Category Archives: Relationships

How to Handle Contention

I’m a naturally contentious person. I always have been. Whenever I listen to someone express their beliefs and ideas, I comb their words for flawed premises or close-mindedness or ways in which I disagree with them. I’m very critical, and I am rarely satisfied with an expression of belief, especially if it’s a controversial one. Bowing to the status quo rarely satisfies me, and I’m much more comfortable challenging it, and thinking outside its borders than maintaining it—especially when I’m in a church setting (which really is quite unfortunate).

I think this is both a blessing and a curse (and more often than not, it is very exhausting!), because I often turn this personality trait on myself. I constantly analyze my own beliefs and the ways in which I see the world, wondering if I’m seeing something wrong, if I need to be more vocal  and publicly affirming about certain beliefs, and more skeptical and curious about others. I never want to be so convicted of something that my heart and mind are closed when God is probing them and trying to transform them, but I also want to be able to rest in that assurance and comfort of the Father that always seems to elude me. It’s a double-edged sword, it really is.

The way I see things, there are two alternatives: either subdue my critical spirit in an attempt to achieve solidarity with my Christian brothers and sisters, or let my critical spirit do what it wishes and step on a lot of toes in the process. I’m ashamed to admit it, but ever since I started growing beyond the conservative bubble I used to live in, I’ve found that the second alternative characterizes my interactions with other Christians much more often than the first. I think this is because I’ve found so much more to be critical of within conservative Christianity than I ever have before, and so there is more “fodder”, for lack of a better word, for my contentious spirit to indulge in, and so indulge I do, and quite rampantly at that.

But this Christian life doesn’t have to come down to these two alternatives, this choice between suppressing honesty so the status quo remains intact, and vocalizing my disagreement with every issue or doctrine or outlook that rubs me the wrong way. There is a third alternative, a wiser and more compassionate way of living in community with my fellow believers in the midst of widely varying perspectives. This third way requires me to speak honestly, yes, but also remember to put myself into the shoes of the person I’m speaking with, and think about why they believe what they do, why they hold opinions I might find abhorrent or flawed, why they believe it is in my best interests make sure I know how wrong I am.

When I do that,  I find that I am able to tone down my contentious spirit. I am able to inflect grace and compassion into my words instead of getting so fired up and passionate that it becomes impossible to construct any sort of positive dialogue. And of course, I know full well how hard that is when you’re so sure they’re wrong, when it’s so clear to you what the right way of thinking is. But it’s still so important to develop that skill of seeing through the eyes of others. Until you can do that, you’ll never be able to convince them they’re wrong, no matter how obvious it may seem to you.

And, simultaneously, I think you acquire the wonderful gift of learning from that person too. Because sometimes, it is you who are wrong and in need of a change of perspective. And that won’t happen either, until you’re willing to open yourself up to the possibility.

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Thoughts on Marriage from a Single Girl

I have a friend on Facebook who posts quotes about marriage. Like, a ton of quotes about marriage. Every time I see one in my news feed, my disposition dampens and I sigh in frustration. Why, you ask? Well, let me show you:

“The silent treatment is the Devil’s loudest invitation for interference in your marriage. When husband and wife stop communicating, it gives the devil sufficient time and uncontested opportunity to influence them separately.”

“Anyone who enters a marriage must do so with the clear understanding that they enter a work with no retirement, a school with no graduation, and a battle with no retreat or surrender.”

“Marriage is not 50-50; Divorce is 50-50. Marriage has to be 100-100. It isn’t dividing everything in half, but giving everything you’ve got!”

“Imagine a man so focused on God that the only reason he looks up to see you is because he heard God say, ‘that’s her.'”

Maybe you’re reading these, and you’re think they’re great – practical, motivational pieces of advice for how to keep your marriage strong. But that’s not how I’m reading them. I’m reading them as a young adult who has been single most of her life, currently has no significant other, yet who dreams of marriage one day. And as such, I read these and I think, “Oh my gosh, getting married sounds like the worst idea ever!” It sounds like all work and no play, it sounds like a daily struggle and an uphill battle, it sounds like the hardest relationship a person could possibly enter into willingly—and worse yet, if you’re a Christian, there’s no getting out of it!

