Vulnerability 104: Idolatry and The Grace to Fail
I haven't reached 25 yet, but in a lot of ways I feel like I've missed it. For 10+ years I've had an idol in my life that I've continued to feed and in many cases be affirmed in. Yet, despite my best efforts, the fervent pursuit of this idol has left me empty handed. I am so thankful, though, that I serve a God who chases after me and fills the void in its entirety when I allow Him to. I am talking about the idolatry of relationships; this permeates all types of relationships in my life, but I am specifically talking about the romantic kind. The idolatry of marriage. I know I'm not alone in seeing romanticism as the be all end all. Psychology Today states that "For many, romantic relationships comprise the most meaningful aspect of life, providing a source of deep fulfillment."  If this is true then how is it that the pinnacle of romantic love, marriage, fails almost 50% of the time? Furthermore, why is it that my age demographic (25-39) accounts for 60% of all divorces?  We are the ones so passionately pursuing these relationships! We try to look good, try to get a stable, well-paying job, try to acquire skills to make ourselves more attractive in hopes that we can woo somebody. When we can't do it face to face we turn to dating apps/websites, fantasize about romance movies, wish we were on reality TV, and find pleasure in temporary relationships and pornography. We... I want to be wanted, I want to be in relationship, but why? It's built into me. That's why. So let out your sigh of relief. This is not some bitter article from some hurt person on how relationships are horrendous and how I am giving up hope. No. Quite the opposite. This is an article from some healing person on the acceptance of the divine appointment of relationships and a look at what I believe to be the proper view and context of them.
It's Built Into Us
Then the Lord God said, "It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper fit for him."
~ Genesis 2:18 (ESV)
Psychologists have theorized that the desire for interpersonal relationships spur from necessity. Baumeister and Leary penned "The Need to Belong: Desire for Interpersonal Attachments as a Fundamental Human Motivation" and "argue[d] that the need to belong is a fundamental human need to form and maintain at least a minimum amount of lasting, positive, and significant interpersonal relationship"  They further "argue that the lack of belongingness causes various undesirable effects, including a decrease in the levels of health, happiness, and adjustment." Baumeister and Leary's journal clearly articulates what belongingness looks like and how it affects us. Yet, the psychologists hold fast that the innateness of our desire stems from the evolutionary benefit and simply leave it at that. The origin of this innateness is where our views diverge as my view starts in Genesis with the creation of man.
In the very first book of the Bible we see the first human-to-human relationship: Adam and Eve. Chapter 1 of Book 1
...Male and female He created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, "Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth..." ~ Genesis 1:27-28 (ESV)
We get a better description of how this came to be in Chapter 2
... I will make a helper fit for him... Then man said, "This at last is bone of my bones and flesh of my flesh. She shall be called Woman because she was taken out of Man. Therefore, a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh. And the man and his wife were both naked and were not ashamed. ~ Genesis 2:18, 23-25 (ESV)
Soon after the fall of man happened, sin entered the world, and this innate desire for relationships became twisted. Friends, it is so important that I come back to the simple reality that God created relationships because it is all too easy to start thinking that I am messed up for deeply desiring a marriage and a family with someone. When my defense starts to tell me that good things are inherently bad, then I am robbed of joy that God designed. I start here only to show that what I want is not unfounded, and for my Christian friends, not un-Biblical. We can have the desire for marriage and a family.
Creation Over Creator
For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to Him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fool, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. Therefore God gave them up in the lusts of their hearts to impurity, to the dishonoring of their bodies among themselves, because they exchanged the truth about God for a lie and worshiped and served the creature rather than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen!
~ Romans 1:21-25 (ESV)
Yet, this innate desire became all consuming for me, and when relationships become all consuming I feel we as humanity gravitate to one of two extremes: unrelenting pursuit of it or paralyzing anxiety out of fear of it. The former is my story and my personality traits (control, arrogance, givingness, kindness) bolster my belief that I can complete this pursuit without growing weary. This exact mentality is why, over the course of 10+ years, I've been in a total of three real relationships and was in the pursuit of one. Starting with a short high school fling that lasted a couple months, I moved on to an long and unrelenting pursuit of someone who did not reciprocate for over three years.
I gave a lot of myself by means of time and affection all under the guise of being a strong, noble, Christian friend. I sought counsel and desired to be affirmed in my position, but it was all to no avail. The idolatry of this particular relationship set the initial course for much grief I bestowed upon my family... All because I could not let go for three years. To end pursuit of this person I rebounded into a close friend for almost a year. Yet, a number of reasons lead to me breaking things off in an incredibly hurtful way--cold shouldering someone who cared deeply for me. After a year break from dating (not for lack of trying), I at last entered into my last relationship. The one I've written much about to this point. You know how the story goes, and by now it should not be a surprise when I say I did not learn from my mistakes. I, instead, hunkered down in them and continued to trade the truth of God for a lie. Just look good enough on the outside and continue to give affection, time, money, and material things. Ignore the warning signs and just make it by any means necessary to the perceived finish line of life and Christianity: marriage. However, it left me empty, alone, and hurt. What I thought would give life, instead, took it.
