Wake Up, Singles

As the title suggests, this post is about how to endure against the tilt-a-whirl of the Christian dating scene. It was inspired by a recent conversation with a friend, who voiced her frustrations stemming from her latest encounter with the opposite sex. Our discussion made me realize that her story and this topic is not an anomaly. In fact, it’s quite common in the Christian circle. So, I’m writing this partially to appease her.

But I’m also writing this because I haven’t been good at this romance thing either. This post is, in a weird way, a pep talk to myself to risk and to dare more in the dating realm. So, take from these words what you can. After all, I’m no expert on the subject, and I speak mainly from my own experience.

(There, that’s my full disclosure.)

Frankly, Christians need to be more open towards getting to know the opposite sex. I think guys shouldn’t be afraid to ask girls out to coffee if they want to know them better, and girls should be more willing to accept dates–even if his hair is shaggy or he acts a little awkward sometimes.

I say this knowing full well that I’ve been guilty of not practicing what I’ve preached. After a couple failed relationships and several false starts, I was hesitant to dive deep into the dating pool. In my experiences, it seemed as though girls weren’t willing to explore it further or I lost interest and ended up hurting them. Nothing in-between, nothing steady. I thought I was no good at it. I almost kissed dating goodbye.

What ended up happening was that I started armchair dating. If finding a mate is like looking to buy a house, then I was effectively camping outside different properties wondering, “What’s behind the door?” I was trying to figure out if I wanted to buy a house without looking inside. I was imagining who she was or how she should be without really exploring or learning about her in person. I began to sit back and wait until I thought I had come across someone who had that perfect combination of beauty, personality, humor, spirituality, intelligence, vision, direction, motivation and passion (I’ll admit, my standards are a bit high). In my mind, she would come as a package, ready and open for someone like me to possess and there’d be no working at it. And she’d also see what an amazing catch I was (if truth hurts, there’s always delusion). So I waited, and waited. As you can imagine, no one came around.

A couple of my friends had to wake me up. They showed me that I was subtly maneuvering to control all my variables, that I was trying to make clean and orderly a process that is inherently messy. I had to come to understand and accept that there are inherent risks involved in dating. I was putting myself out there to possibly get hurt or disappointed. But so are those who agreed to date me. I cannot do their job for them–to guard their heart if they aren’t willing to protect it themselves–nor could I guarantee myself a painless, rejection-free process. But this is what it means to date in the real. The only other option was to remain in the realm of safe, imagined hypotheticals. To quote C.S. Lewis: “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal.”

So readers, here’s the application. I encourage you to be more open to knowing the opposite sex. This isn’t about lowering your standards (although some of you might need to do that), it’s about lowering your barrier of entry. Sometimes we set the bar so high that no real person would ever reach it. I’m not saying you should settle. Don’t settle. But just recognize that a lot of what you’re looking for in another person cannot be found in one interaction or on a first date. You need to allow yourself room for things to develop. Be patient.

Also, I should add that the process isn’t as important as the person. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter if you’re looking for dates or you’re looking to be arranged. Whatever you do, just be intentional and treat others with respect. If it doesn’t work out, at least you’ll both know, and it wasn’t for a lack of trying.

But don’t live in the clouds. This is not where spouses are found, nor where the deep roots of relational knowing are developed. Be willing to attend the open house. Knock. Get inside. See for yourself.

Best wishes to you in your journey of risk and vulnerability, and God willing, love.

Let Life Write You

Before I move on to more serious matters, let me just say that I took THREE dumps today in a matter of two hours. Apparently, my stomach did not agree with the spicy fish ball curry and flaming hot ox tail soup and what other delectables I had at a hole-in-the-wall Thai restaurant last night in LA. This is the first time that I actually got onto the freeway and turned back home just to take a dump because I knew I wouldn’t make it to work without crapping my pants. Whew! Close call. And now…

Perhaps some of you might be wondering where I left for those six weeks or so when I haven’t been blogging. Or perhaps you haven’t because, quite frankly, neither I nor my blog–and I say this with a non-false-modesty–is that important. Whatever the case, I know it’s been a good break for me personally, to reflect on recent developments in my life. I know I am not the same Martin who ended 2008 as I am in this moment (I’ll talk more about that in my other blog). Hopefully, I can come to you, whether in person or through this cyber-developed intimacy, with a fresher, humbler and more honest perspective than I’ve ever had.

But this entry will be straight to the point. What I want to say is this: live your life. No, I mean it. Live your life. Not the life you think you should have because you see someone else who has it, or the life that has you escaping in some illusion (or delusion) of comfort through TV or magazines or fantasy worlds. Embrace your life. Embrace yourself. For who you are, with all your blemishes, faults and insecurities, as well as your talents, personality and hobbies. Live. Don’t give up on your ambitions. And don’t take the crud that people throw at you out of discouragement or fear.

