My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 2: If You’re a Christian, Swipe Right

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Give me a little time and, take all my money, take all my money

You’ll come around and someday, I’ll be the one you love.

– “Broke,” Bear Attack

Hey!

According to most men on dating apps, that’s not how you should begin a conversation with them. But I think I can say hey to all y’all, instead of thinking of a witty pickup line. (I mean, what do they want other than ‘hey’? A deep question about systematic theology? Very confused.)

But I’ll get to “what men want” in another post. What do Christians want?

In other words – should Christians use dating apps?

Well, my obvious answer is probably “yes,” since I’m currently using one myself. BUT like most topics, different people have different opinions about it.

The Bible isn’t cut-and-dry about dating apps…obviously. We all know Hosea didn’t have an awful marriage because he accidentally swiped right. Ruth didn’t get Boaz’s attention with…well…~pics.~

And then there’s Song of Songs.

BUT ANYWAY

Dating is different now than it was in Biblical contexts. It’s more different than it ever has been before. Until the later part of the 19th Century, most women were still given away by their fathers and/or the patriarch of their family – sometimes to someone they’d never met. ~Love~ really didn’t come into play all that much. It was more mutuality or convenience that drove most courtships and marriages. (Not always…I mean, we’ve all read Jane Austen. I hope.)

What I’m trying to say is, the dating game has changed. But the name of the game is the same. (Lame.)

So has Christian dating. There was that whole courtship phase we all collectively went through in the 90s, until that was overruled by both Christians and non-Christians alike. Courtship is a bit stressful, with a little bit too much commitment far too soon. (It was so bad that the guy who wrote the book apologized.) And we have our ideal, “celebrity” Christian couples, like the Duggars or the Robertsons, who we then found out each have their own fair share of problems just like the rest of us.

So now what? Now what phase are we in? If we’re not being given away, or being courted, what are we doing?

Are we being swiped? 

Well, in a word, yes.

The game has changed, and I don’t think we need to sit idly by and let it change without us. Of course there’s dangers to online dating, but there’s dangers to live dating too. And I’m not even saying you have to limit yourself to an exclusively Christian dating website. Put yourself out there.

So that’s kind of my answer. Yes. Of course a Christian can date online. But, like all aspects of living in a fallen world…you have to be careful.

Actually, I would encourage Christians to date online. The great thing about dating online is you’re spreading your net further than if you simply mingled among your work, school, or church friends. (Because to be honest, sometimes the pickings are slim. Especially at church. Everyone’s already married. Or maybe you go to an old person church.)

So yeah, definitely set up an account on a site you deem appropriate and go on dates.

But here’s the “no-duh:” only if you actually want to. 

If your female relatives keep asking you why you’re still single, that’s not a good enough reason. If your guy friends are telling you about their amazing wives, that’s not a good enough reason. If you’re just plain lonely and want someone around, that’s not a good enough reason.

The church definitely puts undue pressure on single Christians to get married. (You can’t graduate from your 20-something small group into a couples group until you do.) So if you’re seeking a partner just because you feel like you have to (or your grandma keeps asking) don’t do it. That goes for both offline and online dating. Just don’t do it. Wait til you are ready.

And only you can know if you’re ready.

That took a much more serious tone than I meant it to. But the song remains the same: I invite my young, single Christian friends to check out the online dating scene. I’ve had more interesting conversations on these dates than I normally have. And I’ve met other Christians who have different opinions than me (gasp.) So even if you don’t find your soulmate, you’ll probably meet some pretty darn cool people that you wouldn’t have met otherwise.

One last thing before I let you go. When entering the dating scene, whether it’s for the first time or after your last-breakup, remember this (another no-duh clincher:) If you like someone, don’t change your convictions for them. This can come into play especially in online dating. You see a cute guy’s profile and see what he’s interested in, and you might be tempted to, well, change. Maybe he smokes marijuana, and you’re not comfortable with that. Maybe he doesn’t mind sex before marriage. Maybe he has vastly different political opinions – or even some opinions about the Bible that you disagree with. Even if he (or she) is a Christian, that does not give you a free pass to change who you are in order for them to like you “more.” Seriously. It’s super easy to do online. I’ve definitely done it a few times.

So, my Christian brothers and sisters, go on dates. Talk to people. Swipe left. Swipe right. Remember what you believe and why you believe it. If it doesn’t work out, it’s okay. God has something better in mind for you.

Now you kiddos go have fun.

a. w.

 

 

My Adventures in Online Dating, Part 1: Initiation

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So here’s a surprise: I’m single. Very single. I kinda write about it a lot. But the good thing is, I’ve sort of come to terms with my singleness in the past year-ish. After only going on a handful of dates in my lifetime and having had a few ~serious~ crushes, I’m pretty comfortable with being a smart, sassy, single girl.

I’m at the point where I don’t need a boyfriend, but I’d like a boyfriend.

