Saturday, August 6, 2011

Lie #3: Everyone Settles

(The back-story behind this series of posts is "Relationship Lies Exposed." Check it out if you haven't already. That will clue you in on what this and the previous two posts are all about)

Muscles and integrity. That’s what I used to tell people I was looking for in a man. All I wanted, I claimed, was a good guy in a bad boy’s body.

It was meant to get a laugh, but it was about as far from the truth as you could get. Truth is, over the last ten years (okay, 15 years…), I’ve created around a dozen “lists.” (You know “the List:” Just like the ones we take the store to remember everything we need, or the ones we used to send to Santa Claus when we were kids to tell him everything we wanted, the capital-L list I’m referring to pertains to the qualifications we seek in a future spouse). The creation of each of my lists was sparked by different circumstances. Some were tossed over my shoulder in late-night conversation with college pals about “the perfect man." Others were bulleted, extremely detailed lists that came in the wake of finishing a dating book, listening to a marriage message in chapel or watching an episode of Oprah (p.s. That last one was not the greatest of advice sources. Just sayin...).

Much to my dismay, I've discovered it to be quite an acceptable practice for standards (“the lists” as it were) to fluctuate based on age. For example, at 21, my college friends felt it was more than fair for me to have a 37-point list of qualifications for an FH. After all, I was young...the whole world ahead of me and all that. As the years progress, however, people feel the need to insist that I “stop being so picky” and remind me that I “can’t expect perfection.” Subsequently, I feel compelled to cross two or three things off the list every time another birthday comes and goes with no ring.

Not that I actually do cross these things off my list, just that I feel the pressure to. And why should I? At the risk of being misperceived as a colossal snob, I don't ask for anything that I don't have myself (or at least the complimentary characteristic). The whole “Becoming the One before finding the One” cliché is good advice. My twenties have been spent primarily in intention, not desperation. I want to be a wife who is wise, confident, fit and full of Jesus...and I know that starts before I say "I do."

So, since I've been busy letting God work on me, I figure it's best for me to hold out for someone else He is working on too...

Throughout my single years, there has been a single piece of advice that has shaped much of my decisions on relationships. As a five year old in pigtails, sipping a Capri Sun and soaking in my first perspectives of romance via Disney princess cartoons, my very wise mother took the opportunity to tell me four little words: “The boys aren’t worthy!”

That phrase came to be repeated quite possibly hundreds of times in our house over my coming of age years. The words were packed with meaning, encompassing everything from “Don’t give it up until your wedding night,” to “Don’t settle for a boy when you can have a man.” Although I have and still intend to do the former, the latter version is the one that rings most true for me now.

Just because there are “lots of fish” in the sea doesn’t mean they are all good catches. A lot of them smell. Maybe not literally (I was never into jocks…), but definitely in the metaphorical sense of having poor character and shallow personalities. I knew that if I was going to take the risk of going out on the boat, I was going after the best fish I could find. Not just whatever was biting...

Sadly, though, I’ve watched a lot of friends take whatever looked good at the time. When we talk about their marriages, their reasons for getting hitched stemmed either from convenience (“I really wanted to get married“), opportunity (“He was the only guy who was pursuing me”) or guilt (“We’ve been together three years. We should get married…”). As I looked at each, cynicism tempted and taunted me. I honestly wanted to know, “Is this all there is? Does everyone settle?”

Just when I was about to believe it was true (after all, my college profs shot down the idea of “the One” freshman year: "You can be happy with anyone..."), I started meeting dozens of married couple who hadn't settled. These people made their lists, asked God for them, and got exactly what they asked for. Now, lest I paint God as a cosmic genie (prosperity gospel...bleh!), I believe that the reason these stories were a success was that their lists weren’t merely their own ideas; they were God-initiated. The Lord led these people to ask for the things they needed, instead of just what they wanted in a spouse. More often than not, those who were faithful to wait got way more than they expected (Far better than that silly little crush who fulfilled 2% of their list but was just "Sooo hot"...).

What you should know about me and my theology (yes, this bubbly, valley girl digs deep into doctrine) is that I’m not a deist. Just because the Lord is high in heaven doesn’t mean He doesn’t want to be involved...especially in something as significant as a decision about a spouse. Marriage is sacred and it affects the course of our lives: Why should we be so non-chalant about something so serious?

Over the years, I’ve learned to recognize what God’s leading looks like, and (unfortunately) also what it looks like to ignore it. During my rebellious, stubborn seasons, I chose the world's way, succumbing to lust and lack of patience. Needless to say, such seasons yielded sucky results. Yet, the times I have chosen to obey God, waiting and saying “No” to opportunities that society told me were foolish to decline, I have been far more content. A mixed bag of good and bad choices (steeped in God's grace and redemption) has convinced me that following His leading will always yield greater results than giving in to the world’s "logic."

Upon further investigation, the dozens of friends who got their lists were certainly definitely tempted to settle. Physical boundaries were stretched, or the allure of "the spark" clouded their better judgement in choosing whom to date, yet these people repented and sought for something more. They had the courage to believe God's redemption and to trust that He still had one special person in mind for them. And oddly enough, sometimes a person whom two years prior would have been a choice to "settle," was actually “the One" in the making. How could that be? Well, that person (much like they themselves) finally grew up, got serious with the Lord and started following His leading. And in those two years, they became the One that God intended them to be.

Believe it or not, I can recount tales of Christians (friends, mind you, not urban myths) who knew whom their spouse would be months and even years prior to them getting together. In those instances, however, one or both wasn’t quite ready (spiritually, emotionally, financially). So, they waited. How amazing is that? To actually believe God when He says that that other person is, in fact, it...but just not now. That takes trust! In those moments, those people could have easily taken what was in front of them ("After all, he/she is going to be my spouse, why wait?") instead of holding off until God gave the okay. Deep in their hearts, however, they just couldn‘t shake the thought of 1 Corinthians 1:25: “This foolish plan of God is wiser than the wisest of human plans…”

This seemingly crazy, wildness of God is one of my favourite things about Him. In His equation, greater risk = greater reward. And I might just have to step out on a limb not to settle. After all, TRUE safety and security only comes through obedience…

p.s. While I haven't stripped down my standards simply because I'm 28, I did manage to simplify my list over the years, narrowing it down to 10 non-negotiables. You know, the stuff that actually matters ("Nice abs" is certainly nice, but lack of isn't a deal breaker...). All of that to say, there isn't actually a 37-point list...just for the record. Hyperbole, it seems, doesn't always come across as intended  ;)

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