None of that is groundbreaking; in fact, some of it might be cliche. But it is certainly easy to forget. I know it is for me. Society and the world is all about numbers and labels. It tries to put you in different compartments and boxes: pretty or ugly, smart or stupid, rich or poor, tall or short, married or single, White or other, and a thousand other labels. And their love towards you and me is dependent on whether or not we (as we cross our fingers) have fallen into the ones that are desired most.

Most of my struggles come from the fact that I try to be someone I am not. I try to be the next MJ on the basketball court, or the next Martin Luther when I teach Sunday school, or the next Robert Frost whenever I write. I do this, whether I know it or not, because I am not in love with who I am. My subconscious thinks, “If only I become like _____, I will be more loved.” Implicit in this thinking is the (faulty) principle of love exchange, and the basic principle not too unlike that of prostitution: I will whore my services (my good traits) in exchange for your money (conditional love). But the more I play the harlot, the less satisfied and loved I actually feel.

I try so hard to play the roles that people want me to play. To write my life out neatly, to make all the jumbled pieces fit into what I believed to be my life, when it was really the unique and sole life of my mentor’s or my co-worker’s or my idol’s–anybody’s but mine. But that’s not life. And I certainly cannot control what things will come my way. After all, how often do our plans work out exactly the way we wanted them to?

Can I be real for a moment? I don’t know about you, but I am vulnerable and insecure. Can I honestly say that I have no idea, no clue as to where my life is headed and what roads I am to take? Can I say that I’m scared to the bone of all the decisions and paths and things in between that I have to make as a responsible, fully matured adult? That I struggle with what it really means to be a man, not as society or the world defines it, but in the truest sense that God would define?

But, at last, it has come to this. And ironically enough, it is in my moment of weakness that I have discovered my true source of strength. God has spoken. “Martin, don’t try so hard to measure out your life. You always have, ever since you were young. But you don’t know if your job will be gone tomorrow or whether your savings will be depleted or health fail or friends leave you or how much longer you have here on earth. It’s time to let go. Now is the time to start living your todays and not your tomorrows.”

So I’ve stopped (or at least, I’m trying). I realized that I’m not my Pastor. I’m not my best friend. Or my mentor or my parents or my role models. What am I? I’m me. I’m 24. I’m single. And I have debt. Some, but not a lot. My conclusion? It’s time for me to stop living as though I have a wife and kids to support, a retirement to look forward to, and a future that might never come. What’s the point of working to save for this tomorrow that might never come? For a family I have not yet attained? For a house I might never own because of the ever-fluctuating economic market? It is time I start living like a 24 year old single man. And it is time I start being me.

So I’m here to tell you that I’m pulling out. I’m pulling up the anchor I once let down on fear. I’ve stopped sailing towards the little serene isle in hopes that I might discover some real land. I’ve decided, once and for all, to follow the North Star and let my journey, though certain to be rift with struggle, pain and doubtful times, write my life. After all, to live recklessly is foolish, but a life lived without risk and faith is a life not lived at all.

I don’t know where this ship is going and I don’t know what I’ll find. But I trust my Navigator. And perhaps, if you dare to join me, we’ll see what interesting tales we’ll have come to discover.

– – – – –

Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We only have today. Let us begin.  – Mother Teresa

“But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.” – St. Paul, 1 Cor. 15:10

“He said, ‘Come.’ So Peter got out of the boat and walked on the water and came to Jesus.” – Matthew 14:29

Yogurt, Ravi, & Heavier Things

We had just finished catching a world-renowned apologist, theologian and scholar named Ravi Zacharias guest speaking at a church. The placed was packed with thousands. And wow. I mean, you talk about a man who is truly one of a kind in our ever-dulling generation—you give the man a brain (mind) and heart (passion) and feet (direction or purpose), and when you actually have him maximize those gifts to their fullest capacities, not profligate like I have been with TV or Internet or other silly misadventures, I would safely presume that Ravi is the kind of man that you get. Please hear this man speak—I appeal to you all: Muslim, Buddhist, atheist and Christian. Again, I say to you, hear him speak! There are not enough words to adequately describe the brilliance of this man; and funny enough, there is not a single ounce of praise that he rightfully deserves—it is truly God who has anointed this man.

You should get to know this face.

You should get to know this face.

So, it was me and my brother Josh—I call him “life coach” or “JB” for short—deciding to go out afterward for some yogurt, giving us a chance to catch up and shoot the breeze about life. After what we had just witnessed, we both knew we were preparing for round two of heavier things.

