Why the Christian Mingle Ads Bug You So Much

A while back, I obliquely referred to the dating site Christian Mingle in a post about whether or not we have “soul mates.” Since then, Christian Mingle has become very well-known for their television ads, which promise to help clients “find God’s match for you.” The soundtrack for the ads is the popular Jars of Clay song, “Love Song for a Savior.” In their original context, the lyrics, “I want to fall in love with You,” obviously refer to Jesus. In the context of the ads, however, the lyrics have taken on quite a different meaning.

I’m not opposed on principle to internet dating sites. I’ve had friends and family members use sites like eHarmony. I recognize that the internet is a reality of our world, and it can often be a portal for what eventually becomes a more serious in-person relationship. In some ways, internet dating sites are just the electronic equivalent of being “set up,” in which a friend introduces you to a person you might like to know better.

However, the Christian Mingle ads have stirred up no small amount of consternation. Most people I’ve talked with are simply annoyed with them, but can’t quite pinpoint why. Why do they are so annoying and seemingly offensive?

I think the major problem with the Christian Mingle ads is the way they try to use Christianity as a lure for those seeking a romantic relationship. Using the Jars of Clay song as the soundtrack is a perfect illustration of the issue at hand. The song is about the love that Christians feel toward Jesus. It isn’t remotely about dating or marriage. Listening to the lyrics in hindsight, I recognize that its romantic imagery makes it the perfect target for this kind of misuse. But that doesn’t change the fact that it was never intended as a song about finding your perfect mate.

By co-opting a song about Jesus and using it to sell a dating service, the owners of Christian Mingle have trivialized Jesus and managed to insult a number of single Christians at the same time. I think the song, though, is simply indicative of broader theological problems. The way Christian Mingle presents God and relationships is deficient in a few key ways.

First, the love of God is qualitatively different from the type of romantic love being “sold” by Christian Mingle. God’s love is fierce, intense, perfect, and always dedicated to the growth of our character. Rich Mullins referred to the “reckless raging fury that we call the love of God.” C.S. Lewis reminded us that God is not “safe, but good.” In other words, Christian Mingle is selling a picture of interpersonal love that feels shallow and trivial when placed alongside the love of God. If God created marriage, then romantic love ought to reflect His love. Yet the breed of romantic love promoted on the ads confuses God’s love with a sort of sentimental mushiness that seems at odds with the impression of God’s love we get from the Bible.

Second, the ads clearly make false promises. Christian Mingle assures us that the right mate is definitely out there, and that God has a perfect match for each person. As I’ve written before on this blog, the Bible offers no such promise. The danger, of course, is that somebody could watch the ad and conclude that it speaks for God rather than just for a profit-motivated dating website. To be clear, God never promised to provide everybody with a mate, with children, with lots of money, or anything of the sort. He’s promised eternal life for those who know Jesus. He’s even promised abundant life, meaning a rich relationship with God through the power of the Holy Spirit. But it’s patently false to claim that God has a definite match for each person and then to imply that said person is also using Christian Mingle.

Third, the ads imply that Christian singles should view their relationship with God as simply a means to find a spouse. Most Christian singles I know don’t believe that. Most of them would be offended at the implication. The ads seem to subordinate the word “Christian” to the word “Mingle.” Or to put it another way, being Christian is less important than being married. In reality, it’s the other way around. Marriage, for those who enter into it, is one of many relationships in which we’re called to live out our relationship with Jesus. It’s an important one, to be sure, but it’s not the sum total of our existence. I fear that Christian Mingle’s ads promote the mindset that the important thing about being a Christian is that you can go out with nice girls or guys. 

I realize that in the final analysis, we’re only talking about television ads. The company that owns Christian Mingle also owns dozens of other dating sites encompassing every religion from Buddhism to Judaism. So I suppose I shouldn’t expect them to adhere to high theological standards. However, sometimes it’s helpful to evaluate why we feel uncomfortable with ads like this. In the final analysis, it’s because these ads trivialize God and humanity at the same time. They present a woefully deficient picture of God’s love and what it means to be made in His image.

