The personal ad in the Atlanta Journal garnered a high level of interest as it ran:
Over 15,000 men responded and found themselves talking to the local Humane Society about an eight-week old black Labrador retriever.
There you have it. Talk about love, romance, and sexuality and you have people’s attention!
If I was to give people a choice between preaching on dating, love, and marriage or exegeting from the Book of Micah, guess what wins?
There is a keenly high interest level regarding the things of the heart, even in the context of a committed Christ-follower. Over the years, I’ve done Q&A sessions with our young people. On those occasions I’m not there to preach a sermon, but to create a time where they can feel free to ask me about anything concerning life, ministry, discipleship, or other topics.
It’s always amazing that one of the things they want to know about is how I met my wife,
what our relationship was like, how I knew that she was the one, and so forth. We are most definitely talking about a very spiritual topic, one critical to everyone’s future. Like so many things, sin has tainted and left its mark on God-given realities intended for our good and His glory. Even God’s declaration, “It is not good that the man should be alone; I will make him a helper suitable for him,” has not gone unscathed.
J.R.R. Tolkien, along with being a magnificent writer,also had a distinct Christian worldview. His letters to his sons contain a treasure of Christian teaching on matters of manhood, marriage, and sex.
In 1941, he wrote a masterful letter to his son Michael, dealing with marriage and the realities of human sexuality. “This is a fallen world,” he said. “The dislocation of the sex-instinct is one of the chief symptoms of the Fall.” Tolkien had a profound understanding of male sexuality and of the need for boundaries and restraint. As a concerned father, Tolkien warned his son to avoid allowing his romantic instinct to lead him astray: “The devil is endlessly ingenious, and sex is his favorite subject. He is as good every bit at catching you through generous romantic or tender motives as through baser or more animal ones.”
Aphrodite was the Greek goddess of love and sex. Aphrodite is alive and well in the prevailing idolatry of our culture today. The entertainment industry as embodied in Hollywood has been effective at hijacking people’s understanding of love, romance, sexuality and relationships. The romance industry is a huge, multi-billion dollar enterprise fueled from dozens of sources. It is heavily invested in promoting the central lie that without some kind of romantic relationship you can never feel fully alive. Without a romantic relationship of some kind, even if it’s the wrong kind, life feels meaningless. My problem with this is the horrible models and mixed signals that are being sent by so-called celebrities and embraced by multitudes.
Really, how many were shocked that the wedding of Kris Humphries to Kim Kardashian lasted all of 72 days? Complete narcissists may make for good reading in the tabloids, but they don’t make for enduring, loving marriage partners. That calls for self-sacrifice.
In the same way, was it really surprising that the marriage of Katy Perry (of I Kissed a Girl and I Liked It fame) to Russell Brand (notorious womanizer) unraveled in the manner it did? The list goes on and on.
What I am proposing is that a critical area to living well is our RQ: our Romance Quotient. Think with me.
If we want to know if someone is smart, we measure their IQ, which is their intelligence quotient. If we want them to be skillful, then their EQ, or emotional intelligence quotient comes into play. This truth was popularized by Daniel Goleman’s best-seller, Emotional Intelligence: Why It Can Matter More Than IQ, in which he defined emotional intelligence as “The ability to perceive, control and evaluate emotions.” Goleman’s proposition is that a person’s EQ is more important and life-shaping as somebody’s IQ.
I would add to these a third measurement of true success: a person’s RQ, or romantic intelligence. Proverbs 18:22 gives us a secret: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” Divine favor is critical to true success in life, and favor is linked to our romantic lives! You can add to this Proverbs 24:3,4: “By wisdom a house is built, and through understanding it is established; through knowledge its rooms are filled with rare and beautiful treasures.”
Biblically, wisdom is more than a lot of head knowledge, but it could be translated as skillful living. I believe this is a critical ministry-charge today: to teach and preach that people should think biblically about love, romance, relationships, sexuality and marriage. I can rephrase that by saying that a necessary ministry task (especially today) is to help cultivate their RQ! A consistent and clear-sounding word on the subject must resonate from our pulpits.
