Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Idolatrous Expectations & Pinterest Wedding Shrines

As a teenager, I read my fair share of Christian romance novels. They were full of dramatic plot lines, sexual tension, one room school houses and Canadian Mounties. The leading men were imperfect but in a tousled and endearing sort of way. They always knew what to say. All the female characters were beautiful, but distressed, to ensure the reader plenty of drama. Each story ended with a sigh.

Today, women can indulge their romantic side by using Pinterest. They can build relationship shrines out of images of engagement rings and couple shots and create virtual collages of attractive men, romantic dates, perfect playlists, and unique wedding favors. I have seen girls as young as thirteen with these boards. They are collecting comparisons.

 This magazine says that the right guy will know what his girlfriend wants for Christmas.

This pastor says that saving sex until marriage ensures a satisfying and uncomplicated sex-life.

This film is my favorite because he sweeps her off her feet by showing up at the prom to slow dance with her to her favorite song!

 This salesmen says that when you try on the right wedding dress, you will “just know” (and probably weep).

 This picture proves that guys can have six-packs. I won’t date anyone unless he has a six-pack.

 This blogger recommends putting unique date ideas into a jar and pulling one out every week.

 This TV show contains a highly flawed female character with a perfect boyfriend who adores her. I will only marry a guy if he accepts my constant moodiness and sass!

 Don’t let yourself off the hook. Replace Christian romance novels and Pinterest with anything else that may have you building up unrealistic expectations. Maybe it’s the music you listen to. Does it make romantic love out to be a religion? Maybe it’s the Nicolas Sparks books you hide under your desk at work. Is it the pictures your friends post on Facebook of their seemingly perfect marriages, kids, and family vacations? It could even be the advice of other Christians. Regardless of their source, the following relationship lies pose a threat to true contentment: 

 Lie #1: You will be happy once you are married.

 In other words, tough luck singles. You’re missing out. Only married people know what true happiness is.

 But waiting for happiness, whether you are single waiting for marriage, married waiting for children, or married waiting for your spouse to change, is idolatrous territory. When we hold our joy captive until we get what we want, a vicious cycle of discontentment begins. God calls us to be content right now:

 Hebrews 13:5:…be content with what you have, for he has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.

Even if your last tweet was a picture of a tub of ice cream, followed by #foreveralone, you have the opportunity to be content. My dad once cautioned me: You will be as content as you are right now, three years after you get married. In other words, if I could learn contentment as a single college student, I could continue to practice it into marriage, even after the initial excitement had worn off. Or, I could be discontent with my singleness and eventually discontent with my marriage.

Lie #2: Love fixes everything

 In films, love is the answer. Characters' lives could be falling apart, their planet on the verge of collapse, until they meet the one. Suddenly problems vanish. Flames and wreckage fall strategically around the couple as they embrace. Love is all you need, right?

 Real life is different. Love as he might, a husband cannot always comfort his wife out of post-partum depression. A wife cannot simply hand her husband confidence after he loses his job. When we expect our spouse’s love to solve all of our problems, we are setting ourselves up for disappointment. Though it sure makes them easier to endure, love can’t make trials disappear. Love is powerful, not omnipotent.

 Accepting this leaves less room for disappointment and more room for grace. I often tell my husband that his hugs are healing. It’s true, too. When my back hurts or my emotions are ragged, being held by him provides instant comfort. But when he releases his hug, my back problems aren’t magically gone. I am still exhausted. My husband hasn't failed me, he just…isn’t God.

 Because, you see, love does fix everything. Christ’s love. It fixes our ultimate problem of sin and separation from God. Expecting your spouse to be your Savior ensures discontent. Looking to Christ ensures salvation. He alone can remove our burdens and take our blame; and not just temporarily, but forever.

Lie #3: You will always “get” each other

 Men seem to be particularly bad at mind-reading. My husband is thrilled when he can predict my answer to a question. He is thrilled because it is rare. When I try to read his thoughts, I usually get it wrong as well. I read something negative into a sigh or something specific into a general comment. Neither of us are any good at telepathy.

 It’s important to confront this lie because believing it discourages real communication. When a woman gives her husband the silent treatment to communicate frustration, she is promoting confusion, not understanding. When a man makes a passive aggressive comment about his wife leaving her clothes on the floor, he is not giving her a chance to change. He is just venting his anger. We need to use our words. He doesn’t know that you hate sundried tomatoes on your pizza? Tell him. She doesn’t know you like to dance? Tell her.

