On “Virginity,” Women, and Worth

Let me tell you a story, and a couple of brief anecdotes.

A girl I went to summer camp with as a teenager was from a pretty observant Christian family — mostly Catholic but not exclusively so. She’d been raised to value virginity, and was very proud of the fact that she was a virgin despite the pressure she felt from her circle of rich, popular, athletic friends. And she used to regale us with stories of how she would lie to her parents and tell them she was going to a friend’s to study, and instead go to her boyfriend’s house and spend all day skinny dipping with him… etc. She also had strong views about the circumstances around re-pledging one’s virginity — apparently you could have intercourse exactly once and then repent, and God would accept you as a virgin again, but after that, if you had intercourse again, it “counted;” you were officially defiled at that point, and probably shouldn’t wear white at your wedding.

I have friends who are virgins by some variation of the technical definition, but who’ve fooled around with dozens of people, who’ve struggled with pornography addictions, or whose sexual fantasies dominated their thoughts. I also have friends who aren’t virgins by any of the most common understandings of the term, because they were raped or molested or sexually abused.

And speaking of how we define virginity, I read a news story a few weeks ago about Quebec barring doctors from performing “virginity checks” on girls as part of their annual physicals. It struck me, once again, how much our culture’s language of sexuality aims its force at women — a “prude” is usually a woman, but so is a “slut.” Physiologically, too, we too often attach the concept of virginity to intact hymens — body parts men don’t even possess!

Christians have an obligation to be more biblical than that, to refuse to put an unfair burden on women (who are substantially more likely to be victims of sexual abuse than men) or on men (who are much more likely to feel cultural pressure to be sexually active and to use pornography than women are) in the way we talk about God’s purposes for human sexuality.

I think it’s long past time we quit talking about the ideal for Christians’ sexuality in terms of “virginity.” What, honestly, does the word “virgin” mean if it can be applied to a person like my summer-camp friend above and a person who’s never been so much as kissed, but not to a person who has been sexually victimized? What purpose does it serve to hold up virginity as the standard, if not to confuse the “experienced,” alienate the abused, and stir up pride in the hearts of the “inexperienced”?

To those who might object that “virginity” is just shorthand for “sexual purity,” is there any real sense in which a pornography addict is sexually pure simply because he or she hasn’t had intercourse? Is there any sense in which a sexually victimized person is not sexually pure simply because sex acts have been forced on him or her? It’s ludicrous to think that God’s design for human sexuality can be summed up with a word that frankly isn’t used all that frequently in Scripture.

So once again I’m going to propose that we speak of chastity rather than virginity or even sexual purity. Virginity is a state of being, but chastity is a choice, an ongoing, daily decision to live one’s life in a way that embraces God’s design for sex and sexuality. Virginity, for most people — those who marry as well as many who don’t — is temporary. Chastity is a permanent lifestyle that continues into marriage, because it encompasses all godly expressions of sexuality. It’s just as accurate to speak of a chaste single person, a chaste husband or wife, a chaste person separated from his spouse, a chaste divorced woman, a chaste widow or widower.

Chastity is about a life, a choice, a path of dedication. Right now, as a woman who is not married, chastity is a way for me to witness to the ultimacy of Christ, over and above romantic or sexual love. My life, by God’s grace, can become a picture of the future God has for all his people. If the Lord purposes marriage for me, that path of chastity simply continues as my life becomes a picture of the church’s love for Christ.

Our bodies matter to God, it’s true. He made them, down to the minutest detail. But for those of us who have been made new in Christ, what we do with all of our lives in these bodies matters, not just a few parts. Let’s stop categorizing one another based on what we have done, or what has been done to us, with just a few of those parts, and begin to encourage each other to walk now in a way that honors God.

That’s Not Why (Or: The Problems With A Consequentialist View of Sin)

I hate-read (well, not “hate-read” exactly, more like “irritate-read”) a couple of Christian blogs, and in the comments section of a post to do with protecting children from being exposed to things they weren’t ready for, a commenter insisted on the importance of exalting the beauty of marriage and urging children to “save themselves for their future spouse.” It got me thinking. Weird, I know.

I have a problem with people focusing “purity” talk on weird stuff like giving your virginity to your husband just like I have a problem with people saying that lying and slander and gossip are wrong because they’re hurtful. Generally speaking, I have a problem with the implication that not trusting God is wrong because it makes our lives harder when we don’t, because I have a problem with consequentialism.

Consequentialism is the notion that the consequences of an action are the best way to know if the action itself is right or wrong. In other words, if something is harmful, to ourselves or others, it must be bad, and if something is helpful, it must be good.

Consequentialism pervades our culture — “they’re consenting adults” and “I’m not hurting anybody” and “my body, my choice” all point to a conviction that acts are as morally right or wrong as their impact on others. And don’t get me wrong, it’s is useful and indeed vital for a society because it shapes our laws and determines how we punish crime, but it’s a rotten foundation for understanding sin and holiness because it puts the purpose for doing right and avoiding wrong in the wrong spot.

The why of obedience isn’t “because it’s bad for you” or “because it’s bad for other people.” Not ultimately. Don’t get me wrong, here. God’s commands are good (duh), and obedience is for our good (duh). But our ultimate good is not the same as our short-term happiness or blessing. In God’s providence, even our sin is for our good; even our suffering is for our good. Sometimes God graciously defers consequences for sin, for his own good purposes. And you know what? Some people have sex (even lots of it!) outside of marriage and don’t get an STI or a baby in the bargain, and feel no guilt or shame or remorse for their actions. Some people get drunk regularly with no long-term health effects. Some people live genuinely happy lives while making choices Christians would all recognize as sinful. And guess what else? Many Christians are “virgins,” but consumed with lustful fantasies, or addicted to erotic novels or pornography, or simply eaten up with pride over their superior purity. Many Christians have never taken so much as a sip of alcohol, but have a disordered relationship with food, or are addicted to smoking, or look down their noses with disdain at those who enjoy a glass of wine now and again. In this fallen world, actions and consequences are simply not that mechanistic.

If we spend all of our time telling those we teach to obey because they’ll be blessed if they do and avoid sin because they’ll be sorry if they don’t, what happens when the uncomfortable realities of life in a fallen world strike? What happens when the girl you dragged up on stage at your youth event to do the duct tape analogy has sex for the first time and doesn’t feel like de-stickied duct tape at all? What happens when the kid who grew up being warned about inevitable spiritual depression if he stopped going to church stops going to church and is perfectly content with his decision to have brunch instead? I’m convinced that this kind of teaching is a big reason that so many kids leave youth group and the church about the same time. Consequentialist theology leaves them vulnerable to every message about following their hearts. It has the ability to make sin seem not all that bad, actually, as long as it’s not hurting anyone!

