Author Gary Thomas discusses several issues within the modern dating scene – character vs. romantic attraction, the neurological impact of infatuation, the idea of soulmates – while encouraging singles to be intentional in their pursuit of a godly spouse. (Part 2 of 2)
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Gary Thomas: If you buy a house you don’t like, well, you’ll take a financial hit, but eventually you can save up and move into another neighborhood. If you get a car that’s a lemon, you trade it in and you ... you count your losses. Marriage isn’t like that. It changes who you are. It becomes a part of your history, a part of your life. Andif singles want to make one wise decision in their life, next to becoming a Christian, this is the one that has to be thoughtful, with their eyes wide open, with counsel, driven by the truth of Scripture.
End of Excerpt
John Fuller: Well, that reflection about the importance of making good decisions as a single comes from Gary Thomas. And he’s back with us again today on Focus on the Family, hosted by Focus president and author, Jim Daly. I’m John Fuller and Jim, last time, we had such good dialogue and such passion from Gary about the subject. I’m really glad we’re able to continue along today.
Jim Daly: Oh, I am, too, you know. This is family formation. When we look at the divorce rate and what’s happening in the culture today, how marriage is being disregarded, one of the things we could do here atis to speak to singles about how to ... in a God-centered way, go after that desire in your heart to get married and not to leave it as we talked last time, to infatuation and kind of the hyper-emotional side.
And I am so glad Gary Thomas is back with us today to talk about this. If you missed last time, download it; get the CD. This is good stuff.
John: Yeah and I hate to interrupt here, Jim, but this is the kind of thingthat is gonna be good to pass along to somebody. I’m gonna share it with my kids--three adult kids who (Laughter) are not yet married, so ...
Jim: Are you gonna sit ‘em down together and--
John: Yeah, I may--
Jim: --say, “I’ve got--
John: --send it--
Jim: --somethin’ to show you.”
John: --you know, I’ll ... with a noteof suggestions on what they need to listen to here.
Jim: That sounds like a plan. Let me know how that goes (Laughter)--
John: I’ll let you know how it goes.
Jim: --when it comes back in. You know, 90 percent of people will get married at some point in their life. That’s huge. That ... that’s an institution that people are
Gary: Thank you.to do well. But so often, it’s breaking down and I think what we have to talk about today will add some wisdom to the discussion. Gary, it’s great to have you back at Focus on the Family.
Jim: You know, Gary, I was thinking about our chat last time and ... and the Lord really blessed me and I want to say this publicly. I think Jean um ... you know, both of us had committed to that Scripture in Matthew 6:33 about seeking ... the kingdom of God and that He would add all these things unto you. And I think both Jean and I separately without knowing each other, we were putting that Scripture, thatScripture forward. Is that a ... I mean, I am blessed by that. So, when Jean feels low, I say, “Man, God knows your heart and He knows your heart is for Him.” And that for us, was at least, one good decision that we made in our 20s.
Gary: And what a blessing that then you can share your life with someone. Like we said in the previous one, a ... a good marriage is like the gift that keeps on giving.
Gary: It makes everything better. It makes parenting better. It makes vocation better. You come home at the end of the day. You’re sharing your successes. You’re facing your failures. You’re crying together. It really is a wonderful thing and I ... I wish we could give singles that vision of how good a good marriage can be and also open up their eyes to how debilitating a difficult marriage can be, so that they’ll be more thoughtful--
Gary: --about making a wise decision.
Jim: Well, it makes me feel ... in your book you talk about the religious romance lottery.
Gary: Yes, yeah.
Jim: And it does make me feel like in a way, boy, I won it. And hopefully (Chuckling), Jean can say the same. I’m not sure she would (Laughter). But you know, talk about that. What is “winning the religious romance lottery?”
Gary: In that chapter, I’m trying to take on, I think a popular myth in Christian culture and it goes like this. God will bring the right person at the right time if I just sit back and wait. And there are instances clearly where God has done that in Scripture and in history and ... and Jim, in your own [life].
But when I look at the normative teaching of Scripture, I really see it trying to urge people to be more active in pursuing this decision and it only makes sense. I never hear high school students come out saying, “Well, if God wants me to go to college, [the] University of Texas will send me a dorm key and that’ll (Laughter) be my sign” (Laughter) that God wants me to [go] college.”