Before we proceed, let’s demolish the popular and prevailing myth of your soul mate; or finding “the right one.” The myth, foisted a naïve public largely by the media, says that in a world populated with 7 billion people, there is that one special person out there just for you, the guy or girl of your dreams, the one special piece of the puzzle that completes you. This leads people to fret over the question, Is he/she the right one?
Of course, you want the best possible fit, but biblical math is not ½ + ½ = 1… oh, yes, you complete me!
That may sound romantic, but it’s not true. The biblical formula for marriage is 1 + 1 = 1, two whole people united, who become one (Genesis 2:24).
The soul mate fantasy is very damaging to people’s RQ. It is also one contributor to the fact today that people are delaying marriage longer and longer. Think about this: in 1965, the median age for first marriages was 22.8 for men, and 20.6 for women. Almost a generation later, by the year 2002, the median age has risen to 26.9 for men and 25.3 for women. That is a huge reversal. There are several reason for this, from longer life spans, to the priority and push for more education, to greater overall independence and options that are available today. However, according to a report for the National Marriage Project, “Men won’t commit to marriage because they enjoy a sexually active single life in a social climate that does not push them to marry.” The Washington Times further elaborated: “Traditional social forces, such as the family, religion and the workplace, used to pressure men toward marriage, but that is no longer the case.” Given the relaxation of social pressures, coupled with general silence about unmarried couples living together, “men can relax their timetable indefinitely.”
Can you see who becomes the loser in this equation? That’s right, the woman.
Let me point out one other aspect of an abysmal RQ, which surfaces in post-marriage decisions – especially as you encounter difficulties in your marriage (inevitable), and discover that marriage over the long haul requires hard work. Instead of making that kind of sacrifice and investment, you can now say “I’m going to file for divorce, because he/she wasn’t the one. I don’t believe they are my soul mate [who’ve generally, they’ve already found, and a much younger one at that].” Flawed RQ thinks that affection is the glue that holds the marriage together, when it is in fact your commitment to marriage that safeguards the affection.
GROWING YOUR RQ
Journey with me to a biblical drama of distorted romance in Genesis 29:15-35. What we discover is a seriously flawed and dysfunctional family involving Jacob, Laban, Rachel and Leah. This is one of those truth-is-stranger-than-fiction episodes in Scripture. Jacob came from a special family of promise (in your seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed). Even with so much going for him, Jacob’s life was in ruins. His family environment had been one of rivalry, deception, and manipulation. He was a “momma’s boy” and inherited and practiced cunning to advance himself at the expense of others. This culminated in Jacob’s deception of his old and blind father, Isaac. He violated and betrayed his older brother, Esau, who then became furious, vowing to kill Jacob. So Jacob is on the run, fleeing for his life, and he returns to the region that his grandfather Abraham first inhabited and had migrated from. He’s lost everything: his family, his inheritance, his future. So, he’s operating on survival mode; and in this condition, he searches out his long lost uncle Laban for refuge.
What happens next is The Dream. You might want to have The Beatles’ song, “All you need is love, love...all you need is love” playing in the background. Yes, Jacob meets Rachel, one of Laban’s daughters, at the city’s well, and it’s love at first sight! In Genesis 29:11 The Living Bible says, “Then Jacob kissed Rachel and started crying!” Whoa, dude, get it together!
Whether he thinks that finding love would be the “escape” from his hopeless circumstances or not, he’s totally mesmerized by this young girl. She brings him home to meet Daddy, his Uncle Laban. Here’s where things get interesting, not to mention complicated. Genesis 29:16-20 says: “Now Laban had two daughters. The older daughter was named Leah, and the younger one was Rachel. There was no sparkle in Leah's eyes, but Rachel had a beautiful figure and a lovely face. Since Jacob was in love with Rachel, he told her father, ‘I'll work for you for seven years if you'll give me Rachel, your younger daughter, as my wife.’ ‘Agreed!’ Laban replied. ‘I'd rather give her to you than to anyone else. Stay and work with me.’ So Jacob worked seven years to pay for Rachel. But his love for her was so strong that it seemed to him but a few days.”
This was not a discussion about pretty eyes, but it was a question of physical attractiveness. It was the Bible’s way of saying that Rachel was absolutely, drop dead gorgeous; while Leah was plain and homely-looking. Jacob was so smitten – “Jacob loved Rachel” – that he offered 7 years of wages for her, which even then, was an enormous price.
