A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

If you haven’t already, I encourage you to check out Part 1 and Part 2 first.

Chapter 4 looks at ‘becoming,’ and that doesn’t mean that this transforms into one of the many self-help books that Americans seem to love to read, talk about and then move on to the next book. It’s about becoming the you that you are meant to be, because that is a necessary element to a successful relationship. Why? “Truth is, your relationships will never be any healthier than you. Here’s why. And this is important. Relationships are never stronger than the weakest link…The stronger, more mature, more secure person in a relationship is always forced to make up for, defer to, or fill in the gaps created by the weaker person.” (57) I know, I know, this sounds uber harsh. But it’s also accurate. Think about the relationship problems you hear couples talk about. Is the issue really their relationship?

Let’s back this up a little. I think we all recognize that our lives are often richer, fuller, more joyful lives because of the relationships we have. And it doesn’t stop at the emotional, social and spiritual support that these relationships provide. It gets physical. God also gave us sex. Sex that feels really great. “If God created and gave us the capacity for satisfying relationships, it’s reasonable to assume God knows a thing or two about how to prepare for and operate one.” (59) This makes sense, right? Who knows how to operate something better than the designer, the creator, the originator of that thing? God actually teaches us this in the New Testament, and it lines up with what Andy Stanley writes about with regards to focusing on ‘you becoming’ versus ‘you finding.’ “…if you approach the New Testament asking, ‘How do I find the right person?’ the text is silent. But once you muster the courage to ask, ‘How do I become the right person?’ the text comes alive.” (61)

Ask yourself what happens to the ‘right person myth,’ after marriage. Does it dissipate? Or does it linger? Do people with that attitude, upon facing challenges and difficulties, end up questioning if they are with the ‘right person’ because things aren’t all good? It’s stunning how often we see people insistent on changing the person they are with. “‘If I could get my spouse to act right, everything would be all right.‘ Odd thing, these are the very couples who married assuming that they had met the right person to begin with. Turns out, the right person doesn’t always act right.” (62) This is another reason to focus on ‘becoming.’ If you are a person who just searches for the right person, your focus will always be on making them right, and not on yourself. Conversely, if you marry someone who believes in the right person myth, then any issues that arise would rest on the idea that you are not, in fact, the right person.

Depending on the circles you run in, there’s a lot of talk about love as a verb.  This means that rather than love being driven by feeling or chemistry, love is demonstrative action. This is found all over the New Testament, but not so often in our romantic comedies, which tell us that action is driven by the feeling of love. As an example from the New Testament, consider Matthew 5:44, where we are asked to love our enemies. Certainly if they are an enemy, you’re unlikely to find emotion to be a driver to act loving. Rather, we are being asked to demonstrate love for those who come against us! What this tells us is that relationships are built on choice rather than chemistry. “Great relationships are built on good decisions, not strong emotions. Again, falling in love is easy; it requires a pulse. Staying in love requires more. Specifically, embracing love as a verb.” (63) Remember, again, that this is not what society tells us. It says that you get what you give, it demands people to ‘get what they deserve,’ as long as you do your part I’ll probably do mine (unless something better comes along).

Where does this land us? Many of us (ahem) have experienced it firsthand: “The results are fragile relational contracts built on conditional agreements that leave both parties focused on the behavior of their partner…they are relationships built on ‘mutual distrust.'” (64) The end result of this is that each person expects the other person to carry the weight of the relationship and the expectations in it; failure to do so is a failure to meet the contractual requirements and confirmation that the other person is not, indeed, the right person. Disappointment, blame, and moving onto someone else become a continuous cycle for all parties. But then there’s this alternate path available to us:

“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another.” John 13:34 “The Greek term translated new in our English Bibles connotes strange or remarkable.” (65) Something about what we’re being called to in love is remarkable from what love was before! We’re supposed to love like Christ did: sacrificially. What does this look like? Ephesians 5:21 says, “Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ.” Yeah, I know. Submitting. This can be a hot topic but I want you to hang with me here, okay? Let’s really understand what’s being said.

Paul is writing about what Andy Stanley calls mutual submission. “…Paul wasn’t calling for an unequivocal unilateral abandonment of personal independence. This is a one another thing…mutual submission doesn’t work unless it’s mutual. It only works when both parties work it.” (67) This is not the way the vast majority of people operate, and that’s why Paul points us back to our reverence for Christ. Why? Because we are meant to be inspired by Jesus’ example and use it as a model for our own relationships. Ephesians 5:22-5:25 says, “Wives, submit yourselves to your own husbands as you do to the Lord...Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her.” The emphasis is added to highlight the mutual submission that is inherent in this verse. This is the kind of relationship we are called to, but it might all just sound a little too good, right?

