It’s become an uneasily familiar pattern in my life: meet a Christian woman, spend some time getting to know her, think she’s pretty cool, work up the nerve to ask her out, get turned down (if I’m especially unlucky I’ll learn at this point that she’s already seeing someone else), crawl back to God and ask where I went wrong and whether it’s supposed to hurt this much. I feel like I’m continually running into a wall.
I’ve found it’s easy get angry at God for continually doing this to me, but I know that’s not a healthy approach. It’s ultimately more fruitful to ask Him to teach me through these experiences. After my latest “romantic” episode, I’ve been doing a lot of thinking and praying about why relationships are such an issue for me. I think it comes down to two big, deadly lies I keep buying into:
1. My relationship status is central to my identity. Being in a relationship (or even my ability to “get” one) says something about who I really am and sets me apart from other “singles.”
2. Marriage is singularly unique and special, on a higher tier than any other human relationship. Though marriage doesn’t make life perfect or solve all your problems, it will make you a lot happier and more fulfilled in a way that nothing else can.
These lies have lead me to a conclusion that “singles” are second-class citizens, inferior to married people and missing out on a fundamental part of life. Of course, no one every taught me this; Hope has consistently taught that the Christian’s identity is found in Jesus Christ alone and that singles (like, say, Paul) are just as valuable in God’s sight as married people. I would have vigorously agreed with both of these facts if you asked me, but that did little to break the hold these lies had on my heart.
I’ve been single for most of my adult life, so these lies have taken a heavy toll on my self-esteem as I’ve internalized them. Each rejection became another painful verdict of my lack of worth. I compared myself with my friends and angrily asking why I couldn’t be more like them. I found plenty of reasons to blame myself. If I couldn’t get a date after reading a bunch of books on marriage, listening through multiple sermon series on the subject, learning and carefully to follow the “Christian” rules for dating, trying to be the opposite of the lazy, selfish man-boys Mark Driscoll loves to rail against, learning about the five love languages, and yadda yadda yadda, then that said quite a bit about my identity. I was hopeless. Repulsive. Pathetic. Unwanted. Part of me became all the more desperate to disprove this identity through a relationship, though it felt like an exercise in self-deceit – like trying to be something I’m not. A darker part of me said I should just accept singleness as my identity; I could never be otherwise.
What I was afraid of was not so much the state of singleness itself but this constellation of unattractive traits it signified – my single identity. I couldn’t love myself or see myself as God did insofar as I saw this identity as who I was. The prospect of being trapped in this for the rest of my life became my functional hell, and so I longed for marriage as my functional savior. Occasionally I would feel convicted about this idolatry and preach some verses speaking of our identity in Christ to myself, confess the sin in prayer, and then think I had dealt with it only to fall back into the same pattern later. It’s a stark reminder of the difference between knowing something and believing it.
But even if I can’t always see it clearly, the gospel is exactly the remedy to this pattern of despair. It gives us hope by reminding us that God loves us more than we can ever know, even when we’re at our worst. Jesus Himself preferred spending His time with the outcast, the rejected, the common, the broken in society rather than the “popular” (I’m preaching to myself here). And His death is sufficient to heal us from any sin and bring us to perfection in Him. Actually allowing Jesus to heal me from these lies won’t be easy, but the biggest lie of all is that He can’t.
Questions for discussion:
- Do either of the two lies I described resonate with you? What are some other relationship lies you struggled with?
- What forms your identity? What people, things, or hobbies do you allow to shape your self worth?
- Men who are married: What are some big positive things about getting married? Additionally, what have been some disadvantages, difficulties, or sacrifices you’ve had to make?
- Men who are single: What advantages or opportunities to you see to being single?