My friends and I were discussing a very interesting article the other day. It’s one of the click-bait articles that is designed to generate traffic to a website: 10 Reasons Why This Generation Is Losing The Ability To Be In Love.
One of the arguments my friends made against this article is that marriage is outdated and stupid anyway. I tend to agree with them. After all, if it’s a policy or a piece of paper that is going to make you committed to someone, how weird. If that’s how we are going to work out the relationship—through a contract (one that is repeatedly and easily broken), then whatever. If our definition of commitment begins at contract, then marriage is kind of stupid. If you want to be satisfied because the right words are on a piece of paper, you are throwing the Holy Spirit away! My friends thought that, true, maybe millennials can’t fall in love, but whatever, who wants that anyway?
Another argument, one that I often make, is that it’s hard to tell statistically whether people are actually no longer falling in love and staying in a long-term marriage. It seems to me that people are still entering marriages, it’s just that they aren’t called that, they don’t’ come with a ring or a $20,000 wedding. There isn’t paperwork involved, but for many couples what they have arranged (sometimes even when they aren’t living together) is a marriage.
I think to be in a community in a committed way we need to make our “yes” a “yes” and our “no” a “no.” That commitment should be known. I think the radical thing about following Jesus is that we acknowledge that our lifestyles and commitments affect all of us and subsequently we should all be in the know about what we have committed to.
You very well might be married, but if your sex is secret and no one knows about your relationship I think you might be missing the point. The value in our commitment to community is that it’s known. If your commitment needs to be hidden (could be your commitment to that beer you need every night or a hit of your bowl that takes the edge off in the morning), it may be less honorable and probably even damaging. We need to agree, even if that just means we start by agreeing to agree.
We want it to be out there, so that our friends can help us know when we are straying from the agreement and realign us. It’s like when Paul is addressing the Galatians in the first chapter of the critical letter he wrote to them.
He starts off his letter with an exhortation to the people of Galatia who have strayed from their commitment. The people who have strayed from the Gospel. They are moving toward a different Gospel. They said “yes” to Jesus and now they are saying “yes” to something else. I suppose for some of us commitment is that easy to switch. We can be committed to one thing and then just switch to the other the next day: could be partners, philosophies, friendships, whatever.
Paul is exhorting them to such a huge degree that he even says if an “angel” (or messenger) from heaven comes and seduces them to believe a different idea—curse them! We are doing a specific thing together and it’s easy to get enchanted by something else.
I think that happens to us all the time. Especially when things get slow or stale. We get enchanted by something else. That might be why we don’t want to make a commitment.
The aforementioned article that I was lampooning earlier says that millennials are too concerned with instant gratification to fall in love. I suppose we can’t make a commitment because it’s not as immediately satisfactory as we wish it were. I’m not sure how endemic that is, but I think sometimes we have problems with our commitments when feel less than exciting.
Sometimes we might think we are just passive participants in them. We judge the church, for example, to see if it will be a good fit for us to consume, and then we decide to no longer consume it once we’ve used it up. We don’t see ourselves as participants. We haven’t even made a commitment to ourselves. We’re jumping in the water and seeing where the tide takes us, but we’ve forgotten that we also have the ability to navigate the water.
I think some others might be afraid to make a commitment because they don’t know what’s going to happen. They aren’t sure they can make the plunge because they don’t know what’s on the other side. They are afraid to jump off the diving board or get in line for the roller coaster. They might die, but they might just get hurt.
I think it makes sense for us to demonstrate love and care for people where they are and where God might be taking them. Who knows what will happen.
As a way to end this, let me respond to the click-bait article with my own click bait: here’s why I think you may want to make a commitment, what we call a covenant—a dialogue of love—to community.
- God committed to us. He committed to us when he created us, loved us, held us in a law meant to protect us, offered his own son to us, and gave us the chance to be resurrected. All of that is centered on God’s desire to love us in a committed way. His followers’ commitment for millennia after is why we’re still doing this now.
- You get to say it out loud. People know your “yes” is a “yes,” but more notably so do you. You are aware of it and you then think about what it means for you too and what it means to everyone around you. You get to be held accountable. Your out-loud declaration even gives you a chance to work out yourself too. When you commit to be together, you can figure out who you are alone.
- It gives you a mission. A commitment to community isn’t just about who we are, but what we do. You are agreeing to do your part in the family business. It becomes our collective vocation. No need to run the rat race anymore. You realize that your commitment is about a mission and not just getting the right friends.
- You can participate in something bigger than you are. Something bigger than your feelings. Something you can’t just consume. Commitment to a relationship or to Jesus and his body gives you a chance to be more than you are. To stop looking into your tininess to find your salvific hugeness. You don’t have to solve the problems by yourself.
- You are reminded that you matter. It’s not just about doing something bigger, it’s about knowing that you count. It’s about taking yourself seriously, that your presence is felt and your contribution is a big deal. Committing to love means you’ll get some back.
- It creates safety. Making a commitment is like ordering pizza, we know who is pitching in and who we can count on. It’s so good to know who all wants pizza. The worst thing happens when only a few people say “yes” and chip in and then a slew of people want it once they smell it. One the other hand, sometimes we’ll get way too much pizza and not realize that only a few people want it.
- It gives us a chance to not just get in but also get out. A community of commitment and covenant is one that has a porous wall. The importance of a wall that is porous is that, first, you can get out and in. Secondly, it gives you a sense of what it means to enter or not.
- It gives us an opportunity to be conscious. It gives us some awareness and definition. We are no longer doing things unconsciously, we are intentional. That’s why defining the terms of a relationship is important.
- In a world where many people are privately committed, it creates an alternative. It’s radical to do something that is based on love, not violence, not a contract. Something you don’t always “feel” like doing. Moving beyond the American impulse to be individualized, autonomous, subject to our own choices. It’s radically connected.
- It gives you a chance to belong. You can be a part of a community in a way that is really unquestionable. You can certainly be in without making a commitment, but it gives you a chance to be a member of the Body of Christ in a way that’s named and known.