“The alternative is to invite fear into future relationships… While your reservation is perfectly understandable, it’s entirely unnecessary and counterproductive. You were created for more than guarded relationships and ‘I will as long as you will’ love. Truth is, you hope that’s true, even if you’ve never seen it or experienced it.” (68) I John 4;18 says, “There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear.” Don’t we want that? Aren’t we called to that?

At one point Andy Stanley was fundamentally asked if he believed that having a two-headed home (instead of the man being the head of the household) was like a two-headed monster; if he believed the man should basically be the head of the household. He replied:

“Before I answer your question, imagine you’re married to a man who genuinely believes you are the most fascinating person on the planet. He’s crazy about you. You have no doubt that your happiness is his top priority. He listens when you talk. He honors you in public. To use the old-fashioned term, he ‘cherishes’ you. He’s not afraid to make a decision. He values your opinions. He leads, but he listens. He’s responsible. He’s not argumentative. You have no doubt that he would give his life for you if the need arose. You never worry about him being unfaithful. In fact, to quote an old Flamingos’ song, he only has eyes for you… Would either of you have trouble following a man like that?” (70)

And if you read that, you’re answer was probably no, I wouldn’t. In fact, you probably said, “Where do I find that guy?” Why? Because that sounds like a really amazing guy, a man that is easy to follow because you are confident that they have your best interests at heart. You don’t have to fear it or fight it. “Stand-alone submission is dangerous. But mutual submission? That’s different. A relationship characterized by mutual submission is the best of all possible relationships. It is a relationship worth preparing for. It is a relationship worth waiting for.” (71)

I also thought, as I read Andy’s description, am I a person that ALWAYS listens when other people talk? Do I honor those I love in public and cherish them? Am I responsible and not argumentative? Faithful? I think that the answer to most of these are yes, but there are certainly ways I could grow in order to make these characteristics stronger and more frequently demonstrated. I believe that taking those steps will help me prepare for whatever it is I’m waiting for.

Want more? Check out A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Four)

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A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Two)

First, if you haven’t read Part 1, I suggest you read that first. Chapter 2 is titled, “Commitment is Overrated,” which at first felt like a huge red flag.  How could commitment be overrated? Isn’t commitment a big part of what makes things work? “In the realm of relationships, unlike any other arena of life, we operate from the premise that a promise replaces the need for preparation. That a couple can promise, vow, or commit themselves into a successful future.” (p. 36) This sounds like a pretty ludicrous idea when it’s framed this way by society does this and we have that expectation all the time. It’s like in the episode of Friends when Joey finds out about his father’s infidelity and is fearful that he’ll struggle with fidelity when he’s married.  Chandler reassures him that when he finds the right woman, that won’t be an issue.  But do we really believe that? How often do we see this scenario playing out well? Like Andy Stanley says, “Coaches know that you don’t promise to win games; you prepare to win… Very few people prepare. Most people are content to commit.” (36) He points out that this belief makes people accountable without making them capable, and the end result is misery.

Proverbs 14:15 “The simple believe anything, but the prudent give thought to their steps.” In the context of this book, it’s understanding the value of prudence: that what we choose to do today will impact our tomorrow. You can see the trajectory of many things if you learn to start looking at what has happened in the past. It’s not saying that people don’t change but it is acknowledging that change is a process, and it is recognizable. “Discount the promises but pay attention to the dots, the patterns. Again, the paths people choose trump the commitments they make…The past is a better indicator than a promise.” (40) This might SOUND unforgiving or lacking in grace but it isn’t. It doesn’t DENY that people can change (some of us call that repentance), but what it says it that you know what people are about when you look at what they do.

Consider this when you date someone who has a questionable record relationally, financially, morally, etc. but are promising that things are going to be different in the future. For yourself, recall the biggest, most positive change that you’ve made in your life. Really think about what it took to make that change and identify what the greatest contributor to that positive change was. “…in the end, wasn’t it your decision to act, to engage, to move forward, to move out, that brought about the change you celebrate? …You shook something off. You moved on with your life. You chose a way forward. Others may have cheered you on. But the change came about because of something you did for you.” (42) Now think about your greatest regret that YOU had influence over (not something that happened to you, something that was the result of a decision or decisions that you made). What was the biggest contributor to that regret? “Chances are someone else was involved. Perhaps a group of people. People you liked. People you trusted… You believed that moving in his or her direction would make your life better, richer. But in the end, it wasn’t so.” (41) What does this tell us?