Or a college graduate, “Well, if God wants me to work for uh ... Microsoft, Steve Balmer, you know, will give me a call, ‘Hey, we heard you graduated; we want to offer you a job.’“ We know we have to go pursue a college. We know we have to pursue a job. Why do we think we don’t have to pursue marriage?
And when I look at Scripture, it seems like it puts a little carrot in front of guys, ‘cause guys can be, I think, too passive on this. One of the most famous passages is Proverbs 31:10, when it says, “A noble wife, who can find?” And here’s the carrot. “She is worth far more than jewels.” Some will say rubies or what-not. Just so listeners get in ... in the ancient Near East, jewels ... that was the currency. That’s what made you wealthy. That’s what you traded in. That’s what would allow you to buy and acquire property.
And so, in modern language, I think the writer of Proverbs would say this: “Hey, guys, listen up. A good wife is better than a good job.”
Gary: You’re gonna spend a lot ... you will relocate to go to college. You’ll relocate to get an internship. You’ll relocate to get a job. Why wouldn’t you do the same thing for something that the Bible says is eventhan a good job and that’s a good wife?
And I would just say, walking through life with a good solid woman is worth more than a good job, ‘cause you’re usually gonna pass on different jobs , and if you’re in a miserable marriage and you have success, it’s not quite as sweet, because you come home and there’s that ... that pall over the air. If you have failure, it’s even worse, because you have nothing else to live for.
I ... I think Scripture is honest and true, that a good marriage, pursuing God together, loving each other and supporting each other, is really one of the best human experiences we can have. And we should beproactive in finding a marriage like that, not less.
Jim: Gary, I’m a little concerned that we might paint a picture that, if you put character first and if you wait and if you don’t get wrapped around the stupidity of infatuation--(Chuckling) sorry to use that word; my kids’d say, “You used theword!” (Laughter) But it’s what you wrote and--
Jim: --it does make us stupid. But when you follow all of that, um ... it can give the impression that if you do it all well, that your marriage will be spectacular.
Jim: There is still gonna be difficulty in marriage like you talked about. We need to acknowledge that, because marriage is. And we honor the Lord in working at our marriages, as well. Once we have done the right things, it doesn’t mean necessarily that it’s easy.
Gary: Absolutely. James 3:2 gives a promise to every married person, that we are going to marry someone who hurts us, who disappoints us, who sins against us. James 3:2 says, “We all stumble in many ways.” You can get the top person of character in theand James 3:2 says, that person still will stumble, not just occasionally, but in many ways. We bring our struggle with sin. We bring our sin nature into the relationship. And so, marriage is going to be difficult.
But here’s the thing. If you marry a person of character, it helps you deal with those difficulties. For instance, if you marry a humble person, they’re going to grow out of some of those--
Gary: --character problems. If you marry a very arrogant person who’s just more concerned with changingthan changing him or herself, that’s never really gonna change.
Gary: So, I ... yeah, every marriage is difficult. Character gives you the promise at least, that you can have that shared joy of being brother and sister in Christ, day by day, walking more toward Christ-likeness and God’s purpose for your life.
Jim: Gary, I need to ask the practical question again. Um ... we’ve talked about the great ... pursuit of wisdom in finding a mate and the idea of putting character first, watch your infatuation. But what does it look like to intentionally pursue marriage? What are some of the things that a single person can do in their life today to prepare themselves? Speak to that person, where okay, you’re makin’ sense, Gary. I get it. And I have been infatuated and I want to do it God’s way. Give them some principles and some tools to go forward from now.
Gary: Absolutely the most important step I believe is to go deeper in your life of worship and faith. If you are desperate to be loved, that’s a very dangerous place to be dating from.
Gary: You want to have your heart needs met by the Lord. You want to know His acceptance. You want to know His grace. You want to be feeling His heart with vision. If you want to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, if you want to find a person who does that, you have to be doing that or a person who is doing that won’t want to have anything to do with you.
So, I’d say, go deeper in your faith. Know the Lord. Because again, desperation and dating is a toxic mix. And if you’re asking ... if you’re looking for somebody who’s gonna be for you what only God can be, you’re gonna be led astray.
