Singleness: Australian Stats and Refelctions

In preparation for the upcoming Christ Centred Singleness workshop I’ve been doing a fair amount of reading into singleness in today’s culture.

I read an interesting quote a while back that suggested that the hardest impact of being single hits around the age of 35. This is when the majority of one’s peers are either married or in de facto relationships.

relationships by age

After having a quick look at the 2006 Australian census data the quote was backed up. The ages of 35 and 74 are where the greatest number of people are living in committed relationships.

It seems that ages 18-24 are a period where singleness is prevalent, and those who are looking for their life companion are amongst others of a similar mind-set. This means that peer support is at its peak for singles in this age group.

From 25-30 years of age is the biggest jump into marriage. The marriage and de facto statistics triple from ~20% to ~60%. Suddenly the cultural norm for those in this age bracket is to be in committed relationships.

Then from ages 35 through to 74, at any given time more than 1 in 5 Australians are not living in committed relationships. This means they are in the minority and are travelling through a significant period of time alone. This is a time where people are raising families and accumulating wealth. Think especially of the single parents who invest all their resources into their children.

Then later in life the rate of singleness significantly increases. This is obviously because of an aging population. The number of widows and widowers increases dramatically. For some of these people, they will be learning how to live a life of singleness for the first time in 40 or 50 years.

If singleness is such a prominent issue within our culture why is it never talked about? The answer is quite simple, because our culture has built up marriage to be the epitome of significance. We’re told that we aren’t really whole until we find our ‘other half’. The media suggests that if you’re single there’s likely something wrong with you; you’re likely not attractive enough, don’t have enough money, too old or are socially awkward.

Australians have become convinced that singleness is a period of transition. It’s a time of reconnaissance, as we find our life long partner. It’s a time to be free from commitment, until you’re fulfilled by that same commitment. As Australians we typically want to have our cake and it too.

It’s time we had a long hard look at the place of marriage in our culture. Marriage shouldn’t be about determining one’s value or significance.

Our culture needs to look at how we can edify those who aren’t married or in committed relationships. Singles can add value and meaning to our communities. The goal of a single person shouldn’t be primarily to get married. Maybe it’s time our culture started to value singleness as a real authentic means of contributing to society.

Whether you’re single, married, divorced or widowed, you are important to those around you. You have every right to love and be loved in a community. Everyone is single at the beginning of their lives, some people move into relationships, and the vast majority of people are single again at the end of their lives. If anything, relationships are the time of transition between the state of singleness.

A brief history of Christian Singleness

Marriage is being thrust under the spotlight once again. But where does that leave singles? Any media coverage that is targeted towards single men and women is almost always… ‘Meet Mr. Right’ or ‘How to move on from Mr. Wrong’.

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Our culture shouts at us, teaching us that singleness is a time of transition. You’re either preparing for, or moving away from a relationship. This toxic understanding of singleness suggests that the ideal is always to be in a relationship. In fact, if your single for too long, there’s likely something wrong with you, or so social media tells us. If we have a brief look at the history of singleness we will see where this unhealthy understanding has stemmed from.

The Jewish Perspective

In the Old Testament there was no real place for singles. Everyone, including priests, were encouraged to marry. This was because their was very little teaching on an ‘afterlife’. Unlike today where spiritual people focus on moving toward a heaven or nirvana like experience, the ancient Hebrew culture thought that the hereditary line was most valuable. This is why there is so much emphasis on genealogy in the Old Testament. A man or woman without a family had no means of continuing their family line.

Even in the New Testament period we can see that Jewish teaching were just as strict, if not more so. In the Mishnah suggests that ‘a man without a family is not a man at all.’

The New Testament Perspective

Then, as if we were watching a wrecking ball sweep through the flimsy veil of a Jewish understanding of relationships, along comes Jesus. He entered into the first century culture and broke down the negative stigma of singleness. Jesus taught that marriage and family are not an eternal reality, that it is not supposed to be the centre of one’s life. He taught counter to the Jewish teachings, there is no eternity in bloodlines, but only in the resurrection. Therefore, Christ should be more central than even family. Jesus clearly teaches that people can choose to remain single for the purpose of serving the kingdom of heaven.