Well, call me idealist, call me naive, call me whatever you wish. But I reject my Facebook friend’s quotes about marriage. I do think it’s important to remember that there will be challenges with whatever man with whom we become each other’s one and only. There will be trials and difficulties and times when giving 50% is all you can do, let alone giving 100%. There will be times when I say, “screw the high road, I need to go be human and fume at him for awhile!” There will be moments when our marriage feels like a tedious chore instead of a beautiful gift.

All hypothetically assuming I get married one day, of course.

I will choose instead to think about the blessing it will be to spend my life with a man who syncs with me so well that I feel secure in committing to lifelong monogamy with him. I will choose to believe that there will be times when marriage is easy as well as times when it is hard. I will choose to believe that I will marry a man whose character is strong enough that we can overcome our struggles together, and offer each other grace when one of us gives our marriage less than our best.

My marriage will not be a battlefield. It will be a life, full of mess and full of beauty. It will not be a relationship in which both of us always succeed in communicating effectively, but I hope it will be one in which we recognize when we need to get over our pity party and talk already, even if it means expressing frustration.  I won’t always give 100%, and neither will he. But I hope we will be patient with each other when life gets us down, and we are able to give each other the space we might need to recharge when we’re incapable of being our best.

And I don’t want to be with a guy who lives with his head in the clouds, who doesn’t see me until a voice from God shouts in his head to look up. I want to be with a guy who is in tune with God, yes, but who is also immersed in this world, with eyes and heart open to the people around him. I don’t want to see marriage the way those quotes tell me I should. I’m a silver linings kind of person, I always have been. And I want that optimism to be saturated all through whatever lifelong bond I end up forming with a man. I don’t want to lose it, because then I’ll lose the heart to experience my marriage as something beautiful.

The Shame of Morality

Let me tell you a little bit about me. I’m the girl who grew up the perfect archetype of a good Christian girl. I can’t remember a period of my life when I wasn’t attending church consistently, often multiple times a week. I breezed through high school with easy straight A’s, then went on to attend one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the nation. The first time I had a drink just because I wanted to was a thrilling moment during which I giggled inwardly at the scandal of my rebellion.

I’ve always pursued morality tenaciously, and I’ve felt plagued with guilt every time I inevitably fell short of the standard I enforced upon myself (though I always told myself it was God who enforced it on me).

This might seem like a good thing, but I can assure you it is not. When you ride yourself so hard, you have a way of turning good morals into an idol, and conflating your adherence to those morals with God’s love for you. So when you fall short, the worthiness you feel in the sight of God also diminishes, and that is something that should never happen.

Now I’m going to turn a corner, and tell you a secret. I made it to third base with a guy I was in love with. I compromised my values, capitulated to lust, and awakened desires and impulses that I never knew existed.

And to this day I feel the shame of that. My idea of morality is so hopelessly entangled with my desire to please God that I can’t really sort out whether I feel ashamed because that’s what I’m supposed to feel when I compromise my sexual purity, or because I sinned, or just because it all felt so good in the moment.

I think there might also be a deeper, more profound reason for this saturating sense of shame. Messing around with my (now ex) boyfriend was the first time I’d ever deliberately committed one of the “big sins” I’d been taught to avoid. In other words, it was the first sin I’d committed that truly tarnished my image of myself as a “good Christian girl” and came face-to-face with the reality my own depravity.

So maybe, in a weird and ironic way, something good came out of my choice to compromise. I learned how weak my flesh can be, and how disposed to sinfulness I really am, in spite of my upbringing and my commitment to my values. I’ve come out the other side a wiser and more careful woman, though also a woman who now has some emotional baggage to work through that I didn’t have before.

So, what do you know. Perhaps good can come of sin after all—even the sexual kind.

Relationships and the Church

Over the last few weeks, I’ve been feeling very uplifted and encouraged at church and in my personal walk with God. I’m not sure if it’s just because my mood is at the high point of an ebb, and if the flow will soon come and I’ll go back to feeling cynical. Or perhaps it’s because God is genuinely working on my heart, making me more malleable towards those who think differently than I do. I think, more than anything, I have come to realize that compassionate hearts can be found in the most unlikely of places, and that the Christians I have chosen to surround myself with don’t deserve all the harsh negativity that I have lately been directing at evangelical Christianity as a whole. These people are my brothers and sisters, and our common bond in affirming Christ as Lord always comes first.