Gary: Secondly, an exercise that I really encourage singles to do is, go to married people that you know and say, “Has marriage been easier or more difficult than you thought it would be?” And then just listen and say, “What made it more difficult?” Or “What have the challenges been?” Do some field research.
Look ... all my kids, you know, they’re looking for jobs. They’re going to people in that field and if it’s medicine, if it’s science, if it’s sales, if it’s business, what do I need to know that I don’t know? Do some research. Figure out what you’re looking for.
Um ... and then, third, I’d say, go into the “why” of marriage. What makes for a successful marriage? And you’re gonna come up with, I think some common things. Communication is essential once infatuation fades. If this isn’t a person who can communicate, your relationship is gonna hit a plateau.
Can you resolve conflict? Conflict isin a marriage. Now that can be a good thing, because conflict can help you understand someone. It can help you grow as an individual. But if they respond with stonewalling or even worse, violence, conflict will be in your relationship.
Gary: And so, find those traits that make for a successful marriage. Seek to grow them in yourself and then start to look for them in others.
John: Okay, so, Gary, um ... I have ... I’ve done this, okay. I’m a single. I’m maybe 23-years-old. I’ve done the field research. I really want to get married. And Jim, we hear a lot from women in this stage of life who are saying, “And I’m lookin’ and there ain’t nobody on the horizon.” (Laughing) I mean, there’s nobody around here.
John: And so, I mean, dating services? I mean, should I change churches? What’s your counsel there?
Gary: John, this is the most common question I get, particularly from women, although some from men, as well. And here’s the thing. I think within some Christian traditions, women feel like they’re supposed to wait until the guy entirely pursues them. And they’ve been very frustrated as a result.
And here’s what I say. Even within those traditions, I think there are still some steps you can take. The ... there’s a gal in college that wanted to get to know me a little bit better and what she simply did is, she knocked on my dorm room door one day, handed over a plate of brownies and they were good brownies and ... and just said, “Look, if you want to work ‘em off, we can go play tennis next week.” And it wasn’t obnoxious, but it was just a little way to say, “You know what? I’m interested if you’re interested.”
And I don’t think that’s being too forward. It’s just kinda giving guys a clue, can we get to know each other? And so, I would say, be proactive in that a group of women can invite a group of men together. And you don’t have to have five women and five men. It might even be better if you have an uneven number.
But if the Bible says, a good wife is better than a good job and it ... I think it would say the same thing for women as far as a good husband, I think that’s a little carrot saying, pursue this. I ... I mentioned before, people will relocate for college. They’ll relocate for a job or even an internship. I don’t think it’s ridiculous to relocate for something that theBible says is better than a good job.
And I think today in many ways, it’s much easier than it’s ever been, although I know it’s harder in others. But there are any number of on-line meeting and ... and dating sites. I think you have to be careful. I don’t have a lot of experience with those, because I got married well before there was an Internet--
Gary: --much less (Laughter) a dating site. So (Laughter)--
Gary: --I ... I don’t give out names and I don’t say it, but here’s the thing. If I don’t think there’s just one person God has created just for me, it seems to me, the larger pool that I can draw from, that seems to me like a wise thing. It seems to me like it’s using technology in a way where we could meet. If it’s a site that asks the right questions, it isn’t based on silly notions and it might even preselect people--
Jim: Okay, but--
Gary: --I think that could--
Jim: --I’ve gotta ask--
Gary: --be helpful.
Jim: --I’ve gotta ask this question--
Jim: --because it does ... you know, marriage when you look at what God is accomplishing through marriage and we’ve said this very often at, there’s something in marriage that’s hard and that’s called “rubbing off your selfish edges.” (Chuckling) And you could see God’s design in that, that we come together as one in Him, created in His image, male and female. And that’s, I think, part of the heavenly and godly design of marriage, is that we become more like Christ when we do it well, because we’re becoming more selfless--
Jim: --and servant-oriented. Those services at times, can ... they want to make it so, you’re gonna find the person that rub you the wrong way. Um ... is there a danger in that?
Gary: Well, certainly. Particularly the way ... the way you put it. I think that’s a big danger, because I think that’s a misunderstanding of marriage. But I think you don’t have to go along with their faults. You can use the tool for your purposes with your motivations.
