| Undressed |
By Jason Illian
Genre: Business & Money
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Somewhere along the way-probably between thinking that the mullet was sexy and that plaid was the new black-we began to believe that it was impossible to have a godly relationship in the Bachelor-watching, Gap-shopping, MTV-styling world. We began to believe that dating was just a training ground for divorce.We had to have either a satisfying relationship with Christ or a romantic relationship with a significant other. But we couldn't have both. It was an either/or dilemma. Watch either The Oprah Winfrey Show or The 700 Club. Read either Cosmo or the Bible. Conform to either the "kiss-datingand- the-hope-of-a-normal-relationship-good-bye" view or the "satisfy-yourself-and-to-hell-with-everyone-else" view. There was no middle ground.
But that just doesn't seem to make sense. Why would a good, compassionate, and faithful God instill such a strong sense of romantic love in our hearts but not give us an outlet to express it? Many of us feel the need to have an intimate relationship with our Lord and Savior and a romantic relationship with a significant other. Like a banjo in an orchestra, the either/or concept just doesn't sound right.
The reason it doesn't sound right is because it isn't right. It is wrong. And I don't mean kind of wrong. I mean pinkspandex, 140-decibal Marilyn Manson wrong! Our God isn't an either/or God. He is a God of both/and. He desires for you to have an intimate relationship with Him and a romantic relationship with another.Your heart was not designed to love God one way and your partner another. They are not mutually exclusive, but instead, divinely complementary. Romantic love is built on the precepts of God's unconditional love. You can be madly in love with another because you are madly loved by God. You can have both. In fact, Christ exemplified the strength of His both/and power by being all God and all human at the same time.
It's not that all of our relationships up to this point have been wrong; they just haven't necessarily been right.We have a foundation, but it is just a little shaky right now. Sex is not a basic human need like food, water, and shelter-I've seen a person die of malnutrition, but I've never seen a person keel over in the middle of the street because of his lack of sex.Communication is not the most difficult part of a relationship- the most difficult part is learning to forgive and forget when communication breaks down. Dating is not a training ground for divorce-it is an integral and important part of any healthy relationship. Successful couples never stop dating, even fifty years into marriage.
The problem is that in many Christian circles we've made dating one of the seven deadly sins. The Bible doesn't talk about dating, we argue.Well, it doesn't specifically talk about the automobile either, but you don't see people trudging their way to work on foot in the morning. Dating is about relating to other people.When you learn to relate, you learn to love. And when you learn to love others, you put yourself in a position to be loved by others. Dating is the training ground for loving, and when it is based on Christ-centered principles, you develop a fantastic, satisfying, and (dare I say it?) sexually fulfilling relationship that glorifies God.
There are fundamental truths that are evident throughout Scripture that help us navigate the rugged terrain of romance. We just need to know how to read the roadmap. But in order to go forward, you have to be willing to change how you think about relationships. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results, yet we continue to date in the same unproductive ways.1 You have to be open and honest in assessing who you are and what you desire if you wish to experience a love that is unconditional. There are many ways to fill a life, but there are relatively few ways to fulfill it.
Feelin' a Little Dissed
It doesn't matter whether you are a Christian, Buddhist, Hindu, or atheist.We all want to love and be loved. But in a world where we don't know whether we are dating, wooing, courting, hanging out, flirting, sharing, living together, or just having sex, the lines blur awfully quickly.We're like a zipper on an overpacked suitcase-fighting to hold everything together and praying that our hearts don't just burst open.
If you have surfed the covers of Playboy and Cosmo, taken every personality and compatibility test written in English (and some that weren't), and sat in enough smoky bars to be mistaken for furniture, I can relate. Whether you are from New York or Knobnoster, Milwaukee or Miami, Denver or Dallas, I think it is fair to say that we've been "dissed" when it comes to finding love. There has been disappointment and disillusionment.We feel distance and disbelief.We are discouraged and dissatisfied. Our hearts have been utterly dismantled. We have been fooled into playing a game of musical chairs where the music is Jaws and the chairs are already full.