Paul then continues this message by saying he wishes ‘people could remain single as he does’ but also understands that it’s not always possible. Alongside Paul it appears that Luke, Silas, Barnabas, Timothy, Titus, Epaphroditus, Apollos, Lydia, Dorcas and Pheobe all remained single throughout their ministry.

It was obvious that single men and women had much to contribute to growing the kingdom of God.

The Early Church Perspective

After the wrecking ball shatters the Jewish context it bursts through the debris and swings like a pendulum out the other side. All of a sudden singleness becomes the ‘best practice’ for the ‘most holy’. Examples of spiritual devotion laid out by the apostle Paul inspired his successors to remain celibate in their service to the Lord. Ignatius, Justin Martyr and Origen in the second and third centuries all commended the celibate lifestyle. The ascetic Gnostic influence pushed common religious practice to the extreme, the body was evil and humanity must resist it’s urges at every point in order to remain pure and holy.

Later, people such as Augustine taught that sin was transmitted from generation to generation through sexual intercourse. The best practice was that one would abstain from building families. There were certainly enough heathens to convert in order to grow the kingdom. He taught that while marriage was good, celibacy was even better.

The Reformers Perspective

The 16th century reformation came at a time where the dominate catholic church was rife with not-so-celibate priests. It was common knowledge that Renaissance priests had mistresses and children. Protestant Reformers sought to renew the corrupt church. German reformer, Martin Luther, who had begun his ministry as a monk, new the dangers of forced clerical celibacy. He rooted his argument against the doctrine in the natural order. If men and women are being forced to go against their created natural instincts they are preventing nature from being nature. (I wouldn’t use this argument today).

Likewise, John Calvin the Swiss reformer taught that God not only permitted but commended marriage. He taught that there was still a place for singleness but it is only for those who had been ‘singled out by the divine will of God’.

Where does that leave us today?

With the benefit of hindsight, teaching on singleness has started to find some balance, though emphasis still clearly lays on the family unit. Our churches try and emphasise with single Christians but the feedback is that they have a tendency to come across as condescending. Statements like: ‘It’s alright, your time will come…’ or ‘I know how you feel, I really struggled as a single before I got married at 22…’ or even ‘God has given you the gift of singleness…’. (I think singleness is a gift [1Cor 7:7] but when spoken about as a place of empathy it’s like a gift of bad cologne. ‘Thanks, but I really don’t want it’.

As our culture continues to water down the concept of marriage, sexuality and morals it is obvious that there will be an increasing number of singles within our communities. With a divorce rate of roughly 50%, a homosexual rate of roughly 10%, an aging population increasing the number of widows and widowers, we need to be increasingly aware of the singles within our communities.

Singleness is not always a time of transition. We pray, under God’s sovereignty, that men and women would continue to unite in marriage, however it is unrealistic to expect this to be a reality for all singles. By making this the goal, we marginalise people who haven’t yet obtained it. What if the goal was something else?

The church needs to be clear that one’s relationship status does not primarily define their identity. One’s value does not come from their circumstances. Both singles and marrieds should be actively seeking to place Christ at the centre of their lives.

A truly Christian view of both singleness and marriage will honour both equally without disparaging one or the other. Recovering such a balance is the first step toward a church where singles are valued equally with marrieds.

Keeping Christ at the centre means that regardless of our relationship circumstances Christ gives us value, meaning and purpose. If our relationship circumstances change, and Christ is still centre, then the value, meaning and purpose of our lives in still intact.

[Edit: Thoughts stemmed from chapters 2 and 3 of The Single Issue by Al Hsu.]

Just Another Reality Dating Show… Married At First Sight

What do you think of the idea of getting married to someone who you’ve never laid eyes on? What do you think of the concept of doing it in front of the nation, on TV for entertainment purposes? Is it just another cultural version of arranged-marriage? Or is it something more? More than 21,000 Australians have voiced their opinion at change.org in a petition to axe the show “Married at First Sight”. What are your thoughts?