So you shouldn’t dress modestly to keep men from lusting after you or assaulting you. You shouldn’t avoid pornography because it’s addictive. You shouldn’t shun drunkenness because cirrhosis is deadly. And on the positive side, don’t read your Bible because it makes you happy, don’t go to church because you get blessed when you’re there, and don’t confess sin because your conscience feels better when you do.

So why do Christians obey God? Why do they seek to kill their sin and live a godly life? Because our sins are paid for, every last one of them. Because we are learning to see our sin more clearly as the years pass, and cling to Jesus in the midst of our failures. Because our King lived perfectly on our behalf. Because we have no fear that our sin will separate us from God ever again. Because we know that our very good deeds themselves come from the Holy Spirit in us, not our own efforts. Because, in short, we are free from condemnation and guilt, from slavery to the law, from the pressure to perform. We can live in that freedom, obeying sometimes, sinning often, failing regularly, confident that no one can snatch us from the hand of our Savior.

That is good news.

Believe that, friends. Don’t settle for the message of consequentialism, and don’t put your hope in the fear of consequences to keep you from sinning. Trust in a God who perfectly holds you and keeps you faithful by his power.

Deep Wounds and Hello Kitty Bandaids

Hello Kitty bandaids work better than normal ones; this is scientific fact, indisputable. Ask my nieces. Given the choice between a plain beige bandaid and a Hello Kitty one, they will choose the Hello Kitty one 100 times out of 100. They’re medical miracles. They dry up tears, stop pain, and return a three-year-old to normal play mode as quick as a wink.

They also don’t work on a deep wound.

Everyone knows this when it comes to physical injuries. Your child slices her arm open, and you’re rushing for the car keys, not the bandaids, Hello Kitty or otherwise. Worse, your child is diagnosed with some chronic disease or illness, and you know that no amount of licenced products are going to help.

But reveal a struggle with depression, or anxiety, or panic attacks, or dark, spiraling despair, and suddenly the same people who would advise a 911 call and some prompt medical attention, or long-term medical treatment, are handing out bandaid answers like you just skinned your knee.

Today I read of a husband’s agony as he watched his wife struggle with post-partum depression. The comments section was character bandaids galore: make sure she’s getting enough B vitamins! one commenter insisted. Don’t forget to make confession of sin part of your daily life, said another. No, no, don’t use the Hulk bandaids, no one likes those. Have these bandaids instead!

All I can say to that is… don’t.

Just… don’t do that.

Friends, sin is not always, or predictably, the cause of suffering. Jesus rebuked the pharisees for thinking that a man’s blindness resulted from his sin or that of his parents. Suffering does not always seem to have a purpose; sometimes it doesn’t seem to have a cause, or a reason, or an origin. It’s not always taken away when we pray (2 Cor 12), or even when we treat it medically (Luke 8).

But for the Christian, suffering is always part of the hard providence of God, never escaping his notice or care, never catching him off guard. Satan himself must seek God’s permission to trouble us, and his power is always limited — how much more must the suffering we experience be controlled and limited by a loving and watchful Father!

True suffering defies and confounds tidy, pat answers. If the tools with which we approach it don’t go beyond a range of bandaids with superheros and cartoon characters splashed across them, we will have no comfort to offer those who desperately need it.

How Some Feminism Is Also Marxism (And How This Is Not That)

I said in my series prequel (which… I need to learn to quit telling people what I’m going to write about unless I have the articles written because if there’s one thing I know about myself it’s that I am fickle, dude) that I’m not a Marxist. But the reason I mention Marxism in this context at all, is that I think Marxism and the whole class struggle worldview are foundational to pretty much all modern feminism — and, indeed, to most counterculture movements. Furthermore, I think many of the problems Christians have with feminism stem from our gut-level objections to Marxism, and that, if we can disentangle one from the other, we’ll be surprised at how much common ground there is between our two worldviews when it comes to women.

For the purposes of this discussion, I’m going to use “Marxism” as shorthand for something like this: the set of beliefs and ideas in which the pattern of history is one of class struggle wherein powerful classes, using the structures and institutions of society (government, the Church, marriage, education, etc.) to secure their power, are locked in a struggle with the powerless classes who will, inevitably, rise up to overthrow them and the institutions they control; all those who stand in solidarity with the oppressed class are considered friends while all those who attempt to remain neutral must be crushed as supporters of oppression.

One of the most frequently-recurring themes in the conversation around modern feminism is this idea of “the patriarchy,” which, in the view of many modern feminists, is responsible for many of the wrongs women have suffered throughout history. While it sounds a bit like a conspiracy theory, it’s not — it’s better compared to the cultural water we swim in than anything most folks are aware of. It comes down to something like this: societies have been structured to favor the rule of men for lots of reasons (men are physically stronger than women, most women pre-contraception spent a lot of time pregnant which tended to limit their ability to, like, conquer and swashbuckle and whatever kings do to amass power). This leads inevitably to men oppressing and exploiting women because, you know, power corrupts, and since people in power usually like to keep it, it also leads to men enshrining their power in law at the expense of women. This “patriarchy” concept encompasses all the historical privilege, dominance, power, and authority that men have in a society, plus the way men use those things now — almost always unconsciously — to their own advantage and the disadvantage of women.

I think it’s important for me to be clear here: I don’t necessarily have big problems with this assessment. Men have almost always had more political and social power than women. They have, because of their sinful nature, sometimes used this power to make laws predicated on untrue assumptions about women, laws that unfairly burden women or infringe on their human rights. And — in much the same way that racist politicians in the post-Civil War south leveraged the “poor white” vote to shore up their own agendas in the face of potential enfranchisement of black citizens — powerful classes throughout history have been invested in portraying men and women in ways that make conflict between the sexes seem normal, and that instill fear that the rights women gain will infringe on the rights of men, so that those powerful men could keep their power.

But I think it’s also important to be note that my agreement is far from comprehensive. To the modern feminist, men and women have been locked in a perpetual battle for power, men have always had the ascendancy, and women (together with sympathetic men, and in solidarity with other oppressed and marginalized groups) have the obligation to rise up and overthrow this oppressive patriarchy in order to usher in a future in which there are no gender-based hierarchies — or any hierarchies at all, because the problem, in this view, is that some people have power over other people. To modern feminists and many modern folks generally, authority structures are to blame, and dismantling those structures is the solution.