We change when we make the choice to, and if you’re dating someone who leans on others instead of being self-driven, as hard as it might be, that’s where you need to give them the time and space to change. “…no one depends his or her way to change. Change requires fierce in-dependence that should eventually lead to inter-dependence with other healthy people.” (43) If they aren’t there, they won’t get there by you or anyone else being a crutch. Those are people who are not being prudent, who are behaving (according to Proverbs 14:15) as if they are simple. They aren’t thinking about their steps. Maybe you’re one of these people. Life seems to “happen” to you a lot, you don’t necessarily consider the consequences, your yes isn’t your yes. “Commit now to preparing to keep your commitments later. That’s the goal, what you should focus on. If you do, when you say ‘I do,’ you’ll be prepared to follow-through.” (46)

Chapter 3, titled “Becoming the Right Person,” is summed up in this: “Become the right person. Becoming the right person is how you prepare to commit. Becoming the right person dramatically increases your odds of sustained relational success when you finally meet the right person.” (47) My brain didn’t explode the first time I read this a while back, but it may as well have with how eye-opening it was for me. We’ve already established that the right person doesn’t make everything great and that committing without preparing is pretty much guaranteed failure. This calls for some serious introspection, some honest evaluation, to make you ask yourself if you would be attractive to the type of person you’re trying to attract.

“If you are as intentional about becoming the right person as you are about meeting the right person, you will position yourself to bypass a boatload of unnecessary pain, regret and wasted time.” (47-48) This makes complete sense, doesn’t it? But we never really think about it. It’s not the plot of most romantic comedies, because the idea doesn’t come off as funny or particularly romantic on paper. But to me, I find the idea that a man began preparing for marriage before he even met me deeply attractive, and I think that kind of guy might want the same thing from me.

We have to ask the hard questions: “Are you the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If not…are you willing to begin the process of becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for? If you made a list of what you are looking for in someone (which isn’t a bad idea), would that person be looking for someone like you? If the other person’s list matched your list, how would you measure up?” (50) I suggest you read through that paragraph a couple times. Maybe take a break and make a list of what you are looking for and what you bring to the table (both good and bad). Be really honest. This isn’t about shame, guilt or tearing you down. It’s about honest evaluation and being Proverbs prudent: where are you, where do you want to go, what steps are needed to get there? And do we see a hypocrisy in wanting in others what you refuse to develop in yourself? “Bottom line: it’s not enough to look; you must become. You must become intentional about becoming the person the person you’re looking for is looking for.” (51)

You might be feeling like nobody does this, or almost nobody. So why should you? But that reasoning doesn’t really take us anywhere, and the argument made in our becoming is a worthwhile one.  What do we lose in this preparation other than becoming the person we want to be? Plus, as Andy Stanley writes, “If you commit to prepare before your promise, it will dramatically increase your chances of crossing paths with someone who is preparing as well. Why? Because preparing for anything sensitizes you to people who share your passion and direction.” (51) It makes it more likely for you both to not only recognize one another, but to engage with each other over a shared passion.

Think about when you get a new (or new to you) car. You begin to notice the number of times you see someone else with your car on the highway or in a parking lot. Or what about you find a TV show that you then binge-watch on Netflix; don’t you become more aware of the number of fans and references made to that show? “Don’t ever forget: We see what we’re looking for. We see whom we’re looking for as well.” (52) In the book he uses the example of Jenny and Shane meeting through online dating.  Shane, because of his age and success, was a bit of a commodity online. He attracted a lot of women, but they weren’t the kind of women he was looking for. He updated his profile to be more reflective of his morals and values which caught Jenny’s attention but wasn’t enough to hook her. It wasn’t until he spelled out these things in his profile (which he thought would seal his online-dating fate) that Jenny decided to take a chance on him. “Funny thing about Jenny and Shane, they really don’t have much in common on paper. Their common ground, as is so often the case with successful relationships, was more directional than recreational… Their common direction quickly blossomed into mutual affection.” (54-55)

So if you’re spending a lot of time looking, but not a lot of time finding, it’s certainly worthwhile to investigate why. In the story of Denise (not shared here), it was that she wasn’t the person the guy she wanted would want when she shifted from her faith to a life of partying and hooking up. In the story of Shane, it was a matter of clarifying what mattered to him and what direction he was heading. “Someone who is merely looking for the right person usually winds up with someone merely looking for the right person. But people committed to becoming the right people are usually attracted to and notice individuals who are the same.” (55) This leaves us with asking ourselves where we want to end up (and with whom), and determine what steps it will take to arrive there.

Want more? Continue to A Reflection on “Love, Sex and Dating” by Andy Stanley (Part Three)

Sharing: Were You There When They Crucified my Lord?

Warning: The content below contains graphic images. “Were you There” is a notorious hymn sung throughout Christian churches during Holy Week. The lyrics repeat a series of questions, “Were you there when they crucified my Lord? Were you there when they nailed him to the tree? Were you there when they laid him in the […]

via Were You There When They Crucified My Lord? — Daily Theology