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Now let’s be clear, they aren’t getting married on the show, at least not in a legal sense. They are partaking in a ‘commitment ceremony’ behind the façade of marriage. Which is all good and well, apart from the fact that the show is called “Married at First Sight”. Adding to the confusion is the fact that participants have the option to ‘divorce’ after a 30 day ‘try before you buy’ period. Of course, it’s not a legal divorce it’s just an opt-out as there was no actually legal marriage in the first place.

So what’s the problem with it all?

In a day and age where the word and concept of ‘marriage’ is being torn apart like a rabbit in a wolves den, a show like this is hardly helpful. Everyone, including Christians, the LGBT community and the Australian governments are fighting to define what is and isn’t regarded as marriage. A show like this belittles marriage to a meaningless event that has zero gravity in a world that demands stable footing. Even those who are currently fighting that marriage should be open to same-gender partners should be outraged at the concept of a social experiment that reduces life long commitment to a try before you buy entertainment package.

For the majority of Australians, marriage is a sacred union that symbolises the love and commitment of two people who intend to be united as family for the remainder of their lives.

For Christians, it is much more. Marriage is a gift from God. It is a blessed union where two people declare their love for each other, and their unified love for God in front of their community. It is a symbol of God’s unending love between himself and his people. It should not be entered into lightly, but rather with reverent and serious consideration. Marriage is a gift from God, for the benefit of all mankind. In the confines of marriage men and women can express their love and sexuality with one another in a safe and nurturing environment. It is intended to be a life-long union in which a new family is created. A family in which cares for and nurtures all its members in a secure and loving environment. It’s for these reasons that the gift of marriage was given, and it’s for reasons akin to these that one might consider entering into a vow of marriage.

Then there is the entertaining social experiment that “Married at First Sight” offers TV viewers. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m actually a massive fan of the process of statistical dating and/or marriage preparation. That is, using gathered data to identify one’s romantic prospects with another. In fact, I would go as far to say that every couple planning on getting married should take a close look at the data that flows between themselves and their partner. Influences such as family and cultural backgrounds, finances, ambitions, leisure activities and personality types are but a few of the things that play into our daily relationships. Christians have a strong history of using this method in pre-marriage counselling. Being able to identify strengths and weaknesses between couples in these areas is absolutely key to having a successful relationship. And this is one thing that ‘Married at First Sight’ offers. A statistical analysis of the couples potential. And we should be all for that. I earnestly hope that the ‘couples’ on this show can develop long-lasting meaningful relationships that transcend statistical data. I pray that they can have the opportunity to reflect on the concept of marriage and have the opportunity to commit to one another, in a real wedding, before all their family and friends, and before the Lord.

But what we should despise, is the idea that a statistically positive couple can and should enter into a marriage based on those stats without even knowing each other. The show doesn’t offer marriage, and it shouldn’t pretend to. The problem for the script writers is, if they remove ‘marriage’ from the TV show all their left with is another dating show, and no one would be interested in watching it. They are trying to raise the stakes to buy viewers, but the cost is further diluting the already diminished ideology of marriage.

Further, they are tainting the perception of arranged-marriage. They (being the experts on the show) are correct in saying that in some places the divorce rate for arranged marriages are lower than in western cultures. However there are many unmentioned factors that play into this. On the positive, arranged marriages that are successful are conducted by the families of those to be wed. They know and love them in such a way that a suitable partner is found with the genuine care for the wedded couple in mind. They don’t have an entertainment and a statistical social experiment motive. On the negative, the social stigma for divorce in many of these cultures is so horrific that dysfunctional marriages that contain abuse and neglect are seen as a better option than divorce.

Whichever way you slice the pie, “Marriage at First Sight” is an appalling concept. Having pretend weddings should be reserved for little children and their doll collections, not industry leading entertainers and mental health professionals. The one thing that we can all agree on is a ~50% divorce rate is completely unacceptable and something needs to be done about it. In my humble opinion unless reality TV starts to reflect reality it’s not the way to go about fixing the problem. It’s time Australia took a stand on what marriage is, and isn’t, and then defended it.

