Archives For Relationships

Social media is a huge blessing. I have not been shy about praising social media platforms like Facebook and Pinterest and also smartphones themselves, which are our primary portal to social media. Many aspects of social media provide us with the opportunity to be better friends, better citizens, better humans.

And yet social media is also a powerful tool for polarization. Social media has a unique ability to increase our arrogance, our self-certainty, and our blood pressure.

Why?

Why does social media make us angry and opinionated? And how can we use social media in a more healthy way?

The biggest problem with social media is also its greatest asset: brevity. We love social media because it gives us snapshots of information about our friends, our interests, and our world.

But while brevity (combined with connectivity) is social media’s greatest strength, it is also social media’s greatest danger. Our world is filled with important and complex issues. Human beings love to discuss everything from the nature of humanity to the President’s foreign policy to the true motivation of terrorist groups to the theological distinctives of celebrity pastors. These conversations need to happen. But these aren’t issues that we can sufficiently grasp in short conversations.

So why do we keep trying to have these discussions in 140 characters or less?

Social Media Distraction

The truth is, the media we use shapes the way we think. Neil Postman famously wrote on the changes in thought processes and social interactions with the advent of the television (in addition to the previous shift that came with Gutenberg’s printing press). While Postman could be a bit alarmist, he was certainly right to warn us of the danger that we might be “amusing ourselves to death.” In the spirit of Postman, author and Los Angeles Times book critic David Ulin recently said, as he reflected on the new year:

“My greatest reservation of 2014 has to do with the sanctimony of social media. Partly, it’s the speed of digital, the incessant necessity to respond. But throughout the year, on a variety of issues, I kept noticing a lockstep consensus, in which to disagree, or to dissent, was to invite the backlash of the crowd. It’s hard to be nuanced in 140 characters, and yet the whole point of reading and writing is to engage.” (article here)

Brevity is a powerful tool for grabbing a person’s attention. It’s a wonderful way to surprise your audience, to catch them off guard, to pique their interest. That’s why headlines work so well: Grab the readers attention, then nuance your position. But with social media, the headline is the content. That’s about all the space you’ve got for content. So you can make a sharp political statement that will grab people’s attention. Some people will love it, because they already agree with you. Others will be furiously offended, because they already disagree with you. But no one is going to change their mind. No one will even be informed. They will simply read your potent statement and become further entrenched in their corner, whether that’s your corner or the opposite one.

As Ulin said, social media also carries a sense of urgency. You only have a few seconds to process all of the information on your feed, so you’ve got to form your opinions quickly. You have very little time to decide who was at fault in the most recent shooting, to evaluate how damning the President’s recent statement really was, to form your opinions on health care, or to determine whether the newest controversial movie is a must-see or a scheme from Satan. In the amount of time it takes you to scroll down your feed, you have to decide.

And that’s not a recipe for healthy opinions. That’s a recipe for an opinionated, arrogant, polarized society. Social media gives us access to limitless information, yet it does not make us informed citizens. Alissa Wilkinson, chief film critic for Christianity Today, recently wrote a great article entitled “In Praise of Slow Opinions.” She argues that everyone is in a rush to give the “hot take” on the latest film or issue. Readers want someone with a strong opinion right off the bat, and writers are eager to offer their “hot take” because it generates clicks. But we ought to be wary of quick opinions.

Life is complicated, and so are films, politics, social issues, and theology. Why are we so eager to get such strong and quickly-formed opinions on everything?

A major culprit is social media. Or more precisely, our misuse of social media. I still believe that social media is a huge blessing, for reasons I’ve already expressed. But when we jettison meaningful conversations in favor of sharp tweets, we’re begging for increased blood pressure and a more polarized society. Social media is a great way to connect and stay “in the loop,” but it’s no replacement for true dialogue. For that we still need books, blogs, articles, lectures, and good old-fashioned conversations—each of these means of communication possessing its own strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, and dangers.

If you’re single, you want to be married. At least, that’s what just about everyone in the church seems to believe. Nothing brings out the inner matchmaker of well-intentioned Christians like a sweet twenty something who has somehow evaded the romantic gaze of the opposite sex. “I can’t believe you’re still single!” we say, or “Those boys/girls are crazy not to be asking you out every day!” Meanwhile, singles cringe at the reminders that they’re not in a relationship or else take a few steps back on their journey toward satisfaction in Christ alone, rather than satisfaction in a perfect Christian romance.

From my vantage point, it seems that Christian singles are pressured on all sides to be married. (If you want to know why this mentality is a mistake, click here.) But I also believe that singles tend to put this pressure on themselves. One of the major factors in this pressure toward getting married is the constant quest for “The One.”