Josh and I have become great friends throughout the years, but it has not always been this way. In fact, the funny thing is, he and I actually disliked each other throughout most of high school. Granted, it was over legitimate reasons. I had heard rumors that he played one of my girlfriends (which turned out not to be true at all), and he thought I was a gangster. Like, seriously, a gangster. “Dude, don’t mess with Martin—he’s got back” was supposedly the rumor he had heard. That’s right, friends. I’m just the baddest mofo on the planet. Now please tell that to my mother.


"Tell me how he died..."

JB’s like one of the most underrated people/friends that I know and have ever met. I mean, the man himself is like a walking contradiction. An engineer for Boeing who plays in a rock band on weekends and writes poetry after taking down guys in his Jiu-jitsu classes? Have you heard of such a thing? And just take a look at him. He’s maybe a few pounds heavier than me but he can grapple with guys twice his size! Also, don’t forget to check out his movie star looks—you can’t really figure it out initially, but think less Brad Pitt, more emperor from Last Samurai. I guess to sum it up, if you could play Josh in Vegas, you’d bet on him easily—cause his odds are great but you know he’d come up winning every time.

So there we were, two grown men outside a teeny bopper zone eating frozen yogurt in the middle of winter. Just as it should be. We settled down, and as expected, we picked each other’s brains like wild chimpanzees and broached topics spanning all of life—our personal lives, friendships, philosophy, nature, science, society, business, sports, traveling, board games, church, God, love (not to be confused with lust), and girls (not to be confused with love…cause sometimes, we just don’t). I know it sounds like an awful lot for one sitting, but with JB, it is definitely possible. It’s just that we normally choose to talk about last night’s episode of Lost or what cereal we had for breakfast.

But one thing that he intimated with me, one thing that particularly stood out and that I wanted to share with you, was our need to take risks in life:

“Look, we weren’t meant to be trapped in our cages—cages which we create for ourselves. Lock ourselves in our big, comfortable houses, afraid to take risks. And why go out? We got Facebook, TiVo, match.com. I mean, do you see what the so-called comfort of society has done to us? It has numbed our passions, desensitized us, trampled on our social skills, made us fat, and deferred our dreams. Worse, it might even have rendered us incapable of dreaming—like truly dreaming BIG. Living and growing up in our society has caused us to conform to this ‘standard.’ No longer do we go out of what’s deemed comfortable, no longer do we seek adventure or take chances—to really live. We tell ourselves we can’t do it, we tell ourselves that this is too risky. But God meant for us to take risks! What do you think faith is? But right out of school, we seek that 9-5 job, pay our bills, have our families, plan our 401k, retire, and collect seashells until we die. And in this system we will have died a thousand deaths before we actually hit the grave.”

I wish I could transcribe all the things that we talked about that night because our conversation was amazing. No false humility here; it was just flat out awesome. But the point he shared is what I want to extend to you, friends. Take risks! You got one life. And what’s it worth to you if you’re not truly living? Nothing is ever achieved without first overcoming those doubts and fears. That self-fabricated voice that tells you that you can’t do something or that you’ll fail—it’s a lie! Indeed, you might fail in your attempts, but that’s not where the death happens. The death happens when you decide nothing will happen. Death occurs and death wins when your creativity, your passions, your voice are silenced, when they will never resound in a world that might need to hear it more than ever. Just think about it: if you were to die, and your life would have meant no difference as if it were never lived. Scary thought. You will die before nothing ever happens.

So take risks. Roll the dice. Write your novels, take your trips to South America, tell the girl that you love her (or commit to her), start your businesses, and really take some time to think about the possible existence of God! Just don’t equate risk with lack of reason; risk and sense are not mutually exclusive. Calculate them and really think what impassions your spirit and what you could do to let it come alive.

Some of these things I mention might sound scary—so foreign and uncomfortable to us—because they would mean ultimate paradigm shifts in our thinking, in our current living, and in our life direction. But if birds are so fashioned to have wings, were they not meant to use them? They aren’t meant to be caged. We have been wonderfully fashioned with passions, desires, goals, talents, gifts—use them! Don’t lay them to waste.

It was midnight. As I got up to go, Josh and I exchanged our awkward high-fives/pounds/man-hugs. I left, physically and mentally drained from the day’s festivities. But I was excited, because I knew God had used him to build upon the fire that only hours earlier Ravi had rekindled in my soul.

Or maybe there was just something extra in that yogurt last night.

– – – –

Man, it’s like my mind is still throbbing from the vibrant pulse I felt from his. I feel like he’s a man whose journey is always kind of crossing mine at the same time. We learn the same lessons, experience the same epiphanies, and fight the same battles. You meet some people who are on the same wavelength as you and you know right then and there that this person can just feel you. It’s like that with me and JB.

JB, if we were both stuck in a desert with a bucket of rocks, I think we’d still have the time of our lives. We’d talk and make the most out of everything. Well, that is, until we dehydrate and die a horrible death of thirst. Here’s to you, Lifecoach!