Or, at least, I’d like to meet people. Talk. Get to know people. Go out. Have a good time.

If you’ve met me, you know that I’m abismal at meeting new people. And that’s not a stretch. That’s the truth. My go-to method of flirting is staring at someone attractive across the room until ~maybe~ they notice me (this has only worked once.) If I actually get the guts to talk to someone, my conversation is either bland and uninteresting or WOAH CALM DOWN AUDREY DON’T HIT THEM WITH ALL YOUR WEIRD AT ONCE.

If you haven’t noticed already, I’m my own worst critic. Which is why I’m bad at meeting people.

A few months ago after some emotional setbacks, I decided to take matters into my own hands. I was going to dive into the world of online dating.

That phrase has a lot of weight behind it – and a lot of stigma. Swiping left and right and pictures of things you’d rather not see. And Tinder. Lots of Tinder. (I didn’t use Tinder but we’ll get to that later.)

“Audrey, you must be super ~desperate~ if you’ve turned to online dating,” you might say.

And you’re probably right. But it’s mostly because I’m so awful at freaking meeting people. A lot of people have told me it’s hard to meet people after college. Well I’m almost done with college, and even in college I haven’t had much luck either. So…online dating.

I actually have been staunchly against the idea for awhile. Why would I meet someone online when I’m CERTAIN that God is gonna whisk a dude my way in the most romantic way possible?

Concept: Garden party. I’m relaxing under a tree, wearing a breezy dress that perfectly matches my skin tone, sipping rosé. Sara Bareilles is probably playing in the background. I turn to the stairs leading up to the patio and there he is – MY DREAM MAN. He floats over to my shady perch and joins me. His shirt is probably a little bit unbuttoned and he might look like Colin Firth. The rest is history.

Ha. Ha. Ha. (I’m not gonna pretend I haven’t fantasized it happening that way.)

But the thing is, I can’t just sit around and wait for something to happen to me. That’s not how things happen. It’s a little give and a little take, if ya know what I mean. (I don’t even know what I mean at this point.)

But then I listened to this great podcast where a woman was talking about how millennials date, and the way she talked about dating sites made it seem a bit more legit than I’ve heard them talked about before. (One of my friends met his (ex)-girlfriend on Tinder and told everyone they met at Chipotle. Like I said…stigma.)

So I decided to embark on a quest. I was going to find love via the Internet. That sounds like a horrible tagline for a movie.

But guess what? You’re about to get a free ticket.

So the two dating apps I decided to use, in chronological order, were the following:

Coffee Meets Bagel: This is a free phone app (I’m not paying for a subscription…I’m not that desperate) that matches you based on mutual liking, which I found out is pretty typical for dating apps. You put up some pictures, write some stuff about yourself, and you’re off. Then you head over to “Discover” to look at potential match profiles (a weird caveat is their names aren’t given until you’re matched…so I can’t Facebook stalk them at all and that’s frustrating.)

  • Pros: It’s free; it doesn’t overwhelm you with choices; it allows you to filter through categories like religious affiliation, age, height (yeah that’s a serious subject), and distance; ladies get the final choice on whether or not you match
  • Cons: If you want a subscription it’s 34 FRICKIN DOLLARS A MONTH (money can’t buy me love…but a free app can?) and there are lots of features that require a subscription. You also have a certain number of points (called “beans,” like coffee beans, hahahaha) that you can spend on liking profiles. They’re pretty easy to earn, but if you want more, you have to PAY MORE FRICKIN MONEY. The Beatles were right. Also, I’ve had instances of 30- and 40- year olds liking my profile, and that weirded me out a little bit. This cradle is not getting robbed.
  • Result: I’ve gone on one date as a result of Coffee Meets Bagel. We found out that we were waaaaay too different, so no second date. As of a week ago, I’ve deleted the app off my phone. I’d rather focus my energy on one app.

Bumble: Bumble is popular because the lady initiates contact first (which can be stressful – will explain later) after the match is made – or after you both “swipe right” on each other’s profiles. Then you have 24 hours to initiate contact, but your chat never expires, which is kinda nice. It’s like a safe Tinder. Safe being a relative term. Bumble has also branched out to helping people find friends or simply helping them network. They recently opened up an IRL place for dates to meet.  I was introduced to this app after seeing countless ads for it on Instagram (I’m the gullible demographic they’re looking for). So I decided to give it a shot.

  • Pros: You have a lot of time to chat with each other (which I like, because I need a while to get to know someone before outright asking em out); there’s a “report” feature in case you find a shady character; you can make a fun lil bio for yourself (highly encouraged – I’ll talk about that later); you can filter who you see age and location wise.
  • Cons: It can be a bit overwhelming, almost like online shopping, so it’s probably good to use in moderation. You’ll run into a lot more shady characters here than on CMB. Sometimes people don’t utilize the bio portion, so you have ~no idea~ who they are. And if you’re like me, going from zero prospects to several prospects is a bit harrowing.