To understand this story, we need to ask why?
There was a huge void in Jacob’s life. He never had his father’s unrivaled love. Although she was a queen of manipulation, he lost his mother’s love when he had to flee. At this stage of his life, he was unsure of God’s love and care for him. Then, the most beautiful woman he’d ever seen came into his life! All of the longings of his heart for meaning and affirmation were fixed solely on this girl, Rachel. Love is all you need...
We can note from this story that when people forget and forsake God, they tend to look to the “romantic solution” (sex and romance) to fill the void. Our whole culture has bought into this idea that, as the song says, “You’re nobody till somebody loves you.”
If you’re cultivating your RQ, you will recognize that The Dream is so often followed by The Disillusionment. There are definitely some mysteries in the Bible that will only become clear in heaven. One of them is in our story. The wedding day finally arrives, and the time to consummate the marriage has come. What follows is a clever sting operation; a major “bait and switch” job. Genesis 29:23;25 says: “But in the evening he took his daughter Leah and brought her to Jacob, and he went in to her... and in the morning, behold it was Leah!”
Why? How? Don’t even begin to ask me. Either way, Jacob was snookered, big time! When he calls “Foul,” I’m sure he must have remembered his own actions with Esau. When questions this injustice, Laban tells Jacob to settle down. After all, you should’ve known our customs, that the oldest daughter must be married off first… I’ll tell you what, Jacob, how about a 2 for 1 sale? Yes, just sign here, that you agree to work for me for another seven years, fulfill Leah’s bridal week, and then I’ll throw Rachel in as a bonus!
Remember, we’re talking about your RQ. Let verse 25 echo in your mind: “and in the morning it was Leah.” Jacob had been saying finally, finally, I’m going to have happiness in this life. Finally, I’ve got Rachel. But, behold, in the morning it was Leah.
Derek Kidner commented on this: “But in the morning, behold, it was Leah. This is a miniature of our disillusionment experienced from Eden onwards.” Oh, I’m going to have such a career. I’m going to get myself a hunk. I’m going to marry myself a babe. And I’m going to live in this palace, and I’m going to have this kind of life… “But in the morning, it was Leah.” There is a kind of cosmic disappointment woven into the fabric of humanity. This story teaches us that whatever we put in the place of Christ becomes an idol, and you will experience the inevitable disappointment.
FINDING A BETTER WAY
I don’t know if it’s because of desperation or the fruit of deception, but a lot of things purported to help people make real and lasting connections are degrading, if not pure nonsense.
The article titled “A Secret Weapon for Dating” got people’s attention. Yes, the secret weapon is called pheromones, or the airborne compound molecules in members of the same species that are responsible for various instinctual behavior, sexual attraction being one.
So, what about a human equivalent? Okay, let’s have Pheromone Parties. People come together, take dirty T-shirts, and place them in numbered plastic bags. You pass the bags around and take a big whiff – yes, breathe deeply – and see if there is any visceral reaction or attraction. Can you imagine a conversation later? “So how did you and she meet?” “Well, I’ll tell you: I took one whiff of that T-shirt, and I knew that she was the one!”
This reminds me of Samson’s warped RQ, which was nothing more than the “hotness factor.” Samson was the archetypical he-man with a she-problem. He’s interested in dating a Philistine. When his parents object and try to talk some sense to him, he responds: "Get her for me! She looks good to me." There you have it, and that’s basically the format for dating shows like The Bachelor and The Bachelorette.
The good news is God wants to help us. This is the fundamental work of sanctification that needs to happen in each of us. Romans 12: 1-2 says: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don't copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God's will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”
This is dear to my heart, since “Keeping Your Head In The Game” is devoted to helping people think biblically about a myriad of life issues. If we want our RQ to grow and guide us in a confused generation that calls good evil and evil good, then “Here's what I want you to do, God helping you: Take your everyday, ordinary life — your sleeping, eating, going-to-work, and walking-around life — and place it before God as an offering. Embracing what God does for you is the best thing you can do for him” (Rom. 12:1-2, The Message).
One of my favorite wedding invitations was for the marriage of Zachary Scribner and Hilary Hagoski.