Jim: Correct. It’s not the tool that’s faulty, but you’d want to go in with the right attitude.
Gary: But here’s the thing and I ... I would remind singles, you’re not just searching for a great companion. If you want to have kids, you’re searching for your kids’ mom or dad. And I would search from West Coast to East Coast, South America, North America, the entire corners of the world to find a good mother for my kids.
Gary: Uh ... it’s hard for singles, because when a child is just a potential being, they can’t possibly know the emotions that your own child will pull out of you. And I’ve talked to so many wives, where they’re almost frustrated at the ... that they’re ... they’ll be so angry at their husbands and then they catch their husbands loving on their kids and they fall in love with their husband all over again, almost resenting the fact, ‘cause they were so angry. But nothing melts a mother’s heart like seeing her husband love on her kids.
Gary: And so, look, I’m gonna try to find the best woman I can to raise kids, ‘cause I know that the day is gonna come when my kids mean more to me thanelse in this world. And so, I want to go wherever I have to go, because it’s gonna so much that I get someone that’s gonna do that job well, not just well, but spectacularly well.
Jim: Yeah. And Gary, we’ve talked a lot about character last time and this time and again, if you didn’t hear last time’s discussion, I’d encourage you to go to the website and download it or get the CD, ‘cause it was powerful. Uh ... Gary, we’ve gotta say, what is character? I mean, it sounds simplistic. We’re in it every day together, but what does character truly mean? What does the Bible and what is the Lord driving at when He talks about character?
Gary: I think that’s easy for Christians to answer. Character in the Christian context is Christlikeness. Is this person like Christ? And the Bible actually has a list that we can follow. It’s found in Galatians 5:19 through 23, when it compares acts of the sinful nature with the fruit of the Spirit.
And the fruit of the Spirit is really the fruit of walking with God. And they’re very clear. , is this person motivated by love? Is there joy in their life? How much more fulfilling and fun is it to live with somebody who is filled with joy, rather than living with Eeyore. I mean--
Jim: (Laughing)No, it’s a great blessing.
Gary: --seriously. Uh ... peace, this is world filled with so much anxiety and fear-mongering. To live with somebody who is calm because they trust in the Lord is such a blessing. Patience, look, I’m gonna mess up. My kids are gonna mess up. I want to marry somebody who exhibits the patience of Christ.
Kindness ... kindness never gets old. It’s ... it’s wonderful to live with somebody who’s kind. Goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control, uh ... Paul says, against these things there is no law. These are wonderful traits. And so, for character, you want to look at what is evidenced in the person of Christ and what do you hope to see in your own kids’ lives? Well, then marry somebody who is growing in that.
Now here’s a warning to women and I’ve had one woman say that, John Piper is taken. (Laughing) Bill ... Billy Graham is long past the marriageable age. Uh ... you can’t expect a 22-year-old guy to show the traits of a very mature senior pastor. It ... it just ...
Jim: That will come with time.
Gary: Character is something that grows with decades of walking with the Lord. What you want to see is a man or a woman who is on a trajectory. They’re opening up their hearts to the work of the Spirit. They’re studying Scripture so they can grow in wisdom. God has their heart. He’ll bring them along. But if you see that pursuit, notice Jesus says, “Seek first,” and in the Greek that’s continuous tense, “keep seeking.” It’s present tense, keep seeking.
Is this person seeking God’s kingdom? Is this person seeking righteousness? The end product eventually will get there, but you can’t expect a 22- or a 25-year-old to exhibit all the fruits of the Spirit in a fully mature form. It takes time.
Jim: Gary, one of the things that can trip a single up in the dating experience is, uh ... a person that they’re dating is maybe exhibiting or saying these things, but there are these occasions where it’s not there. The honesty isn’t there. Or the character qualities, one or more of them that you just described, it isn’t present. How would a person approach that with thatspouse?
Gary: Two steps I’d suggest, the first step is a listening step. The second step is an asking step. So, for the listening step, just listen to what this man says. If I have a very close friend, it would be bizarre if my wife never heard me talk about him. I mean, just in normal conversation it would come up. I was talking to ... to Chuck or I ... Chuck and I did this or Chuck was telling me this. It just would be a natural part of my conversation that, that would happen.
