Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Some Thoughts on Advice and Love, and The Perceived Marriage Bias Within the Church

Before I get to what I actually wanted to talk about, I want to mention why I have not written a blog in a really long time.  Truth is, I have just been taking a step back and thinking.  

 Thinking!  Huzzah! No? Oh. Okay.
You see, a couple of months ago I was browsing around some Christian blogs and websites, which is something I enjoy doing.  As I did, it hit me that there was a common theme.  They all were filled with articles telling people what to do and how to think.  You’d have a movie review here, or a news story there, but they are sparse.  Almost everything out there is one big theological Op Ed.  

I understand this in part, as I am an ENFP, a champion.  When I learn something new, when I gain something I believe to be wisdom, I really do yearn to share it.  It has nothing to do with thinking I am better.  I just want to help.  If you are in a maze and you figure out how to get out, it is a natural thing to want to start shouting the directions out to those back in the maze.  

However, I also hold this belief that Christianity isn’t just some niche thing.  It is supposed to encompass life.  In that, why then is it that all we can do is share wisdom?   Tell others what is good, what is real?  I believe that is a huge part, but is it really all we have to share?  Somehow, it came across to me a feeling smug and shallow, as if we as Christians are incapable of loving in other ways.  

There is this very weird line in serving as a Christian.  If you go and serve people physically alone, never sharing the gospel then there is ultimately something missing.  Same though is true if you are so focused on sharing the gospel that you don’t know how to live with others, how to love them.  Advice is one small part of helping.  When I am hurting I want someone to hurt with me, sympathize or empathize.  I want them to give me real physical help.  Spend time with me.  If all someone does is give me advice, then I have no real affection or respect for that person as a helper.  

This is definitely how I felt during the healing part after being left by my wife and going through the divorce process.  

As such, I have just been kind of letting it all sit inside me and trying to focus and think about what it means to really love.  I don’t know if I have anything great to share, I just know I want to be someone that does more than give advice (which again, in love and in the right time and place, aka tact, is essential).  

Hopefully that makes sense.  I don’t have any answers.  It’s just what I have been thinking about and pondering.  Maybe I am a fool.  I don’t know.  That is just how it has felt to me.  I’d like for us Christians to be more broad, and better about speaking to people’s needs instead.  I feel, perhaps wrongly, that there is a lot of self-service going on in this advice giving.  I suppose that’s true about anything.  Whatever the case, that is why I have been silent. 

What I actually wanted to touch on was a little bit of what it is like to be a divorced person in church.  Dabble a bit, as there is much to be written.

I have posted quite a few articles on how people whom are not married are treated in the church, whether single, divorced, widowed, etc.  The most recent, and my favorite is by Christena Cleveland.  I recently had a friend ask me if I had actually experienced this, and if so, what it was like?

Sadly, I most assuredly have.  For starters, there is no unilateral response.  I have received both love and bitterness, trust and leeriness, understanding and prejudice, burdens both light and heavy, all within the church.  Everyone is different.   

Each church is different… accept with marriage.  This point alone I think is a strong indicator of the prejudice toward marriage and having kids.  If you are married and have kids, you can feel safe knowing you will be accepted if not celebrated in 99% of all mainstream churches in the USA.  You don’t ever have to walk through the doors wondering what this church believes or that church believes, or whether you’ll be welcome as a married person with kids.  

However, those whom are single, for any of the reasons above, there is a question.  Will there be anything for me?  Will I be alone?  Singlehood is, as Christena Cleveland put it, often viewed as junior varsity to marriage being varsity.  I’ll go a step further and add this.  It is freshmen football.  Being married is junior-varsity, and being married with children is varsity.  Seems you aren’t really considered whole, adult, mature, trustworthy, until you have been married with kids.   I felt that prejudice when I was married, and many of my married without kids friends did too.  

Any Church I go into I wonder what they are going to believe and think about singleness and divorce, as it varies much, and I have been treated both amazingly and poorly depending upon the theology and attitude of these different churches.  It is a big deal for me.

Having been married and left I feel confident in my singleness, even if it does not last.  I also have been a part of this, by the way, talking to singles as if I had achieved something.  Looking back I feel a certain shame, especially since my marriage failed.  Yes, I know that does not nullify wisdom.  Many of the things I said were true and good.  It still stings, whether it should or not.  It is in that brokenness that I now know something though.  It is that being married does not make you better.  Married people share more with other married people.  In that confidence over the years I came to see that very, very many of Christian marriages are stretched, fraught with turmoil like mine during the end.  These marriages may carry on, but the point is that my life was not better as a married person.  I was not closer to God, more righteous, wiser.  It was just different, much like the author of the article said.  It is a different sport, one that, as far as we know, Paul, every single apostle, and some guy named Jesus all saw the right path for them to take toward righteousness.  

Marriage is great, and something I have would like to possibly be a part of again, but I wonder if we haven’t made it more than it is, much like we have with children.  I wonder if in our desire to preserve the family we haven’t overstepped like those who were so afraid of drunkenness that they imposed a false burden of complete abstinence where there is freedom.  Perhaps?  

Again, this is one man’s perception.  It is one shared by many people.  That does not make it true.  Take it for what it is worth.  I’d love to hear any thoughts or experiences you’ve had.