It’s at this level that I part ways with modern secular feminism. I just don’t buy the Marxist vision of class warfare or the end game of a world in which there are no hierarchies. I think hierarchies and authority structures are built into human society by God — they’re a feature, not a bug. Hierarchy isn’t the problem. The problem is that men and women alike are, at a fundamental level, messed up by sin, and if you take a look at the consequences for sin given to all of us, fallen in Adam, it’s pretty easy to understand why some people look at history as a clash between two sides. Identity. Desire. Power. Work. Biology. That’s not a list of lecture topics from a Gender Studies class, y’all, it’s a summary of the stuff that sin messes with and that the curse affects. And as we can clearly see in that same passage, the end game isn’t overthrowing all hierarchies, it’s placing all authority structures where they belong: under the reign of the true King who will crush the usurper Satan.

But what all that doesn’t mean is that I’m somehow compelled to disagree with every assessment or proposed solution that comes out of a modern feminist’s mouth. Far from it. Feminists are right to be vocal and angry about misogyny, about exploitation, about stuff ranging from sexist jokes to sex trafficking, from how cops ask rape victims what they were wearing to how our society sees illegal sex workers as criminals rather than victims. We should be just as vocal about, and just as emotionally invested in, those things.

And I’m going to prove it.

Brace yourself next week for a look at some of the many and sometimes surprising areas we might find ourselves agreeing with secular feminists.

International Women’s Day and Casual Misogyny

Happy International Women’s Day!

Today in class we were talking about NASCAR driver Danica Patrick and how she (or rather, the popular portrayal of her) is an embarrassment to women everywhere because, although she’s ostensibly famous for her sport, she’s a) not as great at it as her fame would suggest, and b) far more famous for taking her clothes off and being a spokesmodel in skanky ads. We talked about how offensive it is to both men and women to depict women as empty-headed, easily-controllable imaginary objects just sitting there for male consumption, and I said something about how it turns them into these infantilized child-women, whereupon a student piped up with, “That sounds like a really bad superhero. Infantilized Child-Woman to the rescue!”

So we came up with a whole scenario for Infantilized Child-Woman, who goes around “rescuing” women from intelligent, deep conversations that aren’t about men, and turning them into flirtatious bobble-heads with one flick of her ruffled costume, and who foils male criminals by strutting around seductively until the cops arrive. Her arch-nemesis is Intensely Nerdy Boy, on whom her powers are useless because he prefers the smart girls he meets at ComicCon, and his secret weapon is a Fandom Gun, which makes everyone he shoots it at so involved in a fan community that they stop paying attention to Infantilized Child-Woman. Muahahaha!

I’ve been thinking about this today, a paraphrase of something I saw browsing just now on my lunch break: we need to stop thinking of sexism as part of an identity — i.e., so-and-so is a sexist therefore a wife-beater, a rapist, a woman-hater, etc. — and start thinking of it in terms of actions. Anyone can casually devalue women, and we, both men and women, do it all the time. So many things, from using pornography (i.e. consuming women’s degradation) to implying that women shouldn’t complain about discrimination (because we can, like, vote now and stuff), are sexist, and no amount of, “But I love women/am a woman!” negates that.

We might rightly roll our eyes at the antediluvian attitude that a woman’s place is always in the home and preferably in the kitchen. We might, I hope, get involved with charities that help free women from sex work. But it’s easier to let slide that sort of casual, condescending misogyny that applauds Danica Patrick equally for taking her clothes off and finishing 40th in some race, because it’s so subtle and so ubiquitous. It’s the kind of sexism that we need to be most careful of because it’s the easiest to slip into, the easiest to absorb from women’s magazines and sitcoms, and, I think, the toughest to eliminate.

But we have an obligation to value women, to treat them with the dignity they intrinsically have as image-bearers of God, creations whose absence prompted God to call something “not good” for the first time ever. Christians must strive never to be open to the charge of denigrating or diminishing that value, however casually or incidentally.

Big Scary Topic: Feminism, Part One

This first post is pretty timely, it seems. You see, prizewinning and bestselling British author Hilary Mantel recently gave a talk entitled “Royal Bodies” for the London Review of Books’ winter lecture series. It’s one of the more fascinating things I’ve ever read on famous women and their bodies and how we view them, and I encourage you to read it in its entirety. It’s also turning out to be the talk that launched a thousand rhetorical ships: of course every British paper had an opinion, most of them pretty well to be expected (The Daily Mail’s coverage could be summarized, as usual, as WE ARE HORRIFIED BY WHAT WE ASSUME WAS SAID); even the Prime Minster waded into the fray, missing the point rather spectacularly. Twitter has been ablaze with the question of was-it-ironic-or-wasn’t-it (hint: yes), and NPR highlighted the controversy during their main news broadcasts today.

All that to say, a lot of people are thinking about big issues right now — women and how freely we comment on their looks, fame and beauty and objectification and otherness and what exactly these bodies of ours mean. Those are important topics, and I guess I’m about to tackle some of them.

But I think I need to issue a few denials before I forge ahead, and maybe a couple of affirmations. So here goes.

I believe men and women are different, and that any effort to flatten out gender distinctions is going to end in… absurdity. But I also believe that there are any number of ways to act and be feminine or masculine, not just one (more on this later).

I’m no Marxist; I think it takes a lot of blindly clinging to one’s assumptions in the face of evidence to the contrary to look at human history and deduce that hierarchy is the problem that must be overcome in order for people to thrive. Some hierarchies are awesome and some of them are terrible, but the existence of abusive, exploitative power structures doesn’t invalidate the hierarchy as A Thing. And honestly, does anyone over the age of 35 who has ever read a history book still believe that a human society completely without hierarchy is even possible on any kind of scale or for any length of time? So no, I’m not going to be arguing that women need to rise up and overthrow some mythological worldwide Illuminati patriarchy so that society can progress toward its next evolutionary incarnation.

I don’t believe that “society” as some abstract entity has an agenda to “keep women in their place.” I don’t think that what this country needs, necessarily, is more women in ________ industry or field. I do think that looking at a circumstance — say, the fact that women are underrepresented in the sciences — and failing (or refusing) to consider that the reasons for that circumstance might be incredibly complex and even, perhaps, tied to the innate strengths and weaknesses of the genders, is just head-smackingly stupid. I think it’s lazy-minded, thoughtless, callous, and just plain rude, on the other hand, to dismiss all such disparities as merely representative of gender differences rather than societally-influenced.

I don’t think “feminism” as a worldview has any real solutions to the problems of society. But I think traditionalism, for most of us in the Evangelical camp, poses a far greater danger. It’s a prettier poison for many of us, and a subtler one. We need to be able to hear past the talking points and bumper-sticker slogans and strawmen of the feminist vs. traditionalist shouting match and get down to what the Bible actually teaches about women and their value, about objectification, about bodies. And I am convinced that we’ll have an easier time locating Biblical Christianity in the syncretistic miasma of modern traditionalist religion if we spend some time looking at feminism’s critiques of traditionalism.