Women, if he never brings up God, if he’s never talking about God, he’s not talking to God. If God is a daily presence, if God’s challenging him, if God’s inspiring him, he’s going to bring it up. It’s just ... if God is truly his friend, it would be bizarre if it never came up in a conversation. So, listen without bringing it up. Does God seem to be an active presence in this man’s life?
And then second, here’s what I love to ask. What is God challenging you with now? What is God laying on your heart today? That tells you if he’s listening to God. God is so concerned about this world. I ... I’m just overwhelmed when I see God inspire people to address sexual trafficking, things like abortion and injustice and evangelism andand I mean, there’s so many issues where God is inspiring people to build His kingdom, to reach, you know, in the fields of education and in business and in so many areas.
To believe that somebody is interacting with God and He isn’t laying a mission of some kind on their heart, I ... I just can’t believe they’re listening. So, where’s God telling you, you need to grow today? What is God inspiring you to do today? And if you get this, “Uh ... well, uh ... you know, I thought I might start a popsicle stand sometime.” I mean (Laughter) you know, it’s just ... you ... you pretty much can clue in, you know what? They’re giving lip service to God. They’re not
Gary: --the kingdom of God. The ... there should be something that comes to my mind. If somebody says, what is God laying on your heart, if I’m seeking first God’s kingdom, I ... I know what I’m seeking.
Jim: I would think another area and again, this is something that for Jean and I, it was part of our dating relationship ... the respect for each other physically. In other words, I remember our first date. I shook her hand. I think she was blown away by that. She thought that was uh ... cute, but a little old--
Jim: --fashioned. (Laughing) But I didn’t ... I mean, there were several dates before I even gave her a kiss on the cheek. And that’s what I did. And I think that physical area, you’re showing that person of interest respect when it is not aggressive, when it is appropriate. And I think that would be a key indicator, as well.
Gary: Absolutely, Jim. I tell guys, you want to find a woman who is so into God, she will offend you before she’ll offend God. And that means, if you’re trying to push the envelope, she’ll say, not a chance. And I said, here’s why. The same God who commands single women not to be sexually active with their boyfriends, is the God who commands wives to be sexually active with their husbandsmarriage.
John: Gary, I appreciate that. And ... and let me loop back to something you’ve said earlier and that is, that you have three adult single children. So, what’s uh ... talk to parents here for just a moment. How do you encourage your child to be on this pursuit, on this search without, you know, oh, here it comes again; here’s the question.
Jim: Well, maybe without ...
John: “Did you find anybody nice yet?” How ... how do you encourage that child and you know, find out how that pursuit is going, without them rolling their eyes, saying here comes that question again and no, I haven’t found anybody yet. I mean, what havedone in that realm?
Gary: Well, I think it starts much younger than that and I ... if I’m talking to parents of younger kids, I think really the absolute best thing you can do to train your kids is to work on your own marriage. I mean, the best way you can give them a vision for godly marriage is to strive to build one yourself, so that they can see the satisfaction.
You know what’s holding so many young people back today is that they saw their parents’ marriage was so dysfunctional and so unhappy, they don’t want to have anything to do [with it]. They’re terrified--
John: Yeah, why should I--
Gary: --of taking--
John: --go there?
Gary: --that step. I don’t want to be in that situation. So, parents, before you get to that age, really let God in and seek to grow and begin seeking first God’s kingdom and righteousness and then, you’re gonna find that ... that you’re gonna have kids that will desire to have what they see at home.
Obviously, none of us can model a perfect marriage, but we can model a marriage where we’re seeking God together. But then, I ... I think it’s just a series of conversations. You know, with my ... my kids have read this book (Chuckling). In fact, uh ... my son is going through it--
Gary: --with a woman that he’s ... they’ve been together for a number of years and ... and are, you know, seriously considering um ... their future together. And so, they found it confirming of their relationship at this point. And so, I think it’s being aware of the “why’s” of marriage, talking about that as it comes up. Uh ... we would discuss withour kids, you know, we talked about high school dating and it would often be, what a waste of time it was in some cases.
