Relationships: Risks, Preferences and the Unknown

I really appreciated this piece from Trip Lee, Why I Married a White Girl. Though the post is describing how ethnic preferences can thwart accepting a good situation, I thought there were some salient applications for preferences in general. This is especially true for the older single whose life stage needs are a bit different from the young. Trip writes;

There’s nothing necessarily wrong with having preferences, but we have to hold them with an open hand. I know certain people who overlook a potential godly spouse because they don’t fit some random preference. Some of our preferences really don’t matter that much. Some may even be foolish. Needless to say, we have to submit all of them to Scripture…It’s okay to prefer certain things in a spouse, but we have to submit our desires to what God wants for us in a spouse. What I wanted and needed most was a godly partner, and that’s exactly what he provided.

holding handsYoung or old, preferences are a tricky animal. What we may prefer may not ultimately be the best thing for us. If we are not careful, they may actually circumvent our ability to recognize a good thing. For younger people, the preferences can be driven more by fantasy of what something is supposed to look like. For older people, especially those who have been around the block and experienced relationship failure and dysfunction, the equation can become for muddled. On one hand, you know that you don’t want and what won’t work. But on the other hand, there could be the danger of setting up reactionary standards because of past pain. The worst thing you can do is expect another to make up for past relationship grievances and subject the relationship to that standard.

For Christians, it goes without saying that the core of the relationship should have a mutual commitment to Christ in recognition that we are not our own. Having been in an unequally yoked marriage, I can’t warn Christians strenuously enough to avoid these situations with the delusion that it will somehow work out. Nonetheless, we can’t be so naive not to consider how all our characteristics, bents, and goals will work together with another person.

However, in Christian circles, we are really good at creating lists and prescriptions for how something should work beyond what Scripture commends. Relationships are no exception – how to know if he or she is the one, how to prepare for marriage, how to check off a pre-marital list, how to know red flags, etc. As much as we can create lists of preferences and expectations for a godly partnership, the reality is that there is a bit of mystery for how two people really share their lives together. There’s a place where preferences and prescriptions cease and commitment takes over.

I recently concluded a 3 month viewing journey of one of my favorite TV dramas, The West Wing. If you are not familiar with the show, the series, which ran from 1999-2006, provided a glimpse and human dimension to presidential politics.  Allison Janney played CJ Cregg, a smart, accomplished, no-nonsense woman very wedded to her work. She was the Press Secretary during the first term of the presidency (through season 4) and developed a friendship but beyond friendship dalliance with Danny Cancannon, a White House correspondent. During the second term, she became the White House Chief of Staff and showed incredible chutzpah for the good of the presidency and the country.  Towards the end of the second term in the final season, the thing between she and Danny resurfaces. Knowing that her “sentence” (as he calls it), to the White House is about to come to an end, he wants nothing more than for he and CJ to share their lives together. But as she wrestles with an offer from the new administration and her seeming inability to make relationships work, she risks shutting out the one person who really just wants to be with her.

Well, that was a set up for this scene here.

Two things I found really compelling about this scene. First, her vulnerability. Here this powerful woman relays her fears and almost comes across with a childlikeness. It is a poignant reminder that relationships take risks.  Beyond our preferences, chemistry and compatibility is a place where we have to be willing to put ourselves out there, especially when encountering a man or woman that we deem worth it. The second observation was the enforcement of a commitment to “figure it out”.  While it is good to have lists, preferences and a mental picture of how it is supposed to work, the reality is that it is a journey into the unknown.

For Christians, how it works is loving Christ, loving spouse and loving kids. It means Eph 5:21-33 become a beautiful portrait of a Christ-centered marriage, even when our humanity gets in the way. That takes commitment, the kind of commitment demonstrated in this scene that is willing to confront the mystery and the fear and stumbling of figuring it out together. The truth is we don’t really have it all figured out, only that we know love covers a multitude of sins, there’s grace in forgiveness and embarking on this kind of journey can be filled with joy and pain.

The road there can be tricky for singles. I wondered if I should even be writing anything on relationships. What do I really know? Like CJ, I often wonder if I’ve missed it, if its too late and I just have to accept that I’ve accumulated too much. As much as my perspective has been re-shaped and re-oriented over the years, I wonder if it or my criteria is too skewed, too reactionary, too idealistic, or too demanding. But then I remember that I serve a redemptive God who can do exceedingly abundantly above all I can ask or think.  I’m sobered by the realities portrayed in this TV scene and Trip Lee’s article. It gives me hope that I can rest in God’s providence, regardless of what it looks like. He knows what is best even when I don’t know fully.

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