I am in my early 30s and have been dating a woman a couple of years older than me for about four years. I know that’s more than enough time to know whether or not we should be together. The hard part is just that our spiritual lives are different.
We met at a Bible-based community church, and both grew up Catholic, but over the past couple years she has really stopped going to the same church with me altogether. She thinks it is too big, and really prefers to go to a Catholic church nearby on occasion. I love being in Christian community, reading the Bible, going to church, basically growing in my faith. The problem is that she seems content with where she is at spiritually, without a desire to grow through consistent attendance at any church, or in prayer, reading the Bible, etc. This has also really started affecting me because I have distanced myself from the church to spend more time with her, since she may be my wife someday. Plus, all of my community is at the community church where we met.
If we did get married, she mentioned that we would probably just raise our kids in different churches. She would go to the Catholic church, and I would go to a Community Church. One week I would take the kids, and the next week, she would take them. I see this as very difficult to maintain.
My friends see these things as red flags, and when I ask her about it, she just says, “This is who I am, either you want me or you don’t.” There is a certain amount of fear with letting a relationship go after having invested so much time, but I am feeling really convicted about marrying someone who may not have the same desire to grow in her faith as I do. I am no longer in my 20s anymore, and I do not want to pass up a great opportunity for marriage. Aside from the spiritual piece, most everything else is great. We are attracted to each other, get along well, etc. I just don’t know if I am making too big of a deal about our spiritual compatibility. She tends to think that I am making it too large of an issue.
Do you know couples that have succeeded in going to different churches? Should I look for someone that has a commitment to growing spiritually? Am I over-thinking this, and should I just take the plunge into marriage?
You know the answer, but I’ll go ahead and confirm it for you: This is a huge, flashing, blazing red light and I would absolutely not move forward to marriage. If the roles were reversed, and she had written me with the same concerns about you, I would tell her the same thing. I wouldn’t advise a couple to attend two different churches even if the churches were identical theologically, much less two as diverse as an evangelical and a Catholic church.
If it was merely a matter of deciding between a big church and a small church, all else being equal, I’d say that’s probably not worth ending the relationship. I’d put that more in a “negotiable preference” category, and it could probably be worked out. But the two of you are not merely on different pages when it comes to big versus small church; you’re on different pages on some of the very core issues of Christian faith, most notably her casual approach spiritual growth. Scripture makes it abundantly clear that once we become Christ-followers, we are to be active in pursuing Him with great intention, not passively shrugging our shoulders about sanctification.
You can have everything in common with a potential mate — the same sense of humor, same taste in the arts, same political views, etc. — but if you don’t share the same core spiritual values very little else will matter. I’m going to repeat this for effect: Whatever else you have in common, no matter how much it is, will not be strong enough to overcome disunity on core spiritual matters.
Your core spiritual values are the foundation upon which all other aspects of your relationship are built. Everything — everything — comes back to that. In a relationship, spiritual compatibility is the central issue. You can’t make it too big of an issue. There is not a single decision that the two of you will make that is not directly or indirectly connected to that foundation.
Her preference of a Catholic church over the evangelical church, her willingness to have your children split their time between the two, and her passive approach to faith, is only the tip of the iceberg. Already the foundation is cracking under the pressure. The building will never be structurally sound if the foundation doesn’t change.
Paul commands the Corinthian believers to not be bound together with unbelievers. I don’t know her heart or yours, so I can’t say whether you are bound together with an unbeliever, but undoubtedly the two of you are “unequally yoked” on spiritual values that make-or-break a relationship.
The picture Paul paints here is sort of like two people with legs bound together running in a three-legged race. Marriage is about learning to run in sync together. The first and most basic step, of course, is agreement on where you’re going and how to get there. After that, it’s just a matter of working on similar strides. The goal in marriage is “oneness.” That doesn’t mean you have to agree on every little item in life, but you must agree on the fundamentals — and you guys don’t.
If you are “bound” with someone who disagrees on the destination and the path to get there, it’s going to be a disastrous race for everyone involved. Based on what you’ve described about the distance you’ve felt between you and God lately, I think we see who is influencing whom and why Paul gives us this command.
Not all hope is lost, though. God might use all of this to foster a conversation that will take your relationships with Him and with each other where they need to be to bring glory to Him. But right now I would advise putting all things on hold until these things are resolved. Pray that God will give you the grace and wisdom necessary to lead you by His Spirit in that conversation. I know He’ll be faithful to do so.
Copyright 2007 John Thomas. All rights reserved.