Dating Is Awkward

Perhaps we were introduced to our search for “the one” in youth group, when our youth leaders told us to not to settle in our dating relationships, but instead to think of a Christlike man or woman and to accept nothing less. Don’t lower your standards.

And of course, there’s value in thinking this way. You don’t want to marry some lowlife just because he or she is into you. But here’s the problem with holding out for “The One”: He’s not real. She’s not real. You made him or her up in your mind. Which means that until science progresses several steps further, he or she will never exist in the real world.

Maybe you modeled your “one” after a youth leader, a friend’s spouse, or the Lord Jesus himself. But in the first two cases, your perception of these people is far from the reality—no matter how well you think you know him or her, you haven’t seen the depths of their sins or the enormity of their annoying habits. And in the case of Jesus, no one matches up: read the book of Hebrews.

So your quest for “The One” can only lead you to constant disappointment, and you may end up (as an added bonus) messing with another person’s self-perception through your naive expectations.

Instead of focusing on “The One,” focus on each one. As you meet a nice boy or girl that seems to have potential (you know what I’m talking about—wink wink), get to know him or her better. You might think you want to date her right away. You may be absolutely convinced that you’re going to marry him. There’s a good chance that this is “The One.”

But wait! Stop! You don’t want to marry that girl. Nor do you want to be “A Couple” with her.

The Bachelorette - Rose CeremonyWhen you see a guy that you’re into, you don’t really want to marry him. What you’re really thinking is that you’d like to get to know him better so that you can find out if you’d like to be in a deeper relationship with him. And if you do decide you want to be in a deeper relationship with him, then you can eventually find out if you’d like to be married to him.

Because he could be awful. Really. I promise you that nobody wants to “Be Married”—as though that were a general category that someone can obtain without entering into it with a real life, flesh and blood, very specific human being. There are a near-infinite number of people on this planet with whom marriage would be horrible. HORRIBLE! No, you don’t want to “Be Married.” But you may want to marry some specific person you meet someday. And here’s the problem: you’ll never know until you get to that point. You don’t know you really want to marry her until you know her well enough to get a sense of where she’s heading in life, what she’s passionate about, how she handles conflicts, how quickly she repents of her sin, how funny or goofy or intelligent or serious she is.

And everything I just said about “Being Married” also applies—but in a less tragic and less permanent sense—to “Being in a Dating Relationship.” You may think you want to be “Dating Someone,” but there are so many people with whom a dating relationship would be miserable.

And there’s a failsafe built in: the other person has to want it to. So even if you’re mistaken in thinking that a relationship has potential, the other person has to agree. This safety feature of relationships has prevented more than a few major mistakes in the history of boys meeting girls.

The point is: just relax. You’re going to be fine. God knows what you need; and he knows better than you do. You can abandon your quest for “The One,” for that “Dating Relationship,” for “Your Soulmate.” Stop focusing on “The One” and start focusing on each one. As God brings people into your life, get to know them. Enjoy them. Don’t make them audition for the part of “The One.” Get to know those people better, and if at some point you prayerfully decide to test the waters of a dating relationship with one of those specific flesh and blood people, then go for it, and see what happens.

Wedding Cake TopperThis post is inspired by two overlapping events. The first is the approach of Valentine’s Day, when lovers are expected to show their affection through clichés (hopefully breathing new life into old traditions) and social media reflects the desire of many single people to be in relationships. The second is the progression of the Spring semester, during which college students instinctually know that the time to begin relationships is upon them.

A few years ago I wrote a six part blog series on “Why Christians Are Bad at Dating.” That’s not a fair title, of course, but I was trying to capture some of the awkward tension that comes from the Christian community’s disagreement over what dating looks like, what it should even be called, etc. I also addressed factors like the suffocating pressure we put upon young Christians to be married—soon.

In my view, many Christians have forgotten 1 Corinthians 7, in which Paul recommends singleness over marriage. Instead, single Christians don’t make it very far into their twenties without suspicious looks and comments from older (married) Christians. I also think some circles of Christianity have over-exalted forms of “dating” (whatever you want to call it) that make dating into a trial run for marriage.

I am convinced (perhaps naively) that if we do our dating right, our social lives won’t disintegrate into two-person love bubbles, our breakups won’t feel like divorces, and the single Christians in our midst won’t be treated like lepers. These are all major problems within the church. I don’t claim to have all of the answers for getting us to this point, but I’ve heard from many people over the last few years who have found the simple guidelines in that blog series helpful. So I’m summarizing and linking to those blog posts below, in the hopes that you might find them helpful as well. And for those over-achievers who want a book length treatment on the road to marriage and the accompanying dangers, I highly recommend this book: Altared: The True Story of a She, a He, and How They Both Got Too Worked Up about We.

