In defence of essential criteria lists

Well yesterday I read an article which argues that it is unrealistic and impractical to have lists of essential criteria for your marital partner.  This appears to be the received wisdom regarding lists and I have read similar posts a number of times.  And yet I am strongly clinging on to the concept of maintaining a list of essential criteria. 

Two ways to think?
Here is the thing:  there are lists, and there are lists. There are some lists which I would definitely agree are unrealistic, impractical and potentially counter-productive. If you are going to compile a list, and add entries such as: “he has to be so tall”, “he has to have this kind of job”,” he has to buy me flowers every week”…, then yes, I would agree that such a list lacks any real value.  Lady, this is why you need to get yourself a decent job, so that you can buy your own flowers! Additionally, It is an absolute coincidence that a certain Mr. I fell for and extensively celebrated on this blog turned out to be tall!  After all, I first noticed him, and immediately decided I had to stay away from him, when he was sitting down…

The big difference I would say between my own list and that other kind is that my list deals primarily with issues of character.  For many people this would still be unrealistic.  Remember no-one’s perfect Tosin!  This phrase is bandied about so often that it has almost become an automatic sing-song.  I can almost guarantee when I start talking about my lists of essential husband criteria, (which I do often!), that someone will start “singing”, almost immediately: “But no-one’s perfect!” Coincidentally, this is very similar to the response I get when I start talking about church issues:  “There’s no such thing as a perfect church!”  And yet let’s stay on the church subject for a while.  Because it is largely due to my experiences in various churches that I have identified and articulated many of my “essential criteria” for my husband. And it is usually when I experience someone demonstrating a certain characteristic of poor, childish behaviour that I realise that 1. I cannot take that on a long term basis from anyone close to me and so 2. I have to insist on the opposite type of behaviour from my close friends and associates, and especially my husband! So I hurry to add the inverse of that particular characteristic to my list of criteria, and that is how the list keeps growing!

Hell is other Christians. 
Hell is other Christians.  No really.  No really!  (Or, here we go again, Tosin is going to launch into yet another of her “church stories”!)
Oh my goodness. Please believe me that I honestly do not know where to start in describing to you the poor ways I have seen Christians acting in churches. The types of pettiness or small-mindedness that people regularly demonstrate. Here is the thing, which I must never allow myself to forget, no matter how frustrated I’m feeling: some Christians are lovely!  Candidly speaking they can be much lovelier than I am.  I can have a very pronounced tendency to just say it as it is, especially when I am not impressed. Or sometimes I will not actually open my mouth to speak, but my facial expression will say it all. These days I have learned to school my features into a mask of demureness.

This is how bad it is.  Candidly speaking, I totally believe in the Bible.  I know that much of what the Bible teaches is controversial and difficult, and much of it is even considered offensive. (Candidly speaking, I hate the doctrine of hell, and I wish that it just did not exist. But then I also hate death, yet that definitely exists.) Alongside the doctrine of hell, and difficult passages about executing people for their sexual practices and killing whole people groups in war there are so many other difficult practices and teachings which are extremely difficult to try to justify in light of somewhat permissive modern Western values.  And yet I believe the Bible. I worship the God of the Bible. This is what my entire life is based on. And yet I simply cannot recommend that people should go to church.  Because to be candid in church for the most part you will not find Jesus. What you will find is insincerity. Towering layers of insincerity. If you are desperately searching for something that is true, something on which you can anchor your life, please believe me as someone who loves God and loves Jesus and wants you to attain the joy and peace and fulfilment that only God can bring, this is to be found in God and the Bible, even despite all the difficult doctrines. So yes, absolutely, grab onto God, grab unto His truth, throw yourself into the Bible, but don’t do church.  You will only find extreme frustration and disappointment.  And insincerity. 

And the poor behaviour from Christians might lead you to question the truth of the Bible, as in “If Christians are this fake, can God Himself be real?!”  But He is real, absolutely. Please believe me that if this thing were not true, reliably true, I would not be wasting my own time much less advising you to waste your own time.  Yes my African, Yoruba culture is completely immersed in faith, yet I have demonstrated that I can stand up to my culture, or “what everyone else says”, and challenge the status quo. If this thing was a lie, trust me that I would say so. But don’t do church.  Really.  Oh very well, if you must, make sure that you insist on absolute excellence of character, and “two-year” the pastor before going anywhere near the church, and especially before contributing even a single penny of your money. Because to be candid money is one of the major reasons why there is so much insincerity in the church.  The fact is that not only can someone  make a comfortable living through running a church, but some pastors, many pastors, even get seriously rich and become millionaires! This completely contradicts the heart of Christ and the teaching of Christ as very clearly and easily seen in the Bible  – and yet these people will claim that love for Christ and obedience to Him is the basis of their behaviour. Sadly this is the kind of pseudo-faith that permeates African and Yoruba culture.