The reason I’m a Christian…

This is why I follow the teachings of Jesus Christ.

First, I look outside of myself, into the world, and see absolute wonder. I see Earth, that appears to be in a constant state of change. I see the complexity of the universe. Stars. Galaxies. Other earth-like planets. I look and see the intricate nature of emotion. I see corruption. Hate and anger. Violence. Inequality. I see brokenness. Pain and sorrow. But I also see compassion, love and forgiveness. I see charity and selflessness. I get the sense that there is something mysterious about the universe. Something that the human mind can’t explain. When I look outside of myself I feel like something isn’t ‘right’ with the world that I live in. The way I see it, there is something wrong. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

Then, I look inside of myself, into who I am, and see something that has a purpose. I don’t consider myself to be just a bunch of particles gathered together without direction. I feel like I can achieve things. Achievements that are significant, not just to me, but to the world. I feel like I can add value to other people’s lives. And I also feel like I have the power to detract value from other people’s lives. I can sometimes be a weapon, that is something that can cause harm. I can hurt other people. I can destroy the wonderful nature around me. I see inside of myself something that is not quite right, like the world around me there is something wrong. Sometimes I am happy. Excited. Enthusiastic. And Filled with hope. Other times I am sad. Lonely. Lethargic. And feel hopeless. I get the sense that I am supposed to be better than I am. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

I strive to be a better me. But in all my striving I can never achieve a standard of humanness that satisfies me. What am I comparing myself to? There must be something greater than me. There must be something greater than the world that I live in. If there is not, there is no purpose to life. How can I, and my world, be the greatest thing on offer? It is beautiful. And I really do enjoy my life. But no matter how much joy I experience, I am always left craving more. I have an insatiable appetite for more. Yet, on my own I can’t explain it.

In search for more, I could turn to science and knowledge. I would do well to do so as it offers my many answers to my questions. The vast universe. The complexity of Earth. The intricate construction of the human body. But it does not answer my yearnings for ‘WHY?’ Why am I here? Why do I feel like I have purpose?

I could also turn to philosophy. The love of wisdom. I could reflect inwardly to such a deep level that I am confident even unto death that my soul is real. I could justify love and forgiveness. Hate and violence. Greed and corruption. I could even convince myself of an afterlife. Of divine powers. But philosophy does not answer the question of truth… What are the facts? How can one philosopher draw such different conclusions to another? Reflecting inwardly does not always reveal universal truths.

In the search for more I could turn to religion. If I have the sense of something more, than there are plenty of ‘extras’ available through the various religions. All regions have one thing in common. They all tell me that there is something wrong with the world. BAM. That first thing that really hits home. That’s how I felt before I even started my search.

And that’s where the similarities end, see, most religions tell me I have to do more… Chant. Pray. Meditate. Tithe. And be charitable. They say that if I do more, I will ‘be more’. Some religions are focused on reaching external gods. Others are focused on reaching internal perfection. Yet, I already feel that the more I strive to do, the further I am from achieving my own standard. Let alone the standard of ‘the more’ that I seek.

Then I heard about Jesus. I had grown up listening to people talk about him. He makes sense of my world. We are supposed to marvel at the complexities of our universe. We are supposed to feel the full spectrum of emotion. People will sacrifice themselves for their friends in ultimate acts of love, and at other times allow others to die in spiteful and vindictive ways. Jesus explains greed and corruption. He understands my longing for more.

Jesus’ teachings are found in the Bible. Every word on every page makes sense of me and my world. There is supposed to be death in my world. Pain and sorrow are supposed to be present in our lives. To suggest that I can work my way towards perfection is unrealistic. It is opposed to science, and philosophy. Jesus makes the most sense of me. He makes sense of the way I feel. Jesus does not contradict science and philosophy, he perfects them. He answers the questions that they cannot.

Jesus offers a solution to the problems that I experience with myself and those that I see in the world. A solution that I find more appropriate than any other religion. All the other religions that the world has to offer say that I can achieve it on my own. But Jesus says, I cannot, that resonates with me. That is my experience. In all my striving, I am unable to fix these problems myself, so Jesus offers to fix them for me.