We have an opportunity, once we get a grasp of the problems, to present a better picture. God loves each of us unconditionally, regardless of our marital status. For Christians, that love is the basis of our actions and thoughts and the foundation of our relationships. It drives everything we think and do, and it dramatically affects how we view marriage and romance. It gives us a more complete and positive picture, and we now have the chance to communicate the greatness of God’s love to world that obviously is dying for love. When people don’t understand God’s love, they will grasp at straws. They’ll accept cheap alternatives. We have the privilege of offering the real thing to a world that seeks it desperately.

I’d love to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you agree with my assessment? How do you think Christians can best reflect God’s love to people who grasp at cheap alternatives?

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Is Something Wrong With Me?

If you’re involuntarily single, you’ve almost certainly asked yourself that question at some point. College students and young singles regularly tell me they struggle with insecurity. I remember struggling with it myself during a prolonged period of singleness (with no apparent prospects) in my early 20s. “Why can’t I find a date/significant other/spouse? Am I too short or tall or quiet or loud or unattractive or intimidating or picky?” It doesn’t help that those around you often ask the same questions. “Why are you (still, after SO long) single? Are you not trying hard enough? Do you think you should get out more and stop being so picky?”

We all know people who are clearly wonderful — attractive, godly, normal — and yet remain single for a long time. (For that matter, we also know unattractive, worldly, and strange people who get married young). From a logical perspective, most of us understand that singleness isn’t always — or even often — caused by a person’s defects. There isn’t any discernible rhyme or reason to who gets married at 22 and who remains single at 35. You probably know that in your brain, but it’s hard to apply personally when you’re sick of being single. The temptation is to try to isolate what’s “wrong” with you, thinking that once you can isolate the problem you can fix it.

The truth is that human relationships are complicated and often mysterious. They don’t lend themselves to simple evaluation or pat answers. Every relationship involves the personalities, feelings, and desires of two complex human beings. Not only that, but as Christians we have to take into account the work of God in each person’s heart and mind and life. We don’t always understand God’s plans, and sometimes we don’t even like them. That’s a hard truth, so it’s easier at times to seek out factors we think we can control — maybe if I lose 20 pounds or tell funnier jokes or just stop being so picky, I can fix this pesky singleness problem.

But relationships with God and others just don’t work that way. Seeking change and growth is appropriate and good and a necessary part of the spiritual life. However, it’s not a guaranteed means of finding a spouse, and as long as you view it that way you’ll be in danger of minimizing or missing the real work God wants to do in your life. For all of us — whether we’re waiting for a relationship or a better job or a child or something else altogether — God is simply more concerned with our character than with giving us the life circumstances we would prefer.

So is something wrong with you? Sure. Me too. Lots of things. We’re sinners in need of God’s grace. But your personal deficiencies probably aren’t the reason you are single. I don’t know exactly why you’re single, but it probably has something to do with God, who arranges the circumstances of your life so that you can know Him and pursue Him (Acts 17:26-27). So instead of agonizing over questions that can’t be answered, turn your eyes toward Jesus and follow Him with everything you have.

(And as a postscript, those of you who are married can certainly help your single friends in this regard. Resist suggesting easy “fixes” for their singleness or implying that if they would only do x or y or z then they could make everything better. Although we usually mean well, such advice is rarely helpful, often demoralizing, and always distracting).

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When Should You Share Your Past Sins With Your Significant Other?

Many (if not most) Christian young adults enter into dating relationships with some baggage from their past. It’s quite common for people to worry about how their past sins will affect their future relationships, especially as they approach the point of marriage.

Should you tell your current boyfriend or girlfriend about your past sexual sins? If so, at what point in the relationship is it appropriate?

There’s no one-size-fits-all answer to the question, since every couple is different and every person has different needs. However, I think some general principles apply:

First, past sexual sins ought to be discussed at some point prior to marriage. There are a couple of reasons for this. First, marriage requires trust. It’s hard to enter into a relationship of trust if one or both parties are hiding information about themselves. As painful as it may be, honesty is the best policy. Second, the possibility exists that your potential marriage partner could find out about your past anyway. It’s much better if they hear it from you rather than from a third party.