This is why I can forgive when the Christians around me fall short of what I believe God desires of us as Christians.  This is why I can think before I speak, consider the impact of my words before I let them fall from my lips, because I know just as well as anybody that words have consequences. This is why I can try to practice patience and grace, even as my heart pushes back against the conservative values  my church teaches, values I know so well and have come to regard with a wary eye.

We are all sons and daughters of the same Kingdom, and we are all beautiful and indispensable parts of the body of Christ. Some of us defend the literalism of the Bible protectively, and some of us have learned to see truth in it whether the events it describes actually happened or not. Some of us find their relationship with God strengthened by leaving organized religion, and some of us desperately need to be surrounded by other church-goers in order to stay sane in this crazy world. For some of us, love and compassion come easily, but so does scripturally unsound compromise.

We all have different battles we fight, and different gifts we have to offer the Body. No two of us are the same, and this is why we need each other so much. Even when I’m not in a  good place like I am now, and angsty thoughts about the Church are the only kinds of thoughts I can find it in my heart to generate, it is still so wrong to give up on her. The Church is my family, my support, a powerful catalyst that God can use to keep me connected to himself. And the kicker is, the Church is made up of people who are no more flawed, misguided, and capable of lousy judgment than I myself am. And when I remember that, I find it very hard to keep those angsty thoughts churning.

So I’m going to keep building relationships. I’m not going to stop challenging the status quo, or thinking critically about how we can best approach how we do community together and how we stay unified even though we will never wholly agree on how it is we’re supposed to go about being Christians. Because at the end of our lives, when Jesus calls us home and we stand before the judgment seat, I don’t think he’ll be interviewing me about my beliefs when he assesses my devotion to him. I think he’ll be asking me how I loved him with my life, and how I loved his children. And I want to be able to say that I loved his children by offering them the exact same thing that he offered me: a relationship.

Can Church Be Home for the Introvert?

For a while,  I was sharing a lot of angsty thoughts about my church—all the reasons it’s doing things wrong, and all the ways it needs to improve. While I still think those concerns are valid, I have found that they are bothering me much less than they were before, due to a combination of factors. One of them, I think, is that I’ve quit going to the service on Sunday mornings. Instead, I  go to a Saturday night service called Ignite which is considerably more low-key, laid-back, and significantly smaller. I love Ignite, and every time  I miss a service I’m seriously bummed out about it.

I’ve noticed, though, that I’ve become aware of a different problem with church—and this problem doesn’t have much to do with the institution itself and everything to do with me. See, I am a major introvert. Though I am generally friendly and happy to carry on a conversation, I’m downright lousy at starting them. It really defies my nature to walk up to someone I don’t know and just start chatting away. So usually, when I go to Ignite I just slip in a little late and let the worship songs sink into me. And I always bring my Bible and a notebook, because I can absorb the message more easily if I take notes on it. I really enjoy myself in my little bubble, but when the service is over, I usually glance around plaintively, half-hoping that someone will come up and talk to me. I’m anxious for conversation and interaction, especially when it’s about God, but I’m just an absolute pansy about initiating those conversations most of the time. So I usually just take the easy way out and leave early.

Well, the other day at Ignite, I actually ran into someone I knew—an older man who recently got hired where I work. That made it easier to talk, and it was no time before we were chatting away, talking about a pleasant variety of topics. Then…he asked me if I knew anybody else who attended the service that night. Mind you, I had just finished telling him that I’d been coming to Ignite for at year and a half! I pointed sheepishly at one couple, who I know reasonably well because I’m good friends with their daughter.

Aaand that was it. In a stunning moment of revelation, I realized that I knew nothing about a single person in the entire room—not their names, not anything about their families. Nothing. And as I said, I’d been going to this church for a year and half! I’d always just walked in the door, basked in the service, then quietly and promptly walked out. I was kind of ashamed to realize it.

