I’ve been married for a couple months as of writing this, and I tell you what, I love being married and I love my wife. Yet I can also tell you relationships are difficult, whether that is with friends, work colleagues, but even more so with those that we love. Where our roughest and sharpest edges all of a sudden meet the rough and sharp edges of another, as you can imagine by the words, it’s not necessarily pleasant. I know though that while this is a form of pain, there is a form of pain that is found in trying to find someone that you can spend the rest of your life with.
As a young adult myself, I spend a lot of time talking with my single friends about their stress, anxiety, hope and disappointment about the pursuit of someone to be in relationship with. It’s something that can be so difficult, especially in Christian circles where there is an unhealthy overemphasis on finding the one (I mean seriously, maths says if just 1 person gets it wrong we all get it wrong.) It all adds stress to this decision. I’ve been there though, I remember having an 18 month period where I had broken up with my last girlfriend before I found my future wife to be. In that time I lived the agony of wanting to find someone, not being able to, either because I was either scared of commitment or the girl wasn’t quite the right one.
It was during this time that God spoke to me and changed my mindset in two major ways, which I hope can help those who are in a relationship or are trying to find a relationship.
Don’t think what do I want, think what do I need?
During this time I remember talking to God about what I was getting wrong about my discerning who to date, and I felt God say, ‘your list is about what you want, not about what you need’ and I think that is a huge thing for us to understand. So often what we want is determined by the messages that culture sends to us, things like a girl who is really fit, or someone who is financially independent, someone who reads the Bible (which is great don’t get me wrong). The issue is without accurate reflection we think these are the most important things to us, when they really aren’t. I remember being 20 and thinking that my girlfriend/wife would have to love hardcore music and tattoos because that was what I liked. Which is stupid because really all I wanted was someone who looked like me to love. Which is really just an admiring of myself. Thomas Merton says it like this:
“The beginning of love is to let those we love be perfectly themselves, and not to twist them to fit our own image. Otherwise we love only the reflection of ourselves we find in them.”
Once God changed my perspective I quickly realised that those things weren’t what I needed, actually what I needed was someone who would stand up to what at times was bullying by me, I could be quite a bulldozer, someone who knew what they wanted and knew how to get it. I knew that what was going to be best for me in my life was not to have a wife that just said ‘yes’ to me, rather one that challenged me. Also I realised that I was great at reading and understanding the word but my prayer life wasn’t super strong, so someone who was a great prayer would be something I would need to go deeper in my relationship with God.
While there is still a focus on ourselves, because we do still need to be aware of that in relationships the focus goes from superficial, to greater depth that I think is more sensitive to what will help us grow as people.
Not are they the person I need, but am I the person I need to be.
This one became clear when my wife and I had our first fight when we were dating, it was about me and some of my behaviour and I realised straight away it was no longer about her being the person I need, but was I the person that she needed me to be!
This is the question I now try and ask all my friends who are thinking about getting into relationships. It often goes “Ben, I’m thinking of dating this person, she is great and I think she is someone who has so much to teach me and encourage me with.” Me: “That’s great, it’s so exciting, my question is, are you who you need to be for her?” It doesn’t always feel the greatest or sound greatest but it helps to stop in the middle of all the excitement, all the endorphins to think about what is going to be required of you, of what you are going to need to do and to be.
So make sure you are working on yourself, so you are who you need to be when the time comes.
Relationships are such a valuable and important part of our lives that it is important to do them well. As Christians I believe we need to look at relationships differently to how others do, not just thinking of our wants and our needs but about who God might use to shape us, and who God is calling us to serve for the rest of our lives.
When we stop thinking what do I want and start thinking what do I need we invite God to transform us through the relationship of another. Then we think about not just them being the person I need, but about whether we are the person they need us to be, we let God transform us through our service to others.
These changes will help you find great relationships and live in great relationships and that is my hope for each person who reads this post. May God bless with you great love, great relationships and a great willingness to serve.