Second, choose your timing carefully. Don’t unload everything on the first date. That’s awkward and unnecessary. On the other hand, you don’t want to spring the information on your fiance the night before the wedding. That’s unfair and overwhelming. Simply wait until the relationship is seriously progressing toward marriage. That doesn’t mean you have to wait until you’re engaged. Again, every couple is unique. As a general rule, though, once it’s clear that you’re both seriously contemplating the future, go ahead and discuss your past.

Third, you don’t need to share every graphic detail. Be truthful without being explicit. Don’t paint a high resolution picture for the other person. That isn’t helpful. Just share the basics of your past in an honest and tactful way. Ask forgiveness for any behavior that could negatively impact your future marriage and commit to being faithful to your future spouse and to God from this point forward.

The result of this conversation ought to be increased closeness and trust between you and your potential marriage partner. By the way, if you happen to be the person on the receiving end of this conversation, remember that we’re all sinners in need of forgiveness. Assuming we’re talking about sin that is truly in the past (before you two were dating) I strongly urge you to offer forgiveness and acceptance. If necessary, take some time to think and pray before you respond.

Would you add any suggestions or ideas to what I’ve written here? I’d love to hear your input!

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What’s the Perfect Age to Get Married?

Over the past 60 years, the average age of first marriage in the United States has been steadily climbing. In other words, people are generally waiting longer before getting married. In 1950, the average man was 22.8 years old at first marriage, and the average woman was 20.3 years old. In 2011, the average man was 28.7 years old, while the average woman was 26.5 years old.

Most of the reasons for the change are obvious. First, in the past six decades, people have extended the length of their education. It wasn’t uncommon in 1950 for a woman to get married shortly after high school. Today it’s much more common for her to pursue an undergraduate degree and even a master’s degree prior to getting married. Second, young adults tend to express more of a desire to “experience life” a bit before getting married. Third, the high divorce rates of the Baby Boomer generation have convinced young adults that they shouldn’t be in a big hurry. Waiting and trying out different dating partners is viewed as a way to make sure they marry the right one.

However, all of this poses a challenge for young adults who want to get married young. Sometimes college students ask me about the benefits and drawbacks of getting married before completing college. Those who choose that path often receive resistance from their parents, their friends, and society in general. So is it a bad idea? Should everybody wait until they’re 25 or 30 before pursuing marriage?

If you’re thinking of marrying during college, how do you know if you’re ready? Here are a few things to consider:

  • Have you prayed and sought advice from your parents and other trusted advisors? This is necessary at all ages, but particularly if you’re young. Don’t rush into a lifelong commitment based on a few awesome dates. Take your time, pray about it, talk to some wise people, and make sure you’re thinking straight. (Actually, you’re probably not — the hormones and emotions that accompany attraction muddle everybody’s thinking. That’s why this step is so critical.)
  • Are you prepared to be financially independent of your parents? Your parents might be extremely generous and willing to help support you after your marriage. Nonetheless, marriage ought to entail what the Scripture calls “leaving and cleaving” (Genesis 2:24). If you’re not prepared for financial independence if necessary, then you should wait to get married. Why? When push comes to shove, if your parents are still supporting you financially, then they have the right to exercise authority over you. If you get married, you and your spouse might need to make decisions that conflict with your parents’ desires. You’ll need to listen to them and to honor them, but ultimately you’ll need to be free to decide before the Lord what’s best for your family. You can’t do that if Mom and Dad are still paying the bills.
  • Do you have a plan to finish school without incurring an enormous debt load? Massive amounts of debt can prevent you from pursuing the path God has for your future. Getting married during college might require one or both of you to work full-time in order to make ends meet and avoid debt. Spend some time thinking about how you’ll finish school and move forward after that. Plans can and will change, but a wise person will at least try to prepare a bit.
  • Are you prepared to shoulder the responsibility of a child if pregnancy occurs? I’ll be direct: There’s no such thing as birth control that’s 100% effective. Whatever you believe about the ethics of birth control and whatever you plan to do, be prepared to have a baby. Trust me on this one.
  • Are you generally prepared to spend the rest of your life living with this person and caring for him or her? Marriage often presents unexpected challenges. Conflicts pop up about family relationships, financial decisions, sexual intimacy, career choices, and a host of other things. I would strongly recommend pursuing premarital counseling at your church prior to marriage. An experienced and wise older couple can get to know each of you and help you spot potential red flags before you move forward.