 Maybe I fail to see the romance in guessing, but I believe it takes more love to listen well and clearly articulate your thoughts than it does to buy into the myth that true love “always knows.” True love works hard to know. Maybe some of those silent signals and passive aggressive comments aren’t worth turning into real conversation. Or maybe they represent larger issues that need to be addressed. Maybe your love wishes they knew what your favorite candy was so they could buy it for you.

 Talking is the new guessing. Try it.

 Lie #4: Love is always romantic and unexpected

Too many stories end right after the proposal or wedding ceremony. We don’t get to watch the couple go through life together. We don’t get to see their first fight, the way they handle money problems, discipline their kids, or how they deal with illness. As a result, many expect marriage to be just like dating.

 This one requires not just a shift in expectations, but perspective. Our culture’s definition of “romance” is too narrow. Though marriage does not contain the fluttery nerves, new cologne, and best manners of a first date, there is a great deal of romance in the regular. My 90 year old grandpa regularly sets his alarm clock for 12 a.m. so that he can wake up my diabetic grandmother for her midnight snack. As a stoic WWII vet and survivor of the Great Depression, he has never been verbally affectionate. But when I watch him faithfully take care of his wife in this way, it is more romantic to me than any movie or book.

My husband and I joke that our honeymoon ended during our actual honeymoon. After a few romantic days in Monterey, California, we drove my vintage Honda to Oklahoma. It broke down three times! While we waited for some rare car part in Shamrock, Texas, my laptop decided to eat its hard drive. On that dusty road trip with all its breakdowns and disappointments, we got to know each other better. We practiced serving each other when we were tired. We made each other laugh when things got rough. If events like sickness and broken cars seem like romance-killers to you, then they will be. But if you expect real-life situations to enter and impact your marriage and view them as opportunities to demonstrate Christ-like love, you have a lot to look forward to.

  Lie #5: Love means never having to change

 Girls, too often I hear you talk about how he needs to “accept you for who you are,” then in the same breath, recite a list of all the qualities he must possess. Isn’t this a double-standard? Guys, I have seen you try every which way to impress the girl before you marry her only to abandon all attempts at wooing after she says I do. The main problem with this lie is that it is self-focused instead of Christ-focused.

 Self-love says: I deserve what I want and don’t have to change for anyone.

 Christ-like love says: I deserve eternal punishment but have been given eternal grace. I will continue to seek new ways to be more like Christ.

 Sinners should enter marriage ready to change. You asked God to mold and refine you before you were married. Don’t stop just because you have a ring on your finger!

 Our motivation for changing should always be God’s glory and Christ-likeness. Christ was a servant. He laid down his life for his sheep (John 10:11). He did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage (Phil. 2:6). He gave of himself when he was exhausted. He cared about people when they were sick, unlovely, and unpopular. And He did all of these thing for His Father’s glory. Don’t ask your spouse to put up with biting comments or get used to your constant moodiness. Ask God to chip away at your sinfulness and your spouse to forgive you when you sin against them. Seek first His kingdom (Mat. 6:33) in your marriage.   

 What about the person you marry? Elizabeth Eliot said: You marry a sinner. There simply isn’t anything else to marry. We know that we are sinners. We need to remember that our spouses are, too. Don’t enter marriage with the expectation that your spouse will change. Though Christ-like love certainly has the power to change people, your job is to love your spouse. Think they need to change? God is the right one to go to for that. He has the power to change people, so prayer should be our first response. There will be times when we need to boldly speak the truth in love to our spouse (Eph. 4:12), especially if they are in sin. But there will be many more times when we are called to show them love when they haven’t changed. When they have hurt us or let us down. We need to remember that marriage, though a powerful symbol of Christ’s love for the church, is imperfect; a shadow of things to come (Col. 2:17).

 Defeating Disappointment

Matthew 6:21 says: For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. When we treasure relationships more than we treasure Christ, our heart belongs to the creation instead of the Creator (Rom. 1:25). I love being married to my husband. But if I place him in a spot that only God should occupy, he won’t ever measure up.

 Disappointment is the gap between reality and expectations. The only way to guard against it is to worship Christ. He never disappoints. When we fall at His feet, our relationships and marriages can become what they should be: opportunities to show love to other undeserving people, just like us.
Written by Rachel Watson (This article also appeared in RELEVANT)