Not to mention. I’m bad at starting conversations on the Internet. Case in point:

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This was an actual message I sent to an actual person I was matched with. He never responded, and less than 24 hours later, his account was mysteriously deleted.

I really know how to reel em in.

On the other hand, as a result of being on Bumble, I’ve been on two dates with two different people, and one of them have merited a second get-together.

This post has gotten a bit long-winded, so I can’t talk about everything I’ve learned so far. But I can tell you that this will become a ~blog series~ (I’m so professional) including topics like:

  • Can Christians date online?
  • What Men Shouldn’t Do on Dating Apps (from a Female Perspective…you could call it womansplaining if you’d prefer)
  • General Advice on Online Dating: An Introvert’s Perspective
  • How to Talk to Strangers
  • Smooth-as-Heck Pickup Lines

One of those will NOT be a blog post. Guess which one. (Hint: It’s the last one.)

So, until next time, may all your swipes be right and all your chats be longer than 24 hours. If that wasn’t the most millennial signoff ever, I don’t know what is. Stay tuned, friends. It only gets better from here.

a. w.

In Defense of Private School Education

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“Start children off on the way they should go, and even when they are old they will not turn from it.” – Proverbs 22:6 (NIV)

We are all shaped by our experiences. That’s nothing new in the handbook of life. You kind of get a sense of that even at a young age and usually don’t even know it until you’re older. On your first day of school, you sit down and have lunch with the other kindergartners and find out that not every kid in the world eats peanut butter and jelly for lunch – but you have almost every day for most of your life so far. Some kids can’t even eat peanut butter (gasp.) When you get a little older in elementary school, you find out that not everyone has brothers and sisters, or even a father and mother. Wait…not everyone has a dog?!

So you get a little older and you’re in middle school. You start to learn more about the world, and decide for yourself what it is you believe in. Then you find out that some people don’t believe the same things you do. You’re thirteen years old, in the school band, have braces, and come home to a family every night. There are other thirteen year olds who go home to fighting parents, who skip school regularly, who don’t believe in anything. They might go to your school, they might live in your neighborhood, they might ride your bus. They’re in their own worlds, worlds that collide in public.

Some people might call this a “bubble.” Actually, a lot of people would call this a bubble. A bubble might be called the sheltered, exclusive environment that you are raised in with its own unique set of characteristics that differentiate it from the rest of the world. That’s a narrow definition. You won’t find it in Merriam Webster, but kids these days know what’s up. But I still think that definition is too narrow.

You grow up in a bubble, essentially. Your home is a bubble, wherever your home is. When you go to school, you enter into your school bubble. You also might have a church bubble, or a camp bubble, or friendship/relationship bubble. Exclusive bubbles.

People like to throw this term around in higher ed, though, more often than not. The College Bubble. Just imagine Stephen King’s dome but it’s around your college, and everything that goes on inside it is exclusive to your college. If you think about it, your life is a series of bubbles that you traverse through as you transition from one place to another.

There’s also the “Christian bubble.” The impenetrable Jericho-style barrier between being in the world and of the world. At least, that’s how some people see it. The fine line between legalistic, conservative “mama-raised-me-right” living and “the outside world” of secular community and sin.

Others see it as a membrane, where select individuals can travel in and out, but there’s still always outliers. In my opinion, it’s neither of these extremes, but we’ll get to that later.

Then why is being in a “bubble” a bad thing?

The title of this post involves school, so I might as well focus on school – private school, in particular. First things first: I honestly don’t care how you feel about private school. I want you to hear me out. I have my own biases about private school, and you might have some that are different than mine. That’s fine. But hear me out, and then maybe we can find some common ground. People like to think they’re radically different from one another, but really, we’re fundamentally the same, and sometimes go our entire lives without realizing that.

I grew up in private school. If you’re thinking white, suburban, Christian, and sheltered, you’re absolutely right. That was my upbringing. I don’t know why those words have gotten bad connotations. I didn’t feel suffocated. My suburban upbringing wasn’t just a glossy, gilded exterior with a nightmare underneath. Of course we had our troubles, but it wasn’t American BeautyIt was pretty happy and normal, “happy” and “normal” being relative terms, here. I can’t believe I’m even trying to defend myself here, because I can hear some of you through the screen saying, “Audrey, my upbringing was a living hell so you have no right to this and that and the other thing. You don’t know what life is actually like.”

I don’t know what your life is like, that’s true. Nobody does. I don’t pretend to know. But hear me out.

I am the product of private Christian schooling. And it was great. I was exposed to Christianity at a young age and was blessed enough to accept Jesus into my heart while in my single digits. I have two hardworking parents who made a lot of sacrifices for me and my brother to go to Christian school, and I am never going to take that for granted. They both forged their own faiths for themselves, having both grown up in relatively turbulent and godless homes. They wanted better for their children, and they gave it to us.