If you can answer yes to these questions, then you might be ready to get married. Everybody’s experience is different and every person is different, so these are just general guidelines. On the whole, I don’t think 21 or 22 is way too young for marriage. I would simply urge caution and prayer.

What have I left out here? Also, do you disagree with any of my points above?

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If You’re Not Interested, Just Say So

When I was in high school, I asked a girl out and she said “yes,” much to my surprise and delight. I enjoyed the date, so I asked her out for a second date. That’s when the confusion began.

“I’m spending time with my sister this weekend. She’s coming home from college and we’re going to a movie together.”

“Great! Can I call you again next week?”

“Oh, sure.”

So I called her again the next week. And wouldn’t you know it, her sister was coming in town again. Except she seemed less certain of it this time. I think it only took three visits from her sister before I got the point that she didn’t want to date me. (At first I thought maybe the point was that I should ask out her sister, but it turns out that wasn’t right).

Here’s the deal, ladies: if you don’t want to go out with him, just say so. You don’t have to be mean. Don’t say, “I would never be seen in public with somebody as weird/awkward/smelly/hairy as you.” Just be honest and say something like, “Thanks so much for asking me out. I really appreciate it. But I’m not interested right now.”

I know. It sounds so harsh and so…honest. Every time my wife tells a group of young women to simply tell the truth when they’re not interested in a guy, the girls literally gasp in horror. Then I ask the men to raise their hands if they would prefer women to be honest instead of lying to preserve their feelings. Every guy’s hand goes up. Every single one.

He’s going to figure out sooner or later that you’re not interested. When it finally dawns on him that you’ve been avoiding him by making lame excuses, it’s actually going to hurt him worse than if you’d just told him the truth the first time. Because not only will he feel rejected, he’ll feel foolish as well.

You can’t spare his feelings, but you can spare his dignity. Yes, it will hurt him that you’re not interested. But you can treat him with respect and let him know that you consider him man enough to handle the truth.

For Christian women, I think this is particularly important. When my wife and I talk to students about dating, we always structure the discussion around Proverbs 3:3: “Do not let kindness and truth leave you; Bind them around your neck; Write them on the tablet of your heart.” Kindness and truth exist together — you don’t want one without the other. Speak kindly, yes. But speak honestly as well.

You want the men in your life to be up front and honest about their feelings, right? In fact, I’ve strongly encouraged that on this very blog (see here and here). If that’s what you want, then it’s a good idea to return the favor.

Trust me: the men in your life will be grateful, even if they’re also a little bit sad.

What do you think about the concept of honesty in dating relationships? Is my advice completely unrealistic? I’d love to hear from men and women here!

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Do You Have a “Soul-Mate”?

The other day I ran across an article about an online dating service that promises to “find God’s match for you.” Of course, that raises the question of whether God has just one match for you, one “soul-mate” whom you’re intended to be with forever.

There is no doubt that God arranged the circumstances of our lives (Acts 17:24-28). The case of marriage is an interesting one, though, because it seems to involve a combination of God’s sovereignty and my personal choices. However, I’ve really no doubt that God knows if we’ll get married and to whom, and I’ve no doubt that in some sense He arranges it all.

But the question of “soul-mates” is another matter entirely. I find the concept troublesome for a couple of reasons.

First, there’s simply no guarantee you or any person will get married. The Scripture says that some people aren’t meant to marry (Matthew 19:12; 1 Corinthians 7). So if everybody has a soul-mate who completes them, what does that say about single people? Are they incomplete? Do they somehow bear less of God’s image (Genesis 1:26-27)? Of course not.

