, and because of God in him (and in her)... So. Spark? Definitely wasn't there for him at all when he first found out about "the plan." But I'll betcha it grew over time...
And no, I can't prove it. But I'm guessing, all the same, that most happily married people would not use the word "spark" to describe what they feel when their beloved is puking into a trash can on the other side of the bed in the middle of the night. Nor would they use it when their spouse has said or done something so thoughtless that spitting tacks feels preferable to "working it out." On a different note, one of my married friends says "spark" turns up in the weirdest places for men, too - some guys find the sight of their wives folding laundry to be completely irresistible. (Personally, I find this strange, but okay...) :) All of which is to say -> "spark" - interesting concept, but not necessarily completely necessary at all times - in my humble, unprofessional, and certain lack of experience.
The Bible says that charm is deceitful and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the Lord is to be praised. (Proverbs 31:30). This is the sort of woman I would really like to be. The sort of woman, honestly, that I think any (single) guy ought to be ready to fall for. Not indiscriminately, of course, but seriously....
I heard Henry Cloud giving an interview on Moody radio this past weekend, about his new book, The Secret Things of God (which I am now reading), and one of the things he said that jumped out at me was this - something to the effect of how everyone's looking for that 'perfect' person - but 'perfection' doesn't exist. Nobody's 'perfect.' And ultimately what it comes down to is that one day, you just need "to covenant with someone to seek after perfection together."
I am a hopeless romantic, so don't let all this practicality fool you. I love sappy movies, true love stories, Christian romance books (well, the few that are well-written, anyway) - I'm a sucker for roses and daisies - I will not say nay to a box of chocolates (okay, really, people, it's chocolate...) - and I hope some day to say that I've found that "perfect" person. But perfect doesn't mean he's going to get it all right. Perfect, actually, means he'll probably screw it up a lot, and so will I, but we will love each other anyway. Jesus, in Matthew 5: 38-48 defines 'perfection' as loving people the way God loves them. We may never get there in this life, but that's something to chase after, isn't it? Especially in marriage, I would think, given all the symbolism it's gained as the Church is referred to as the Bride of Christ...
So, spark? Sure, that would be nice. But I think I would so much rather wake up next to someone with whom I've committed to do life, and vice versa - than to wake up next to someone I was attracted to for five seconds and married in a fit of starry-eyed bliss.
Elisabeth Elliot, in her book Passion and Purity, tells of a young man whom she says "seems to have made a career of falling in and out of love." He meets someone, but can't "maintain the feelings," he says. This is part of what she wrote to him in response:
About this business of falling out of love. Everybody does it, you know. Sometimes before they get married, but always afterwards.... There is something to be said for making an adult choice and sticking to it. "Being in love, wrote C.S. Lewis in Mere Christianity, "is a good thing, but it is not the best thing... It is a noble feeling, but it is still a feeling. Now no feeling can be relied on to last in its full intensity, or even to last at all.... But of course ceasing to be 'in love' need not mean ceasing to love. Love...is a deep unity, maintained by the will and deliberately strengthened by habit; reinforced by the grace which both partners ask and receive from God..."*a deep unity
maintained by the will
deliberately strengthened by habit
reinforced by grace
Somehow that just sounds so much better than sparking... tho I wouldn't complain about that either. :)
*Passion and Purity, by Elisabeth Elliot - p. 180-181