An Analysis of My Being
For You formed my inward parts; You knitted me together in my mother's womb. I praise You, for I am fearfully and wonderfully made. Wonderful are Your works; my soul knows it very well. My frame was not hidden from You, when I was being made in secret, intricately woven in the depths of the earth. Your eyes saw my unformed substance; in Your book were written, every one of them, the days that were formed for me, when as yet there was none of them... Search me, O God, and know my heart! Try me and know my thoughts! And see if there be any grievous way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting!
~Psalm 139:13-16, 23-24
After enduring my last relationship I knew there had to be a change, but what? How could I know? What biases me to seek relationships the way I do? I'd be a liar if I said I have it completely figured out. I'd be a bigger liar if I didn't tell you that prayer and wise counsel were critical to coming to the little understanding I do have. Introspection and awareness birth this website and blog and has been the most humbling experience. So what realities did that uncover? Firstly, I'm more like my parents that I ever realized.
Most of my teenage and adult life I have ran from my parents, for one reason or another. Yet, I have some of their best qualities! My parents are some of the most giving people I have ever met. You have a need? They'll meet it. Hungry? Come to our house, you have a seat at our table. Need a place to sleep? Come. We have extra pillows. Need a vacation? Come with us, we'd love to have you. My dad is the hardest worker I've ever met. He strives for excellency in his craft. "Do it better and cleaner than the next guy and you'll always have a job son." He cares so deeply for the presentation of the product he offers. He doesn't believe in half-way. "Son, if you are going to do a job. DO THE JOB. Don't miss the details." Then my mom. My mom is the most enduring person I've ever met. She doesn't quit and she sacrifices her own comfort for those she cares about. She persists and often times you'd never know how deeply things affect her. She is a bastion of strength in the tough times.
Yet, unhindered the best qualities of my parents are also their downfall. Being that I learned these behaviors from my parents, the unhindered combination of my best qualities is, likewise, my downfall. If we had to put a label on it, I'd be a textbook Enneagram Type 2. Mix in my critical thinking abilities and at my best you get an incredibly giving, intentional, persistent, patient, caring, detail-oriented, loving person. At my worst you deal with someone who is idolatrous, self-seeking, controlling, overly-needy, impatient, hyper-sensitive, and cynical... Oof. Yea. I'm complicated, I don't deny that.
Misinterpreted and Misrepresented Wisdom
To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.
~ 1 Corinthians 7:8-9 (ESV)
Having the idea that my best qualities are likely my most attractive qualities and know my desires I sought the best ways to achieve my goals within the sandbox of Christian dating. I've read more literature and listened to more sermons on dating, relationships, and marriage than I can count. In a lot of ways I thought it to be a pretty easy formula, and the mathematician in me wishes it were so easy to achieve (and I believe in a perfect, sinless world it would be that easy). Yet, I have yet to crack the code. So after my last relationship, I did what I always do--over-analyze. I read more books and listened to more sermons. For months I drove myself batty trying to figure out why I am incapable of making this work. I didn't get an exact answer to that question, but I did discover something.
The Church unashamedly (and rightfully) stands by marriage and insists on it. Most literature I've read on the topic of Christian dating/romance is relatively infantile (1990s and on) in comparison to the Church as a whole (2000ish years). I'd be naive to believe that sexual immorality and relationships struggles are new and a product of those darn kids. Yet, I cannot deny how these topics have become such a large target in the Church. To give my opinion, I attribute the mass accessibility to media that glamorizes romance and sex as a heavy contributor to this. It is true, that art, plays, writings (Song of Solomon anyone), and music that focus on romance have been around for ages. Sex has sold since Biblical times (Solomon had hundreds of wives and concubines). However, the volume and velocity at which these ideas are propagating are larger now than ever. The sheer volume only provides more opportunities to buy  into a non-Biblical view of relationships, but if the Church does not offer an alternative then we as Christians will feast on the only sustenance available. So what did the Church do? They provided counsel, wisdom, and perspective on relationships at their own high volume and velocity. Books, sermons, ministries, and conferences.
I believe it all to be entirely necessary to equip the body and provide sound, Biblical views on a topic that is an innate desire. In this swift response, I feel that the essence of Christianity was lost on go-dos and how-tos. Loving the Lord with all your heart (Matthew 22:38-39) took the back seat to 101 Ways to Prepare to Make Yourself a Better Potential Spouse, 1 Million Obtuse Ways to Guard Your Heart, and Modest is the Hottest: The Remix (* Note, all of this are made up). The amount of emphasis placed on dating and relationships when it comes to singles, and more specifically young adults, can very easily take away from grace that Christ offers. It can so easily ensnare us and misguide our true purpose. While the world without God glamorizes sex and pure romanticism, the Church as of late, I feel, has presented marriage as the be all end all only if it is attained through perfectly keeping all the rules. I bought into this idea because I misinterpreted the large volume of resources that I had sought after. I epitomized the rich young ruler in Mark 10:17-22 because I thought I had done all the right things and yet somehow still couldn't attain success. Much like him, I actually I missed it in a big way.