So there you have it, I suppose: a bit of an introduction to the Big Scary Topic of feminism.

In the coming weeks or however long I feel like writing about this because it’s my blog and I’ll do what I want, GOSH, I’ll be looking at such topics as Plato, Augustine, and the body; big ugly traditionalism and its little ugly cronies; objectification and othering; and, Lord willing, really scary topics like sexual identity, orientation, and even (gulp) rape and sexual abuse — and how feminism and Christianity intersect at those points. Fasten your seatbelts.

Reasons/Excuses/Fear

So. I started and stopped and started and stopped writing a series last year about feminism and the church and Christians and how we’ve historically been so opposed to the negatives of feminism (and caricatures of feminism) that we’ve thrown out the stuff we could really stand to learn from feminists and ignored the beliefs we share with them. I would read something exciting, get pumped to write the series, do some research, and then freak out because… well, for the following reasons in no particular order.

  1. The Internet is not known for its ability to understand subtle, nuanced arguments; trolls are no fun to deal with.
  2. I don’t want people to think I’m some lefty wacko, or that my views on this subject mean I’ve abandoned historic Christian teaching on God’s will for human sexuality and gender.
  3. (REALTALK:) I don’t want dudes to read this and say, “Ew, I don’t want to marry some man-hating feminazi.”
  4. Not a lot of people want to read about things like sexual abuse, objectification, the male gaze, and other five-dollar terminology that tends to populate the syllabi of Women’s Studies classes at universities across the country… no matter how much I absolutely believe they need to believe rightly about those things.
  5. It’s easier to write about Downton Abbey and the Bible study Methods class I’m teaching and the fun stuff I do on a Friday night (HA!) than about deep, complex issues.

Are those reasons? Are they excuses? Are they nothing but manifestations of my own fear of man? Am I basically permanently walling myself off from marriage by writing about feminism? (No, seriously, am I?)

Anyway, I feel really strongly about this stuff, and I think I’m going to go for it. So I guess the alternate title of this post could be “In Which Laura Psychs Herself Up.”

Still Over It

A few more thoughts on this morning’s post, just in the realm of assumptions.

1. Sexual sin is a grievous thing with long-standing consequences. It’s an offense, both against a holy God and against one’s own body, according to the Scriptures.

2. Some sexual sin carries with it more emotional baggage than others, and some carries with it more tangible consequences than others.

3. No sexual sin — or any other kind of sin — is beyond the reach of the forgiveness of God, and no sinner is beyond the amazing transformation brought about by the Holy Spirit.

4. Pre-conversion sin can, as mentioned in #2, have consequences that last throughout one’s life, but these consequences are not ours to enforce. When we see a non-virgin who, by the Holy Spirit’s power, is currently living a chaste life, we should rejoice in God’s provision not shake our heads at the ongoing shame of past unchastity.

5. It is the VERY GRIEVOUSNESS of sin that makes Gospel transformation so amazing, so worship-engendering, so God-glorifying! If I told my friends that the estate of Bill Gates had not only paid off my mortgage and remaining student loans, but also given me ten million dollars, I hope they would be incredibly excited for me and celebrate with me, not say, “Shame on you for no longer living in your former indebtedness!” That, friends, is exactly what Jesus has done for sinners: he has paid off the debt we owe to God and given us every spiritual blessing and resource for godly living.

6. The attitude of “I thank you that I am not like that publican” has no place in the hearts or mouths of those who have been rescued from their (grievous, offensive, disgusting, condemnatory) sin by a merciful God. But for the restraining grace of God, who among us would not have given in to the lowest and vilest of our desires? If you think it’s your own effort and free will that have kept you sexually chaste, then of course you’ll be driven by pride to look down on those who have not been — after all, if I can do something in my own power, why can’t other people? But if you humbly believe that your heart, left to its own devices, is every bit as wicked as that of the worst sinner, and that every bit of good in you is there only because of the kindness of a loving Father who preserves you from falling into sin? Your attitude toward others is going to be very different.

What keeps coming to my mind are the words to one of my favorite hymns.

There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins,
And sinners plunged beneath that flood
Lose all their guilty stains!

The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away!

Over It.

A blog I frequent has stoked rather fiery conversation in the comments section of an article that mentions, among other things, how unfair — not to mention impractical — it is for Christians to make “must be a virgin” a non-negotiable for dating. Common sense, right? Yeah, that’s what I thought! But apparently not. A slightly shocking number of young men have come along and protested that it’s perfectly all right to do so, and one of the most common themes in their comments is a sort of wounded, “Well, I stayed a virgin, so the least she can do is stay one, too!”

I’ve made several comments along the lines of, “Yes, it’s a fine desire to have, but it’s not ok to make it a demand; you’ll never have a sinless spouse and you’re not sinless either; there’s a big difference between someone who doesn’t value chastity and someone who does but who has messed up in the past; you’re potentially missing out on strong, committed believers with a biblical view of sexuality because you refuse to release them from their pasts, etc.”

But I can understand the sort of visceral, instinctive response of “I worked hard to keep myself from this particular sin and I’m going to go into a marriage without that baggage, thanks.” The difference is, I got over it in high school. In fact, I vividly remember getting over it. I was at camp the summer between junior and senior year, and at campfire one night I was sitting with a counselor who I’m now totally unashamed to say I had a massive crush on (it’s fine, he was like two years older than me, tops). Whoever was giving the little campfire devotional was talking about how important it was to remain committed to God’s standards, and he gave a few stats about teens and sexual activity, one of which had to do with how few young men graduate high school having had zero sex partners. I remember being seriously distressed by it and leaning over to Cute Counselor and saying something about how surprising it was but how I was sure it didn’t apply to him. He replied, to my continued shock, that, actually, it did.

I remember how much it screwed up my worldview. I remember thinking, But he’s such a good guy, and such a committed Christian! How could he have that in his past? And then, Could I ever marry a guy who wasn’t a virgin? And then, Do I even have the right to demand that? And then, I’ve been forgiven so much — how could I rule out someone who’s just been forgiven of different things than I have?

Let’s leave aside the practical considerations — the fact that the vast majority of adult men are not virgins, so making that a demand unacceptably narrows the dating pool. Let’s even leave aside the semantics — that “virginity” has such a range of meanings as to make it a very unhelpful metric of chastity. Let’s remember this:

Then one of the Pharisees asked Him to eat with him. And He went to the Pharisee’s house, and sat down to eat. And behold, a woman in the city who was a sinner, when she knew that Jesus sat at the table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of fragrant oil, and stood at His feet behind Him weeping; and she began to wash His feet with her tears, and wiped them with the hair of her head; and she kissed His feet and anointed them with the fragrant oil. Now when the Pharisee who had invited Him saw this, he spoke to himself, saying, “This Man, if He were a prophet, would know who and what manner of woman this is who is touching Him, for she is a sinner.”

