Wednesday, February 2, 2011

Equally yoked

Regarding the choosing of a suitable husband, I grew up with the doctrine, “Be equally yoked.” Be what? What the blazes does that mean? most intelligent people would ask. Good question.

I grew up in church culture and I’m still not really sure I know the answer (though it’s mentioned once in the Bible and is the slogan of E-Harmony, the Christian online dating service, if that rings a bell with anyone). Literally speaking, I guess it was referring to a farmer's yoke of oxen pulling a plow in the fields. It would not be efficient to have a strong ox and a weaker ox pulling together, since the strong one would end up doing most the work and they'd be out of sync with each other. On a metaphorical level, however, I think it means if you love Jesus, don’t choose a life partner who doesn’t share that same love. Whatever the case, the phrase seems to have acquired additional meaning through the years. Mind you, this is not going to make a lot of sense to someone who isn’t at least familar with Christian church culture, but I’ll take a stab at what I think being “equally yoked” means overall among Christians.

Don’t marry someone who didn’t grow up with a similar family and/or cultural background. Don’t marry someone who doesn’t know as much about the Bible as you do. Don’t marry someone who has “baggage.” Don’t marry someone who worships very differently than you. Don’t marry someone who doesn’t pray like you or as often as you. Don't marry someone who isn't a leader of a ministry at church. Don't marry someone who comes from a denomination very different than yours. Don't marry someone who isn't being spiritually mentored. Don’t marry someone who doesn’t agree with you on most points of doctrine. Don’t marry someone who disagrees with you much at all. Don’t marry someone who isn’t your spiritual “equal.”

I could be off in left field, but the impression I often get from the Christian community is this: wait and wait and wait patiently for this wonderful spiritual equal to come along, and when you meet, it’s spiritual fireworks, it’s meant to be, and God speaks to you in a dream or a vision and tells you that this is the one He’s picked out for you and you guys are going to do great things together for God, and you just... know.

Ok, so I’m exaggerating a bit, but it’s not that far off from my own experience. Trust me, I'm not down on being spiritually compatible, just on having narrow perceptions of what that means. For years and years, I’ve had this image in my mind of the “ideal” partner in life. And conveniently, he looked a lot like me. Problem is, I’ve changed significantly over the past several years and that ideal no longer fits who I am. I don’t want the old anymore; I want the new.

For me, the new is quite different from me. Different culture, different language, different family background, different country of origin, different spiritual journey, different ways of communing and relating with God, different ideas and opinions, different personality, different style. As for sameness, we both share a love for God that we desire to permeate our lives. And we have a lot of other “sames”, but the point is, differences can seem daunting. Differences can seem “bad.” Neither similarities nor differences automatically equal good or bad. I think we can get hung up on either side of the spectrum.

Thankfully God doesn’t. God isn’t drawn to love me because I’m so much like Him. Hah, hardly. God and I, we have vast differences. But doesn’t that draw attention to His vast (endless) capacity to love? It’s not very difficult to love someone who’s a lot like me. As humans, I think we're all drawn toward sameness. However, there's an incredible opportunity for my heart to be expanded, my character sharpened, when I’m able to accept someone else in his differences, embrace him, love and appreciate him in the whole of who he is. And here's a thought: I may even learn more about God and life and love from someone whose thoughts and experiences are different than my own, if I'm open to it. It may be a more challenging road on some levels, than if I chose a well marked, familiar path, but blazing a trail with someone sounds more my style.

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