About a month ago, I wrote a post called But Being Unequally Yoked Is So Romantic!, and I wish I had know about this Matt Chandler quote at the time. I found it when reading a great blog post by Anna at Daughter By Design on Praying For Your Future Husband. Christian ladies, I hope this quote encourages you as much as it did me!
Prayer has always been a battle for me, an enigmatic pursuit that I often am lazy in pursuing. I confess that I have often avoided prayer simply because articulating my heart before the unseen Creator seemed so elusive and vast. Vague words would waddle around in distracted circles, coming out more like a laundry list of complaints and centerless generalizations:
“God, please help so and so.”
“Lord, thank you for who you are.”
It is not that these types of prayers are somehow wrong; it is not as if God judges based on the articulateness of our words. But I had become lazy in the pursuit of communing with God. Instead of running first to Him with a broken heart or overwhelming anxiety or even blossoming joy, I would first run to my friends, to my family, overwhelming them with problems and dilemmas that were meant for Him to carry. In the center of this “praying” to humans around me festered the core of unbelief. Unbelief in the freeing, peace-bringing power of exposing the heart to the One who created it. And because of this perpetual unbelief, I had become complacent in repeating half-hearted Christianese collocations, and I knew that I needed to rise from this lethargic daze and trade passiveness for activeness. To begin believing that opening up to the Creator and laying all on him would infuse joy and purpose and precise perspective into my life.
But where was I to begin? How was I to break myself from these shallow and vague habitual mutterings? For me, the answer lay in discovering a little red book filled with recorded prayers of Christians throughout the centuries.
I grew up in a very non-liturgical tradition, and although liturgy was never outright condemned, there was always the sense that to repeat or memorize prayers from a book was somehow inauthentic and mechanical, the harbinger of legalism. And for this reason, I think I always felt that I had to “make up my own prayers” in order for them to be genuine.
But as I began to read this little red book filled with prayers, I began to realize how small this view of prayer was. One of the joys of reading for me has always been when the author has articulated something in my heart that I could never put into words. In the same way, I found myself savoring the words of Christians before me because they articulated precisely and powerfully the heart I want to have and the heart I know that God desires for his children to have. The following prayer by Thomas Aquinas has given focus to my prayers and I am so thankful that I can learn from the heart and examples of Christ-followers before me.
“Grant me, I beseech Thee, Almighty and most merciful God, fervently to desire, wisely to search out, and perfectly to fulfill, all that is well-pleasing unto Thee. Order Thou my worldly condition to the glory of Thy name; and, of all Thou requirest me to do, grant me the knowledge, the desire, and the ability, that I may fulfill it as I ought, and may my path to Thee, I pray, be safe, straightforward, and perfect to the end.
Give me, O Lord, a steadfast heart, which no unworthy affection may drag downwards;
give me an unconquered heart, which no tribulation can wear out;
give me an upright heart, which no unworthy purpose may tempt aside.
Bestow upon me also, O Lord my God, understanding to know Thee, diligence to seek Thee, wisdom to find Thee, and a faithfulness that may finally embrace Thee. Amen.”
If you have grown up in Christian circles, you are probably familiar with the term “unequally yoked.” This phrase comes from 2 Corinthians 6:14-16, which states:
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and Belial? Or what does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols? For we are the temple of the living God.”
Growing up, I heard these verses over and over concerning romantic relationships, and they made complete logical sense. I mean, if my purpose in life is to know, glorify and serve Jesus, then why would I want to unite myself with a man who spits on the cross with his life, who scoffs at getting “too radical” over faith in Christ? At my heart of hearts, I want to marry a man whose life is Christ and who will be a spiritual leader to me and my family. Yet despite my desire to only find my heart drawn to men who are passionate about the gospel and becoming like Christ, I have been deceived.
Like Eve in the garden, I have become convinced that the forbidden is the best, and that only outside of the boundaries will I find identity and fulfillment. And like all the best deceptions, this lie has come to me through an insidious guise of light. This lie has not come through reading books like 50 Shades of Grey, not through watching X-rated films, but through a steady I.V. of (gasp!) Christian fiction and heartwarming PG movies.
I am convinced that these purportedly innocuous mediums have served to distort my view of relationships, and this post is an attempt to work through the lies that I have believed, that I have seen many Christian women believe and that I want to be free from.
Go to the Christian fiction section at your local book store, look on the back of books marketed to women, and you will find something like this: “Katie Anderson is working tirelessly to start a nonprofit that is sure to save all the orphans in Africa, that is, until the devastatingly handsome Byron Blakely comes on the scene. Byron is all Katie has ever wanted in a man, but alas! He is not a Christian. Join Katie as she struggles against her feelings for Byron but ultimately draws him to her with her sexy innocence and the book ends with not only a wedding, but a baptism!”