Gary: Now you can’t always say that. Some high school couples end up together. But I ... I would tell ‘em about how in my years, it was just a colossal waste of time, instead of finding out who I am, growing in Christ, finding out my calling in life and vocation.
Gary: Yeah (Laughing). So--
Jim: That might be good. (Laughter)
Gary: --much time and energy was wasted and so, when their ... their friends would go through these just emotional travails and--
Gary: --weeks of crying and ... we would just point it out and talk about it uh ... and giving them that vision. But then I think, talking it up, going through Proverbs 31:10, that a good wife is ... is better than a good job. You know, we’re in a culture that has really put marriage down, except gay marriage. We’re gettin’, “Celebrate that.” But heterosexual marriage, well, you don’t want to rush into that too much. It’s just ... we’ve completely turned God’s order upside down.
Gary: I think we need to speak well of marriage as God designed it, one man, one woman for life, pursuing God’s kingdom together, showing them the richness, wanting to grow in our marriage so that they’ll desire that. And then, I think it’s entirely appropriate, as our relationship with our kids allows, be an encourager or trying to open up their eyes to somebody we think might be a good match.
Gary: Now that depends on every kid. Some kids will resent that. Some kids will welcome that. I think that’s more of an individual application of that general principle that part of parenting is helping our kids be married well.
Jim: Hm. Gary, you’re talking exactly to the mission here atand I’m so glad that we can partner with people like you, who are speaking such great wisdom from Scripture into practical life and how we do this.
Jim: And if you are uh ... troubled or need encouragement, I would ask you to call us. We have a counseling team that’s standing there, ready to talk with you and ready to help you with resources from Gary Thomas and others, ... to help build and create in your heart that aspiration for marriage, so you can do it well. And in that, being a good witness to our Lord Jesus Christ.
Gary Thomas, thank you for being with us. Thank you for the book,. We have really covered so much. In fact, we’re gonna keep rollin’. We’re gonna add some things to the website that uh ... won’t be part of the program. But if you are interested, come to the website and we’re gonna keep asking questions of Gary. Thank you for bein’ with us.
Gary: Thank you for having me.
John: And what a fast-paced conversation these past couple of days with Gary Thomas. And as you go online to hear those extras, just note that we have a free download for you. It’s called “The Search for a Godly Spouse” and we also have copies of Gary’s book, The Sacred Search available. Just stop by focusonthefamily.com/radio or call 800-A-FAMILY.
One of the other resources we’ll tell you about on the website or on the phone is our Boundless webzine, podcast and radio program. That’s the portion of our ministry dedicated to help singles live out a fulfilling life in Christ. In fact, we recently heard a really amazing story from one Boundless listener. She shared this: “I discovered Boundless in the summer of 2016 after I dropped out of graduate school, left the church and moved back home with my parents. I was broken, angry and lost. Things were very dark for me. Boundless was one of the many resources God used to shine a light in my life. Through Boundless, I learned about God’s faithfulness and my identity in Christ. I laughed, I cried and I celebrated. A year later, I’m walking in victory, so to say this ministry changed the direction I was headed in is an understatement. I returned back to the church and I’m now choosing to follow wherever God leads. Thank you for everything you’ve done in my life!”
That is an awesome testimonial and if you believe in the mission that Focus on the Family has to reach singles with the truth of the gospel and to encourage them to walk with Christ daily, then please, become a financial supporter of this ministry. Every dollar you give fuels our efforts here. And today when you make a generous contribution of any amount, we’ll send a copy of, the book by Gary Thomas and a CD of this conversation. It’s all part of our way to say thank you and to encourage you and the singles in your life. Donate today at focusonthefamily.com/radio.
Join us next time on this broadcast; we’ll have Paul Batura in the studio sharing stories of famous adoptees like Babe Ruth and Nelson Mandela.
Paul Batura: When I looked into the backgrounds of these adoptees, it occurred to me that they didn’t succeed in spite of being adopted, they really succeeded because they were adopted.
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Gary ThomasView Bio
Gary Thomas is an international speaker and best-selling, award-winning author whose books include Pure Pleasure, Holy Available and Sacred Marriage. He has also written numerous articles for several prominent national magazines. Gary and his wife, Lisa, reside in Texas and have three children. You can learn more about Gary by visiting his website, www.garythomas.com.