Friday, June 23, 2006
"I am no card-player"
Several years have passed since that conversation, but I don't think I've loosened up very much. Now, I do think my sense of humor has improved (if I am to judge by how often and loudly my friends laugh at my not-so-wise cracks), but yet my outlook on life--both work and play--remains fundamentally serious. Mind you, I still like to have fun, but yet I continually bear in mind the fact that my life as a Christian ought to be more than fun and games. In view of Scripture's admonition to do whatever I do for the glory of God, it seems to be that I ought to have the purpose of pleasing God ever-present in my mind whether I'm worshipping in church, writing computer code at the office, or listening to music at home.
In contrast to the now-oriented, pleasure-oriented hedonism that's all around me, I suppose my serious worldview does make me a rather odd bird, so I find it to be reassuring that my plight is nothing new. In Jane Austen's novel Persuasion (published in 1818), we find that the heroine, Anne Elliot, thinks none too highly of the sociable frivolity of her day. Late in the novel, we find her reunited with Captain Wentworth, the naval officer whom she'd nearly married over eight years before:
Captain Wentworth left his seat, and walked to the fire-place; probably for the sake of walking away from it soon afterwards, and taking a station, with less bare-faced design, by Anne.
"You have not been long enough in Bath," said he, "to enjoy the evening parties of the place."
"Oh! no. The usual character of them has nothing for me. I am no card-player."
"You were not formerly, I know. You did not use to like cards; but time makes many changes."
"I am not yet so much changed," cried Anne, and stopped, fearing she hardly knew what misconstruction. After waiting a few moments he said, and as if it were the result of immediate feeling, "It is a period, indeed! Eight years and a half is a period."
Eight and one-half years had passed since Anne had been persuaded by a friend to break off her engagement to Wentworth, but even after all that time, Anne was still no card-player. In saying this, she didn't mean to imply that she never attended social engagements or that she enjoyed no amusements, but rather that her attitude towards life wasn't happy-go-lucky and frivolous. Although she was more than willing to make social engagements with those for whom she cared (such as an old schoolmate named Mrs. Smith), she saw no point in socializing for its own sake. In this conversation, Captain Wentworth was trying to discern whether Anne's recent attentions to him had been on account of formal politeness or sincere interest, so he was no doubt pleased to learn that Anne was "no card-player."
I wish that more people, especially Christians, exhibited our fictional heroine's seriousness of purpose, but all too many folks exhibit a tendency to treat the lighter side of life as though it was an end in itself. How many work and slave during the week primarily so they can afford to cut loose during the weekend? I think this pleasure-seeking ethos may be one factor behind today's platonic friendships which provide a man and woman with the pleasures of companionship without the responsibility of committment. If so, perhaps it ought to be no wonder to me that people don't know what to make of a peculiar person who believes that there is a higher purpose to life than that of having a good time.
Friday, June 16, 2006
Evaluating a suitable spouse
- If you are single and you do not feel that God has called you to remain unmarried (in case of doubt, assume that He hasn't), make it your business to be looking for a spouse. Don't make it your top priority--laying up treasure in Heaven ought to be tops--but make it one of your highest temporal priorities.
- Suitability tests fall into two categories: (1) spiritual tests and (2) temporal tests. Place a substantially larger weight on spiritual tests compared with temporal tests. Spiritual tests ask, "According to Scripture, is this person a suitable spouse?" whereas temporal tests ask, "Is there a reasonable likelihood that I'll be able to conduct myself towards her in a God-honoring manner?"
- Consider everyone you meet who has any reasonable chance of being suitable. She must be a believer, and it would be best if she's substantially like-minded doctrinally, but if she appears to be willing to be taught and led wherever the Scriptures lead, you may be able to consider her further.
- Keep your eyes and ears open at all times and places, but pay the most attention when you're in a venue where you're most likely to meet a candidate. Your church or other places where reasonably like-minded Christians gather are the very best places to look. Personally, I wouldn't bother checking out a gal at Borders or Barnes and Noble unless I spy her in the Religion section intently poring through a tome by someone like Spurgeon, Sproul or MacArthur. :-)
- When you encounter somebody and have an opportunity to converse with her, make a mental note of your emotional reaction, but don't put too much trust in your emotions. Since we continue to struggle with remaining sin, our emotions can and do often mislead and deceive us. For my part, I've learned not to trust my emotions very much. They may tell me that a bad person is attractive or a good person is unattractive.