The idolization and glamorization of marriage robbed me of my true purpose and in effect devalued the women I have been trying to so hard to pursue. How? My good intentions set their worth as simply being able to be someone to do life with, and object for me. It was no longer about each of us simultaneously pursuing our Father as a child of God. It's weird for me to look back and think of this because I felt I have treated people with utmost respect and honor, but my heart was self-seeking. I know I'm not this only one who does this, but this does not make it right. There is nothing I can do about the past, but for the future it is imperative to not become self-seeking. I am sure that a lot of this sounds like I'm casting blame onto the Church for what I perceive to be a misrepresentation of a problem and solution, but truly this comes back to me. The vehicle and method in which that message is presented is not inherently sinful; however, we as Christians need to be so very mindful of how we present things. Truth and wisdom can be lost due to poor presentation. I don't blame the Church for their swift response. Furthermore, I don't allow the reality of sinful world make me okay with the perversion of perfection . Being aware of the temptations is the only way to press on and have a healthy view of relationships. At some point, though, awareness has to move into practice.
The Grace to Fail
For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
~Ephesians 2:8-10 (ESV)
Armed with a new perspective and a self-awareness I've never had, I told myself in the middle of 2018 that the cycle ends. Wouldn't it be great if I could just speak things like that into existence? How I wish I could say I've been perfectly successful; it would do much to bolster my ego. Instead, I've found myself fighting my inclinations to give too much and to stay for too long. I've been battling to guard my heart without being legalistic and robbing myself of the benefit of friendships with women. I've been fighting to continue to be my giving, intentional, and complimentary self in the most relationally appropriate manner possible. In several ways I feel I've missed the mark and may have hurt people along the way without being fully aware. My objective is not to hurt others in my quest for sanctification; so, if that is you I am so deeply sorry and I pray you have grace. Relationships are hard and risky and with my new found perspective the natural response to being prodded in a sensitive wound is to run.
So my being that once gravitated to not giving up is tempted to give up with every "no" and simply not take the risk. The temptation is to worry and simply apply verses that say how singleness is great like Matthew 19:10-12 and 1 Corinthians 7:8 in a reckless fashion. The extremities of that spectrum begin to feed into one another when I don't rest in grace. I am reminded of a skit I was a part of in high school about giving your heart away. The heart was represented by a cake and with each relationship a piece was removed. Some pieces were carefully removed while others were removed by someone reaching in with their hands and taking a chunk. I was the groom at the end of the skit and when the bride presented her heart it was this mangled and ugly cake. The irony is that at the time I thought my heart was pristine and unharmed and now I am tempted with the thoughts of being forever alone due to my mangled nature.
The skit falls short though. My heart is mangled and has been hurt, BUT GOD heals and restores. What I kept from you is that the first human relationship was not Adam with Eve. It was Adam with God (Genesis 2:7-8, 15). Before Eve, Adam would walk in the garden with God; he had a relationship with his Creator. The entire story of the Bible is God fighting to restore relationship with His creation. He wants to fill the void we have for being desired and loved and pursued and comforted. The zenith of His love was the ultimate sacrifice of Jesus on the cross so that I could freely come to Him and have the grace to fail as I sojourn towards a relationship with Him while on earth. My desire for marriage is not unholy, but my goodness it is also not my identity.
Vulnerability: An Epilogue
For the past four blogs I have sought to provide a look into the tender parts of my life by means of events and reactions. The goal and hope was to give an opportunity for the general population of people to realize that these deep things are okay to talk about. Find somebody. A trusted friend, a counselor, me. I hope that these have prompted you to think as each blog took many revisions as I learned more and more about myself. That's why this one took so stinking long. Much was unresolved as I thought and prayed through it. I couldn't have done it without my community and my family. Furthermore, for the unnamed individuals in this blog from my past. Any grief the enemy tries to stir in you from this blog is purely an attempt to tempt you, you have been forgiven. Rest in that.
Moving forward, I am going to take a break from writing on topics with such depth for a while and hope to provide a change of pace by writing about history and travel for a bit. This has been so freeing to do and I hope you also enjoy what's to come. Be on the look out for new content.
My name is Tayler, and I have a penchant for handwritten letters, photography, baking, swing dancing, aviation, and rap music. I'm stubborn, prideful, intense, and enjoy math. Most importantly, I love Jesus and will often fail at portraying that, but thankfully abundant grace abounds.
A Crooked Stick