I’m not really sure what to do about it, though. As I said, it is entirely against my nature to just walk up to people and start talking to them. I really enjoy deep, meaningful conversation, but I’m downright lousy at getting the ball rolling on them. And I know church is definitely supposed to be a place where those sorts of conversations are had; I just don’t know how to make church that kind of place for me while being true to who I am. Because while sometimes my introversion feels like it stems from insecurity, other times I realize it for the gift that it is—I can easily identify with others who are shy, and I can have conversations that dig into the meat of a matter because I spend so much time thinking about such matters.  So I do think my introversion is a gift. I just need to figure out how to make it work within a church setting.

Traditional Dating and the “Ideal” Man

A few weeks ago, I listened to a Tony Campolo sermon about teens and dating. Most of it was relevant for adults though, and I found his perspective and criticisms of the way Americans date to be very interesting and thought-provoking.

During the sermon he told a story about his own high school years and a girl that he liked. He’d asked her out, and she’d said yes, and they’d gone out on three dates. Like a good gentleman, he paid for everything. But he also kept track of the costs carefully, and by the end of the third date had spent $24.40 on her. The following day at school, he noticed the girl sitting and chatting with another boy. Indignant, he marched over, told the boy off, and asked her what she was doing talking to another boy, since she was already going steady with him.

He’d felt entitled. He’d paid for her, and he wanted what he paid for.

Eek.

This got me thinking. I’ve always accepted and even glorified traditional perspectives on dating, such as the one that considers it chivalrous when a man pays for the date. I’ve always thought it was pretty considerate and gentlemanly when a man does so for me, and in fact I’ve pretty much come to expect it. Like if we split the bill on a date, or if I pay the bill, somehow it’s a black mark on his record and a reason for me to turn my nose down at him. And the same goes for a guy who opens the door for me, buys me flowers and gifts, and takes the initiative when he feels we’re ready for a first kiss.

Dr. Campolo’s sermon makes me wonder if such a traditional approach to dating creates a subtle imbalance in a relationship. When a guy pays for the meal every time, I always feel obligated to let him choose where we eat, even if he never makes me feel that way. And I feel more obligated to let him choose the activity when we go on a different kind of date because he’s paying for it, and the last thing I’d want is for him to pay for an activity he won’t enjoy. And if Dr. Campolo’s story is any indication, the guy probably feels more entitled to make those choices too. He might feel like I owe him something in return for the cash he is willingly forking over in his pursuit of me.

This is all very hard for me to think through, because I have always been such a  traditional thinker when it comes to dating. Masculinity as our culture defines it is something I’ve always desired in a man—strong, ambitious, willing to lead, and dedicated to providing financially. All of which is just another way of saying…I’ve always desired a man who pays for dates. But after thinking about Tony’s story, I’ve got to wonder if such a desire is healthy, and if I’ve been guilty of putting masculinity and my ideas about modern-day chivalry in a box as much as I’ve often put other things in boxes.

Maybe, after all, the sort of man who strives for equality and balance in a relationship is really the strong one.

Maybe the sort of man who is willing to sacrifice his desire to have control in a relationship is actually the best sort of leader.

And maybe being dedicated to providing financially means making the best decisions together with the woman he is with (just as this man did) — even if it means sacrificing his own dreams and his own reputation as a financial provider to allow room for me to dream.

Maybe my expectations are all wrong. I’m willing to admit that, and work on redefining what sorts of qualities I ought to be looking for in a man.

How Do We Approach Controversy?

It’s so hard to find the balance between speaking up for what you believe in, and letting things go in favor of promoting unity within the body of Christ. All last night and into today, the Phil Robertson/Duck Dynasty controversy riddled its way through my Facebook news feed. I read up on the controversy, listening to voices on both extremes of the liberal/conservative spectrum. I listened to one video that raged against the fakeness and homophobic hatred of the Duck Dynasty clan, and I read another article that called conservatives to rally around Robertson and fight against the wrongfulness of his suspension.

A couple of articles, such as this one, and this one, rose above the noise for me as honest and convicting responses to Robertson’s statements and A&E’s decision to suspend him. What struck me as particularly honest about these articles is that they don’t try to justify what Robertson said. Because seriously, what he said was vitriolic and dehumanizing, even if that wasn’t his intent. And I don’t care what your beliefs about homosexuality are—if you believe that Phil’s statements reflect the heart of Jesus, I think you’d be dead wrong. Jesus was very much in the business of instilling worth into his listeners and affirming their humanity. On the contrary, what Phil said reduced gay and lesbian human beings to sex acts. And that is wrong.