But it doesn't have to be like that.Whether you are liked, loved, or lonely, you can find a passion so soaring, so apparently transcendent that it will whisk you into love's warm embrace. If you are anything like myself-and I fear that many of you are-the love that you have experienced up to this point in your life has been prepackaged, precut, marketed, illuminated, boxed, and sold by the company with the highest budget or made by the company with the lowest bid. Great if you are trying to make a movie, but terrible if you are trying to make a life.
The love that I speak of is a "re" love. It wants you to return to the time when your heart was tender and your thoughts were pure. It wants to restore the dreams of Prince Charmings, sale-priced stilettos, fat-free chocolate bars, daily spa treatments, and engagement rings the size of large foreign fruit. It wants to renew your faith in a love that will last forever . . . instead of just through the first date. It wants you to receive all the things you've ever wanted but never had. This kind of love will take you back to the land of milk and honey as opposed to the land of "Remember to pick up the milk, honey!"
But in order to go there, you have to be willing to date and love differently. Our reckless whatever-works-for-me, whatever- I-can-get-out-of-this, whatever-gets-me-a-little-action approach has to stop right now.We have to stop believing that our friends have all the answers and that God has none. If you are not willing to believe that God is love-not that God has love, or gives love, but is love-then don't bother reading on. Just take this book, prop it under the wobbly leg of your bed, and go back to doing business the old way.
Seth chose to do business the old way. I first met Seth about seven years ago in college. At the time, he was caught in the destructive cycle of sleeping with a different girl whenever the urge arose. Handsome and articulate, Seth was a catch by almost any girl's standards. But he was unhappy. Like most of us, he desired intimacy but he was foolishly substituting it with sex. When we talked about God's design for love and romance, he was curious and receptive, but it was obvious that he wasn't about to step out in faith and exercise a little self-discipline. Ironically, I ran into Seth again a couple months ago, and you know what? He is still miserable. He has a great job and a nice home, but what he truly desires-the heart of a godly woman-seems like a distant dream. Even though his dating strategy has failed time and time again, he still wants to do things his way.
Do you really think that God would tell us about a joy that encompasses all sorrows and a prayer that can move mountains, but when it comes to talking about love and romance, He would remain completely silent? Do you think He has just tossed sex into our laps like a hand grenade and said, "Fiddle with it a little while; you'll figure it out"?
If the Creator of the Universe is concerned with every hair on your head-which for some aging singles doesn't give God too much to worry about-I would argue that He is more than concerned with your personal and romantic relationships.We often forget that Christianity isn't just a religion. It isn't just a set of rules or a list of dos and don'ts. It is a deep, intimate, personal relationship with our Lord and Savior.Who better to ask about relationships than the One who not only created them but also cultivates and nurtures them to this day?
It's Not about You
If you gain nothing from this book other than discovering that it makes a really nice coaster, please meditate on this fundamental truth-your personal relationship is not about you! The New York Times bestseller Men Are from Mars,Women Are from Venus has sold over 14 million copies worldwide, and do you know what it says on the cover? "A Practical Guide for Improving Communication and Getting What You Want in Your Relationships." There aren't many guarantees in life, but I can promise that if your focus is on what you can get out of a relationship, you are doomed to failure. Countless couples have taken this approach, and do you know what the outcome has been? Twenty-five percent of marriages end within the first five years, and thirty-three percent end within the first ten years. While there are a number of useful strategies and insights in John Gray's book, the premise is absolutely, completely, one hundred percent wrong. A successful relationship isn't about you.
Of course, the thought that we can get what we want out of a relationship is pretty tempting and that is why most of us buy into it. But "self " is the mortal enemy of love. Selfsatisfaction, self-gratification, and self-indulgence all lead to one undeniable outcome-self-destruction. Christ came into the world not to be served, but to serve; not to accept sacri- fices, but to sacrifice Himself; not to fulfill His desires, but to fulfill others'.
