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Advice Not Taken

While perusing the Christian section in my local Barnes & Noble, I came across one of the many hundreds of books on dating and stopped to read the back cover because one of the authors was a popular musician. She had formulated a way for people to look for traits they wanted in their possible soul mates and learn to gracefully eliminate people from their dating pool.

It looked just fine to me—just another dating book—until I came across the suggested list of qualities in a potential date. The obvious things were listed—good personality, sense of humor and spirituality. Then came the brick. A good match was outlined as a person from a “good Christian home” where the parents were still living in a happy marriage. Persons who were not fortunate enough to have been brought up in such circumstances were to be avoided because they would mimic their own dysfunctional homes.

This is perhaps the most offensive message I have ever read in a book on Christian dating of the many off-kilter and unoriginal ideas floating around the bookshelves.

It is depressing to think that we are all doomed to repeat the same failures as the rest of our family, particularly if we happen to come from broken homes. The stigma alone is enough to convince someone that their chances at marital happiness are vaporized the second their parents finalize their divorce. History must be doomed to repeat itself, we are told.

This advice, while attempting to provide helpful guidance to avoid heartache and direct the reader to a suitable match, leaves no room for grace or growth. What exactly does it say to the hundreds of thousands of people who are products of broken homes and are of dating age? Are we to resign ourselves to the fate of our parents before we have even tried to make things work?

Instead of looking at a person’s past, Christ calls us to see their potential and treat them to the highest standard of who they are to Him. It is particularly silly to judge a person based on the past of someone else in his or her family—a chilling thought. Everyone can think of that one crazy person in their family who creates havoc at family reunions and ends up embarrassing whomever has brought a date by rehashing old stories. (It could be you if you think nobody in your family is like this.)

We are beckoned to look past a person’s shortcomings, failures and mistakes and see them as God sees them. By categorizing people as undesirable because of things they can’t change, we have eliminated an entire segment of the population and all but labeled them lepers. Perhaps it is difficult to break the cycles of divorce, violence or abuse that go on in homes, but through the power of God it can be done. Who better to understand the tragedy of divorce than a child who has survived one?

The author of that book might as well have instructed readers not to date poor people because they clearly would be miserable without a wealthy spouse.

We love people because we love them—not because it is particularly easy to love them or because they are perfect creatures. Choosing to love someone means loving them despite their faults, fallacies and family. If we could choose our families, I’m sure that everyone would have preferred to come from a loving environment where mom and dad end up celebrating their wedding anniversary for decades. Not everyone is so fortunate, but they certainly shouldn’t be stigmatized for their environment.

Some of the people most dedicated to keeping their marriages together and working through tough situations were products of “broken homes.” Sometimes it takes seeing how bad things can be to make someone want to keep things from ever getting that bad in their own relationships. It was because I watched my parents’ marriage fester and rot that I have such strong desires to work through problems like a professional diplomat if I ever marry.

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Maybe next time I’ll think twice before picking up a book on dating. Not all advice is worth having.

[Mandy Langston believes in beating the odds and that a person’s past doesn’t necessarily determine their future.]

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