And Jesus answered and said to him, “Simon, I have something to say to you.”

So he said, “Teacher, say it.”

“There was a certain creditor who had two debtors. One owed five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. And when they had nothing with which to repay, he freely forgave them both. Tell Me, therefore, which of them will love him more?”

Simon answered and said, “I suppose the one whom he forgave more.”

And He said to him, “You have rightly judged.” Then He turned to the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I entered your house; you gave Me no water for My feet, but she has washed My feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head. You gave Me no kiss, but this woman has not ceased to kiss My feet since the time I came in. You did not anoint My head with oil, but this woman has anointed My feet with fragrant oil. Therefore I say to you, her sins, which are many, are forgiven, for she loved much. But to whom little is forgiven, the same loves little.”

And this:

“Therefore, the kingdom of heaven is like a king who wanted to settle accounts with his servants. As he began the settlement, a man who owed him ten thousand bags of goldwas brought to him. Since he was not able to pay, the master ordered that he and his wife and his children and all that he had be sold to repay the debt.

“At this the servant fell on his knees before him. ‘Be patient with me,’ he begged, ‘and I will pay back everything.’ The servant’s master took pity on him, canceled the debt and let him go.

“But when that servant went out, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him a hundred silver coins. He grabbed him and began to choke him. ‘Pay back what you owe me!’ he demanded.

“His fellow servant fell to his knees and begged him, ‘Be patient with me, and I will pay it back.’

“But he refused. Instead, he went off and had the man thrown into prison until he could pay the debt. When the other servants saw what had happened, they were outraged and went and told their master everything that had happened.

“Then the master called the servant in. ‘You wicked servant,’ he said, ‘I canceled all that debt of yours because you begged me to. Shouldn’t you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?’ In anger his master handed him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.

“This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart.”

My Throat Is Hoarse

And it has nothing to do with this cold.

We had community group for the first time in almost TWO MONTHS tonight, and it was great. We talked and laughed and then split up into guys and girls and talked and laughed SO MUCH MORE. I miss these people when we’re apart.

Community, when you’re a Christian, is essential. We’re not called to live this life alone. We have to have people in our lives encouraging us and kicking our tails now and then, sharing our joy and sorrow and our success and failure. It’s a must. But what a blessing to get to walk through life with people I genuinely enjoy and love.

In which I attempt to encourage dudes. Here we go.

By far the most common objection to what I’ve said to men in the Details series goes something like this: “It’s all well and good for you to say men should initiate, but that means that they’re taking on the majority of the risk. I’ve been turned down, and it sucks, and now I find myself gun-shy and unwilling to take on the chance of more disappointment.”

I guess there are a couple ways for me to approach this. I don’t have the spiritual gift of mercy and I’m not terribly sympathetic as a human being so my knee-jerk response to this sort of reply is typically something along the lines of, “Oh, just grow up.” But I know that’s not actually helpful, much as some men (and women) need to hear it. So. Read on.

First, I do want men to remember that, as I said in another “Details” post, attraction is a complicated thing. When a gal says, “No thanks,” to a man’s request for a date, it’s a bummer for him, but men need to stop seeing it as a personal rejection. It’s not. It’s just that, for whatever reasons from legit to ridiculous, she’s not feeling it. And — here’s the kicker — she’s not under any obligation to explain or justify those reasons to the guy who asks her out. In fact, I generally have a “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy for things like that.

I think a huge part of the problem is waiting too long and investing too much emotionally in the potential date. If you find a girl interesting, ask her out, soon after the interest develops. Don’t wait until you’re into “hurt and disappointment” territory if she turns you down. It’s not that big a risk — or it shouldn’t be unless you’ve spent weeks mentally composing a speech about how much you like her or whatever. And nine times out of ten, it’s not really “about you” at all, it’s something intangible. And please know that I’m working just as hard to encourage women to take a chance and say yes (it’s a risk for us too!) to good guys.

My second thought is, well, is there a common theme emerging as far as the reasons you’re getting a “no thanks”? Among my friends, probably the most common reason for saying no is too much intensity rather than just, “Would you go on a date with me?” I’m not saying guys need to change who they are, but it’s wise to be willing to work on your approach if that’s causing problems. I mean, you know the old definition of “crazy,” right?

So, are you coming on too strong? Only asking out the hottest girls in your circle? Overlooking the solid female friend right in front of you? Do you get stage fright and just need to practice a thousand times? Are you investing your heart in a girl pre-asking-out, and just feeling the pressure? Are you one of those guys who asks out girls he’s never spoken to before? All of those things are pretty quick fixes. Ask a girl out if you’ve talked to her a few times (great opportunity to work on your conversation skills) and find her interesting. Don’t wait weeks or months, don’t invest too much, just keep it light and casual.

And since this is always the elephant in the room in conversations like this, I’ll touch on the whole “looks” thing. Just the other day I read an article about online dating site profiles and the fact that the more polarizing a person’s looks were, the more likely that person would be to have others contact them. In other words, the more classically pretty/handsome people were getting contacted far less often than the ones who some people thought were not just less-attractive, but actually ugly. And in my own experience I can tell you that the men of my acquaintance who’ve had the most success in the dating world are not necessarily my best-looking guy friends. The three or four of them who have just rocked it out in the last couple of years aren’t the face-melting hotties, they’re just the ones who’ve been persistent in the face of a lot of “no thanks”es from girls, even stuck it out through a series of girls going on three or four dates with them and then calling it quits — and they’re the ones married, or engaged, or in serious relationships. Their attitude was that they just had to do what the Lord called and equipped them to do, which was to be initiators, and leave the results to Him without worrying about women’s responses, trusting that He uses means to accomplish his purposes.

From my own experience, I know that, because I’m not a five-eight, 110-lb blonde volleyball player or a Megan Fox lookalike or whatever, there’s going to be a narrower range of men who find me attractive. That is totally fine — I’ve gone out with guys who thought I was perfect looking and had no interest in the skinny blonde type, much to my surprise. And I have some really gorgeous friends, so I know from their experiences that being the prettiest girl in the room isn’t always all it’s cracked up to be. The less conventionally-attractive you are, the more specific your dating pool is going to be, sure. But haven’t you seen some weird-looking married people? Don’t all sorts make it down the aisle? Tall, short, fat, thin, gorgeous, ugly, and everyone in between? I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: attraction is complicated. And that can work for you as well as against you. Play up your quirks. Roll with them. And at the same time, work on your character. Whatever you look like, strive to be the godliest, most contented, most gentlemanly, most confident Whatever Type You Are that you can possibly be. (I’m going to throw in a pitch for The Art of Manliness here. Seriously, guys. Check it out. Taking their advice is going to put you way ahead of many, many dudes in the 20-35 age bracket.)