The books are usually not that bald-faced, but insidiousness is defined by subtlety. The narrative of the moral, upstanding young Christian woman turning the non-believer from his ways has become a poison that is a part of many young Christian women’s diets.
I was first fed this lie through one of my favorite movies, A Walk to Remember. For those of you who haven’t seen it, it is about the rebellious, disturbed Landon who unexpectedly falls in love with Jamie, a guileless, understatedly pretty Christian girl who captivates him by her purity. Ultimately, she changes him for the better and they get married.
The second example comes from my favorite series, The Mark of the Lion by Francine Rivers. In this series, Hadassah, a plain, faithful Christian girl falls in love with Marcus, a Roman aristocrat, who on the outside, is the epitome of worldly success. Marcus is strangely drawn to Hadassah and confides his inner struggles to the pure-hearted girl. Soon, he finds himself captivated by her faith and way of life. Hadassah fights her feelings for him, but we all know where this is going. Eventually, Marcus is won over, becomes a Christian, and they live happily ever after. She just has to wait it out. This is only one of many examples in Christian fiction where this happens.
I have fallen for the romanticization of the Christian woman-heathen male narrative, and I believe that at the root of this is the sin of pride. In my own life, I have seen myself fall for the lie again and again because of the following three manifestations of pride:
- He Makes Us Feel Special: After seeing A Walk to Remember, I wanted to be Jamie. After reading The Mark of the Lion, I wanted to be Hadassah. Why? Because they were chosen, they were special. They were chosen by a man who could have anyone, but something special about them made them uniquely attractive. The danger in this mindset is that it encourages women to use innocence and morality as twisted seduction tools. Many non-believing men do find the innocence and sincerity of Christian women to be a breath of fresh air after living in a different scene for so long. Every girl I know wants to feel like she is special, beautiful, and often, the non-believer fulfills these desires in her.
- We Want to Fix Him: This is the most audacious manifestation of pride. So many women fall into the trap of wanting to fix men in their lives, thinking that they can become the Holy Spirit in a man’s life. What is a noble desire can turn into a twisted vying to attain a godlike status in the man’s life: the hope that I will be the one to reform him, I will be the one he will forever be grateful to, I will be special, I, I, I! My personality type is especially prone to this savior complex. According to my Myers Briggs Type (I am an ISFJ), my type is especially prone to getting into relationships with alcoholics because they want to save or change them. I cringed when I read this description, because I see this distortion of a noble desire constantly play out in my life. In my prideful desire to be “special,” and a “savior,” I am tempted to compromise my convictions and to try to usurp the Holy Spirit from His rightful place (yikes!).
- We Romanticize Danger: The dangerous, troubled man who needs a woman to fix him is romanticized in our society. Taylor Swift’s song “Trouble,” shows how this narrative of the attractiveness of the troubled, noncommittal wanderer permeates our society. Lines like “I knew you were trouble when you walked in,” and “I guess you didn’t care, and I guess I liked that,” seem to indicate that American girls, including the Christian ones, are masochists at heart. And I will admit, that for some reason, I love the taste of these words on my lips. Somehow this “trouble” is fuller of life than a stable relationship. What’s more is that the unequally yoked narrative seems even more attractive because of polarized stereotypes of Christian men versus non-Christian men. Sadly, Christian men are often painted as boring, legalistic, too domineering or too passive. On the other hand, non-believers are painted as full of adventure, drama, excitement and confidence. These broad generalizations are easy for women to latch onto if they are (ahem) 22 and are getting a little bit impatient. It is easy to become bitter at “Christian men” as a whole when you are having a pity-party for your yet-un-kissed lips.
Isaiah 44:20 sums up this struggle to grasp the insidiousness of the lies that I have believed in its depiction of Israel’s idolatry:
“Such a person feeds on ashes; a deluded heart misleads him; he cannot save himself, or say, “Is not this thing in my right hand a lie?”
So this post is above all, really a challenge to myself.
A challenge to resist the lies that I have swallowed again and again about the unequally yoked narrative.
A challenge to stare my pride in the face, no matter how painful it is, and surrender it to Jesus.
And finally, a challenge to trust, really trust, that if He wills it, God will unite me with a man who loves Jesus with all his heart.
I need accountability in this. I need encouragement. Because I am weak, I am impatient, and I am full of pride. But with Christ’s help, these lies can be overcome.
So the next time someone walks in and I know that he’s trouble, may I bite my lip, spit out the lie, and get out of there as fast as I can.
And if I don’t, please slap me in the face. Hard.
This piece was published in the spring 2013 issue of the Vox Populi, a publication of Gordon College.