January 19, 2011
Dear Canaan EM’ers and friends,
Yes, I know. Valentine’s Day (or Singleness Awareness Day, as some sarcastic young adults call it) is still a month away. And it’s much too cold to get “Spring fever.” But I’m thinking about relationships. At some point in the next few years, I’ll be asked to offer pre-marital counseling and conduct weddings. I might as well begin to think about how to help our sisters and brothers build solid, lasting relationships now.
So I looked up some advice from Match.com and found the top five traits and men and women “absolutely, positively must have in a new relationship.” Here are the five that men want from their ladies…
“She needs to be attractive”
“I want to be loved for who I am, not what I can provide”
“For me, physical affection is essential”
“She has to get my jokes and sense of humor”
“My next girlfriend has got to be straightforward and patient”
And here are the five that women want from their dudes…
“I want to be wooed; I need the romance”
“I need a man who is generous in every way”
“As I get older, I want someone who genuinely cares about me”
“I need to feel true chemistry with him”
“I want a guy who’s got a big, soulful heart”
See you this Sunday!
Okay, okay, I’ll stop avoiding the subject. Heck, Jonah tried to run away from God’s command, but couldn’t (this Sunday’s message will be about Jonah, by the way), so I’ll try to say a little more.
Today, our relationships are subject to market forces, much like the goods and services we acquire and depend on. In a modern, urban world, we neither desire nor depend on our parents or community to choose our spouses. Dating is like shopping for someone who is compatible with us and provides the traits that we want. But the dating marketplace is a challenging, and sometimes scary, place to be. That’s why relationship services such as Match.com, eHarmony, and even Christian Mingle thrive.
When the assumptions of the marketplace take over the thinking of singles and married couples, there are tremendous negative consequences for Christian discipleship and wholeness. We evaluate our faith communities and spouses with a cost/benefit algorithm rather than with a biblical lens. Our primarily question when we look at a church or potential relationship is “what can I get out of this?” rather than “is God calling me here?” I can’t imagine any lasting and loving marriage that is built on marketplace assumptions.
So what is the alternative? Should we renounce our quest for intimacy and companionship?
I believe the solution to healthy relationships begins by self-examination. This is what Dietrich Bonhoeffer suggested in his classic little book, Life Together. It is helpful to ask ourselves “Do we insist that our community and relationships conform to our expectations?” Here is Bonhoeffer…
Every human wish dream that is injected into the Christian community is a hindrance to genuine community and must be banished if genuine community is to survive. He who loves his dream of a community more than the Christian community itself becomes a destroyer of the latter, even though his personal intentions may be ever so honest and earnest and sacrificial. God hates visionary dreaming; it makes the dreamer proud and pretentious. The man who fashions a visionary ideal of community demands that it be realized by God, by others and by himself. He enters the community of Christians with his demands, sets up his own law, and judges the brethren and God Himself accordingly. (page 27)
If we do not give thanks daily for Christian fellowship in which we have been placed, even where there is no great experience, no discoverable riches, but much weakness, small faith, and difficulty; if on the contrary, we only keep complaining to God that everything is so paltry and petty, so far from what we expected, then we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow according to the measure and riches which are there for us all in Jesus Christ… When a person becomes alienated from a Christian community in which he has been placed and begins to raise complaints about it, he had better examine himself first to see whether the trouble is not due to his wish dream that should be shattered by God; and if this be the case, let him thank God, for leading him into this predicament. But if not, let him nevertheless guard against ever becoming an accuser himself for his unbelief. (pages 29, 30)
This leads to the second step: receive our existing community and relationships as God’s gift. As he noted in the above quote, if we don’t give thanks daily for Christian fellowship, we hinder God from letting our fellowship grow. By appreciating the blessings that we already have here at Canaan, it is easier to let go of our need to control the level of intimacy and type of companionship we want in order to be happy. It is easier to commit to one church and one community and not feel compelled to shop around.
Being grateful to God for what we already have is key to satisfying and fulfilling relationships. I have to remind myself of this truth each day. It is the grateful person – not one who seeks his/her “wish dream” – who is ready for real relationships.
One final quote from Life Together:
Seek God, not happiness – this is the fundamental rule of all mediation. If you see God alone, you will gain happiness: that is its promise. (84)
So whether you are single or married, I hope Bonhoeffer’s recommendations can help you find true intimacy, companionship, and friendship. It begins by appreciating what you have been given at Canaan, not by searching for your “wish dream.”
Okay, now I can say “See you Sunday!”
Tim Tseng , Ph.D. 曾 祥 雨
Pastor of English Ministries
P.S. Volunteers needed to donate snacks and clean up as well read scripture, serve as MCs, and give offertories during worship – especially in February and March. Contact James Chang or sign up at http://bit.ly/emworship12