You know that ‘it girl’? The one with the long legs, glamorous looks and stylish make-up.
No, neither do I.
She rarely exists except on the TV screen or the fertile lands of our imagination. But the image is pervasive, it is what we think we are supposed to want.
Lust is love gone wrong. It is when we become a slave to our desires. Yet lust is usually the lens through which we try and assess love. We are drawn to those we are attracted to, and want more what we cannot have. Lust objectifies our desires. It makes what we want abstract and generalised. It means that we want something, and the nearest fit will do.
A little bit of philosophy
It turns what I want into an it. I-it, as Martin Buber would put it. We place ourselves in relation to an it. What this does is to ignore the complex reciprocal emotions that are in play and turn relationships into what ‘I’ want. I do what I can to possess and obtain, I perceive myself as alone with a universe of objects orbiting around me.
The obvious upshot of this is that we treat people as objects. We use them for ourselves. Every time we interact with people thinking only of our our needs, wants and desires, we are removing a little of their person hood. This fundamentally misses the point and it turns a them into something less than a person, it denies the self. But it also affects the ‘I’. Because I am not a solitary individual living in a world of my own creation. So when I define myself in relation to objects rather than people I settle for less than what I am made for. In my effort to personalise my life around what I want I have in fact depersonalised myself.
In contrast Buber suggests we adopt a posture towards one another as ‘I-thou’, we should accord dignity to those we relate, we must accept that we live in a conflicted space with tension and mystery and the magnitude of emotions that flow between people exercising freedom. And that freedom means that we cannot always have it our way. But as Alan and Debra Hirsch put it: ‘Through my relationships, in which I give of myself, I will become real, more alive’
The ‘I-thou’ relationship is at its most critical as I relate to God. If I treat God as an it, then I relate to him for what I can get out of him, but if I let him be Thou, then I allow him to change and transform me, and I realise that the world does not exist to serve me.
Lust is bad. That’s what we hear, me must flee from it. We must remove every trace of immorality from among us. And within the church there can be a slightly sneering attitude to a world enthralled by sex, and we say that it is worshipping a false god.
I think it’s time to check our back yard. While we can be loquacious in our criticism of the world’s sexuality, we sometimes seem to be equally obsessed. As Tim Keller puts it: ‘If you are so afraid of love that you cannot have it, you are just as enslaved as if you must have it.’
We can slip into idolising relationships in two ways. Firstly, we build up a picture of a perfect relationship, or often a perfect partner. We treat the other half as an it. Because we are afraid of falling short of this standard we steer clear, we circumvent the contested space where we may discover that a relationship does not match up to our illusion.
The second, and I think bigger problem is that we pray for a girlfriend, (or boyfriend). Bear with me a moment, as that probably sounded slightly heretical. In my last post I criticised the tendency that at least I have of compartmentalising my life and leaving God out of some parts of it, and here I am saying that praying for a partner is somehow wrong. The problem is that this is often the only place we give to God in our relationships, certainly if you’re single.
If we are praying for something constantly, if it is the cornerstone of our prayer life, and importantly, if our trust in God is lessened if we do not get the response we want, then we have created an idol. So if I am praying for a girlfriend and one does not drop out of the sky, or I seek God about asking a girl out and then she turns me down, and if this causes me to doubt God then I am placing what I want above Him.
What this also does is remove our faculties, we are deferring to God when really he wants us to do it ourselves. If a guy ever says to a girl that God has told them they are to get married, I’d suggest hitching a ride on the nearest thing passing. This is not because I don’t believe that God can speak into every situation, including who we will marry, but if this is our reason for asking a girl out we are hiding behind God. We are depersonalising ourselves.
The myth of the perfect couple is pretty damaging. It is also not countered with sufficient honesty and transparency. For those of us who are not married, life beyond the veil and the vows is a shrouded image. There is not enough acknowledgement and recognition that the problems of life are not solved by marriage. Too many people approach relationships thinking that either the institution of marriage, or the person they are looking to marry will rescue them.
Maybe I seek perfection in a girl. I look for something that is so right, beyond reproach, without anything that I might not like. Until recently I have never given much thought as to the details of this. I have not pondered what the cost of it all is, how much I might have to give to stay in love.
I have thought of love as a one off endeavour, the satisfaction at the end of an infatuation. I have rarely concerned myself with the hard work that it must entail, the dedication and the commitment, the forsaking of so much else, the constant pursuit.
What if true beauty does not ignore the blemishes. What if it is through the cracks of the broken that the light begins to shine?
My autrocious conception of love is brought into stark contrast when I realise that love does not require perfection. In fact it almost demands its absence. How easy would it be to love something that had no faults, what kind of love would that be. If God made us all perfect and unstintingly obedient there would be nothing audacious about his desire and determination to love us every moment of every day. It is that model of love, that he loves us no matter what which must make me look again at how I love, it must force a smile on my face as I realise that just as God loves me, I can love others, and perhaps, most surprising of all, others can love me.
Do I want a rescuer, do I want a girl who will save me from myself. Am I looking in the wrong place for the solution to my problems, investing far too much hope in the ways of a fellow human who I know is also covered in cracks, fragile and close to breaking point. Do I think that I could be her rescuer? That this might be my way in.
There’s an old motivational maxim, don’t let the good get in the way of the best. I think it’s time to turn this on its head. The search for the best can blind you to the good that is right in front of you. And the best you search for, the perfection you desire? Well it’s there, just not in the girl that you’re looking at. That’s God’s job. He has a monopoly on best.