In response to his offer, I choose to follow his teachings. I am here to serve Jesus. I was created to bring glory to him. That is my purpose. The bible teaches countless ways that I can do this. But all of his commands boil down to this… I should love Him with all my heart, soul and mind. In addition I should love the people around me in a similar way, treating them as I would like to be treated. Everything the bible teaches hangs on this command. Yet, Jesus makes it clear that my perfection is not measured by how well I achieve this command. My work is in response to his work. In this simple fact, I am free to be the best human being I can, without fear or condemnation. I can be the best human I can, knowing that one day, in the future, I will be made perfect in the likeness of Jesus himself.

It is not what I can do, but what has been done on my behalf. Jesus makes most sense of my world and that is why I choose to follow him.

The more know about Jesus, the more sense he makes of myself, and the world that I live in. I would wager that it would be true for you as well. You should find a bible… find the book of Luke within it, and start reading about the most sensible thing this world has to offer. Good Luck.

The White Western Perspective on Masculinity

I was at a men’s forum this week, and was thoroughly challenged to think about the white, western perspective on masculinity and the extended period of adolescence into adult years. My thoughts are clearly rudimentary and I’d love to hear yours. Comment below.

In our current culture there are three imperative stages of life in manhood. Being born. Reaching puberty. And death. (You could argue that menopause is a fourth for women). The result, is a large group of adolescence aged ~30-70. An example given was Australian personality and sporting star: Sam Newman.

It was suggested that our culture is missing Rites of Passage into manhood. Well not entirely… the closest thing we have in Australia is ‘Schoolies Week’, but alcohol, drugs, sex and violence aren’t really challenging boys to be men. Thus, so far as maturity is concerned we are left in a constant state of neither being a child, nor an adult.

You might agree that we see this daily in our communities. Adults incapable of accepting responsibility. Parents burying themselves in financial debt because they want everything, and they want it now. Father’s who express sadness and futility by abusing against their families in temper-tantrum-like behaviour. Road users who use their vehicles as weapons and their hands as abusive communication devices because they feel that they are obviously more important than their neighbours. The list is endless, we could go on with any number of examples of where adults have failed to grow up.

In generations past, education was focused on learning about your parents’ life experience and replicating it, hopefully at some point extending it. Yet with the industrial revolution and the working class moving into factories, the father-son unit was split, and something had to be done with boys too young to work. Boys were sent to school to learn how to work in and manage factories. They were expected to graduate as men, but the system had failed. Academia does not equate to maturity. The point being, that adulthood was being delayed.

And now, according to our culture, it’s viewed that we can’t get an honourable job until we’ve completed 12 years of schooling, and 3 to 4 years of post-school training, either technical or academic. The point being, that adulthood is further being delayed.

It is a generalisation, but there are now several generations of Australian men who have avoided maturity. Now, for my Christian brothers and sisters, please don’t here me in the light of our good friend Mark Driscoll. I’m not calling for more machoism. I’m certainly not asking for more testosterone. I’m suggesting that what we need is to go back to the root what masculinity is. We need to embrace maturity and rediscover what it means for men in today’s culture.

At the forum this week it was discussed that youthful men typically take pride in their ‘maleness’. But as they become older, they tend to soften becoming more even tempered. They develop a caring nurturing side to their maleness. They find increased value in family and their experiences tend to be filtered with the lens of subjectivity rather than objectivity. Thus, as far as a cultural definition, (albeit misguided), males tend to start off more masculine and grow increasingly feminine with time. Unfortunately our culture doesn’t have a positive process for this to happen, and these changes take place in the midst of various forms of trauma. War. Abuse. Neglect. Depression. Physical and Mental Trauma.

(It might be seen that the opposite is true with women, they often are conditioned by society to be more ‘girly’ as children, playing with dolls and being pre-occupied with cooking, make-up and clothes, but as they grow older becoming parents and grandparents, they develop masculine traits such as stoicism and resilience).

As males culture places us on a spectrum of genderness, and our culture defines what is acceptable depending on our stage of life.

With all respect. I think this is ludicrous.

