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I recently started an online discussion about whether or not it’s important to have shared faith in a relationship. Responses varied, to say the least, as I suspected they would. I’ve discovered that this is a tricky topic that is often too over-simplified, even by yours truly.
If you’ve grown up in a Christian church like me, you’ve likely read the (in)famous Bible verse about the topic at hand.
Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.
For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common?
Or what fellowship can light have with darkness?
2 Corinthians 6:14
Basically, whenever the subject of dating or marriage comes up in church, this verse magically appears. I remember reading this as a pre-teen and trying to figure out what egg yolks had to do with dating. And then even after learning what a yoke really is, I didn’t understand how a pair of oxen fit into the mix. Yet again I was left scratching my head.
To be completely honest, for most of my adult life I thought this topic was far too often complicated by people who want to justify dating whomever they want to date. I, on the other hand, spent years cooking in a very simple kitchen.
Simple Dating Recipe:
If your faith is important to you,
date someone of the same faith.
I’ve followed that recipe and it’s worked out well so far. I haven’t gotten hitched or anything, but I also haven’t been pulled down a rabbit hole of atheism by a disbelieving husband. Lucky me!
The past few years, though, I’ve realized that I was guilty of over-simplifying the matter. Life is complicated. Faith is certainly complicated. It may not be as easy as my simple recipe.
What makes a relationship work? Beats me! Okay, okay, I’m kidding. I have my opinions (duh!). As I see it, there are two very important things (among others) that make for successful relationships:
- Mutual respect
- Shared goals and direction
We’ve all heard the great Aretha cry out for R-E-S-P-E-C-T. But I’m not talking about “girl power” or “man power.” I’m not talking about Beyonce proclaiming that girls run the world. I’m talking about genuinely respecting each other as human beings, and offering one another “high or special regard” because that’s what we deserve as children of God.
How does respect translate into daily life? It starts with actually listening to one another’s thoughts and opinions and ends with actually believing those thoughts and opinions are valid and worthy of consideration. With this in mind, you might think I’m leaning toward saying shared faith doesn’t really matter in a relationship. After all, we need to respect one another’s choices — faith included.
Not exactly. When talking relationships, I think that number one — mutual respect — goes hand in hand with number two — shared goals and direction. A couple needs to be going somewhere, doing something… together. If there’s no forward momentum, the relationship will die. We’ve all seen it. Couples that are complacent to just do the same old thing end up doing the same old thing — that is, breaking up.
Everyone is driven by different things. We all find value in different life areas. A man and woman should share direction in areas that are important to them. If faith is an area that’s important to you, then treat it that way. If career is number one to you, then your partner should support that completely. If raising a family is tops, you’d better find someone who feels the same.
I don’t think anyone would argue with me on this one: If a woman’s desire is to have several children, she should not marry a man who never wants to have children. This is basic stuff, right? “Relationships 101.” The woman’s goals and direction are different than the man’s, in an area that could ruin a relationship. I add that last part because I’m referring to the serious stuff here. I’m not worried about the man who loves watching Monday night football and the girl who despises the sport. Get over yourselves. I’m talking about things that affect futures: family, faith and values, finances and career.
So if you don’t argue that the example above is valid, why would faith be any different? If Christianity is important to me, shouldn’t I date and marry a man who shares those values? If I don’t, I risk jeopardizing everything I believe in.
I’m finding it’s not necessary to over-spiritualize this. It’s practical, really: mutual respect and shared goals and direction.
I particularly like this comment from Jen, a reader on Facebook:
It’s critical to me to date someone who shares perspective and purpose with me. I make decisions based on what I think and believe and see the very real risk to the unity of a relationship where fundamental beliefs and operational habits are so divergent as to pull us apart, rather than together.
Perhaps I’ve gone in a full circle here, back to that simple recipe I cooked up for so many years. I can’t help it. Shared faith is important… to me. And therefore I need for it to be important to my future husband as well. What I’ve learned along the way, though, is that faith is a complex experience between the creator and his creation, and everyone expresses it in different ways. Denominations, churches, and politics matter less. Having an open mind and heart to understand, love and support each other matters more.
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