Second, I think the concept of one perfect soul-mate creates unrealistic expectations. What if I marry a person who has emotional problems, who has a “past,” or who is less than ideal? What if I’m less than ideal? Does that mean I’m not qualified to be somebody’s soul-mate? After all, I can’t complete another person if I’m messed up myself. What if problems emerge 5, 10, or 20 years after we get married? Are we no longer soul-mates? When my partner doesn’t seem to be my soul-mate, won’t I be tempted to abandon ship and find my true match?

The Bible doesn’t command us to go find our soul-mates. It does command us to love the mates we already have (Ephesians 5:21-33). I’m not saying we should forego discernment in our choice of marriage partners. Instead, I’m saying that we can’t so accurately discern God’s hidden intentions about whether somebody is our secret soul-mate.

Finally, the idea that an online dating service promising to “God’s match” for you is not only silly and ridiculous. It’s offensive. An online dating service can be useful to connect people. It can even tell you whether you’re likely to get along with another person. But it can’t tell you God’s will. In the South we have a word for claims like that: hogwash. (Well, there are other words, but I can’t print them here). To set people up with the expectation that you’re acting as God’s matchmaker is false advertising at the highest level.

OK, there’s my two cents. I’d love to hear your thoughts!

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Singleness and Contentment

This is a guest post by my coworker Sarah Malone, who is the College Women’s Director at Grace Bible Church. These thoughts are distilled from a talk she gave to a Christian sorority on the subject of singleness. I’ve preserved as much of it as possible (so this is a longer post today), because it impacted me deeply when I read it. Her thoughts on singleness can be applied effectively to anybody who is waiting for something, which is most of us most of the time.

I wish I could give you the five steps to walking well through singleness and being content in life. If you get a speaker who does that, can you call me? I’ll sit quietly in the back when she comes. My motivation is actually to help you walk through singleness (or whatever God has allowed in your life to help you learn contentment) better than I have at times.

I have learned and am re-learning many lessons of contentment and who God is through being single in a world of marrieds. I realize that many of you are dating somebody. Even if you end up marrying the guy you’re dating, this will hopefully help you to be a source of encouragement to your single friends.  I can’t tell you how many times a well-meaning friend has told me, “I know you’ll get married someday” (Do you?) or, “I’m sure God is just waiting until that one guy is ready for you” (But aren’t there plenty of godly, single men now?), or my personal favorite, “One day someone will notice how wonderful you are” (NOT ENCOURAGING!)  I’d rather be encouraged by the truth of God’s Word and His promises.

If we are honest, many of us are in some kind of holding pattern, just waiting for the day when the man of our dreams will swoop in with his strong hands and good heart to take care of us forever and ever. I think most of us have been duped by characters in movies who promise something that real men can never give us.  I remember realizing this one day when I happened to be watching Pride and Prejudice.  There’s a scene where Mr. Darcy says something to Elizabeth Bennett like, “You have enchanted me body and soul, and I love, I love you.  I never wish to be parted from you from this day on.”  Bitterness got the better of me that day and I actually threw the remote control at the TV and started crying.  I didn’t have anyone saying these kinds of things to me! But this kind of man is a counterfeit.  He’s not real. He was made up by another woman who wants what no man can possibly offer.  Satan uses counterfeits to breed discontentment in our lives.

Our longing to be loved can sometimes be a little emotionally painful. Heart wrenching is more like it.  There is a verse in the Bible that captures this idea: “Hope deferred makes the heart sick” (Proverbs 13:12).  I think The Message better explains how I feel when my hopes are dashed: “Unrelenting disappointment leaves you heartsick.”  It’s more like it yanks out my female heart, throws it to the ground, stomps all over it, sticks it back in my chest and tells it to keep on beating.  How can we deal with that disappointment?

I think the answer lies in learning contentment.  Yes, LEARNING. It doesn’t come naturally to us.  That’s why it’s hard.  It’s hard to live for what we don’t see.  But the Holy Spirit gives Christians the ability to choose to trust in Him and in His promises.