Therein lies my first point. I think some people go off about private school without taking into account the sacrifices made on their behalf. “But kids should be able to decide for themselves!” some may say. Okay, then sit down with your four year old and ask her if she wants to go to Christian school or public school. She probably doesn’t even know what those words mean yet.

My parents worked hard to make sure my brother and I got a Christian education (which is a lot of money, if you didn’t know that already.) Looking back, I feel horrible about the times I’d come home from school complaining. I was complaining to my parents after they’d had a long day getting the paycheck that funded my education. They never mentioned it or used it to guilt me, but looking back, I realize it now and it hurts to know that I did that.

Also, do you know how much Christian school educators get paid? Not much. Not much at all. But they show up every day because they believe in it. All teachers do.

I don’t want to sound like I think I’m better because I went to private school. I’m not. But I’m not less, either. My opinion isn’t any less valid because of my upbringing, because I went to a school that believed in something that’s radically different than what the rest of the world believes.

A few weeks ago, I found myself in a conversation with some of my college friends who also went to private school. It seemed as though they didn’t have anything good to say about them. It seems like no one has anything good to say about private school these days, given recent events and the concerns regarding the current administration. I won’t get political here, but I don’t think either of these things discredit private schooling.

“I’m not going to raise my kids as Christians,” one of my friends said. “I’m going to let them decide for themselves.”

“I don’t think private school gives kids enough opportunity,” another one said, “like with the arts and stuff like that. And it doesn’t give them enough opportunity to talk to people who are different than they are.”

“There’s really no difference between public school and private school. Kids are just as bad in private school.”

“I just think it’s a bubble.”

Allow me to assert the radical notion that if we are Christians, it is our obligation to raise our children as Christian. I’m not saying you’re a bad parent if you send your kids to public school (I’m not a parent at all so there are a lot of things I don’t understand.)

I’m just asking you to give private school a chance. Work through the biases you might have about it, try to understand where those biases come from. Was it one private school kid you knew a long time ago? Was it one headline you saw in the news? Was it one bad experience you had at your own private school?

I understand that private school is a privilege that not all people can afford. But if you think about it, education is priceless, no matter where you get it from. That might be kind of a canned phrase, but it’s true. It’s a privilege to live in the US and get an education here. We should never lose sight of that. It just so happens that the government pays for some school more than others, because the people who formed this country a long time ago thought that was a good idea. And it was, and it is.

If you went to a private school and hated it, I’m sorry. But that doesn’t mean that private school is fundamentally bad or not worthwhile. It doesn’t mean that private school is a “bubble,” at least not anymore than a public school or a church or a home is. It’s not a crutch, it’s not a handicap. It’s a school.

All education is worth it, and I would encourage you to see private school and public school as two sides of the same coin, not two unequal coins.

Whatever education you’ve had or are getting, don’t take it for granted.

That’s all I got for now, kids.

Falling in Love With Marriage.

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A week and a half ago, I came across this on my Facebook newsfeed. I almost thought about sharing it after only reading the title – “You don’t have to get married to be happy.” I thought, “Yes! I’ve written almost the same thing in other blog posts of mine! Christians understand that marriage isn’t a varsity sport that every Christian has to reach in order to achieve the pinnacle of the Christian life!”

A few days ago, I decided to actually read the article. (Confession time: I often only read the titles of things and the first few sentences…I mean, who has time to sit down and read a full Atlantic article? Those things are like novellas.) I read it, and I was still satisfied. This guy was very honest and real about the Christian single life. Nothing I haven’t heard before. You can’t rely on a spouse to fulfill you because that’s impossible for humans to do. Heartbreak happens as a result. A song from the great band Jimmy Eat World says, “If I don’t lean on you, I fall.” Well, sometimes, you lean too much and you both fall over. Which is why you need to lean on the Rock. (Not Dwayne. You know Who I’m talking about. I’m just using a lot of Christian-ese.)

 

The gentleman who wrote the article is now married, so he’s seeing it from the other side. And he did a great job outlining our human yearnings and our absolute need for the love of Christ. But…haven’t we heard all this before?

That’s what some people in the comments section of that post were saying. I scrolled through the comments for a bit to see if there were any that stuck out (if it were not from a Christian website, I probably would have found some more colorful ones). None really did specifically, but a lot of them said something very similar, which I already mentioned.

Haven’t we heard this before?

It can seem like kind of a cop-out for the people who have waited years for a spouse to come into their lives.

“Oh, you just need to love Jesus more first. You can’t rely on someone else to do that for you.”

“Marriage isn’t really that great. Jesus is better!”

“Just pray about it!”