So the fact that people can make very good money from running a church suddenly provides a strong and sometimes irresistible incentive for someone to “get into the ministry”, even if they don’t really love God or His word or His teachings that much. Which is why you will hear of so many “pastors” doing so many things that contradict the Bible!  Because they don’t really love God, and they never did. They don’t care about His commands.  They don’t care about nurturing the flock of Christians in their church. All they really care about regarding the faith is making money.
And they are so many of them all shouting their lies so loudly that they skew the understanding of God and the Bible for everyone else.  So that my own life has also become a kind of sing-song:  “That’s not what the Bible says!” 

To make matters worse, Yoruba culture can be very materialistic and very status conscious. A large part of the reason why these pastors are so successful is because they appeal to the existing love of money that blazes unchecked in so many hearts.  And they literally just sell to people what they want to hear. “God wants you to be rich!”  Big disclaimer – Erm, I myself do kinda plan to be financially successful but in my case it genuinely is different because…well you’ll have to wait and see!
The Bible teaches that we have to change our hearts, reformulate our desires to bring them in line with God’s truth. But these pastors teach that we do not have to change our hearts at all as God will bless and vindicate the greed in our hearts. In fact if anything we can be more greedy, more rapacious! Which is why a country which is as ostensibly “religious” as Nigeria is grows more lawless even as the number of “churches” in it increases, and corruption runs ever rampant.  This is why such a country blessed with such an abundance of natural resources, should have so many people living in poverty, and be creaking under such inadequate infrastructure. Meanwhile wealthy socialites go to parties and brag about wearing  multiple changes of clothing within the same party, with some of their multiple bags and pairs of shoes that they wear at a single event event costing thousands of dollars each.  Italian/European-made, of course, because Nigerian industry is yet another area that has suffered from under-investment.

And then, undoubtedly, there are some churches which are “not prosperity gospel”, but which present Bible teachings more accurately. Even in many of these churches, even there, the pastors will be there primarily for the sake of earning a nice comfortable living, even where they can resist the desire to want to become millionaires.  OR they might sincerely be all for Jesus – until they need to choose between doing what is right and doing what is necessary to protect their church “brand”.  Watching the choices that they make, you might find yourself to be disappointed.

Let me be clear, that there are truly outstanding pastors and churches out there. I thank God for those wonderful churches that I have been privileged to belong to, and the holy and grounded pastors who have blessed me with their wisdom. However when I say “Don’t do church” I guess it would be more accurate to say “Don’t just turn up at just any church expecting to find truth, beauty or sincerity there. Acknowledge the pragmatic reality that many people running churches are at least a little motivated by things other than a pure love for God and a desire for His truth, and adjust your expectations accordingly. If you want to deeply invest yourself into a church, just as with a marriage – (in fact, even more so than in a marriage!) – insist on utter excellence of character and sincerity from your pastor.”

So there is usually lots of fun and games to be experienced in churches. And it is after experiencing these things, so many times that I come to a place of insisting on a certain level of character and maturity from my husband, as expressed by the “essential criteria”.  You know, some of the ways that people – and pastors – have behaved have been so shocking. Watching these things I’ve been forced to think:  “Seriously?!”  And then because of their considerable egos, apparently untamed by anything within the Bible, they refuse to apologise, much less change.  You know what, I can’t take that. I will walk away every time. If, God forbid, I found myself in a marriage with someone with such poor character, on one hand, I would so want to persevere. After writing this blog for so long, it would feel like such defeat to fail in my marriage, to have to quickly walk out from my marriage.  I am so committed to the idea of marriage. I have made up my mind by the grace of God that I want to do whatever it takes to make my marriage succeed. And yet I know myself that if I was faced with this kind of behaviour; immaturity, childishness; despite my high ideals and aspirations for my marriage, I would walk away. As someone once told me, I just don’t take rubbish from anyone.

Expecting perfection?
You see, here is the thing. I definitely do not expect perfection from my husband. I know how hard I am striving for Christlikeness, how many, many years I have been striving and I also know what immense mountains of character I still need to defeat in my own heart. I know that if a man is striving after Christ, he will definitely not be perfect, in the same way I am definitely not perfect. And yet I can tell you in all sincerity that I am striving after Christ.  And in the same way, he too must definitely be striving.  Even such a marriage will still be difficult!  It will still require so much patience and so much humility and so much of saying “I’m sorry.” Even through all our striving we might still make deep, earth-shattering mistakes that might sadden our God and deeply hurt one another. But even through the difficulty, there will still be times of profound beauty, and joy and tenderness. On balance it will be worth it. Perhaps even through my tears I will say “God, I thank You for my husband!”

However, where a man is not striving, where he is comfortable in his complacency, and mediocrity of character, not only will it be merely “difficult”, it will be impossible. It just will not be worth any sacrifices whatsoever.  It will just be a lifelong, unexciting re-enactment of the hell I have seen and experienced in different churches.

So this is why I insist on my criteria.  If because of these criteria I remain single because I’m “too fussy”, then so be it. Please believe me that I would rather remain single, than commit to a husband who turns out to be less than outstanding, in the same way I would rather just stay in my house every week, than invest my time, effort and money into a church that is less than outstanding in the sincerity of its pursuit, and makes insufficient effort to become truly outstanding.


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