…when dating is hard, but loving is simple

Recently, I’ve been talking to my friend Nickie a lot about dating.  Not that either of us are experts or have tons of advice to offer each other; neither of us need that, and that’s not what we’re asking for when we’re sitting at McDonald’s drinking Cokes after Bible study is over on Tuesday nights.  Instead, we’re single women sitting together for a couple of hours, listening to each other’s hearts about the relationships we’re not in, and offering a common ground — yes, dating is hard.

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'' photo (c) 2010, Gibson Regester - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nd/2.0/I think we each feel like we were duped growing up in church, at least a little bit.  We saw our friends date in high school and college, meet some great guys who played football and loved Jesus, marry after graduation, and start having kids a couple of years later.  We heard often about how great being married is, because it’s such a picture of Christ and the Church and the sacrifice necessary to love well.  And so, it was made to look so simple.

Meet someone, fall in love, get married, have babies, honor Jesus.

The thing is, when you see your twenties come and go without meeting someone who plays football and loves Jesus, without a wedding ring, without having kids, the whole “picture” starts to look a lot like Van Gough’s stuff before he chopped his ear off.  It’s pretty, but it’s got a lot of nutty undertones.  And it doesn’t make sense to everyone.

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It seems to me, then, that we need to flip the script.  Instead of emphasizing how much marriage is a picture of Christ’s love for the Church, how about we spend some time talking about how simple sacrificial love for another person is, married or not?

Because I’ll tell you, I’ve seen the love of Jesus manifest in the marriages I’ve seen my friends and family enter into, but…

I’ve also seen Him in the relationship my best friend’s friend had with her boyfriend as she cared for him while he was dying of cancer.  I’ve seen Him on a playground in Philadelphia when one of my students sat under a slide for hours with a little boy who would’ve been sitting there alone if she hadn’t climbed down in the dirt with him. I’ve seen Him in my Bible study when we all sat on the floor and held hands and cried and prayed for one of our girls who had miscarried. I’ve seen Him in a nursing home while my mom laid beside her dad as he slipped away from this earth, whispering in his ear, “It’s okay. You can go now.”  And I’ve seen Him in the text messages and phone calls sent in the daily routine of lives lived side-by-side: “Dinner Tues. Can you bring dessert?” “Today is your last final. Hooray!” “I just wanted you to know that I’m thinking about you and praying for you. Love you!”

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Meet someone, fall in love, get married, have babies, honor Jesus.

It’s a good script, but it’s not a script that everybody follows. And that’s okay.  But, let’s encourage each other to love sacrificially anyway, married or not. Because it seems to me that if God loved us enough to send His Son to die for us, then surely we can love each other enough to send a text message or get down in the dirt or sit at McDonald’s.

Perhaps love is that simple.

Meet someone, love sacrificially, honor Jesus.

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When dating and church have common ground…

At the time that things at the small church became unhinged at the end of last summer, things between me and the nice boy I’d been dating also became unhinged.  And at the time, it felt incredibly unfair.  Because I’m within spitting distance of my thirtieth birthday and I’d finally met someone I liked and who liked me too, and then he got sick.  Like, really sick.  Like, almost died sick.  And you can put any kind of spin on it that you want, but in the end the result is the same — it wasn’t fair.

And what I know now is that there are really only a couple of things you can do when you catch a deal that raw.

You pray. And you hope.

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And if you’re anything like me, you also get crazy reflective.

When things got churned up at the small church, I started examining what had me feeling so uncomfortable about being there.  And when the nice boy got sick, I started examining what I liked about him and about us, and why I found it so hard to let go.

In my crazy, I found that the answers overlapped and left me confronting issues about what it means to be a woman, especially a woman striving to honor God.

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'8/3/11 67/365' photo (c) 2011, Fiona Henderson - license: http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

I loved my time at the small church, don’t get me wrong.  But, there were messages that were taught that left me spending my life as a single, young, educated adult woman feeling small and misplaced.  I was encouraged to embrace my singleness because it offered me time to devote to ministry, but that’s where that message stopped.  Marriage, I was told, is the most important relationship I will ever have.  Being a mom, I was told, is my highest calling.  Going to school and writing and being a therapist were all good time fillers, but, I was told, I’d better be ready to give all that up when I got married and had a family – because my husband would be head, and I would have to defer to his call.

The thing that it seemed I could never get people to hear is that none of those things are just time fillers.  Those are the heartbeats of my life, and serving in ministry and going to school and being a therapist and writing are the things that make me…me.

And the nice boy got that.

He wanted to know what I thought, and he smiled any time my passions got the best of me and I started talking really fast about my book or my friends or my students.  He told me I was beautiful, and he told me I was smart.  And I liked him because he never made me feel small or misplaced.

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The nice boy and I are talking again. And while I don’t know what will come of it, I know that I’m doing things differently this time.  Because I’ve confronted some of the bad messages of my past, and am embracing the woman God has created me to be.

I’m an educated, young, single woman, and I’m talking to a nice boy who respects me.

And I’m still praying.  And I’m still hoping.  And that’s not a bad place to be.