I was recently driving back from a missions trip with a group of single women and we got onto the topic of dating, friendship with the opposite sex, and everything that falls in-between. The stories were very different, but the one central theme that ran through most of them was the pain and bewilderment of being hurt.
Now I don’t want to fall into the pitfall of suggesting that women are the only ones that can claim such casualties. I fully recognize that my gender have inflicted countless wounds too. However this did lead me to reflect on the nature of the season which many of us find ourselves in in our twenties and thirties as we try to figure out who to trust, who to pursue, and who, for lack of a better word, is a total douchebag*.
With every love story I hear recounted by those that have successfully navigated the dating minefield and reached the hallowed grounds of the wedding altar I realize more and more that relationships are most definitely not one size fits all. God clearly likes to work in a variety of ways and for every dating “you should never” there are bona fide exceptions to be found. So even though in my early twenties I genuinely thought I’d sussed out the one and only blueprint for relationship, I am now increasingly convinced that any attempt at formula is utter foolishness.
That said, of late I’ve been realizing that there is one precept which is absolutely critical, and indeed the litmus test of dating relationships. And this isn’t whether you were friends first, how many months you’ve known each other, whether you’re of the same nationality, or indeed any of the other wise principals that have been sadly perverted into legalism by some. It’s actually the simple evaluation of how closely someone follows the greatest commandment of all.
In Mark 12: 28-31 we learn what that commandment is: “One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?” “The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Now I know that most single people have a long list of things they’d like in a partner. They want someone who likes camping, or someone who hates the outdoors. They want someone who has a heart for Asia, or someone who feels strongly called to the local neighbourhood. They want an animal lover, or someone who has a pet free home. And then there’s the list of physical preferences. They want someone tall. Or someone short. They want someone blonde. Or someone brunette. They want someone who looks like an Abercrombie model. Or someone who is comfortingly homely. The list often goes on and on.
I firmly believe in the importance of being able to identify and articulate what we desire, and I do believe that God likes to bless us abundantly. However it seems to me that a common mistake that Christian singles make is in prioritization.
Ultimately, according to Mark 12, the two most important questions we need to ask ourselves when evaluate someone’s suitability as a potential partner are:
1) How much do they love God?
2) How much do they love people?
Single ladies and gentlemen, I encourage you to make these two simple questions your main criteria when selecting a partner, as I contend that if your crush is lacking in either of these areas you are setting yourself up for much heartbreak and disappointment. It doesn’t matter that they meet every other item on your list, or that you hear the Hallelujah chorus every time they glance in your direction. If they don’t also plentifully meet both of these criteria you are most likely going to find yourself in some kind of dysfunctional relationship. Conversely, if you choose someone who has an abundant love for God, and an abundant love for people, your relationship will likely be characterized by overarching peace and blessing.
On this basis I’d like to suggest that all other preferences, from whether someone likes rock climbing through to whether or not they eat meat, are very, very, very secondary. While lack of commonality is certainly a legitimate deal breaker to non-believers, Biblically based marriage functions in a whole different way. So “do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:2)
For this reason I encourage you singletons with strong preconceptions to take your blinders off. Don’t discount prospects because of shallow preferences that are liable to change with the seasons!
I am firmly convinced that a heart full of love greatly overcomes many differences. This is because true love focuses on blessing others, not on gratifying oneself. I personally believe that it is servant-hearted marriages like this, marriages that so utterly transcend the natural grid for what is easy, self-serving, and logical, that transform the very fabric of society. Indeed, these make the most enjoyable marriages of all.
[* For those of you that would question my use of such condemning language, please see the use of the terms “fool” and “evil man” in the book of Proverbs, which demonstrate how behaviour is sometimes so relentless that it actually can be referred to as being an inherent part of someone’s nature.]
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