- Continue to pursue an acquaintance as long as you have a reasonable hope that she might prove to be suitable for you. Give her the benefit of the doubt whenever possible.
- If you discover something about her that fails one of the aforementioned spiritual tests, you ought to drop the acquaintance as soon as possible. Be kind and gracious, but GET OUT!!!
- If you run into a temporal issue that concerns you such as a habit or behavior that really annoys you, make a note of it, but prayerfully consider the issue before you decide to break off the acquaintance. Perhaps God will grant you grace to bear with her regarding this issue. Keep Christian liberty in mind: where God has not bound the believer's conscience in Scripture, the Christian is free.
- If you come to the decision that she would not be a suitable wife for you but yet you find that you enjoy her company and friendship, you may continue on as casual friends, but you are not free to continue as close "platonic" friends who spend a considerable amount of time together. Although you should by all means maintain a cordial relationship with her, you must not hinder her or yourself from the task of seeking out a suitable spouse.
- Take your time. Don't allow fear to rush you into a hasty decision to drop the acquaintance or marry the person.
OK, that's enough for now. I'll reserve the right to post further thoughts on the matter of proper courtship at a future time.
Wednesday, June 14, 2006
Companionship without committment
Since writing that article, I have become even more firmly persuaded of the great danger of maintaining a close friendship with a woman whom I'm unwilling or unable to marry. The situation is hardly better if I think the woman may turn out to be a suitable life-partner but she's made it plain that she's not interested in me in that way. In such a case, we may mutually decide to enjoy the benefits of a companionship without entailing the obligations of a permanent committment.
In the context of today's culture, this may seem to be a perfectly reasonable arrangement. For one thing, the advantages of companionship seem obvious. Personally, I much enjoy the time I can spend in conversation or various activities with another person. Although I can enjoy many pursuits on my own, having another person with me to share my enjoyment is nearly guaranteed to multiply my pleasure. It can be plenty nice to talk about this or that with another guy, but let's face it: it can be even nicer to spend time with a pleasant, attractive woman. So long as we stick to activities that are respectable and stay out of trouble, there's nothing wrong with that, right?
Although that sounds like a reasonable line of thinking, I think it's significant that it's so often older singles who get involved in such platonic arrangements. Perhaps they think, "I haven't yet found the man/woman of my dreams, so I may as well hang out with my friends until I do." There's nothing wrong with friendships per se, even friendships with the opposite sex, but yet in my life I've seen how I so long used platonic friendships as a means to enjoy the companionship that's best found in marriage without having to take on the duties and responsibilities attendant with the committment of that covenant bond. This seemed good and right to me for many years. With my platonic friends, I could enjoy the pleasant parts of an intimate relationship while avoiding the difficult stuff. In place of "for better or worse, for richer or poorer", I could pig out on cake and ice cream without having to eat my veggies.
How nice all this seemed for so long, but with maturity and a better understanding of God's Word, I see the irresponsibility that was lurking underneath my season of pleasure. Not only was I shirking any responsibility for my friends--enjoying the pleasure of their companionship without taking any true care for them--I was also enabling them to shirk their responsibility to seek a suitable husband. Thus, I was irresponsible both to myself and to my female friends.
Today, my understanding of what is proper in a male/female friendship is vastly different than it was in those days. If a woman is willing to consider me as a possible husband, should we prove to be suitable for each other, I will by all means want to spend as much time with her as possible so we can work together to find out whether or not we are indeed suitable. On the other hand, if I am convinced that she would not be a suitable wife for whatever reason, I am obliged to leave her free to focus her attention on men who may be more suitable for her. Although I would obviously want to remain on cordial terms with her, perhaps chatting with her in group contexts, I'm no longer going to take up substantial portions of her limited time and energy on being close friends with her. If my sister doesn't believe that I would be a suitable husband for her, I owe it to her to leave her free to search for a man who is. Until I find a woman who is suitable for me, I'm going to stick to casual acquaintances with my sisters in Christ, and my close friendships will be exclusively with my brothers in Christ. I am no longer willing to settle for the illusory pleasures of companionship without committment.