A little waffly preamble
Oh wow! I have not published any posts to this blog for months and months! In terms of actual writing I am so out of practice, and wow, it shows! This is my second attempt at this post. Despite having quite a simple idea behind this post, the first attempt grew and grew and grew to thousands of words, and I still did not feel that I was managing to correctly identify and communicate my point. I think though that this second attempt has a tighter structure and so I have been able to be more concise – but as with most of my posts it is still thousands and thousands of words long!
Specific to me?
From the title of this post, it might sound quite specific to me as the writer of the post. However the concepts I talk about here are quite general so I hope it will also be relevant to anyone else who might be wondering just why they have struggled to find a spouse whom they could honestly consider truly outstanding.
New Realisation: Two years and 10 years.
For anyone new to this blog, some of my ideas might seem extraordinary. First and foremost, I know it might sound immensely arrogant for me to say that I cannot find an outstanding spouse, as if I myself am outstanding. The simple truth is that I have invested a lot of effort into my relationship with God, and I very rarely meet anyone who has invested a comparable level of effort into their relationship with God.
Secondly my other very, very radical idea is that everyone should take two full years to carefully evaluate a potential spouse before embarking on a romantic relationship with them.
I know that two years is a long time, and a lot can happen within that time; people can get fed up of waiting around. Two years was chosen because that is the length of time that people say it takes to be sure that you really know someone well.
I am going to add to this post a further realisation that has only recently crystallised in my mind: when I am evaluating someone for two years, what I have been looking for (without realising it myself until now) is evidence of the character that he has already built up up until that point; it is not about how he could grow as a person in terms of character; rather it is about what he has already achieved.
A further new realisation is that by my rough estimation, it would take about 10 years of concerted, determined effort and pursuit of phenomenal character for someone to grow outstanding character that will be sufficient for an outstanding marriage. That is, whether starting from a completely neutral position, or from already being “a nice person” or even being extremely not nice.
The two year evaluation length of time is in a way scientific, because it is widely recognised that this is the length of time that it takes to get an accurate understanding of someone else’s true character. Any period shorter than that and there is the possibility of being deceived.
However the 10 year figure is not scientific; I have chosen it for this post because it is a nice round figure, and represents a considerable length of time. What I am certainly sure of is that it does take a long time – many many years of sustained, deliberate effort – to grow phenomenal character. It does not happen accidentally. If someone has not deliberately, systematically and consistently invested himself into developing phenomenal character – then he won’t have it.
This then, is the reason why it is so hard for me to find an outstanding spouse – because most of the men I meet have simply not invested themselves into the development of phenomenal character, and they certainly have not pursued it wholeheartedly for ten years, whereas I have pursued phenomenal character, for much longer than 10 years.
I believe that an incredible upbringing is extremely helpful. However, I believe that beyond even the most fantastic upbringing, a man has to have made the decision for himself that come what may, he will know God, he will pursue Christ-likeness, relentlessly, and he will be outstanding for Christ.
Unrealistic? Doesn’t Exist?!
Whenever I start with my list of essential criteria for my husband and his character, many people will instantly tell me that it is extremely unrealistic. Such a man does not exist, Tosin! Well I exist! I am all these things that I ask for – and more. Well here’s the thing: if you are going out to try to randomly find one person who just happens to embody all these characteristics, such a person may as well not exist. What I mean is that it is almost impossible for anyone to just accidentally have developed excellence in all these characteristics without concerted and deliberate effort. However, if someone has been investing himself into the pursuit of Christ-like character, then he could easily have achieved excellence in all these characteristics, and more – and moreover he would understand what I am talking about, and he would understand why I am insisting on these characteristics. What is more, men like this certainly do exist; I just need to work out where to go to find them! (while they are still single!)
So I guess what I have been looking for all along is someone who is exactly like me: someone who has dedicated serious time to pursuing Christ and Christ-likeness. I can almost take it for granted that someone like this is going to be outstanding.
Now I am going to list a few reasons why I so rarely meet men like this:
On one hand, many of the men I meet will have been Christians and exposed to the Bible and biblical standards of character for well over 10 years. So theoretically, they have had the necessary time to develop truly outstanding levels of character. And yet, these are some of the reasons why none of the men I’ve been meeting truly have those standards of character:
1. Above all, I’ve been going to the wrong churches! (Duh!)
There are churches where people are encouraged in the radical, relentless pursuit of Christ-likeness. Anyone attending these churches would be encouraged to read the Bible, pray, cry out after God, carefully examine their hearts to make sure that they are constantly pursuing holiness etc, and truly truly giving 100% – in fact, one thousand per cent. I don’t think I came across a single church like this in Edinburgh, and please believe me, I looked so hard. (At which point someone will ask – “Well what about our church, Tosin?” Well I’d be more than happy to give a candid review of any church I’ve ever attended.)
What I did experience in churches was often this overwhelming “niceness”, where people could be described as being superficially “nice”, but not truly in relentless pursuit of Christ. “Nice” is not the first word I would choose to describe myself, in that I can be a bit blunt. However I am in relentless pursuit of Christ.
Something else I experienced a lot in Edinburgh churches was a misunderstanding of the concept of grace. Basically, people seemed to think that because God loves you anyway, and because God loves you no matter what, you don’t have to try very hard, and in fact, if you do apply yourself to relentlessness in Christ-likeness, this shows that you don’t understand how much God loves you, and you are in effect trying to buy your salvation. So what that often meant was that I was often surrounded by Christians who were failing to apply themselves to very strong standards of Christ-likeness or holiness or excellent behaviour – and it was extremely unpleasant. So naturally then the men in those churches would often be very uncompelling in terms of their character. Being married to one of those men would sincerely represent hell on earth to me.