Third, and just getting really practical here, it occurs to me that it might be a good idea for guys to have a quick definition of “date” to throw out to girls who might think “date” means “OH MY GOODNESS HE LOVES ME.” You might say something like, “Hey, I’ve been wondering if you’d go on a date with me sometime. And I’m using the old-fashioned definition of the word ‘date,’ as in, I find you interesting and I’d like to get to know you better. Casual. What do you think?”

Overall, what I want to say to the men reading this is, be encouraged. Hurt and disappointment? It’s part of life. You can’t insulate yourself from it. It’s going to happen whether you ask interesting girls out or not, so if you want to be married, why not take the bull by the horns?

I Can’t Believe I’m Writing About Tebow

Although it’s not Tebow per se, just the tendency of Christians to latch on to ANYTHING that links our faith or values with success. Tebow, yes, but also any public figure who claims the name of Christ. Archaeological findings. Christian music that gets secular accolades. Family-friendly movies. TV shows that use God’s name as a blessing rather than a curse word. Books where the main characters don’t sleep together (but, interestingly, not books where the hero lays down his life for his friends). If it’s successful and seems to line up with our faith or values, we are ALL OVER THAT. And if anybody dares to criticize or question, they get piled on, post haste.

I have seen people, when questioned about the wisdom of letting teenage girls read a book about a young woman whose identity is so wrapped up in a potentially-dangerous man’s opinion of her, act like the foundations of Christian morality are being attacked. I have deleted hundreds of emails forwarded by well-intentioned brothers and sisters claiming that some massive atheist movement is trying to get Touched By An Angel or Seventh Heaven taken off the air, as though those shows’ insipid pseudo-gospel is the key to the salvation of thousands of pagan cable subscribers, or trying to persuade me to boycott this or that book whose author is supposedly a Satanist or Wiccan or whatever (never mind the fact that these things could be debunked with one thirty-second Snopes search). I have watched, incredulous, when a comments section explodes with vitriol below an article that dares to question the artistic merit of Fireproof or the Left Behind movies.

When the so-called “James Ossuary” was discovered several years ago, I remember some Christians acting completely triumphant, as though this archaeological find was the key to people finally recognizing the truth of Christianity. And then when the thing was proven to be a phoney a few months later, those same Christians were crushed. When George W. talked about Muslims, Christians, and Jews all worshipping the same God, many of the Christians who had voted for him because of his faith rushed to make excuses or to agree.

What’s the problem here?

Let me paint you a picture. Imagine a Christian (we’ll call him “A” just for the heck of it) who feels guilty because he’s never led a single coworker to Christ. The last time A got a guilty conscience, he invited all of them to screenings of Fireproof, but no one came. He feels pretty shaky about his ability to convince people that the Scriptures are true, because it seems like every time there’s another archaeological finding in the newspaper, three months later it’s proven to be a fake. A’s really worried that the whole country is going to hell in a handbasket, because it seems like atheism is getting more and more popular, immorality is rampant, and his email inbox is full of forwards from friends about the dangers of certain video games, movies, and books. He feels unsettled, always searching for the missing piece of the puzzle when it comes to proving that Christianity is true.

Whenever A encounters people who have criticisms of Tim Tebow or Stephen Baldwin or other Christian celebrities, or who roll their eyes about Fireproof or Courageous, he’s frustrated and wonders why people are so nit-picky — I mean, so what if Tebow’s not the best quarterback in the world! At least he’s a Christian! And so what if Courageousisn’t Oscar material! It’s got a great message! Isn’t that what really matters? A really wants his brothers and sisters in Christ to be unashamed of the Gospel, but it seems like “Christian” behavior gets a lot of flak and he wonders where to draw the line. “Tebowing” in the hallways of a public school might not seem all that effective, but surely it must be good if it’s pointing to Jesus!

He just doesn’t know what to do with Christians who disagree with him about that kind of stuff, so he often finds himself in confrontations — even sometimes ending friendships with people he once loved and respected, so he feels increasingly alone in the world. In fact, A recently found out that a friend changed his views on what he thinks is an important issue, and A was incredibly grieved and hurt, and finds himself struggling to relate to his former friend. Sure, it’s not like his former friend renounced Christ, but how can he fellowship with someone with such different views on such an important issue?

Now, imagine a Christian (“B”) who is bold but thoughtful in the way he shares his faith with his coworkers. He has spiritual conversations with them but is never pushy, and has brought a few friends to church and had the chance to share the Gospel with some others. Whenever archaeological findings seem to support the biblical account, B smiles to himself and thanks God, but doesn’t worry if those findings are overturned, because he knows that God’s truth will ultimately be revealed, just maybe not on his timetable. He doesn’t get too caught up in the latest popular book or movie, Christian or not — he sees popular culture of all kinds as something to be discerning about, not something to either accept thoughtlessly or reject thoughtlessly. He watches good movies and listens to good music when they tell the truth about God’s world whether they have a Christian label or not, and he prays and hopes that more Christian artists will make great art, not just “Christian” art.

When a public figure professes Christ, B prays for that person’s faith and testimony, but doesn’t freak out when people criticize, because he knows that Christianity doesn’t make sense to people who aren’t Christians. He doesn’t get too concerned about books, movies, shows, or music that are supposedly going to “destroy young people” or whatever, because he remembers that God’s people have managed to survive Pharaoh, Cyrus, and Nero, to say nothing of Dungeons & Dragons and Twilight. B exercises discernment — and teaches those he mentors to do the same — about the latest craze, receiving the good with gratitude to God, and rejecting the wicked or worthless.

B recognizes that believers can differ on matters of conscience and still fellowship with one another — he has different personal convictions than some of his friends but wouldn’t dream of trying to impose his conscience on his friends. When he finds out that brothers and sisters disagree with his views on pop culture or politics or other issues of conscience, he humbles himself and is willing to be proven wrong, especially when the disagreement is with someone he trusts and knows to be a solid, mature believer. When he found out that a friend changed his views on an important but non-salvation-related issue, B was curious, but assumed that, since his friend was a believer and therefore had the Holy Spirit, he’d thought the issue through and prayed about it before changing his mind. B and his friend had a few conversations about it, and although B stuck with his own views, he was convinced that his friend had made the change with a good conscience before God and happily continued hanging out with him. On the other hand, a friend of B’s read a book espousing a dangerous, anti-gospel doctrine, and B knew this wasn’t just a “conscience issue.” So he talked through the book’s issues carefully with his friend, and they read it together, with B prayerfully helping his friend see the errors the author was promoting, without breaking fellowship.

