It’s Impossible I Tell You!

I have a superman complex. Especially when it comes to romantic relationships. Show me a young, broken, hurting woman who is not ready or willing to commit to a serious relationship and I’ll pursue her for all I’m worth, convinced that I can heal her wounds and we’ll live happily ever after. So far this hasn’t worked well for me, but I think it’s symptomatic of a more significant problem both in me and in American culture as a whole.

As a culture we push for the impossible. This is evident in our entertainment media, in our heroes, in our attitudes, and in the things that we pursue. As a culture we strongly emphasize pursing and doing things that should be impossible. I’ve talked a lot about doing hard things, and I think that it is important to do the things that are hard. The things that challenge us, stretch us, and push us are also the things that grow us as individuals and as a community. It is important to challenge ourselves, to push ourselves, and to set goals the require us to rely on God and on others. That being said, it is equally important to set goals that are realistically achievable.

Actually, one of the foundational keys to success is to set achievable goals, and this is something that we aren’t often encouraged to do. American media and culture encourages us to ‘reach for the stars’, ‘believe in the impossible’, and ‘trust that we can be whatever we want’. However, this has led to a patent and pervasive denial of realism. A few days ago I spoke with a friend of mine who is currently frustrated with waiting for her boyfriend to be ready to commit. I challenged her to set a realistic goal concerning how long she would wait, and her response was ‘I’ll wait for him forever’. While this certainly sounds romantic, it never actually works. We hear stories about the few people who can do something like this, who wait for their beloved for 10, 12, 15, or 20 years. I once knew a man who pursued his ex-wife (who had left him) for sixteen years before finally winning her back. I have to admit that there is a part of me that wishes I could do that, but I can’t. I’ve tried. I can last a few months, maybe a year… but my record is two years before finally giving up.

The attitude that ‘I can do anything’ is clearly and utterly ridiculous. For instance, as an extreme example, I can’t walk out the door of my favorite coffee shop and fly away. I am limited by my physical capabilities. I will also never be an astronaut. I am not mathematically minded enough nor committed enough to truly succeed in this career. Thankfully, I’ve never particularly wanted to be an astronaut. However, the principle is sound. We are all limited by our physical, intellectual, emotional, and psychological abilities, and while it is important to expand those abilities, it is equally important to set goals that are achievable within those abilities. Through hard work, determination, and commitment I can successively set grander and more difficult goals. However, those successive goals must be representative of my expanding abilities (i.e. they must remain achievable).

All to often the attitude I see in myself, and in others, is that I can do anything without effort. I set grand goals for myself (like healing a broken heart or waiting for years for someone) that are not even remotely achievable within my current capabilities. Often I see the same in my students. I can’t count the number of students who have declared to me, in grammatically atrocious (barely understandable) English, that they are going to get a Ph.D. in whatever their chosen field may be. Some are willing to do the word it takes to improve their writing and thinking abilities, but many are not, and this makes their goal clearly unattainable. Doing hard things doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, effort, commitment, and a willingness to suffer in order to obtain even minor steps towards our overall goals. The impossible isn’t easy, and it shouldn’t be easy. It it was, then it wouldn’t be impossible.

Desiring Singleness Part 2

I had a comment today that I’m fairly sure was intended to be encouraging, and it generally was, but I also think that the commenter did not entirely understand what I was trying to say. This may be because I did not effectively clarify my meaning, or it may be that the commenter was not sufficiently careful or thorough in his reading. It is also possible that the post that was commented upon assumed that other posts had been read, which the commenter had not read. I do this fairly often, mostly because this blog is my own record of my thoughts, feelings, fears, desires, frustrations, and intentions, and so I assume that my own knowledge of myself will be sufficient in reading these posts. However, that isn’t always going to be the case.

When I talk about ‘desiring singleness’ I do not mean that God would have me pursuing someone and I would rather that he would have me be single, nor do I mean I want to want to be single, regardless of what God has for me, nor do I mean that I have given up on finding someone, even though I believe that God would have me find someone. What I mean is that, at the moment, God has me single and he has made clear that he wants me to remain that way for a time. What I want is not to ‘desire to be single’ as opposed to ‘desiring a committed relationship’, but instead to be content with where God has me, whether that is singleness or marriage. This is what I am struggling with at the moment, and what God is working on in me. I am seeking to be satisfied in him, and that is not easy because it means giving him my wants and desires, putting his intents above my own.

There are theologians who will argue that anything we enjoy is sin. This argument is much less common now than it was a hundred years ago, but it still exists. However, I don’t put much stock in this argument. However, the opposing argument, that everything we desire is clearly God’s will for us, also has little justification in scripture. God’s will and our desires are sometimes the same, but this does not mean that they are always the same. Sometimes what God has for ¬†us is exactly what we desire. Sometimes, God gives us our desires, but only once we learn to desire him more. Sometimes, God works in us to change our desires and teach us what he intends for us to desire.

I think that I am currently in the second place (not entirely sure), and so I am currently seeking to be content with and in God, instead of insisting that my desire is paramount. If and when God chooses to bring someone into my life, then it will be because that person will draw me closer to him, and because I will draw that person closer to him. A mutual seeking after God, and a mutual encouragement towards God is important in any relationship. This is what is means to sharpen one another, and this is what husbands and wives should do.

There was also another point in the comment that I want to address, because it is a very common mistake in the Christian community. The commenter made the comment that our primary purpose as Christians is to make disciples. This is based on the ‘Great Commission’ most commonly argued from Matthew 28.

Let me first say that making disciples is one of the most important tasks that we as Christians have, and it is one that I take seriously. I am always happy to share my faith with anyone who wants to hear, and I make a practice of discipling those who are seeking a strong relationship with God, who are struggling with their faith, or are seeking to understand themselves. However, as with my post on the cross, this is an area of the faith that we tend to exaggerate for our own benefit. Our purpose here is to please God. As with the cross, we often confuse the means with the purpose. We are here to please and to glorify the Godhead, and making disciples is one of the primary means by which we do this. However, the same question can be asked here as of the cross, if sharing my witness with someone did not, for some reason, glorify God, then should I do it?

Of course not. Unlike my post with the cross, this has a practical example. A few years ago I ran into a man who believed that his purpose in life was to witness to Satan. He argued, contrary to scripture, that Christ’s death clearly covered the sins of Lucifer as well, and thus that if he could convince Lucifer to repent then Lucifer could be saved. However, clearly Lucifer is the enemy of God, and nowhere in scripture are we given the barest inkling that he is even capable of repenting. Thus, witnessing to Lucifer does nothing to glorify God, and hence it is not something that could be considered a part of the Christian purpose.

In and of itself, this example shows that our purpose is not simply to make disciples (or witnessing to Lucifer would be a part of the plan). However, as I said above, making disciples (and we should not separate evangelism and discipleship) is the primary means by which we achieve our central purpose, which is to glorify the Godhead. As with my post on the cross, confusing the purpose and the means can have important consequences (such as spending your life trying to witness to Lucifer).