Divorce, death of a spouse or child, bankruptcy, or inability to get a job, all can be quite debilitating emotionally and can lead us to lose confidence, to lose heart, and even lead to a breakdown of faith. For others, the troubles they have lead them to cling even more urgently to their religious anchors.
I know quite a bit about this disruptive season. After many years of being active in church ministry, my divorce, and even the period leading up to it, resulted in a disorientation that I have yet to recover from. While these disruptions have the potential to make us better as far as what we believe and what we will stand for going forward, it is also a very dangerous time. Life doesn’t stop while we are wandering in the desert and trying to figure things out. Decisions are made every day that can have lasting implications. New relationships start and a new life is being constructed.
The bottom line is that this season of uncertainty can go on for some time. The kind of men we are becoming may be unclear at that stage, but in the end it is quite possible that we will return to a place that is much like the place we left. That is, spiritually or in terms of our beliefs, we might characterize our responses much like a pendulum. We lived a life at one end of the pendulum swing and after the disruptive event we swing to the opposite direction as if to be throwing off that old life in pursuit of a new.
While matters of faith can be viewed to some degree like any other area we have to evaluate when considering our future with another person, this one is foundational to who we are and what we believe reality is about. It is the basis of life and action. Let’s list a couple of areas where commitments should be carefully considered before we jump in:
1. Marriage. Since spiritual matters are at the heart of who we are and are the basis for the values and priorities we will hold, marrying someone who differs considerably from your basic framework has the makings of trouble going forward. If you are living a life that is not consistent with those beliefs, then it is likely the woman doesn’t even know you hold them. It is also likely that you are living a life that is consistent with HER spiritual views and thus, why you have connected with her in the first place.
In this, I’m reminded of a friend of mine of some years ago who was quite spiritually active and earnest. He and his wife were eager and active young leaders in the church. Then, unexpectedly, his wife left him and divorced him. He went into a tailspin and during this season of confusion and doubt, he connects with a woman who was not of the same persuasion as to spiritual things and marries her. Almost immediately he realized his error. The classic rebound relationship.
This issue goes beyond simply the avoidance of marrying an atheist when you’re a Christian. If you expect to engage in religious activities together, then it must be clear whether this is possible. I know of people who will ONLY attend a specific denomination, for example. Is this alright with you? At what points will you need congruence? If these details are not clear to even you, then marrying before they are clear seems misguided and really unfair to the woman.
2. Business Partners. This is not unlike the marriage ‘partnership’ discussed in our first point, but it is a distinction that is often overlooked. A person might dismiss this concern by saying “He’s my business partner, not my wife!” Well, business partnerships are a ‘marriage’ of sorts, and in very real and practical ways.
Our religious backgrounds will likely dictate how we deal with others and the ethical practices of the business. Business partnerships are inherently difficult to begin with and conflicts rooted in fundamental differences as to core values and life motives will only exacerbate the challenges.
Co-signing loans or leases, or joint ownership of property are also partnerships that likely should be avoided until you are clear about your underlying principles.
In sum, if we are wrestling with fundamental issues such as our spiritual beliefs, it seems best to not get into commitments that are hard to undo. I remind myself that I have not resolved these issues and that I’m operating at some distance on the pendulum swing from where I used to. I also notice that I have begun to swing back more toward that original place. I expect to never be in that original place again, but I suspect I will be closer than I am today.
Where are you spiritually these days? If you are like me, still wandering in the desert in many respects, then we need to let this part of our restoration take its course before we make any more permanent relational commitments.