What’s the difference between these two hypothetical Christians? Theology.

More about this tomorrow. Meanwhile… which Christian would you rather be like?

Possibly Quite Controversial

Brace yourself. Also, this is a bit scattered, mostly because it’s just musings and I decided to publish rather than edit and re-edit ad nauseam. Any feedback would be most appreciated!

Hormonal birth control separated sex from procreation for essentially the first time ever, in a way that older barrier methods didn’t, in the minds of an entire culture, and it changed the way that several successive generations viewed the human desire for intimacy. And when the (inevitable?) rise in (public/unhidden, at least) promiscuity began after the so-called sexual revolution, unfortunately, many churches and Christians, rather than simply saying what the Scriptures say, demonized sex outright, and failed to teach young people that the desire for intimacy is normal and good and right and purposeful, designed by God in part to to encourage marriage, the only safe haven for both sexual intimacy and children. (Of course, some churches and Christians and professing Christians had always demonized sex, ever since dear old Augustine forgot that denigrating the physical was Plato’s idea, not God’s.)

So now, post birth control, post sexual revolution, sex, marriage, and children are spoken of, even in the church, as three completely separate things with three completely separate sets of attendant sin issues, rather than as God made them — inextricably connected.

What’s the point for us? Well, in my experience, often unmarried Christians will see their desire for sexual intimacy as purely sinful, and unrelated to either marriage or child-bearing. So they’ll go along in their single years thinking they’re terrible people for having strong desires, and often, alas! in their despair over their own apparently incorrigible lust, toying with sinful outlets for those desires.

Instead, all unmarried people with a desire for intimacy should thank God for that good desire, praying toward and seeking the comfort of marriage and the blessing of children all the while.

A Letter to Myself, Five Years Ago

Dear Me (or You? Salutations become rather complicated when reflexive),

Happy 25th birthday! I have good news, and bad news. Which would you like first? (I can answer that: bad news first. Always leave ’em laughing.)

The bad news is, you suck. You’re bitter, untrusting, jaded. You’re sarcastic. You’re burnt out. You can’t get a handle on your sin. You’re careless with giving your heart away. You’re jealous of those with the life you think you want. You think you know better than God.

The worse news is, you’ll still be many of those things in five years’ time, but — and here’s the good news — to a lesser degree. And even now (then?), in the midst of sin, bitterness, distrust, jealousy, and pride, God is working. He’s building sets and painting backdrops and auditioning walk-on roles. And not every scene that’s coming in the next five years will have “peace” and “contentment” written in the margins. Some of them will be titled and footnoted and outlined in pain and affliction; you’ll cry more and rage more and pound an impotent fist into your pillow more than you probably care to foresee.

But, Laura of five years ago, this is the important part: your heartbreak and frustration, your very sighs and tears, have a purpose to the plot of this grand comedy, and its Author knows how (and why) to create a little tension. And in the midst of the dark moments, He’ll write in a few scenes — more than He has to — of pleasure and joy and peace, laughter, delight. A darling girl with strawberry-blonde curls and big blue eyes who will steal your heart and mispronounce her esses and who wants to be wrapped up with you in a sling and go with you on the airplane when it’s time for you to leave. Four little serious-eyed, stair-stepped children who make your life happier every time you see them. Two trips halfway around the world to meet dear friends. An amazing church community. A job that brings you true satisfaction and contentment. A cozy home. A vintage record player bought for a song. The perfect teapot. Sunrises. Macarons. Good music. A hundred thousand daily blessings, joys, pleasures.

Brace yourself. It’s going to be hard, and beautiful, and at the end of it, you’re going to be more like the One who wrote this story to begin with. Keep going.

Sincerely,

Me (Today)

Depending on God

“It is a dreadful truth that the state of (as you say) ‘having to depend solely on God’ is what we all dread most. And of course that just shows how very much, how almost exclusively, we have been depending on things. But trouble goes so far back in our lives and is now so deeply ingrained, we will not turn to him as long as he leaves us anything else to turn to. I suppose all one can say is that it was bound to come. In the hour of death and the day of judgment, what else shall we have? Perhaps when those moments come, they will feel happiest who have been forced (however unwittingly) to begin practicing it here on earth. It is good of him to force us; but dear me, how hard to feel that it is good at the time.”

— C.S. Lewis, from “Letters to an American Lady”

I’m Really Over The Word “Helpful”

Talk about overused. Anyway, that mild irritation aside, I want to mention one hopefully brief quibble about a not-so-helpful way (married) pastors and (married) women’s ministry leaders — and even, crazily, some unmarried folks — often talk about marriage. I don’t even think it’s intentional, more reflexive than anything, but I think it’s biblically inaccurate and misleading.

How many of us have heard some version of this from the pulpit, in a Bible study, or at a conference? “Marriage is absolutely the furnace of sanctification! I now know how selfish, how inward-focused, how prideful I was before I got married, and let me tell you, I had never experienced the kind of sanctification I experienced that first year. Friends, there is nothing in your life that can prepare you for it, and there’s nothing else like it to make you more Christlike.” For the sake of brevity, let me throw down a few bullet points explaining why I think teaching like this, well-intentioned though it may be, needs to be retired, STAT.

  • it implies that single people are selfish, inward-focused, and prideful just because of their marital status.
  • on the flip side of that, it implies that marriage is the key to becoming selfless, others-focused, and humble.
  • it sets marriage up as a big, terrifying leap that people take in part because they’re blind to the consequences and results.
  • it paints sanctification as the result of circumstances rather than as a work to which God himself is committed because of our salvation.
  • it can imply that unmarried people aren’t being sanctified to the degree married people are, and thereby reinforces the idea that unmarried folks are the JV squad of Christianity.
  • particularly for men, it can be one more confirmation that all that’s expected of single dudes is spiritual slackerdom and perpetual adolescence, and that they’re off the hook for serving, leading and teaching until they start checking the “Married” box on the census form.
  • particularly for women, it can reinforce the totally false view that women are spiritually superior to men (no pressure!), and it can be incredibly alienating. How does any of that apply to me, the unmarried woman, Married Pastor With Five Kids?

OK, now don’t get me wrong here. I’m not looking for offense, I’m not trying to get my feelings hurt, I’m not calling anyone out. In fact, I’m totally not offended by this kind of stuff. I know people can’t help but speak from their experiences, but I also don’t want people in church leadership to stay stuck in those experiences, unable to speak to anyone outside their stage of life. So here you go, friends.

Living in One Room

“Do you refuse to take seriously what the Bible actually says and doesn’t say? Then build a room where the Bible doesn’t matter as much as your general ideas of Christianity. Does your version of Christianity refuse all critiques and evaluations? Then build a room where your religion is flawless. Do you want to conveniently divide the world into the good people who nod and smile and the bad people who ask questions? Then build another room.