As a Christian I believe that God has created everyone unique. Neither individuals, nor the human collective, is at the centre of the universe. (Sorry to burst the bubbles). Every being in heaven and on Earth was created to worship God as the centre.

In God’s grand design he chose to make ‘male’ and ‘female’. We have discovered that He chose to take a combination of both a father’s and a mother’s genetic code and transfer that to a conceived child. Thus, each individual is going to express both masculine and feminine qualities. There are many influences on this in the pre-natal, early developing, and adolescent stages of life.

It’s time Australia stopped trying to cookie cut males into testosterone fuelled men. It’s time Australia starting embracing men for who they are and helping them to become who they were created to be. For the Christian community it’s time to share the love of Jesus which has never been dependent on sexual disposition. The current white, western perspective on masculinity stifles our culture and stops us moving into a new era of manhood.

On an aside, but an important one. I advocate the accuracy of the Bible. I affirm innerancy and divine inspiration. The scriptures are clear that corruption has infiltrated all generations of humanity. Sexuality, especially manhood, has been warped by sin. The result is: Confusion. Loneliness. Depression. Hate. Anger. Violence. Abuse. Neglect. Rape. Even same-sex attraction.

I believe God is deeply troubled by sin. In fact, he was so concerned for those he loved, that he demanded that his Son, Jesus, receive their death sentence. A demand that He willingly obeyed.

But, I believe that scripture is less concerned about the individual sin, and more concerned about the broken relationship that it causes with God. No matter how much damage you’ve caused with the weapon of masculinity, God is more concerned about your relationship with Him.

Men, no matter where you fall on the spectrum of masculinity, and no matter how you express yourself, the gospel is still true. And it’s still calling you to action. God has the power to restore hurting and broken people into a new and beautiful reflection of His glory.

Meme Culture

Our social media platforms are littered with them. If you’re anything like me you ignore most of them anyway. Especially the ‘Christian’ ones. Some of them are cringe worthy. Others are catchy. But whether we like it or not they are having a huge impact on Internet users globally.

Chuck Norris, Cute Cats, Cheezburgers, Dancing Babies, de-motivationals and just about any combination of the above are but a few of the culture defining memes that have been on our computer screens for almost 10 years.

But what about Christian memes? I’m going to get straight to the point. If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing well.

If it’s supposed to be Christian, it’s supposed to be biblical. Feel good Christianity, that leaves the scriptures out, is like taking two Panadols for a freshly amputated leg.

Let’s leave the feel good memes that are devoid of biblical accuracy for the spiritualists and fitness junkies. Now, I should be clear, I’m not suggesting that every meme should be quoting the bible.

Take for example this meme, that I conveniently excavated from my Facebook feed this morning…

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Consider these two statements.

Happiness comes when we stop complaining our troubles.
Happiness comes when we thank God for the troubles that we don’t have.

If I’m reading my bible correctly, it’s a negatory on the first statement, and an even more profound negatory on the second.

Australian culture screams to us that if we have positive thoughts, and try our hardest to be the best we can be, then happiness will come to us. But does it? What’s your experience? If you ignore your troubles do they go away and are you left ultimately feeling happy?

What about God’s perspective? I believe he encourages us to be optimistic, and have a grateful attitude. But it’s optimism for Christ’s return, and the new kingdom. It’s a grateful attitude in response to being forgiven for our ultimate rebellion against God. This freedom is pure joy. It’s exhilarating. This news, of forgiveness and life is what Facebook users need to hear. Let’s not dilute this awesome message by living out and sharing a crossless christianity.

Here’s a meme I like.

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To me, it is finding the central message of what the bible has to say about a certain topic and communicating it in a single phrase. If you’re not interested in sharing stuff from the bible, then maybe it’s best to leave God out of it.

Christians, if you are going to share memes as a reflection of who you are, then please, for heaven’s sake, reflect an accurate image of who God created you to be.

Listen. Empathise. Love.

When was the last time you felt someone really understood you? We live in a culture where it’s all about me… yet, when was the last time that ‘me’ was really understood?