 

Dating Series Part 1Part 1 – You Don’t Need to Get Married

Many people in the church assume that every Christian ought to be married. There’s a good chance that you believe that you ought to be married at some point (and soon!). But this mentality actually contradicts Paul’s advice in 1 Corinthians 7. Some assume that they need be married based on poor interpretations of 1 Corinthians 7:9 and Genesis 2:18… READ MORE >>>

 

Part 2 – What Do We Even Call It?Dating Series Part 2

Though every marriage (aside from arranged marriages) begins with a “getting to know you and find out if we should be married” stage, Christians disagree (sometimes passionately) about what this stage should be called. Some call it dating. Some insist on calling it courting. Others are “just hanging out.” Some will identify as boyfriend and girlfriend, others avoid these labels. All of this disagreement leads to more unnecessary confusion and awkwardness… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 3Part 3 – The Love Cocoon

We all know those couples who are so grossly into each other that they make everyone around them feel awkward. If your dating relationship makes all of your other relationships crumble (relationships with friends, parents, God…), then your relationship has become an idol and is doomed to failure. The key is to be the kind of couple that loves each other, but also loves and acknowledges the other people God has placed in your life… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 4Part 4 – Test-Driving Marriage

In Christian circles, we tend to encourage dating couples to become intimate in every way except for one: physical intimacy is off limits. But this creates huge problems. When a couple becomes more socially intimate, more emotionally intimate, and more spiritually intimate, we shouldn’t be surprised when the physical intimacy quickly follows. This is how we’re wired. But there are actually other major problems with treating dating like a mini trial run for marriage… READ MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 5Part 5 – Playing the Field

Many people think that if you’re not “out there” actively “playing the field,” you won’t get married. There is nothing wrong with going on dates, even seeking them out, but your relationships with the opposite sex cannot all be focused on evaluating their marriageability rather than getting to know people as peopleREAD MORE >>>

 

Dating Series Part 6Part 6 – Successful Dating Relationships Can End in Breakups

Most people would consider a breakup to be a failure. But when you’re dating someone, you’re really just getting to know that person better until you find out whether it would be more glorifying to God for you to get married or not to get married. Either is a helpful discovery, and in either case your relationship should be able to continue in a God-glorifying way: as husband and wife or as brother and sister in Christ… READ MORE >>>

Cultivation

Mark Beuving —  January 5, 2015 — Leave a comment

Sometimes when I go through my weekly ritual of mowing my lawn, I wonder, “How many times have I walked over this exact spot?” I step on virtually every square inch of my lawn every single week. I push the mower over every blade of grass, cutting them to the exact same length. During the week, those blades grow taller and begin to look a bit unruly. And then I walk back and forth across the lawn and cut them to a uniform height. Week after week after week.

I will never finish mowing my lawn. It will always grow and always require cutting. My neighbor, on the other hand, just installed artificial turf in his backyard. Week after week, year after year, my neighbor’s turf will continue to look almost like grass. It will never need to be cut. It will just be there. And I will be next door, walking across my yard.

Abigail Backyard Bubbles

Life calls for cultivation. Dead turf needs no cultivating (though I’ve heard it needs to be washed, which doesn’t sound fun). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve pulled off dead flower petals to allow new ones to grow. Or how many times I’ve trimmed the bougainvillea plants lining my backyard. I feel like I’m constantly checking sprinklers, trimming, and doing a variety of activities to help my plants thrive.

Life is needy. Sure, life churns and thrives around the world even with no human cultivation. But there is a difference between an overgrown jungle and a well-tended garden. And if you take away some of the elements that life requires—water, for example—then life subsides. Life is needy. Gardens need tending. Plants must be cultivated.

As I mow my lawn, I sometimes consider what other areas in my life require this level of cultivation. I compare the number of times I’ve stepped on each blade of grass to the number of times I’ve read a given phrase in my Bible. I’ll never finish reading my Bible. It’s not enough to have read the whole thing. My knowledge of the Bible will never be complete; I’ll never hear its comforts and admonitions enough; my imagination will never be sufficiently stimulated by the prophetic and poetic imagery in its pages. And so I sit regularly in the same chair, holding the same book, re-reading lines that have long been familiar. This is an act of cultivation.

Or how many times have I spoken the same words to God? “Lord, help my daughters grow to love you. Give them hearts of compassion. Please provide for our family.” I have made these requests so many times. And I repeat other phrases to God endlessly: “Thank you for today. Thank you for my wife. For our girls. For constantly providing. For loving us.” It doesn’t matter how many times I say these things. They will need to be said again. I will never finish praying. I will always be cultivating.