The first picture is of them participating in a couple’s wedding as ring-bearer and flower girl. The second is their own actual wedding picture. I liked this so much for a number of reasons, the first being two young people doing what is right before God, which is such a powerful testimony in our confused world. The second reason is the two pictures side-by-side communicate the need for Christ-centered living and decisions to transition from the first picture to the second. The better way for the Christ-follower to cultivate a healthy RQ is the way of wisdom.
This is not an exact science. Life doesn’t come with a no-risk guarantee that you’ll get all your money back if you’re not completely satisfied. Let me give you some pastoral observations that come from working with people and seeking to shepherd them and their RQ toward a successful outcome.
Consider some of the criteria:
Cornerstone. Proverbs 18:22 says: “He who finds a wife finds what is good and receives favor from the Lord.” The goal or the desired destination for your RQ is marriage, not just a hook up, or to become an item or to experiment by living together. God’s will and goal for human relationships involves marriage.
This reminds me of the classic scene and conversation between Alice and the Cheshire cat in Alice in Wonderland.
“I just want to ask which way I ought to go,” says Alice.
“Well, that depends on where you want to get to,” says the cat.
“Well, it really doesn’t matter,” answers Alice.
“Then it really doesn’t matter which way you go,” says the vanishing cat.
For a healthy RQ, you must realize that the way to go is marriage. This means that the church must strive to create a culture of marriage: a culture where marriage is recognized as God’s plan for love, sustained relationship and romance, and children. A culture where marriage is taught on and modeled before the eyes of young people looking for answers.
Christ. He must be at the center of everything. Shaunti Feldhahn is a Harvard-trained social researcher, author and public speaker. In her new book titled The Surprising Secrets of Highly Happy Marriages, she presents a compilation of statistics and the results of her own research on marriage; specifically, on what makes for a happy marriage. One fact stands out that directly relates to your RQ. Feldhahn states that 53% of very happy couples agree with the statement, “God is at the center of our marriage,” compared to only 7% of struggling couples. So she writes, “Highly happy couples tend to put God at the center of their marriage and focus on Him, rather than on their marriage or spouse, for fulfillment and happiness.”
Compatibility. The Scriptures warn against being “unequally yoked.” This is more than the obvious fact that a Christian should not date or marry an unbeliever. It is saying that you want to yoke yourself to someone who is going to be plowing in the same direction you are. Remember the picture of Zach and Hilary? In response to my question he wrote to me: “The three most important qualities of Hilary that led me to marry her were: #1, she loved God (of course) - more important that she would draw me closer to God and the church as opposed to farther away -- #2, her family was involved in the life of the church – #3, she had not shown that when things got tough she would throw in the towel.” I believe the two questions for anyone getting married are: does the other person love God, and is divorce an option?
Character.It’s true that you may fall in love with a personality, but you marry a character. Marriage will always be two flawed sinners saying, “I do.” The way of wisdom teaches not to focus exclusively on the external, but on the real person within; on their character (displayed in all kinds of settings, if you are looking). I like Zach’s outlook when I queried him: “The aspects of Hilary that caught my eye: she has a unique beauty (auburn hair), amazing cook, athletic, loves children, but the one thing that I couldn’t pass up was her love. When we were courting she would come and clean the church with me, because I didn’t have other time to spend with her. I saw how much she cared, and knew that I wouldn’t want anyone else raising my children.”
I love that their date involved coming and cleaning the church. It didn’t have to be “it’s all about me,” but rather a heart to serve. That’s character. The Bible makes two character-priority statements. These are not gender-exclusive, or meant to single out one sex. They may be addressed toward the woman, but they are equally true about men in a similar setting. The first is Proverbs 11:22: “Like a gold ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman without discretion.” Discretion carries the idea of “perception and good taste.” Without this, it will overshadow physical attractiveness. The other is Proverbs 31:20. The Message translation says: “Charm can mislead and beauty soon fades. The woman to be admired and praised is the woman who lives in the fear of God.” The character trait most desirable in a spouse is someone who fears God, who takes God and His ways seriously.
Chastity. Marriage is more than “friends with benefits.” Sex is God’s wonderful gift to be enjoyed within the boundaries of a committed marriage. This is why God’s standard for life and love is: “Purity before marriage, and fidelity within marriage.”