This is my very very simple answer to that question of grace: your behaviour might not make a difference to the question of how much God loves you. It might not make a difference to the question of “getting into heaven.” However, it does make a difference to me. It makes the difference between my feeling joy, peace excitement and other lovely things; and my struggling with anger, resentment and frustration.
Moreover, in these churches, often the pastors themselves would be utterly deficient in terms of Christ-like character. And we are talking about basic elements of Christian character, like telling the truth.
So then what that means is that if a man is dependent on such a pastor for spiritual growth – then Christ-like character would simply not be a part of that growth.
2. Character is not always understood as being necessary for men to demonstrate towards their wives
Apologies if this is a bit of a broad generalisation. From my interaction with Christian men in various (non-romantic) contexts, I can’t help feeling that they don’t look upon Christ-like character as a fundamental aspect of the behaviour that they have got to demonstrate towards their wives. What I mean is that in thinking ahead to his future marriage, a man will not think of phenomenal character as one of the prerequisites that he needs to develop to sustain that future marriage. He might consider himself as needing to get a job, and needing to make money (things which are largely irrelevant to me, personally). Not thinking of character in this way as essential long-term for their wives and marriages is because, in my experience, many men think of their marriages as boxes to be ticked off, and they think of their wives as accessories to their own lives; their wives exist for them. Why would they bother to invest that effort for something that exists for them? What I mean is that if someone is already unconditionally committed to you, and if you consider them as existing to serve you, then if you choose to be loving to them or not is largely irrelevant, because they are going to stay anyway. Someone might invest the minimum kindness that he considers necessary towards his wife. However, to bend over backwards to be as amazing, loving, gracious, kind, generous as possible – why would that be necessary when her lifelong commitment has already been secured? It’s like if you know that you are going to get an “A” in an exam, whether you make a ton of effort, or whether you make zero effort – why would anyone make any effort?
I hope that this is not too broad a generalisation, and I hope I am not being too unfair to men with this. The truth is that some men will of course be hopelessly in love with their wives, and their behaviour will reflect the extent of their tender feelings. However, the question is how they will continue to behave once those tender feelings have evaporated…
I suspect that for most men, the way they treat their wives on a long-term basis will be a reflection of their innate fundamental character; if they just happen to have a lovely character, then they will treat their wife in a lovely way; however if they happen to have a poor character then they will treat their wife in a poor way; I suspect that beyond being hopelessly in love, few men regard their wives or marriages as demanding any special effort in character over and above their normal character, or whatever minimum character they need to demonstrate to keep the peace.
3. Character not seen as essential for winning the spouse in the first place…
If then, a man has not been developing phenomenal character for the sake of investing it into his marriage, then when it comes to winning her in the first place there might not be any character actually available to win her. And yet everyone knows that they have to pretend to be as wonderful as possible for the sake of deceiving that would-be spouse into marrying them – and once the commitment has been secured then they can relax into their real selves, without having to make any further effort. And then if their spouse should complain within marriage, then all they have to do is make the minimum adjustments possible to stop their spouse from complaining – or at least complaining publicly! Perhaps I’m being just a bit cynical… And yet the point I am making is that I believe that most people (men and women) think that they can get away with pretending. So if they have not been developing character for the sake of investing into their marriage for the long-term, then they don’t have to make that effort for the sake of winning the spouse in the first place. And I think that with the way marriages usually occur, many people would indeed be able to get away with pretending.
An approach that focuses on falling in love, and extravagant dates, and getting beautifully dressed up, gives amazing opportunity for people to hide the less appealing aspects of their character behind glossy and charming facades, especially if it all happens very quickly.
However, my approach of evaluating someone for two full years, looking deliberately for character, is very different. I hope to be able to discern just who a man is, and the extent to which he has truly worked on his character, behind any shining and charming exterior.
If a man has not been expecting to be evaluated this way, then he will not have been working towards it, and if he has not been working on his character for any other reason, then his character will be lacking, and over the course of two full years it will become so obvious.
4. Development Period for character longer than evaluation period.
Where 10 years is the rough estimate of time necessary to develop excellent character, and 2 years is the length of time necessary to evaluate character, 10 years is obviously a lot longer than two years. What that means is that I might meet someone, and the spark of attraction between us could be so strong. However, even if he were to start growing from that time when I meet him, until the end of the two years, it is just not possible that he could grow sufficiently within that time to truly become outstanding. This is true even if I like him, and even if I want him to be “the one”. So I will often meet men where there are mutual feelings between us…but ultimately I will have to walk away. Even if this was true of every single single man on earth, that there could be mutual feelings between him and me, unless at least one of these men has invested himself into relentless pursuit of character, not a single one of those potential relationships would be viable.
So then these are the reasons why men on the whole have not been investing themselves into the pursuit of phenomenal character and why I consequently have found it hard to find anyone who will not represent sheer hell to me in marriage, even where sometimes the man does like me, and where I inspire him to want to grow in Christ.
The one reason why a man would be outstanding is because he has invested himself into the pursuit of Christ, OR…
…Thinking pragmatically, I think it is possible for someone to develop outstanding character, even if they have not been followers of Christ. Let’s be candid – there will be people who are not Christians who still consistently demonstrate outstanding behaviour – yes? I think that basic aspects of phenomenal behaviour are open to anyone: things such as telling the truth, deciding to live in integrity, treating other people as being inherently valuable; making up your mind that you will be the best you can be. I believe though that it still boils down to personal determination for excellence in character. If someone who has invested themselves into excellence of behaviour like this, were to “move sideways” and become a Christian, then because of all the investment they have already made into character in their years before Christ, then instantly they would score highly in terms of character. There might need to be some tweaks to bring them in line with truly Christian thinking, but the essence is already there; the determination, the relentlessness, the pursuit.