Do the politicians that service our nation make you feel like a valued part of the community? Does your boss value and treat you the way you ought to be treated? When your in public, or on the roads, do people treat you like like a valued member of the community?

To be honest, we have to look hard and wide in our community to find people who are selfless, generous, loving and caring. The problem could be two things. Either we are narcissistic and expect other people to be focused on us which leaves us feeling lonely, unwanted and/or misunderstood. Or everyone else is narcissistic in which case they are too self-centred to spend the time to get to know us in meaningful ways.

The reality is that neither of these options is 100% right or wrong. There are narcissistic people out there, and sometimes they’re us.

The result is we rarely feel like people get us. In fact, most of our time and energy is trying to understand ourselves, let alone others. So how can we expect anyone to really know us?

As a community we are actually quite bad at listening and understanding people. For the most part we haven’t mastered these arts yet. You might argue that’s what professionals such as counsellors and psychologists are for. But why do we need to venture out of our homes, sporting clubs and churches to be understood by another human. And moreover, it’s been my experience that many counsellors and psychologists see it as their job to ‘fix’ broken people, and they often feel that they can do that without having to waste time on understanding them.

It has left people in our community as detached from one another. There is a severe lack of engaging relationships. But do we have to settle for this substandard level of human interaction? Is there a way forward?

As a Christian I believe that the bible has some great, practical advice in this area. Now before you mash that back button, can I ask, wouldn’t it be nice if people would listen a little longer before they jam their advice down your throat? The bible says:

 “…let every person be quick to hear and slow to speak”.

It also says:

“If one gives an answer before he hears, it is his folly and shame”.

Too often we want to fix the problem before we understand the problem. I’m certainly guilty of doing this. And I know I feel angry when people do it to me.

It can also feel like people offer us advice on how to climb out of a ditch without kneeling down to offer us a hand. It’s like they just don’t care. Some people make no effort to meet with us in our current position, but rather dish out advice from afar thinking they’re super-saviours.

The bible instructs people to show empathy and compassion for others. It says:

Rejoice with those who rejoice, weep with those who weep.

It also says:

Be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.

Sometimes people can be well intended but by not taking the time to come alongside us, their advice is cold and sterile. Sometimes we just want a warm-hearted friend to journey with us. Offering advice is like marinating meat, without taking the time to prepare properly, the marinade is mostly wasted.

And finally, sometimes instead of advice, we just want to feel loved. We are sometimes so detached from the people around us, that a little TLC is all we need. But in our culture, it takes most of our time loving ourselves, let alone someone else. At most, we can love our family and a few select friends.

But the bible demands more of us than that. The bible shows that we can and should love everyone in our community. Before I became a Christian I spent most of my time trying to love a few key individuals, and most of all, trying to love myself. I failed on both accounts. I hurt most of the people around me, and never truly liked let alone loved myself.

But when I experienced God’s love for me. The real, practical, intense love of the Creator. I had a new perspective on love. I could love myself because it was no longer about how good or bad I was. I could love myself because it became about how good Jesus was. I was accepted by him no matter what I had done. In turn, instead of spending heaps of time doing things to satisfy myself, in could turn that time towards the people around me. And it wasn’t just quantity, it was quality. As I experienced God’s love for me, I was able to reflect that love to others.

We love because he first loved us.

This real, deep, affectionate love from God means I am free and able to love people without having my own agenda. I can love without expecting anything in return.

My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.

It means I could take the time to listen, and really understand the people around me. I don’t have to fix all their problems right away, but I have the freedom to journey with them. To come alongside them. To love them as Christ has loved me. The difference is taking the time to know the people around you. Jesus models this type of love…

I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep.

See the answer to not being listened to, to not being understood, is found at the cross. It is Jesus, who through the bible, shows us what pure love looks like. He shows us what it means to truly know the people he loves. Once we experience that genuine and flawless love we can express it to others. Wouldn’t it be nice if the whole world was infused with this selfless love that seeks to really understand others and expects nothing in return.

TL;DR – Three things that will help our community understand each other better:

1. Listen Longer.
2. Emphasise Earlier
3. Love the way God Loves.