Church. That might surprise you as a criteria for a wholesome RQ, but some of the best guys and girls are not the ones at the club movin’, movin’, movin’ – but the ones following Christ and serving in His church. In fact, one of the great joys of marriage and the two becoming one, is being able to serve the purposes of God together. I really do like the insight Zach had: “her family was involved with the church.” There may have been other great girls, but the fact that her family was involved in the things of God attracted him, because he knew the truth of Psalm 92:12,13: “The righteous shall flourish like the palm tree: he shall grow like a cedar in Lebanon. Those that be planted in the house of the Lord shall flourish in the courts of our God.”
Counsel. In ascertaining the will of God, the way of wisdom is to solicit wise counsel from respected others. Just listen “Where there is no counsel, the people fall; but in the multitude of counselors there is safety” (Proverbs 11:14). Along with this is Proverbs 15:22: “Without counsel plans fail, but with many advisers they succeed.” Dennis Prager is a nationally-known and syndicated radio talk show host and commentator. He authored an excellent article (also one of the staples of his public speaking menu) “If You’re Thinking of Marrying,” in which he sets forth 12 important considerations in marrying well. #12 is What do people you respect think of the person you’re considering marrying? I know those assessments will not always be perfect, but youcannot easily dismiss them either. If others whom you respect are unenthusiastic, you should take their objections seriously or at least attempt to find out what their opinion is based on. If you were buying a car, purchasing a home, or investing in a new computer, you’d hopefully get qualified feedback. Well, none of these will have anywhere near as much impact as your choice concerning a husband or wife. I was involved in a situation with a young man wrestling with decisions that have to do with his RQ, and I asked him, “In the circle of people you know and respect, how many of them are in favor of this particular action?” His answer was telling, because nobody was in favor of it.
Choice. I’m talking about the necessary initiative that is called for. You should not be waiting around for some sky-writing to take place, giving you the name of your future spouse. If you’re betting on a romantic lightning bolt to strike you, you’ll probably be disappointed. There’s a popular religious phrase that is very misleading: “Let go, and let God!” Somehow through a combination of your passivity, laziness, and a generous portion of God’s grace… voilá! You’ll live happily ever after. God may have done that with Adam’s rib, but He will not do it with yours.
Listen up, men. What is required is for you to do something; to make every effort to see the foundations and fulfillment of a marriage covenant. Kevin DeYoung wrote about this: “Let me say it one more time: there is nothing wrong with being single. It can be a gift from the Lord and a gift to the church. But when there is an overabundance of Christian singles who want to be married, this is a problem. And it’s a problem I put squarely at the feet of young men whose immaturity, passivity, and indecision are pushing their hormones to the limits of self-control, delaying the growing-up process, and forcing countless numbers of young women to spend lots of time and money pursuing a career (which is not necessarily wrong) when they would rather be getting married and having children. Men, if you want to be married, find a godly girl, treat her right, talk to her parents, pop the question, and tie the knot.”
HAPPILY EVER AFTER...
No, we’re never going to get this perfectly right this side of eternity. However you try, there is not some foolproof algorithm that will make up for all the way we come short. That’s why I called this your RQ (romantic quotient) instead of DQ (dating quotient). Because even if you are married, you must work on yourself and your marriage for the rest of your life. We never arrive (trust me, I know). We never fully accomplish this. No. We are to be growing all the time.
My encouragement to you, and where I want to leave you, is at Cana of Galilee, with Jesus’s first miracle. I don’t believe it is an accident that He began His public ministry at a wedding feast. Can we assume that the presence of Jesus happens at weddings? Can we extrapolate that He is willing to work miracles in your life, and with your RQ? “They have no wine” is the truth about all of our lives – there is something terribly lacking in each of us. All of this world’s promises that seem so refreshing at the start slowly begin to fade, and then all we have left is the junk. With God involved, we watch Him reverse this process, saving the best until last.
Thankfully, Jesus is still in the transformation business; He’s still turning water into wine! This includes everything in your life, your relationships, your career, your family, your ministry, and your dreams.
What, then, is the posture that we need to have and carry with us? Here it is – live with this and things will never be the same: “Whatever He says to you, do it.”