I helped out at youth group on Friday night, and talk was all about relationships. I helped Anna with the year 8 girls and we all had a really good, open, frank chat. There was a lot of silliness and noise and giggling of course, but some good questions in there too. And they actually wanted to hear from us about what we thought and what the Bible said about relationships. I don’t know if they were ready to accept what we told them, but they were curious all the same. That’s a start.
They were horrified by the thought that it was possible they might not ever get married though. The whole ‘how far can you go before marriage’ with sex thing was of course a big topic, but the idea that ‘you might never get married and that’s okay’ was really revolutionary to them. “But I’d be so lonely!” “But I don’t want to end up a crazy cat lady!” (honestly, how does that idea keep getting perpetuated? Anna and I both said at the same time “Hey – cats are awesome!”) “But…but that’s horrible!”
They hadn’t realised I was single and their eyes grew wide when I revealed this fact. So it was probably helpful having Anna (who is married) and me (who isn’t) answering their questions, because we could talk about it from both perspectives. I tried to make it clear that it was sometimes a struggle, but that when you love God the most and you are trying to live his way, you trust that he has the best in mind for you. So you trust that if he says ‘no’ or just doesn’t bring anyone suitable along, even though it hurts, that it must be the best for you at that point in time. He knows much more than we do, and he knows the plan for our lives.
[I remember being that age and just assuming that marriage was in my future, so I’m not surprised they think the same way. I had no theology of relationships; there wasn’t any discussion about that sort of thing that I can recall at our church. The only examples I had were my parents’ dissolving marriage and the movies and TV I voraciously consumed. I think as a teenager my plan for my life was that I’d just have fun for a while, then when I was ready, somehow the perfect guy would just turn up in my life, we’d get married, and probably live in a vast but tastefully decorated loft apartment in New York, where I would write best selling novels and he would, I don’t know, be amazing or something. Clearly God is using a different map than I am.]
So we talked about the lies in pop culture that tell them that there is such a thing as a soul mate, that we need to keep looking for that one perfect person, that you need to ‘try before you buy’, that you are somehow less of a human if you haven’t had sex, that you can only be happy in life if you have satisfied your every sexual desire – and how it’s really difficult to have a different mindset to that. Rom coms are deceptively convincing sometimes. But really if you do relationships God’s way, then it doesn’t matter if you haven’t had sex before you get married to see whether you have the best sex in the world with that person; your spouse becomes your ‘best’, your spouse becomes your paragon. And you’re not comparing him or her to someone else, or worrying that you don’t measure up to their previous partners.
Don’t think that we made it out to be all wine and roses. I did emphasise that just because the people involved are Christians doesn’t guarantee a relationship’s success. Plenty of non Christians have happy, lifelong marriages, and plenty of Christians have damaged, unhealthy marriages that sadly end in divorce (and vice versa of course). We are all broken, sinful humans, and if you put two broken, sinful humans together there are going to be problems no matter how high you aim.
But if you both go into a relationship looking to God for guidance and looking at his blueprint for relationships to guide you, then you are more likely to honour him and each other, than if you’re going into a relationship purely to satisfy yourself. (Today George linked to a helpful blog post that articulates this really well: Marriage isn’t for you)
I’ve been reflecting on that evening’s conversation over the weekend and hoping the girls don’t think we’ve got it all together (though they probably do, if I recall how I thought of teachers as a teenager). Because although I believe everything I told them, and I really want to live that way, sometimes I stuff up monumentally. I make poor choices. I want things that God doesn’t want me to have. I’m upset that relationships don’t work out the way I want. And yet, it’s true, I do trust him. I guess that’s the point; if I ultimately come back to seeing his way as right and letting him guide me, that’s what matters.
And life’s not over yet.