Think about it. When we focus on ourselves, we worry about what we can get from a relationship. But love is about giving, not taking. If you build a relationship on the premise of taking, you will literally suck the life out of your partner. You'll become a relationship leech, a parasite. And parasites cannot live on their own. They have to continue jumping from host to host to fulfill their bottomless appetite for more. If you want to help yourself, don't focus on yourself. C. S.
Lewis once wrote, "The first demand any work of art makes upon us is surrender. Look. Listen. Receive. Get yourself out of the way." If you truly and wholeheartedly want a soul mate, you are going to have to abandon the idea that the world revolves around you.Have you noticed that the only common element in every single one of your failed relationships is you? Surrender. Get yourself out of the way. Let God do what He does best.
If you would rather be stripped naked, dipped in honey, and cut loose on a bear reserve than go back to dating the way the rest of the world dates, you have probably fallen victim to a number of very selfish relationships. Most of us have. Mandy was a victim-she had the terrible habit of attracting those guys who emptied out not only her heart but also her bank account. Josh was a victim, too-unconsciously, he dated women who were emotionally insecure in hopes that he could help "save them." Each of them was dating people who focused solely on their own personal gratification, a recipe for heartache. Fortunately, this is not a fatal disease if we can recognize and treat it early.
The problem is that when we focus on ourselves, we can't possibly want what is best for someone else. We may want what is best for them as long as it aligns with our own personal happiness, but we won't want what is best for them if it conflicts with our desires. This isn't love-this is self-interest masquerading as mutual edification. Love is defined by wanting God's best for someone else regardless of what that means to you. Love is about "us" as a people, not "you" as a person.
Christ exemplified this love when He pushed aside His own personal desires and safety and died on the cross for us. If you want a heavenly relationship, you have to be eternally minded-you can't rely on common sense alone. Common sense will give you common results. Heavenly logic is selfless. If you want to receive, give; if you want to lead, serve; if you want to stand tall, kneel down; if you want to be loved, love.
This isn't a ten-step get-better program, a personal improvement plan, or a self-help book-this is a God-help book.When you finally to come to the end of yourself, God will help.
The Fun Nazi
One of the primary reasons many of us don't pursue a deeper personal relationship with Jesus Christ is because we believe it conflicts with our heartfelt desire to be part of an exciting, intimately involved romantic relationship.We perceive Christianity to be a list of rights and wrongs, dos and don'ts, cans and can'ts, haves and have nots, especially when it comes to relationships.And let's be honest, nobody likes rules. We thoroughly enjoy our freedom, and we like having choices. Even Burger King caters to our desire to have freedom and express our individuality. Their motto is "Have It Your Way." If rules were popular, we wouldn't need police officers, detention, the FDA, or referees.
In one of the most infamous Seinfeld episodes of all time, "The Soup Nazi," Jerry and his ragamuffin group of friends were faced with the dilemma of whether or not to play by the rules. They craved the most delicious soup in New York, but in order to savor the succulent mulligatawny, they had to stand a certain way, walk a certain way, talk a certain way, and pay a certain way, or the cook-the one they secretly referred to as "The Soup Nazi"-would snatch the soup out of their eager hands and yell, "No soup for you!" Conform or walk away empty-handed!
Unfortunately, that is how a lot of us perceive God. We incorrectly assume that in order to obtain salvation and to enjoy the abundant life-to get "the soup"-we have to stand a certain way, walk a certain way, and talk a certain way or God will snatch the abundant life out of our hands and scream,"No fun for you!" Instead of envisioning Him as a loving father figure who wants to help guide us through the forest of life, we see Him as the Fun Nazi, the dastardly disciplinarian whose only goal is to keep us in line and stop us from living the life we've always dreamed of.
But Jesus didn't teach that. In fact, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus preached just the opposite. In a speech called the Beatitudes-maybe, we should think of it as the "Be Attitudes"-Jesus taught us what it meant to be blessed. Being "blessed" means more than being happy. To be blessed is to experience abundant hope and joy, independent of outward circumstances. To be blessed is to experience happiness at the deepest level, a place where the heart and soul smile.