I’ve seen God stretch and grow me in huge ways as I’ve been forced to wait. Waiting.  The word alone makes my skin crawl.  “Lord, I’d rather just learn to wait another time.” The truth is that often I don’t want to wait because I have a completely false sense of God’s character.  I think most of us swing to one extreme or the other.  Either God is powerful and can do whatever He wants, in which case He must not be good, since He’s allowing this pain into my life.  Or God is good (like Santa Clause), but He just isn’t big enough to change these circumstances for me.  But, when we read the Bible we see that He’s capable of doing anything He wants and completely good and faithful.  So, if I believe what the Scripture says about Him, then I’ll believe that this tough circumstance is part of His good plan. He could change it if He wanted.  He would change it if he desired.  So He must have some good reason for allowing it. That means I have to remind myself to trust in His greater purpose, even though I don’t know what it is.

Waiting can paralyze us. It can cause us to do nothing until our hopes are realized, or until it’s clear that it won’t be. But I want to be like Abraham, who was actually strengthened as he waited, because he chose to believe God’s promises.  He and Sarah waited 100 years for a son. But they trusted God’s plan, because His plan is trustworthy.

So we have the choice of what we will do while we wait, because waiting is inevitable. I remember having a huge crush on a guy throughout most of my first two years of college.  I spent so much of my mental and emotional energy thinking about him and focusing on him and all the “what ifs”.  What a huge investment in something that turned out to be nothing.  I could have spent that time living in reality. I could have developed better relationships with God and others around me.  He’s taught me that waiting is an opportunity to grow.  Remembering who God is and who I am. Worshiping God for his presence, power, goodness, love and grace. Serving with the abilities God has given me. Praying for the grace of God, who has allowed this circumstance into my life.

It’s during the waiting period that our character is changed, and we are shaped into the image of Christ. If we immediately got everything we wanted, we’d know God’s goodness, but we wouldn’t know Him as well as we do when we’re forced to trust Him through hardship.  Our faith would be quite weak.  So, as we wait, we have an opportunity to get to know God and get to know ourselves. So don’t fight against waiting. It’s a tool God uses to grow our character.

I love the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus tells her that her spiritual thirst will only be satisfied in Him. We so easily believe the lie that we’ll be satisfied once we’re in a great romantic relationship.  But romance or not, you’ll only be fully satisfied in Jesus.  Psalm 90:14 “Satisfy us in the morning with your steadfast love, that we may rejoice and be glad all our days.”  That sounds dreamy, right?  That is until things happen that we don’t like or don’t understand and it’s really hard to be satisfied by God’s love and we don’t have much to rejoice in or be glad about.  But the Psalm goes on to say, “Make us glad for the many days you have afflicted us, and for as many years as we have seen evil. “  This Psalmist’s life hadn’t been easy, but he knew that God could satisfy him even amidst the hardship and evil that was happening to him.  That is learning contentment.

Philippians 4:6-8 says,  “Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made know to God.  And the peace of God which surpasses all comprehension will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Finally, brethren, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is of good repute, if there is any excellence and if anything worthy of praise, dwell on these things.”

Don’t focus on what you don’t have.  It perpetuates anxiety. Train yourself to think of and pray about the blessings God’s given you.  Remember the things that are excellent and THANK him for everything!

What does God have you waiting for right now?  Where do you struggle to be content? Start by confessing to Him your discontent and struggle.  But then thank him for at least one blessing he’s given you today.  Then, write out a list of the things that are true of you because of your relationship with Christ.  Train your mind to focus on what you have rather than what you don’t have.  Christ will take care of the details and you will learn to trust Him deeply as you go.

John 16:33 “In this world you will have trouble.  But take heart!  I have overcome the world.”

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Waiting Without Wasting Time

One of the most common questions single students ask is, “How can I make the most of the time between now and marriage? How can I use the waiting time well without wasting it?”

Waiting is tough. No matter what stage of life you’re in, the odds are good that you’re waiting for something.

Waiting to graduate…waiting for a date…waiting to get married.

Waiting for kids…waiting for the kids to grow up…waiting for grandkids.

Waiting for a job…waiting for a promotion…waiting for retirement.