And the unmarried person, who might have that deep longing for companionship, will say, “Yeah, but…” And that’s totally okay. I remember sitting in a restaurant with my parents once, sobbing inconsolably, and just saying between tears, “I’m lonely.” That’s okay. God created Eve for a reason. Because it’s not good for man to be alone.

I decided to gauge the reactions of some of my friends as well. I talked to a couple who didn’t read the article in full, but understood the gist of it. One of my friends is vehemently single, and the other is in a relationship with my roommate, so you can imagine their opinions might differ.

“If you’re an unhappy person, getting married won’t change that. It can enhance your happiness, but it can’t change it.” That’s how my single friend put it. “I think Christians treat singleness as a plan B.”

My roommate’s boyfriend had something very interesting to say about it. “If you’re losing trust in God because you’re obsessed with finding a partner, and you start making deals with God, you have much deeper problems,” he said. “You just have to say, ‘okay, I don’t know why you’ve put this desire in my heart, but help me deal with it.”

As human beings, we have a fundamental need for companionship. I’m an introvert, but I yearn for the companionship of my friends. If I come home and none of my roommates are there, I get a sinking feeling that only goes away when I hear a key turning in the door. Since we were created, we were innately programmed to want people in our lives. 

If you’ve ever watched The Twilight Zone, the premiere episode features a man who wakes up in a deserted town. There’s literally no one there. He walks into a drugstore, he steps inside a phone booth to call someone – nothing. In the course of the twenty-minute episode, he goes all but crazy. (Then the twist happens, which I won’t tell you about in case you want to watch it.) That man had everything he needed: food, clothes, a car, everything – but no people. And that drove him nuts.

People need people. And that’s okay. And marriage is one of the ways we manifest our need for companionship (there’s also the whole “be fruitful and increase” thing, but your parents can talk to you about that one.) Marriage isn’t just any relationship. You’re not just roommates who will separate once the lease is up. You’re not just best friends who meet up for coffee every Saturday afternoon. You’ve made the vow to spend every day with each other for the rest of your life, for richer or poorer, in sickness and health, through bankruptcy and stomach flu and love handles and hospital bills.

I think the writer of that post got it right – marriage isn’t the ultimate fulfillment, and many Christians have decided to devote their life to Christ instead of marrying (there’s this guy named Paul who did that a long time ago.) And that takes a lot of discipline in a world that’s saturated with love and romance. People might look sideways at you if you take a vow of singleness (and celibacy, in this day and age), but it’s possible to be happy without a lifelong partner.

But I want to address something that the writer didn’t quite address in his post, and that’s idealization. Are we just more in love with the idea of marrying than with the actual person? If you’ve ever read or seen the play Our Town by Thornton Wilder (if you went to American high school you probably did) one of the characters notes that people like to “make sure the knot is tied in a mighty public way.” And holy crap is that an understatement. People spend thousands of dollars and sometimes more for one day of their life to be “perfect,” sometimes not taking into account that there’s still fifty more years or so to go with the person they’re sharing it with.

Seeing all of those beautiful “fairytale” moments (they’re called weddings, in case I wasn’t clear) can make you kind of…want it, right? I’m not gonna lie, I would love a beautiful, romantic wedding. I cannot confirm or deny that I have pinned (multiple) wedding dresses and themes on Pinterest, without having any idea of when this special day is going to be. Raise your hand if you played wedding when you were little. Yeah. That’s what I thought.

Stock photos don’t help, either. This is what I found when I typed “love” into a stock photo search:

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Look at how happy and comfortable they are in that very awkward position!

And this is what I found when I searched “single” at the same site:

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I can hear your heart breaking through the screen.

Love and marriage is an ideal. It’s been instilled in us from a number of sources: tradition, stock photos, 80s slow-jam love ballads – but wherever the source, it’s undeniably there. And the main problem is we think it’s going to be perfect. We think it will be exactly what Johnny Cash said it was, “This morning, with her, drinking coffee.” How does your heart not melt when you hear that, how can you not yearn for that picture he’s painted? Of course it’s good, but it’s not like that every single day. And if we go into marriage thinking it will be perfect, that’s a bit of a tall order, isn’t it?

I think a lot of single people (including me) make out what we think marriage will be for us. And usually, we’re not right. It’s like what happens any other time you picture how something is going to play out – it usually doesn’t happen exactly the way you hoped. At sophomore homecoming, I was absolutely certain I would spend the evening slow dancing with my crush. Instead, I didn’t even see my crush at all, and stood in a hot room full of grinding adolescents for two hours wondering what the heck to do. Way less than perfect. Marriage is a little bit more serious than teenage musings, but you get my point.

And remember that it’s just as easy to idealize people as it is to idealize marriage. And if you end up marrying that person, it can lead you down a very messy road.

“Audrey, you’re being just like that guy. This isn’t anything we haven’t heard yet.” You might be thinking this. And maybe you’re right. Marriage is a topic that Christians like to mull over often. If we didn’t, there wouldn’t be singles groups at church that were basically free eHarmony sessions.