“Build a room for your money. Build one for your porn addiction. Build one for your flirtations and affairs. Build one for cheating, greed and racism. Build a room where your rudeness, laziness and dishonesty don’t matter. Build one for your ambitious backbiting and betrayals of co-workers. Build a room where you get to see your children the way you want to see them, not the way they are. Build a room that exactly fits your church, then lock the doors. Build a room for your politicians and their worldview. Build a room that controls whatever you want to hear and protects whatever conclusions you are unwilling to ever question. […]

“Or let me suggest another project. Instead of building more rooms, why not tear some things down? Tear out some walls. Become, as much as possible, one person, in one life, for one audience.”

— Michael Spencer

OK, OK, OK

Earlier this week, I sent out an email to a few friends asking them to pray for me as we enter the winter months and as I approach the big 3-0. I’ve mentioned here before that I struggle with seasonal depression (side note: it wasn’t until I lived in Louisville that I found out Seasonal Affective Disorder was even a thing, and, prominent naysayers notwithstanding, just knowing it exists made me feel so much less crazy), and I wrote a bit of a whine to them, honestly. I felt really low, really sad about life and being single and childless and weeks away from my expiration date thirtieth birthday waaaah waaah waaah, and I was griping at the Lord a little bit.

But he didn’t smite me. Nope. Instead, within 24 hours of sending the email, not only did I get two incredibly supportive replies from two of my dearest friends, these items popped up in my blog reader:

This article by Paul Tripp, on 5 Reasons Why God Calls Us To Wait.

This sermon transcript on feeling like death, and this post on resentment, both by Kevin DeYoung.

This Boundless article on not wasting your disappointment in bitterness or frustration with God.

This profile of one of my favorite poets, William Cowper, who battled depression and schizophrenia but who also co-wrote an amazing collection of hymns for the church.

OK! Geez! I get it!

Lent, Day 2: In which the top of my head shoots off.

OK, I have to get this off my chest. Sorry it’s such a long, rambling bit of nonsense. If it’s too long and rambling and nonsensical, I won’t be offended if you skip it. 😉

Fellas: you are misinterpreting data, to your own frustration and the frustration of many, many single women around you. In 2011, a woman who has a career and a college degree (maybe even an advanced degree) and a mortgage, who pays her bills on time and takes her own car to the mechanic and hasn’t lived with her parents in ten years is not necessarily, by definition a raging feminist who thinks she needs a man like a fish needs a bicycle. Nope. She is NORMAL. Got that?

Tip: that’s the summary. If you’re sufficiently convinced, feel free to stop right here. Need more persuasion that you oughta change your mind? Read on, my friend.

In the 1970s and early 1980s, women in the business world were rare. The average age of a first marriage was still in the early-mid twenties for both men and women. And the message from Western culture was loud and clear: Sisters, get into work. You can still decide to have children later, after you’ve gone up the ranks in your job, after you’ve accomplished something “real.”

Add to this the shame that generation of feminists heaped on men: you’re irresponsible, power-hungry, insensitive; you’re someone to be resented and competed with, boxed in, restricted, pushed aside, stepped on.

But, guys? That was thirty years ago. Somehow, it seems, too many Christian men are still being taught to see career, mortgage, and financial stability in a woman and interpret that as “feminist, not wife material, run far far away”!

I grew up being taught not to waste time or money sitting on my hands, and that it was ungodly to waste my gifts and opportunities. You know who taught me that? Not just my mother, though she certainly did. No, it was the women who had, thirty years ago, bought the lie that they could subjugate their God-given desires, that those desires were wrong, that “wife” and “mother” were not the most honorable titles they could seek, but that they were rather titles to be avoided. These women, who learned through bitter experience, taught me to cherish my God-given desire for marriage and motherhood, but also to seize whatever opportunities the Lord put before me. They passed on their experience and wisdom, and started to break down that paradigm.

In my bitter moments, I want to sock every Christian single guy who whines about modern women being overly independent, and tell them that, if they didn’t propose to a girl in college, it’s their own fault there are all these career women running around. But in my better moments, I just want to be helpful.  So let me help you.

Most of us, brothers, are working, paying our bills, getting promotions, working on our degrees, and all those other things, not because we  don’t  want to get married and have children.  It’s because we had the opportunity to use our gifts in a job, or use our finances more wisely by buying instead of renting, or develop our skills with an advanced degree, or whatever… and haven’t had the opportunity to get married and start a family. Most of us would happily re-arrange any or all of those things for the right man, if given the chance.

If I have one word of caution, it’s this: guys, you tiptoe toward slandering your sisters when you silently accuse them of selfishness, unhealthy independence, and unbiblical attitudes toward femininity just because they have careers and mortgages — love, after all, believes the best about people. You are misinterpreting the data, and coming to wrong conclusions. Don’t be put off by a woman who makes a decent living at a job she’s good at, a woman with an advanced degree, a woman who owns a home. Don’t assume the worst about her.

Thirty years ago, a power suit and a mortgage might reasonably have meant this was a woman who didn’t want marriage and family. It doesn’t have to mean that anymore. Got it?

A Thought Or Two On Singleness And Sanctification, Part Three

In my last post I mentioned that we really struggle to give single people a big vision for God’s work of sanctification in their lives.  I was going to go on to say that it’s essential that we do more to help single people really ground their identity in Christ rather than success at work, or being liked, or whatever, but then it occurred to me that that’s a desperate need for everyone in the church. 

I’ve talked to many married folks, especially women, about “the moment” when they realized that this person they were married to was never meant to give them their identity.  For some people, that’s the end of their marriage.  For others, it’s the beginning of a long and difficult journey of finding their identity in Christ and resting there.

I’ve also had plenty of conversations with single folks (um… including myself) about the identity crisis of not having a spouse, of feeling valueless and adrift without this supposed anchor of marriage.  It’s daily implied to us that marriage is not simply a good and worthy state, but one that defines us as, and makes us, mature.  (Think I’m overstating my case?  Name one unmarried ministry leader at your church.  Or consider what percentage of your congregation is single vs. what percentage of the leadership.  Now, I know… correlation and causation.  But it’s something to think about.)

Who am I because of my job?  Who am I because of my marital status?  Who am I because of who I’m attracted to?  Who am I because of my income?  Who am I because of where I live?  Who am I because of my politics, or my eschatology, or my taste in music, or the food I eat or the education I have or the clothes I buy?  All those things, to the Christian, must take second place to the question, “Who am I in Christ?”

And if we spent the rest of our lives trying to work that out… Well, that would be ok.