Sometimes it feels like our lives are spent waiting, and waiting is difficult. But patience is a critical skill for spiritual maturity (Galatians 5:22; James 5:8; Col 3:12). It reflects the character of Jesus, who waits so patiently for us (2 Peter 3:9).

So how can you use your waiting time well? Here are a few ideas:

  • Deepen your walk with God. Focus on learning His Word and growing in prayer. Ask for patience and faith as you wait for Him to provide for your needs. Remind yourself that you’re ultimately waiting for Christ’s return, so your short waiting period right now is just building your endurance muscles. Remember that God knows you perfectly and has promised to provide what you need if you seek His kingdom first (Matthew 6:33). That doesn’t mean He’ll always give you what you want, but He will provide everything you need in order to do His will.
  • Practice intentional gratitude. Rather than focusing on what you don’t have, focus on what you do have. Make a list of God’s blessings. Start with the fact that your heart is beating and expand from there. You’ll almost certainly run out of paper before you finish the list. Each morning read your list and thank God for what He’s given you.
  • Develop friendships. Investing in other people is critical for our spiritual growth (John 13:34-35), but it’s also a great way to divert our attention from the things we don’t  have. When I’m genuinely concerned for others, it’s harder to feel sorry for myself. Organize a game, set up a coffee date, or help a friend with a project. Find ways to engage in the lives of others and learn about their struggles and joys. Ask what they’re waiting for, and pray together for God’s patience.
  • Serve other people. Service reminds me that I’m not the only one with unmet needs and desires. Service also reminds me of Jesus, who commanded His disciples to serve others (Matthew 20:26-28) and modeled it in dramatic ways (John 13:1-17). So visit the local nursing home, go on a mission trip, mow a neighbor’s lawn, or set up the chairs at your church. There are thousands of opportunities, so it shouldn’t be hard to find avenues of service.
  • Learn something new. Take a graduate course or pursue a degree. Read a good book (or two or three). Pick up a hobby. Acquire a new skill. Why spend your days sitting at home pining away for the day when your waiting is over? Follow the example of Jesus, who kept learning and growing in every area of His life while He waited for His public ministry to begin (Luke 2:52).

Are you in life’s waiting room right now? What are you waiting for? What is God teaching you through the waiting process?

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The Problems With “Frating”

A few weeks ago, I wrote a post on the subject of dating paralysis among college students. The topic spurred my thinking about an issue that my wife and I have addressed several times when we’ve talked to Christian college students about dating.

Over the years I’ve noticed a trend among students to avoid well-defined dating relationships and instead pursue what I call “frating” relationships,  which are somewhere in the gray area between friendship and dating.

In dating, both partners understand what’s going on — they’re spending time with each other because they have at least a spark of romantic interest in one another. The terms and the stakes of the relationship are clear.

In frating, however, the couple often acts like they’re dating, but neither person has clearly communicated their feelings to the other. For example, the couple goes out alone on what appear to be dates (to dinner, the movies, even a picnic in the park), but when questioned about it they both say, “We’re just friends.” They take long walks together in the moonlight, or do their laundry together, or even routinely visit one another’s families. But everybody involved is confused. Is this a dating relationship or not?

What is wrong with this pattern, and how can college students avoid it?

The major problem with frating is that both people are being dishonest. It’s a near certainty that one of them has feelings for the other but is unwilling to say so. In this area, I place the greater burden on the guy — a controversial statement, I know, but I happen to believe that he bears the responsibility the be the primary initiator. If he is interested in her, he should say so. If not, he should pull back and stop leading her on. Many guys are either afraid of rejection or they simply enjoy attention but don’t want to fully engage.

That being said, in many cases the girl manipulates the situation to her advantage, drawing the guy in because she craves his attention but doesn’t really want a deeper commitment. Or she is insecure and unwilling to let go of the relationship, fearing loneliness.

As a result, frating becomes a sort of dance, in which both parties blindly try to determine the relationship’s boundaries and obligations. Both people end up withholding information, lying, or practicing skilled manipulation. This behavior is inconsistent with the Word of God and the character of Jesus Christ (Proverbs 3:3; Colossians 3:9-10; Romans 3:4).

