Monday, January 13, 2014
Run for your life
Why yes, I am going to bother to deconstruct a harmless Facebook meme, why did you ask?
This cropped up in my news feed a couple of times last week, posted by some very well-meaning and nice people:
Now, what's wrong with this? Rather a nice idea. Keep God first, and all that.
Well, for starters, it suggests that marriage (and relationships leading thereto) are for spiritual overachievers. First get your spiritual life in order, then find someone. (Without actually looking for anyone, because that would be unspiritual. It has to look like an accident.)
It's the churchy parallel to the theme in our culture: get your financial life in order, your career started, your nice house bought, then get married. Marriage becomes the crowning achievement of personal and spiritual life.
Except for the most part it works better the other way: Marriage helps people behave in responsible ways, leading them to greater financial stability and spiritual involvement. (Indeed, does the Bible ever suggest spiritual maturity is an essential prerequisite for getting married? Kind of the opposite--it suggests that having trouble keeping your pants zipped is the primary reason for getting married.) Raise the bar for marriage too high and you prevent the very goal you're trying to achieve.
Now, it is helpful to date and marry someone with some basic shared values. That's just common sense. If you want to raise orphans in Africa dating someone who yearns after the corporate high life is not going to work out well. But spirituality is not a competitive sport.
And that's the deeper problem--the idea that we can somehow chart our own or someone else's spiritual growth and measure how close we are getting to God. That our spirituality is measured by the intensity of our efforts. That we should reject as inferior anyone who can't keep up with us. When in fact the intensity of our efforts may be leading us farther from resting in God. And the more spiritual we think we are, the more in danger we are.
Paul spoke of running the race, but he never suggested that the race was a contest to get closer to God--Jesus ran it too, and he already *was* God. The race is just the journey of life, and God is already with us on that one.
Just as a practical measure, it's not that great of advice for young people. If you've been on the planet long enough you've known people--probably lots of people--who were all set to be spiritual superstars in the early years, but who burned out, washed up, or just walked away. (And on the other hand people who came to spiritual devotion late but strong.) The intensity of a person's visible fervor at 21 is not a strong indicator of what kind of partner they'll be in twenty years. Really, none of us know this for ourselves, either.
I wish I could come up with some sort of pithy counterstatement, but I'm no good at dating advice. Although "It is better to marry than to burn" could possibly serve as a Facebook meme. With the right picture.