But maybe what I’m trying to say is, marriage isn’t easy, but neither is being single. Especially a single Christian who really isn’t sure if marriage is in the cards for them, no matter how many people tell them it is or it should be. Single Christians go to Christian colleges where it seems like everyone gets married after their sophomore year. Single Christians get pelted with advice on finding a good Christian man or woman. Single Christians have to deal with the tension and occasional social awkwardness of being a virgin at twenty-five, or even older. Or the guilt of being a single Christian and not being a virgin. Sometimes all of those urges together make us desperate. We’ll all but throw ourselves to the next Christian guy or girl who comes our way, because everyone is saying it’s the right thing to do. Because you need to put “happily married” on your Christian resume, or else your faith stands for nothing.

So I guess I want you to leave you with this, if you’re a single Christian and feel guilty for wanting someone: don’t feel guilty. If you have a yearning for a spouse, that is a beautiful yearning. It’s a fundamentally human yearning. Don’t think that just because you want a partner, it means that you don’t want God enough.

But I would encourage you to let God in on your yearnings. Don’t hide them from Him. “God, I want a husband.” “God, I want a wife.” “I want to know intimacy with another human being.” “I want to live my life with a companion.” These prayers are 100% valid, even if they seem strange. God wants in on your yearnings. If you let Him in now, He’ll guide you in the future.

I’ll also leave you with this, which is probably something you already know, and quite possibly a thought you’re afraid of: I can’t promise you that God will answer that prayer the way you want him to. My prayer for you is that God gives you the strength to accept that answer.

Because the choice to be content with being alone is one of the bravest things you’ll ever do.

When You Go to College in Your Hometown.

“You’re living far away from home; and you’ve traded everything for a stone.”

– “Everything for a Stone,” The Belle Brigade

Before I get into the actual topic of this post, I’ll begin by saying I wasn’t planning on going to college near my hometown. I’ve talked in previous posts about how my college plans changed rapidly (see post Growing in Struggle.) I ended up at a small university in a decent-sized metropolitan area near where I grew up. I was born and raised in a very small town with a lot of cows and cornfields. Drive twenty minutes one direction and you’re in the city. Drive twenty minutes the other direction and you’re in the middle of nowhere. The area is a very odd, somewhat jarring hybrid of country, suburban, and metropolitan settings. It’s equal parts quaint and cultural, rural juxtaposed with urban.

My hometown is about a half hour from downtown Grand Rapids, Michigan – if you’ve never been there, GR is like a very small Chicago. A very, very (very very) small Chicago. My friend described it as a “Holiday Inn Express” for hipsters – it’s neither East Coast nor West Coast, but there are definitely strong hipster vibes in the city (everywhere you turn there’s a farmer’s market – one of the benefits of a metro area surrounded by fields.) My college is located on the “north end” of town, and I was raised on the “south end.” If you’ve lived in a metropolitan area, you’ll understand when I say that “north-enders” and “south-enders” are very different. Same overarching culture, but different subculture.

Like I said before, I didn’t plan on going to school in my hometown. I only applied to two colleges because I basically had my mind made up – but then, in true teenage fashion, my mind was changed, and very quickly. As a result, I ended up at this small, private, liberal arts university on the north end of Grand Rapids.

It was fairly convenient – I know not everyone grows up in a college town or even a town that has any college at all, which means they have to move away if they want to pursue higher ed. The other college I was considering was two hours away and a true college town (the college was literally the town. Other than that, there were Amish people and a Burger King.)

“So Audrey,” you might (or might not) ask, “What has your experience been like, going to school in your hometown?”

Well, Nameless Imaginary Inquisitor, it has been wonderful. I have loved going to a university that is so close to a large metropolitan area where there’s lots to see and do. And it’s been great being close to home (I mean, free laundry and food, am I right?!)

“But Audrey,” you continue, “don’t you feel like you’ve missed out by staying close to home? Aren’t you sheltered now? Isn’t it just the same as it was when you were growing up? Are you ever going to have the courage to move away?”

Whoa, now, don’t get ahead of yourself, Imaginary Inquisitor. I’m not saying that going to school locally is the best idea for everyone, or that it’s perfect, but I am saying that it’s certainly not a bad thing. And here’s why:

You’re staying close to your roots. College is going to hit all of your ideals, beliefs, and opinions right between the eyes, no matter where you go. Whether it’s your professor or your roommate, someone is going to disagree with you and possibly shake up some of your predispositions. Sometimes, these things are hard to grapple with. When you’re far from home and where you grew up, you may feel lost, maybe somewhat marooned, like you’re on a ship without a captain. When my beliefs were somewhat shaken in college, my roots helped me shape my own opinion of what was being taught to me in college – I wasn’t allowing myself to be directly spoon-fed information without first approaching it with opinions of other people whom I trusted. Having roots close to you can help with that.

