Friday, September 30, 2011

The rules of engagement

This post has been a long time in the making. It should have been out about three weeks ago, but…I got lazy. No matter. It’s getting out now, even though since I’m going to be dredging it out of my memory, I might be a bit fuzzy on the details. Oh, and please forgive the controversial heading. It was the best I could think of at the time.

A while back, my special lady came visiting for a weekend. At first, I was cool, and then, the day before she came, my emotions went into hyperdrive. But I digress. I’d made all sorts of plans, but in the words immortalized in Burns’ To A Mouse,

the best-laid schemes of mice and men
gang aft agley

That said, one of the things I had lined up was a visit to my pastor, Pastor Nuel Manufor of KingsWord International Church, Ikeja. We had about an hour or so to chat with him, and he was a great blessing to us both. Basically, this post is about what he said to us that day.

I’ve never really liked the word “dating” or the phrases “going out”, “in a relationship” and other isms we use so often these days. Pastor Nuel opened by asking what was going on between us both. I said I didn’t like the word “dating”, but it was close to what we had. He asked if we were just testing the waters, just to see if we wanted to get married. We replied that we weren’t. So he asked us to describe what was going on, and we said we were in a relationship. He said each one of us was in a relationship with him, and asked if that was the same kind of relationship we had with each other.

Ultimately, he gave us a word that’s not in common use today, “courting”, and said we shouldn’t be afraid to say we were engaged, or call each other fiancé or fiancée. Someone might wonder why he made such a big deal of it all, after all, wasn’t it Shakespeare who said, “a rose, by any other name, would smell just as sweet”? In retrospect, I realize it was important. The name given to something at its beginning matters greatly. It can set the tone and destination for it, because a name tends to define a thing (please see Gen 2:19, 35:18; 1 Chron 4:9.10). I don’t intend to argue this point.

He then proceeded to ask us to set some boundaries. He mentioned that the Bible recognized married people and unmarried people, but not people in courtship, and that he believed that people in courtship were biblically no different from single people. He addressed Busa and said that she needed to look at me as being no different from any man she passed on the road getting to his office; she should treat me as she would treat anyone else.

By implication (and explication), we weren’t supposed to be kissing or caressing or any of all of that. He specifically mentioned to me that he hoped I wasn’t focused on her boobs, body or butt. He said people tend to ask, “how far is too far?”, and that it is a foolish question because if you’re not going to Ibadan, you just don’t take the bus to Ibadan. We would consider the person who got on the bus to Ibadan and asked how far enough from – say, Lagos, they would have to go to be too far from Lagos crazy, with good reason.

It’s completely human to want to push the envelope, and there’s a compound word for that: self-deception (hypocrisy, if you really want one word). At this point, I have to admit that what I was hearing was battling my desire to kiss her and hold her in my arms, put my arms around her waist…sorry, please excuse the temporary sanity loss. I have to be honest, the entire weekend wasn’t easy. I am so grateful and blessed that she stood her ground, not once, but several times.

I remember reading part of Kevin Roose’s book, The Unlikely Disciple: A Sinner’s Semester At America’s Holiest University, and he made an interesting point: that at his previous school, Brown, he faced a lot of pressure trying to go to bed with women. At Liberty, once he accepted the fact that sex was off the menu, he was freer with women and actually developed better relationships with them. It kind of tallies with what Pastor Nuel said, that lust (operating through sexual desires), allowed in male-female relationship, blinds people and clouds judgment, hence his questions to me – considering that it’s said that sex is among a man’s top five needs. Yes, ladies, you read that right – not wants, but needs. It may not be as basic as air, food, clothing or water, but it’s top on the list of priorities, or so I’m told (this is where you use your fingers to google this).

I’ve a personal story here: I had a descent into relational and emotional hell that began with a kiss. For years, I’d mentally “skirted the fringes” (and deep-dived into infernal regions) and fell, hard, when I was in a situation to realize my mental conditioning. I didn’t really recover for almost 4 years. No, you don’t get the details. If you paid me for my memoirs, though…maybe. Despite this, I still wanted to kiss Busa. Several times. I suppose it implies I haven’t learned anything Smile.

Moving on, Pastor Nuel talked about how to look at courtship. He said it’s like a model of house as compared with the house. You use the model to get an idea of what the house would be like, but – to use his exact words – you would need to reduce yourself and your destiny to live in the model. He mentioned Jesus’ words in Luke 14:28-32:

Luke 14:28 For which of you, intending to build a tower, sits not down first, and counts the cost, whether he has enough to finish it?
Luke 14:29 Lest perhaps, after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish it, all that behold it begin to mock him,
Luke 14:30 Saying, This man began to build, and was not able to finish.
Luke 14:31 Or what king, going to make war against another king, sits not down first, and consults whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him that comes against him with twenty thousand?
Luke 14:32 Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sends a delegation, and desires conditions of peace.

He talked at length that courtship is about counting the cost, living with light and eyes wide open. He said that if you count the cost from the model and realize you come up short, you could decide:

  • To settle for a different building than the one represented by the model – in other words, end the relationship and look for someone else.
  • To go and get what is needed to build what you want – develop whatever you decide is lacking – in order to continue with the same person.

He mentioned that most people in courtship relationships settle. They heard God, they say, so there doesn’t need to be anything added. They don’t work on developing their relationship. God said so, so it must work out. That attitude is wrong. He encouraged us not to settle into “couple mode”, but instead keep working on ourselves and each other. He asked us to be open with each other, and not afraid of terminating the courtship, and to expect more from ourselves and each other instead of developing what Max Lucado calls “stuckititis”.

He mentioned that we should see it as though we were in a simulator, learning to fly a plane. We should give ourselves space to make mistakes and crash while in the simulator – where crashes may be sad but definitely not fatal – than crash in the real plane (with appropriately disastrous consequences).

This is just a brief rundown of some of the main points Pastor Nuel mentioned, but I hope it blesses young people who are in – or planning to get into – a marital relationship. Later.

P.S: Actually, this is so important, it shouldn’t be a postscript, but since I forgot it…anyway, Pastor Nuel asked why we started the relationship. In other words, in our building analogy, what was the foundation? He mentioned that we might feel all warm and fuzzy and in love, but that the feeling would come and go. Go so completely, sometimes, he warned, that we had better have more than that as the foundation for getting together – so to speak. He said he was convinced about the person that he is married to now, and that he’s met physically more attractive women since, but that conviction about her was missing with anyone else. He said being “in love” was overrated, because it can’t get people through tough, rocky times in their relationships. As one of my favourite preachers once joked, he and his wife had considered murder, but never divorce.

P.P.S: Pastor Nuel said earlier in his life and ministry, he was more insistent that courting relationships shouldn’t break up, but now that he has had some more experience, he’d rather people have broken courtships than broken marriages.

And that’s about it for now. If I remember anything else that I consider important, I’ll update this post below here.

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