Anyway…everything I said in the preceding paragraph was my initial response to the controversy. I’ll admit that I then proceeded to offer my input all over Facebook about how wrong Robertson was and how there are consequences when you abuse your right to free speech in such a manner.

I’m not sure yet if that was a good idea, because I don’t know where the balance is. As an LGBT ally and as a Christian, I want to stand against remarks such as Robertson’s, but I also feel that at some point, I’m doing more harm than good by adding fuel to the fire, so to speak. But on the other hand, standing back and saying, “Come on now, let’s just love everybody,” isn’t really an effective response either. I don’t want to stay out of it when someone who is a public face for Christianity in this country compares homosexuality to bestiality and worse, but I also don’t want to contribute to widening the rift between the gay and Christian communities—or the liberal and conservative groups either, for that matter.

I suppose the answer is to approach the issue with love as the focus. Problem is, I’m pretty sure everyone—ranging from those lobbying to support Phil to those decrying him as homophobic—thinks they’re approaching this issue with love as the focus. It’s all quite disheartening, if you ask me. But the way I see it, the real demonstration of love is the one that can see both sides of the coin. The one that can look at what Phil said and ask, “How would a gay person feel if he read this?” I’d imagine he’d feel pretty terrible. And the other question we should ask is, “What was the condition of Phil’s heart when he said what he said?” What he said may have been crass and vulgar, but the capstone of his comments was a call to love. And we can’t ignore that and paint him as an evil person representing evil things, as much as we might think he deserves it.

Am I Failing the Church or Is the Church Failing Me?

This afternoon as I introspectively considered my experiences at church this morning, I realized something terrible. I’ve been going to church on Sunday mornings every single week since my work schedule changed back in February. I’ve been doing Bible studies once or twice a week as well, and showing up at *my* church’s extracurricular stuff, like dinners and Saturday night church services and women’s conferences. Seriously. I’ve probably been putting in like six to seven hours a  week at church consistently since February.

And my terrible realization is this. I haven’t had a positive thought—a genuine, glad thought about being at these various church activities—hardly at all since I’ve been going. I won’t make an absolute statement here, because that wouldn’t be true (I have learned some really meaningful things here and there), but overwhelmingly I’ve just felt critical, or bitter, or disappointed about the things I’ve learned in church over the past nine months.

How did I get here? How did I get to this place where church is no longer my sanctuary, my safe place where everyone thinks and acts the same way I do? With all the soul-searching I’ve done over the last year, all the transformations I’ve gone through in what I believe about Christian doctrine, about God, about who I am as a believer in Christ, you’d think I’d be more tolerant of the people at my church who still think the way I used to. But I’m not. I’m angry at them. I’m angry that belief is so easy for them, that answers come without a second thought and without wondering if they could be wrong. I’m angry that everything makes sense and that they can water down the Christian faith into an easily navigable system of theology.

I can’t do that anymore, and I refuse to try.  And my refusal to put Christianity, the Bible, God himself into a box makes me feel like an outsider in the one place I’ve always felt I belonged.

Church never taught me what to do when I feel as though I have more in common with the liberals of this world than the conservatives. It never taught me what to do when I can’t see past all the things that it has screwed up in me. Things like teaching me homophobia, like skewing the way I regard scripture, and like teaching me how to live rightly, but not necessarily how to love rightly.

I’m  so very tempted to give up on church, to just leave it altogether for awhile. It’s become so very hard for me to see God there, and I can’t figure out if that’s because of me and my bitter heart, or if it’s because church is doing a lot of things so wrongly that the institution can’t be fixed. Even this vein of thought that I’m entertaining—this idea that the church exists to feed me, to bolster me, to conform to my idea of what it means to be a body of Christ—feels like a product of the individualized spin the church has always given on the Christian faith. The church is failing me when it doesn’t meet my expectations. Not the other way around.

And now I feel like screaming because I’m back to the self-blame. At the end of the day, I guess all I know is that I don’t feel at peace there in that place that is meant to be the sanctuary of God. Truth is, I haven’t for a long time.