You know the area. It’s easy to feel isolated in college because you don’t know anything about the city it’s in. In the case of that college-town school I was talking about, there literally wasn’t anything in the area except farmland. And at a remote college like that, most students are also from out of town so they know as much as you do. Going to a local school I had the benefit of knowing some things about not only Grand Rapids but the surrounding communities. I also found myself learning more about the area than I’d ever known before (like the dearth of coffee shops GR has to offer.) I got more connected with my church, explored new areas, and made connections in the city that I had been totally unaware of up to that point. It’s kind of nice to go into college with some background knowledge of not only the school, but its city.

You’ll have a new perspective. Although you’re in the same place, you’ll see it through different eyes. With college comes freedom to be independent and think for yourself in more ways than you ever have. I learned more about my city in college than I ever did growing up near it. I explored more towns in the outlying area than I ever had before as well. In the fall, I explored uptown with my roommates, which was a place I wasn’t too familiar with. I auditioned for shows at the community theatre. I volunteered at an inner city school. Sometimes the best opportunities are right under your nose for eighteen years and you never realize it because you’re too busy grinding through the American school system (not bitter.)

All of this to say – if you’re searching for colleges right now, don’t rule out the ones that are twenty minutes down the road. It doesn’t mean you have to live with your parents (unless you want to – I mean, free food. And your pets.) People might hardcore judge you, but that’s okay. They just don’t understand, because they were taught their whole lives that they have to go far away for college. Or they didn’t have the amazing privilege of growing up in an awesome spot like you did.

So don’t take your hometown for granted. You might just realize that it’s where you really belong.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

Don’t Feel Bad for Being Booksmart.

It is the cry of all products of the American school system, after sitting through seven hours worth of coursework followed by the after-dinner ritual of checking off assignments until who-knows-what hour of the night (or morning.) High schoolers, liberal arts college students, human beings who have ever had to sit in a biology class – all of them collectively throw down their Bic or their Ticonderoga and wail:

“When will I ever use this????”

We’ve all been there. I’ve been there. After getting an algebra question wrong for the umpteenth time in seventh grade, I threw my calculator across the room, breaking my bedroom lamp in the process (though she be but little, she is fierce.) Watching the clock strike midnight as I was barely halfway through AP government homework. Dissecting a very sad-looking fetal pig in human biology my sophomore year of college, wondering, why does a communications major have to learn about the inner workings of a farm animal? 

The answer is simple and not so simple at the same time. The American school system is flawed. We all know that by now. Some kids learn faster than others, some love every single class and graudate with a 4.0 while others scrape by because they don’t see the point. Everyone is tested based on the same things. Every year, high school juniors sit down in a big room and melt their brains over a Scantron sheet to see if they can regurgitate enough information to get into a good college with good scholarship. (And they say daytime television is mind-numbing?!)

So yeah, there’s problems. In school you learn that mitochondria is the powerhouse of the cell, but you don’t learn how to change the oil in your car. You learn long division (?!) but not how to file your taxes. You figure out what equals but you never really figure out why you need to know that (see what I did there?)

But don’t worry. It’s not useless. You didn’t waste your childhood sitting in a desk, I promise you.

The pursuit of knowledge is a noble thing, even if you don’t know exactly why or how you will use it. You may think your schooling has been impractical or mundane, but there was something else at work in the midst of that. School wasn’t designed to teach you how to do taxes or how to fix a car. That’s not the point.

You learned about cells so you can understand that your body is freaking awesome and you should take care of it by drinking water, eating reasonably healthy, and going easy on yourself when you’re sick.

You learned English and read novels so you could write a solid, descriptive resume or cover letter, free of grammatical errors. You read those novels to understand other worldviews, other places in time, the way the language you’re writing has changed an evolved.

You learned history because – well, it’s history and it’s important. I don’t need to explain myself on that one.

You learned adding, subtracting, long division, and algebra so you can calculate your tax deductions, your gross income, and your adjusted gross income on your taxes.

My point is this: the purpose of school is to teach you how to learn and understand. Take grades and all that out of it. And if it’s not teaching you how to learn and understand, it should. 

So don’t feel bad if you like school. That means you like learning. You like understanding things, even if it’s outside of what your main interests are. I’m not a huge fan of math. However, I do like the simple pleasure of seeing an algebra problem methodically solved by eliminating bits and pieces until you get the answer. Chemistry was never my strong suit, but it taught me how to get permanent marker out of various materials because of the chemical compounds at work.

You might be more booksmart instead of street smart. And that’s okay. Don’t let people make you feel bad for not knowing about car insurance or taxes. If you’ve got anything between your ears, you know that there’s more to life than taxes, interest rates, oil changes, and dividends. There’s mitochondria and Charles Dickens and algebra and Thoreau and JFK.