So how can students escape the frating trap? First, evaluate the friendship. Is the level of intimacy you are practicing appropriate to what has been communicated about the relationship? Or are you getting ahead of yourself? If the relationship is undefined but you are holding hands, spending a great deal of time alone together, or acting like a couple, then you’re frating.

Second, set some boundaries around the relationship. This is tough, but both parties need to take responsibility. Ladies, tell him that you won’t go out alone with him anymore. If he’s really interested in you, let him step up and tell you so. Men, be direct and honest with yourself and with her. If you aren’t willing to do so, then don’t monopolize her time and attentions. Decide if you’re interested or not, and then speak and act according to the truth. The key for both people is simply to be truthful and kind in the way you pursue the relationship.

Do you have other thoughts or questions about frating? Any other suggestions on how to avoid the trap?

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Should You Break Up?

Some of the most challenging questions posed to me as a college pastor have to do with romantic relationships. Students often wonder if the problems in their relationship are simply bumps in the road, or if they ought to break off the relationship entirely. While the answer is sometimes clear, it isn’t always. Every person is different, as is every relationship. The complexities of human interactions make it impossible to set down absolute principles (for the most part).

However, over the years I’ve noticed some patterns and I’m going to try to list a few general principles for when it might be wise to break off a dating relationship. Please note that when I suggest youconsider breaking up, it’s not because the other person is bad, or because I’m urging you to condemn them, or to treat them without grace. All I’m saying is that marriage is a major commitment, and there are some red flags that need to be taken very seriously. Here, then, are some issues that should strongly make you consider breaking up:

If there is a significant spiritual mismatch. I do think the Bible is clear that a Christian ought to marry another person who is a Christian (2 Corinthians 6:14, assuming marriage is a “yoke”; 1 Corinthians 7:39). This is non-negotiable.

However, I think there are also situations in which both are Christians, but it might be unwise for them to pursue a dating or marriage relationship. For example, if they have sharp and serious theological differences (e.g. one is Catholic and one is staunchly Presbyterian), they are likely to have a tough time agreeing on the spiritual training of their children. Or if one is very serious about his or her faith and the other is somewhat indifferent, then the spiritual atmosphere of the home can become a constant source of friction. These feel like minor concerns until two people are living under one roof and trying to agree on how to raise a houseful of kiddos.

If one person already shows a tendency to cheat or engage in deceptive behavior. I’ve had numerous students and young adults ask me how to handle it when their boyfriend or girlfriend is sneaking around, cheating on them with a third party. My answer: Break it off yesterday! It’s not that I lack compassion or think people can never change, but a pattern of cheating before marriage will generally not get better after rings are exchanged. Trust is the foundation of a marriage, and if a person handles it lightly while dating or engaged, beware!

If significant sexual immorality is present in the relationship. This one is tricky. I’ve known many people who have struggled with sexual sin while dating or engaged who have gone on to have wonderful marriages. That being said, it’s tough to be objective about a person when you are already sexually entangled. Sex clouds our objectivity. In my opinion, it’s best to at least take a hiatus from the relationship and perhaps return to it at a later time. Once the immorality is removed, people tend to make better decisions about whether to marry.

If the relationship seems like more trouble than it’s worth. This might sound harsh, and again there are exceptions to the rule. However, if you find yourself spending more time arguing with the person than enjoying them, that’s a red flag. If you talk more about the person’s flaws than what you love about them, that’s a red flag (the problem might be you or it might be the other party — either way, it’s a red flag). If you consistently find yourself wanting to get away from the person, it’s probably wiser to break it off. Everybody has doubts and fears in the dating process, but I’m talking about those situations in which the worries and concerns overwhelm your enjoyment of the relationship. To put it simply, if you don’t like the person or think your relationship is in constant trouble, why would you get married?

Needless to say, these principles are based on general wisdom (for the most part) and not on clear Scriptural commands. It’s just what I’ve observed and come to believe after a number of years working with students and young adults.

Question: Do you agree with the above principles? Are there any you would add?

[Image via http://awesomedc.com/2010/06/24/breaking-up-old-fashion-way-or-the-social-media-way/]

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