How many times have I performed the simple gestures that show my wife I love her? I have taken out the trash so many times. I’ll never be done with that. I have spoken the words “I love you” so many times over so many years. I have tried to set aside my plans for her benefit many times (though not nearly enough). How many times have I performed simple, repetitive actions for my daughters? Saying “I love you.” Helping them get dressed. Getting them snacks. Buckling them into cars. Brushing their teeth. Disciplining them. Over and over and over I do these things. I will never be done with some of these activities (though I hope to teach my girls to brush their own teeth someday). I repeat these simple actions and words because they are a means of cultivation.

I suppose a well-tended garden could be glamorous, in a certain sense. But cultivation is never glamorous. It’s always boring. Always repetitive. Yet there is no garden without cultivation. So it is in our daily lives. The most important things we will do are boring, repetitive tasks. And yet they matter immensely. Each simple gesture is an act of cultivation, an act of faith toward what we know a plant or relationship could become if well cared for.

So as you begin this new year, what in your life needs cultivating? You can’t simply decide to be a good father, or a good spouse, or a good friend, or a good reader, or whatever. It requires patient cultivation. What will you cultivate? What are you cultivating now? What are you neglecting? And how can you, in faith, better cultivate those things that really matter this year?

When Christmas Is Lonely

Mark Beuving —  December 22, 2014 — Leave a comment

My pastor is good at reminding us that the Holidays can be a difficult time. We look forward to time off work to relax and catch up with our families. But what if you have no family? What if you’ve recently lost a loved one? What if your family gatherings are tense, argumentative, and discouraging?

Though we tend to speak about Christmas as a warm, happy time—the most wonderful time of the year—Christmas for many is a reminder of brokenness, loss, or loneliness.

If you find yourself in that position, Christmas is still for you. Perhaps Christmas is especially for you. Christmas is the celebration of God coming to earth as an infant. And that journey to earth where God took on baby-smooth flesh happened because this world is broken. We are lonely people. We are quarrelsome. We are hounded by illness and death. And for that very reason God entered our world.

Christmas

Jesus came because our world is broken. He came because we are broken. And he came as one of us so that he could lead us to healing, to wholeness, to reconciliation. The birth of Jesus was the rekindling of hope. It was God insisting that sin and death would not have the last world. All would be well. The angels appeared to the shepherds and announced peace on earth with the arrival of Jesus (Luke 2:14). And Paul reminds us that “he himself is our peace” (Eph. 2:14).

So if you find yourself alone this Christmas, or with an empty chair around the dinner table, remember that Jesus was born. Remember that because Jesus became a human child, sacrificed himself, and defeated death we will see our loved ones in Christ again. Remember that Jesus promised those who had chosen to follow him rather than clinging to family that they would be rewarded “a hundredfold” with family, “brothers and sisters and mothers and children” (Mark 10:30).

This does not make loss or loneliness enjoyable, nor should our goal be to keep a stiff upper lip. But you need to know that no matter how bitter your loss or persistent your loneliness, you have one and only one hope for wholeness, and we celebrate his birth at Christmas time. Strategies, platitudes, and self-help books are not enough to get you through. What you need is a Person, and he came as an infant in a feeding trough for your sake.

And if you find yourself in a tense family environment with irreconcilable differences and constant antagonism, or if you find yourself relatively alone on Christmas in an effort to avoid such a situation, remember that the baby you celebrate this Christmas season came to reconcile two groups who warred against one another:

“For he himself is our peace, who has made us both one and has broken down in his flesh the dividing wall of hostility by abolishing the law of commandments expressed in ordinances, that he might create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and might reconcile us both to God in one body through the cross, thereby killing the hostility. And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near.” (Ephesians 2:14–17)

This does not make complex family dysfunction enjoyable. These situations are not easily reversed. But Christmas means that healing is possible. The only hope you have for restored relationships is the baby who would one day give his life to absorb the hostility of angry, selfish, sinful people.

I don’t write this in an effort to convince hurting people to cheer up. Grieving, hurting, and weeping may be the most appropriate thing you can do this Christmas season. But I do believe that we all need to see that the most important thing any of us can remember at Christmas time is the birth of Jesus. We need to remember him as we brave the shopping malls. We need to remember him as we happily unwrap presents around the Christmas tree. We need to remember him as we enjoy our families.

And we need to remember him as we feel the sting of loss. We need to remember him when once-comforting traditions turn into reminders of our pain. We need to remember him as we endure criticism or try to love the unlovable.

We all have only one hope, and at Christmas time we celebrate his humble arrival to earth, where he would grow into the Man who conquered every power, including death, and who will one day return to wipe our every tear and rid our world of evil once and for all.

“The angel said to them, ‘Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord. And this will be a sign for you: you will find a baby wrapped in swaddling cloths and lying in a manger.’ And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God and saying,

‘Glory to God in the highest,
and on earth peace among those with whom he is pleased!’” (Luke 2:10–14)