In life, we choose to be in relationships with certain people. We stay in these relationships until the other person performs a wrongful act, no longer becomes physically attractive, and/or becomes utterly useless. These relationships are called “consumer relationships”. In Timothy Keller’s book, The Meaning of Marriage: Facing the Complexities of Commitment with the Wisdom of God, he says this, “Throughout history there have always been consumer relationships. Such relationships last only as long as the vendor meets your needs at a cost acceptable to you. If another vendor delivers better or the same services at a better cost, you have no obligation to stay in a relationship to the original vendor. In consumer relationships, it could be said that the individual’s needs are more important than the relationship” (Keller, p.73). This idea of consumer relationships can be applied to any type of relationship in any aspect (i.e. friendship, work, family, colleague, etc.). However, I would like to discuss this when it comes to intimate relationships.
I have never been married. However, I can only imagine how hard it can be to live in a space with someone who you can’t physically or emotionally hide from. As intimacy grows the other person becomes translucent. You begin to know what is wrong with that other person before they vocally express their emotions. You start to “feel” one another and everything they do, are, and breathe. How annoying is that? Not only that, in a marriage, all that you and have are tied together. Your finances, career aspirations, dreams, goals, assets, and liabilities are now intertwined with one another. Then there is the person you married. Sure there are the reasons that you fell in love, but you have to constantly change and evolve with that person as they change and evolve. Just thinking about it is exhausting. No wonder it is easy to leave a person when the fire begins to dwindle and we no longer seem connected. I believe we call these excuses “irreconcilable differences”.
Let’s practice something together:
Imagine a person that you are attracted to. Instead of thinking about how attractive they are, their jobs, what church they go to, the amount of money they have, their credit score, their attire, or whatever extrinsic factors that you may be focusing on, look at the person. Take your level of awareness about that particular person a level deeper. Look into their eyes; remember their stories; and look at their pain and joy that they’ve experienced in life. You are now looking at God’s creation with grace. You begin to understand and accept everything that you don’t understand about them because it doesn’t matter. Suddenly, their pros and cons don’t matter. They just…are. No labels.
I’m not suggesting that when you look beyond a person’s ego that you will fall in love with them. There has to be a level of attraction and compatibility, but if we can learn to show grace to people, in any type of relationship, we will experience true intimacy and have genuine relationships. When we choose to be in a relationship because it’s convenient, status, prestige, financial rewards, then we are not engaging in a genuine relationship. When we stay in relationships only because of how attractive someone is and what they now have to bring to the table, we are not engaging in genuine relationships. It’s more about what they have verses who they are. I’ll talk about this on more of a personal level.
I am now in a relationship with a childhood friend of mine. We have known each other for 18 years. We always liked one another when we were younger, but it never evolved past a childhood crush. Needless to say, we both lost contact, and went to live our lives. When we started dating, I was weary about us starting a relationship because I was looking more at what he has versus who he was. Don’t get me wrong, he is self-sufficient; however, we are on two different playing fields in life, now. I was thinking “How in the world are we going to have a life together when I’m in my career and he hasn’t started his yet? How are we going to be able to relate to one another when our educational backgrounds are different?” I’m a bit ashamed to admit these were my thoughts, but I’m being honest. Suddenly, all that “stuff” didn’t matter. Do we have intellectual conversations? Yes. Do I feel smarter than him because of my educational background? Absolutely not! But my ego was pointing out things that I should care about, but those things (degree, money, prestige) are not, solely, what’s important. I almost forgot the purpose of relationships in the first place. Growth!
When we choose to be in a relationship with God, are things easy? Does God choose to love us based off of how much we pray, who we saved, or what we have accomplished? We come as we are to Him and he accepts us anyway. So who are we to rule out people based off what they have or whom they seem to be? What makes our judgment more important than God’s in this way? Our relationship with God is work. It can be uncomfortable; we face unfortunate truths about ourselves, and do things that we never imagined ourselves doing like community service, being less passive in our communities, and giving up worldly or secular pleasures for the greater good of Gods purpose for our life. This is the same thing when it comes to our earthy relationships.
Marriage and intimate relationships mimic the very nature of our relationship with God. It is the very institution that we are molded and sculpted for His purpose. It’s not supposed to be easy and hardly ever do we begin a relationship or a marriage with the “right person”. In Keller’s book, it says this
‘Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy. The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.
We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married’ (Keller, 2012).
What does this tell you? I’ll tell you what it tells me. When we begin a relationship with someone you have to leave your expectations at the door. You are never in the same relationship twice; therefore, you have to learn how to be in a relationship with that person. You have to teach them how to treat and love you. Not only that, when we give these teachings out of love and grace it molds that person into someone better. It then makes them want to be better. Again, its work! I can’t think of any relationship of my friends where they have told me that they wish they were single sometimes or how they could just leave that person because of the work. As honest as that reaction can sometimes be, I have to commend those people who stay and work it out and put in the effort to work on their relationships. There are some situations and circumstances where it is no longer healthy for a person to stay in a relationship. But one of those reasons should not be because they don’t have their stuff together. That was to my ladies. I said the same thing about my current boyfriend. “Gosh he is great, but only if he had this and that then things will be okay.” Would they? How do I know that? It’s a growing process where you learn from each other and grow to be the couple that you both agree you want to be. “In other words, some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world,” as Christopher Lasch describes it. Rather, they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires. This will indeed require a woman who is “a novelist/astronaut with a background in fashion modeling,” and the equivalent in a man. A marriage based not on self-denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner” (2012).
I’m happy and I never looked back on my decision to be with the person that I am with. But I had to get out of my head and put my ego aside and try being with someone because of who they are and not what they are. It is an act of faith. People don’t think that faith needs to be applied to our ability to make decisions of whom we choose to engage in relationships with. But it’s quite the contrary. We don’t know how that person is going to treat us just like we don’t know what is going to happen in our lives when we choose to bring God in it. But we do it because we hope for a lifetime of happiness and we have faith that He/they will follow through on His/their promises.
We don’t love with grace. We cut so many people out of our lives (family, friends, etc.) because they didn’t deliver on an expectation that often we fail to set. We could change so many lives if we take the time to see people the way God sees us and show them something different. We too often leave people to their vices without correcting the issue out of love and use our ego as righteous call for extracting them out of our lives. We must take part ownership of how that person is if we don’t build into them a new way of thinking or behaving. When things get destructive, violent, and the other person isn’t willing to put in the work or refuse to evaluate their behavior, then that may be a point when we walk away. We’re not God. We can only do so much.
If God loved us the way we love each other, we wouldn’t stand a chance. And that may be how some of you whom are reading this are feeling anyway, but I want to urge you to try a different approach. Get to know a person before you judge them. Base your decision to be in a relationship with a woman based off her heart versus how good her hair is, how big her booty is, or how good she looks. Base your decision to be a in a relationship with a man based off his heart versus how good he looks, how descent his package is, or his job. Look past all of that and you may be surprised at what you’ll find.