Monday, February 6, 2012

The Case Against Lists: A List

Recently a good friend of mine started a dating relationship with a mutual friend from our church. She was telling me about him one day, and I asked how things were going. Her response went something like: “He’s great. He doesn’t have everything on my list, but he has most of it.”

When I finished gagging myself with a spoon, I was struck with the wisdom to be a little more generous with my response to her. After all, didn’t I make a little “list” of my own at summer church camp when I was 16, pink cartoon hearts and all? Didn’t I write off my husband when we first met because he was wearing a Chicago Cubs T-shirt and I only wanted a shaggy-haired, emotionally tormented, non-sports-interested ‘musician’? (He still loves to tell that story).

Here’s the thing. Obviously, when we’re looking for someone to do life with, we need to have some parameters. It might be a deal-breaker for you (and I would advise that it be) if someone isn’t a Christian, for example. Or maybe your future spouse will need to want children, or not want them. I don’t mean to purport that we shouldn’t have certain “have-to’s” in mind as we’re out on the dating scene.

To go a bit further, making a “here’s-what-I’m-looking-for” list might even serve an important purpose if you’re talking to a group of 16-year-olds who need to investigate their priorities. But at a mature age, I think we should really take a hard look at our lists. I’m talking about the kind of lists with non-essential, “my wants” type of things. Things like, “she can’t wear a lot of makeup” or “he has to laugh during The Colbert Report.” I really believe that this whole list-making thing, in fact, can do a lot more harm than good.

And here’s my list why. (Ha! I’ll be here all night).

1. It Limits God
God, though many things, is someone I like to call most affectionately the Great Surpriser. No one weaves a story quite like He does, wouldn’t you agree? He made a fish eat a dude and spit him back out. Talk about unexpected. For those keeping a tally, He also: called a stutterer to face-off with a King on behalf of an entire nation (Exodus 4-12); gifted a wrinkly old couple in their 90’s a baby (Genesis 15-17); called a nobody shepherd boy to become king (1 Samuel 16); and even called a beloved prophet to marry a prostitute (Hosea 1). I believe the Lord wants to make your life as delightfully surprising as those of our brothers and sisters in the past. And a great storyteller like Him needs a wide availability of characters. So don’t tell him to only use red-headed ones. Don’t tell Him to avoid sending you a spouse who likes the Phillies. Let him do his thing, ya’ll. And don’t be surprised if it’s unexpected. (Just ask Hosea).

2. It Limits You
Making a ‘spouse list’ is really akin to putting on some pretty big blinders. If you’re seriously not going to even look twice at anyone who isn’t over 5 feet or someone who prefers Pepsi over Coke, it’s time to face the fact that your aloneness might be more you and less God, my friend. I don’t mean to be harsh, but I think my generation needs to really grow up in this area. You might not know you like something until you meet it. You might not know you don’t like something until you meet it. It’s silly to limit your prospects just because you wrote down “must wear great-smelling cologne” on a piece of notebook paper once. (Though a strict “must wear deodorant” rule might be ok. Or necessary.)

3. It Limits Your Future Spouse
I have to tell you, my first reaction to my friend’s comment that I shared earlier was offense. How could she belittle her new boyfriend into being nothing more than a potential ‘list-fulfiller’? I had only met him a few times, but immediately I wanted to rattle off all the great things about him that she should be grateful for. So what if he doesn’t own a pair of hiking boots or the only thing he knows how to cook is macaroni? What if when God made you, He had him in mind? How could you pretend to know He didn’t? I worry that concentrating on all the minute, meaningless non-checked off parts of your lists might make us miss the wonderful, unexpected aspects of our future partners.

Listen, I know some of my examples are silly. I’ve truly never met anyone who won’t date someone because they like Pepsi and not Coke. (Except maybe Jerry Seinfeld.) But my point is to get you out of the ‘list’ funk. To encourage you to challenge some of your “qualifications.” Some might need to stay. Some, though, might need to go. What truly needs to go, I believe, is the mentality of checking off bullet points in order to make huge, life-altering, story-weaving decisions. Don’t get married just because it’s on your “by the time I’m 25” bucket list. Don’t get married because you want to have someone to show off. DON’T get married because they fulfill a “list.” Get married because God introduced you to the person he wants you to serve for the rest of your life. And keep in mind that it might be a complete surprise. He’s pretty good at that.

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