Albert Einstein (a shining example of a genius who rose above adversity) once said, “Any fool can know. The point is to understand.” The end-all and be-all of our lives isn’t to know how to cook a full-course meal or file taxes correctly or change a tire. Our end-all, be-all is to be humans who thirst to learn more, to discover. Discoveries build bridges. They help us understand why some people are booksmart and other people are street smart. They help us understand that mitochondria are the powerhouse of the cell, that it’s possible to solve for y, that we need history or else we’ll repeat the mistakes of the past, that we need each other in order to understand. If we don’t seek to understand these things, we’ll be no better than an unfiled tax form.

 

The World’s Biggest Problem

I’m not going to say what you think I’m going to say.

Our problem isn’t our insatiable appetite for technology, that alienates us from true relationships – but it’s related to that. It isn’t our rabid political divisiveness – but that’s part of it. It’s not one particular person or cause. It’s not one absolute Thing that I can point to directly, but it is something I can prove beyond reasonable doubt.

Log on to Facebook. Right now. That’s your homework assignment. Go to the search bar and type in the name of a news site you follow, whether it be a traditional site (like CNN or Fox News) or more peripheral (like Fusion or Buzzfeed.) Choose a story that’s been recently published and read the comments. You’ll find lots of different opinions there, ranging from empirical to somewhat idiotic. And usually a lot of name-calling. It might get painful after awhie, depending on what news story you’re looking under.

What’s the goal of these comments? Do you feel a sense of accomplishment or resolve after reading through the entire thread? Absolutely not. In fact, you might feel a disdain for the human race after reading what people can come up with to bring down people they barely know.

They’re trying to get their opinion out there, but refusing to listen. It’s something you and I do too. It’s just easier to do now because of technology. It’s easy to shoot arrows at a straw man than a real one – and there’s a lot of straw men on the Internet. Eventually, it all turns into noise, and people stop paying attention.

Our greatest problem is that every person wants so badly to be heard that they forget to listen.

But it’s not only the Internet, friends. An Australian pastor spoke at my church shortly after the American election. The focus of his message was apologetics, something he feels strongly about since being converted as a teenager. He told us about how he was out with a non-Christian before a speaking engagement and found himself arguing with the non-Christian. He left the table feeling like he’d definitely won the argument and shown the other man his place –

But he felt no sense of accomplishment. Because “winning” isn’t the point.

He’d won the argument, but not the person. In fact, he might have turned that guy off to Christianity altogether. “Man, if they’re all like that pompous, self-righteous guy, I want nothing to do with that.”

This doesn’t just apply to Christianity or religion. Take a look:

“If all Republicans are woman-hating white guys, I’ll never listen to them. I want nothing to do with that. I hate them all.”

“If all Democrats are lying despots, they have nothing good to say. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“All pro-lifers have no idea what womens’ rights even means. They’re all evil. I want nothing to do with them. I hate them all.”

“Conservatives all hate gay people. I don’t want anything to do with them. They’re all racist bigots. I hate them all.”

Just a few examples of the straw men we make for ourselves to feel better about our own beliefs.

If you think I’m pointing fingers, I am. I’m being blunt with you because most people are too afraid to be blunt these days. You could spend all day on the Facebook comments trying to win arguments. You won’t, even if you feel like you have. And worse than that, you won’t win the person either. You’re going to make them angrier. If you can’t win the person, you’re not going to win anything.

Hatred, name-calling, or questioning someone’s intelligence isn’t going to make them – or anyone else – listen to you. You’ll be heard, but you won’t be listened to. And you’ll cause deep wounds that breed more hatred. More retaliation.

In this life, you’ll come across people who disagree with you – vehemently. People who think they are right and will make sure everyone knows it. They will beg to be heard – “I have a voice too! Let me talk! Let me talk!” They’ll squelch anyone else who wants to add input – you’ve probably seen this before. (You might have done it before. I know I have. Most people have once or twice…or a lot.)

When this happens, it’s important to extend grace, not to try to talk over them, or insult them. That feeds their fire and gives them more arrows for their straw man. If you do, the cycle continues, and everyone starts shouting again, and progress screeches to a halt.

It’s okay to want to be heard. It’s okay to have a voice and to speak an opinion, even if it’s unpopular.

It’s not okay to step on other people or their views in order to do that. I don’t care if you’re Republican, Democrat, gay, straight, Christian, atheist. It is not okay. 

I have a challenge for you: The next time you’re sitting with someone – be it a friend, colleague, acquaintance, it really doesn’t matter – I want you to listen to them. Actually listen. The minute you start formulating a response in your head before they’re done, stop yourself, and keep listening. Actually hear what they’re trying to tell you. Then respond. That’s one step toward both listening and being heard – two birds with one stone.

And if you use both of them together, you’ll create something we all desperately need right now: Understanding.