Jesus didn't say, "If you want to experience the kingdom of heaven, no kissing for you! If you want to be comforted, no snuggling for you! If you want to inherit the earth, no dating for you!" Jesus didn't say these things because God isn't the Fun Nazi. Despite popular opinion-and may I remind you that popular opinion encouraged William Hung to cut a solo album-God isn't in the business of squelching your passions. He is in the business of fulfilling them. He wants us to embrace our individuality and chase after the dreams He has etched on our souls.
But because we've taken the amazing freedom God has bestowed upon us and reduced it to a list of irrelevant, unbiblical rules, we, as Christians, have made Him out to be the Fun Nazi. Because we haven't thoroughly understood and embraced His mercy and grace, we have established unreachable standards in our personal relationships that none of us can fulfill.And it has left us disappointed and ashamed.
There is a difference between Christianity and Churchianity, and when it comes to relationships, we've been guilty of the latter. Rigid rules such as "don't date," "hang out in groups," "avoid physical contact," and "don't be romantic" are standards that have been taken to the extreme. And either extreme, whether it is too liberal or too conservative, can destroy a relationship. As the apostle Paul wrote to the church at Colossae, "Such regulations have the appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence." All these rules sound impressive, but they don't make you holy. They leave you hollow. And that is not how God designed it. Our God is a God of freedom, and He wants nothing more than to set your heart free so that love can pour into every aspect of your life.
Fenced In and Set Free
When I was ten years old, I had a friend who lived in the country. I always enjoyed going to see him because he had an enormous backyard where we could play any game imaginable. Surrounding the yard, there was a tall, sturdy wood fence that his dad had built. Even though we had all the space we could possibly need, we still thought it was unfair that there was a fence keeping us in.
A couple of years ago, I traveled home to see my friend. As we stood in the same backyard, we joked and laughed about growing up together and all the games we used to play as kids. Because we were adults (translation: older, but certainly not more mature), we decided to venture out of the backyard.You know what we found? Wolves, snakes, and big honkin' spiders! (I hate spiders.) As we rushed back to the house like a couple of frightened little girls, we both began to realize something- the fence wasn't there to keep us in; the fence was there to keep all the terrible things out.
Our Father in heaven has built a fence for us. The fence is tall and sturdy, and He has given us plenty of room to date, build relationships, and discover our passions.He hasn't locked us in a cage or tethered us to a pole to keep our romantic interests in check. In His wisdom and mercy, He allows us to explore our feelings. The fence is for our safety and protection. It is the heavenly framework within which love ought to reside and flourish. Inside of God's perfect boundaries we have the individual freedom to explore the intricacies of romance. He is not trying to keep us in-He is just trying to keep all the terrible things out.
We've been all wrong about this God thing.Not only does He want us to fall in love-He wants us to experience a completely fulfilling, blushingly unpredictable, emotionally empowering, and recklessly romantic love that is guided not by laws, but by the Lord. By doing things our way, we haven't set ourselves free.We've limited the width and depth of love by what we think is possible. The God who is love and who created the heavens and the earth has a far greater imagination of what love can be than we do. And it certainly doesn't involve onenight stands, unreturned phone calls, broken promises, and shattered hearts.
Do you know why couples often long to be alone? Because when everything else is silent, they can finally enjoy intimacy with one another. But it doesn't happen until the surrounding environment is completely tranquil.Many of us have experienced a long silence in our single lives. Some of us have embraced it; many of us have endured it. For years and years, we have been alone with God and all we can hear is the quiet beating of our aching hearts.We've been listening intently for His voice, hoping that the silence would bring answers. Ironically, the silence is the answer. It is full of meaning and purpose. God created this silent moment to cultivate intimacy with us.He is preparing us for a love that is about to come.
Love isn't about undressing our bodies-it is about undressing our hearts.We have to strip off the layers of expectations, preconceived notions, and fears to experience a passion that will truly move us.When we do, God is free to clothe us with a love that warms our souls and our hearts.
Excerpted from Undressed , by Jason Illian . Copyright (c) 2006 by Jason Illian . Reprinted by permission of Little, Brown and Company, New York, NY. All rights reserved.Back to top