Every so often we do this around here at Everyone’s Entitled to Joe’s Opinion: Pick a topic and talk about it for several posts until we’ve beaten it to death and there’s nothing more to say about it.
If you haven’t guessed, we’re in the midst of a series about love. You can click the links above to catch up on all the past installments, which are there for free and will be there for ever and ever or at least as long as there’s an internet.
If you are at all familiar with the sort of blogs where I hang out regularly, then you may have heard the term “post-evangelical wilderness”. For me, this “post-evangelical wilderness” is reality; it is where I have lived for the better part of the previous decade.
As the proud husband of an amazing imaginary wife and proud father of 2.6 amazing imaginary kids (which is to say: a single person), love is one area in which this post-evangelical thing becomes real for me. So in these posts I am turning a critical eye toward much of what evangelicalism says concerning love, sex, and dating.
Today we are going to talk about the phrase “Guard your heart”. This is the idea, which has been around evangelicalism for the better part of the past decade at least and which is still strongly present in those corners of evangelicalism where the purity culture/courtship movement holds sway, that one must save oneself for marriage–not just sexually but emotionally as well. Josh Harris leads off his blockbuster book “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” with a memorable illustration in which a groom is standing at the altar awaiting his bride, who comes up the aisle followed by a long line of men. Who are these men? We learn that these are all the men the bride dated prior to her marriage to this groom. Each of them holds a piece of her heart; she gave each of them a piece of her heart during the course of her relationship with them. Now the groom can’t have all of her, as he ought, because her heart is divided among so many prior lovers.
The moral is clear: You don’t want this to be you on your wedding day. So guard your heart. Don’t give it away to anyone–don’t feel anything for anyone–until and unless you are certain this is the person you intend to marry.
At this point let me warn you: You might want to sit down and buckle up before you continue reading any further. Because it’s about to get real.
But before we get to that, let me direct your attention to a piece by Charles Featherstone which will guide our thinking in the direction I wish to go in this final installment. In a post entitled “The Tyranny of Choice“, Featherstone leads off with quotes from essayist Polina Aronson at Aeon magazine which contrast American and Russian approaches to romance and relationships. Aronson describes a “regime of choice” which is the American way of doing romance and relationships, in which a savvy, sovereign chooser approaches it by understanding himself/herself, putting in all the work to gain such understanding, whether through counseling, reading self-help books, learning “love languages”, taking personality tests, etc. She contrasts this with the “regime of fate” which is prevalent in her native Russia, in which people are frequently carried away by their passions and this results in all sorts of mayhem and destruction in family life. Featherstone sees in this contrast some penetrating truths about the nature of modernity which transcend the subject of romantic coupling:
Modernity promises an end to pain and suffering, and in doing so, tells us that pain and suffering have no meaning except as things to be overcome. Passion and emotion have no value except as things to be mastered and eventually suppressed. Life will be plotted out carefully, deliberately, and properly, so that all of the right choices will be made and minimal suffering experienced or inflicted. Because, as Aronson notes, the modern autonomous individual (she uses the term “psychological man”) is “a romantic technocrat who believes that the application of the right tools at the right time can straighten out the tangled nature of our emotions.”
…The ideal emotional technocrat Aronson describes here doesn’t just control how he or she reacts to emotions, but has learned how to feel the right kinds of things. It is the ultimate triumph of ideology and technology over humanity.
And I hate it. It isn’t human. At least it doesn’t seem human to me.
If you suspected during this series that there must be a reason for me to be talking about love right now, that there must be something going on in my life that is prompting this, well you would be right. You see, there is a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world.
Alas, there *was* a beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world. Turns out she has a boyfriend.
This is the story of my life. The other guy always gets the girl, while I get to go home to my imaginary wife and 2.6 imaginary kids.
I’m happy for him, this other guy, that his prayers are being answered. That the Lord has seen fit to bless him with the love of his life.
With apologies to Ed Sheeran, people fall in love in mysterious ways. It is all part of a plan, and the Lord has cut me completely and totally out of it.
Yes it hurts like hell. Yes my heart is breaking. And yes it makes my heart sick that even after all these years nothing has changed, it’s still the same old story where the other guy always gets the girl and I get to go home to my imaginary wife and 2.6 imaginary kids.
And yes I could have saved myself all of this if I had properly guarded my heart.
But life is messy. Relationships are messy. It’s the price we pay for being human.
We don’t know anything for certain, except that we’re all going to die someday. You meet that pretty young woman or that guy who’s so tall and handsome as hell and you fall head over heels in love. Your heart runs away with exultation at the thought that today could be the day she (or he) says “YES!!!!! I’M YOURS, TAKE ME AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!!” But you have no idea what it would be like to actually be in a relationship with this other person, if you get that opportunity. You may find yourself at an altar saying “I do”, if it ever gets to that point. Great. Now you get to find out and to work out what it means to be committed to this one person for better or for worse, for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do you part.
Western culture and its “regime of choice” have imposed way too much predictability and control upon parts of the human experience that, by their very nature, are messy, unpredictable, and uncontrollable. And American evangelicalism has bought into all the lies of Enlightenment-influenced Western culture that all the chaos and messiness of human experience can be rationalized and systematized away. We believe that if we just apply the right principles (which are all right there in the Bible for anyone to read and learn), then it will all be happy ever after.
It’s a lie, people. The Josh Duggar story this summer should have disabused you of any such notions.
I could have “guarded my heart” and saved myself all of this. I would have also missed out on all the exuberance of the last few months, of having this beautiful young woman on the horizon of my world and knowing that any day could be the day she says “YES!!!!! I’M YOURS, TAKE ME AWAY!!!!!!!!!!!”–something I had not felt for years prior to this.
This is normal human experience. Being in love, and all the feelings that go along with it, good and bad, are all part and parcel of normal human experience. I refuse to believe in a God who demands that we sacrifice our humanity as the price to be paid for our sanctification.
Don’t buy the lie of Western culture or of American evangelicalism, which has bought into all the lies of Western culture, that everything must be neatly planned out, all angles examined and well considered, that we must choose wisely (or be judged harshly for failing to do so), before we dare to make commitments or enter into relationships. It’s a lie, people. It’s the opposite of what it means to be human.
Relationships are messy. Life is messy. We love, we make commitments, we enter into relationships not having a clue how it will all end up. It’s the price we pay for being human. And there is no John Piper sermon or Josh Harris book that can change that.