Back when I was single, I resented married folks calling me picky. In my not-so-humble opinion, they wanted me to settle, and I was just waiting for the right one. But in retrospect, it’s easy to see that they were onto something.
Now to be fair, I wasn’t trying to be picky, but I didn’t have to. It came quite naturally, and after all, I was in good company. I knew plenty of other Christian men and women who were just as selective as I was. And by “selective,” I mean that we had a knack for finding fatal flaws in every potential mate who crossed our paths.
Although this attitude seemed hypercritical to many outside observers, when those people challenged me, I quickly shut them down by saying I was “trusting God to provide a spouse for me,” and I believed He was big enough to make it clear that she was the one. Nobody could argue with that, so they just threw up their hands and said, “Well, I can’t wait to see who you eventually end up with.”
What they didn’t realize was that I was on the fast track to ending up with nobody, because there wasn’t room for anyone else in my life. Like the other picky men and women out there, I already had a serious commitment with someone: my imaginary spouse.
My Fairy Godwife
It’s hard to compete with a fairy tale, and that’s probably the reason I rarely made it past two dates with most women I took out. I was comparing them to a woman who only existed in my imagination, and they didn’t stand a chance against her.
To my credit, my top requirement for my imaginary wife was that she has a deep understanding of God’s grace — which was nice, but it was horribly ironic in that I had very little grace for women who didn’t meet my other specifications. For example, I wanted my wife to look gorgeous, love exercising, enjoy being outdoors, get my sense of humor, want multiple children, and challenge me (but only in the most respectful way). Oh, and one more thing: I did not want a woman who showed signs of insecurity or neediness. And believe it or not, I was surprised to find that this woman did not seem to exist — but I sure wasn’t about to give up on finding her.
What was even more disappointing was when I met women who had potential but turned out to be just as picky as I was. As I later learned, those women had a laundry list of requirements that was just as unrealistic as mine. In addition to wanting a handsome stud, they wanted a socially active man who also spent lots of time at home. They wanted a talkative man who was a good listener; a strong, tough man who would impress Daddy; but a tender, sensitive man who would intercede for them in prayer every night. And they wanted a traditional man, who loved raising children; but a progressive man, who wouldn’t expect them to stay home with the kids.
The thing that none of us picky single folks seemed to realize was that under our pickiness was a sense of entitlement. And that entitlement was rooted in toxic pride that blinded us to what we were really doing: crafting spouse-shaped idols in our hearts, worshipping at their feet, and calling it “waiting for God’s best.” That is, we convinced ourselves that we deserved to get the best, because deep down, we thought we were the best.
The antidote to this prideful mindset was good, old-fashioned humility. But the problem with being prideful is that you’re usually too full of yourself to realize you need to be humbled, so I didn’t seek to change. Instead, I inadvertently chose to learn the hard way: through humiliation.
I won’t go into the gory details, but suffice it to say this: In the middle of my search for the near-perfect spouse, I made a series of foolish decisions that decimated my lofty self-image. And as I lay there grieving in the carnage, for the first time in my adult life, I felt like I didn’t have that much to offer a woman.
It should come as no surprise that this was the moment when God saw fit to introduce my wife, Raquel, to me. At that moment, I was so aware of my need for grace that I found myself wanting to give it. So instead of looking for Raquel’s deficiencies, I focused on her positive attributes. And rather than treating her like a job applicant, I studied her to see what I could do to make myself more attractive to her. Naturally, romance grew out of that kind of graceful affection, and nine months after we met, we got married.
Now let me be clear about something: If you’re prideful and picky, I’m not suggesting that the solution is for a personal failure to forcibly humiliate you. To the contrary, Scripture says, “Humble yourself in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10, NKJV, emphasis added). But humbling yourself will require more than recognizing that you have a false sense of superiority when it comes to the opposite sex. It requires a fundamental change in the way you see yourself and others, and I have a suggestion for how to go about that. But I should warn you that if you go through with it, it’s going to hurt.
Facing the Real You, Loving a Real Person
Scripture says, “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself” (Philippians 2:3, NKJV). In other words, the way you interact with others is directly affected by the way you see them. And you ought to see other people (including prospective mates) as being better than yourself.
Now I’m not saying you have to feel attracted to all the single members of the opposite sex. I’m saying that you should give them the same grace that you receive from Christ and other people. And if you want to get an idea of just how much grace you receive every day, try this: Interview some friends about the effect you have on them. After doing that, there’s a good chance that esteeming others as being better than yourself (including prospective mates) will be a lot easier.
Now I’ve done this a couple of times before, and I should warn you again: If this sounds painful, it is. I’ll never forget the disappointment of separately interviewing several different friends, all of whom gave me almost identical negative feedback. But it’s better than living in denial, so go ahead, get a pen and paper, separately interview three or four people you trust, and tell them you need them to be completely honest. Then ask the following questions (without defending yourself): The suggested interview and listed questions were adapted from the book Integrity by Dr. Henry Cloud and a sermon by Aaron Damiani.
- What does it feel like to be around me when I’m at my best?
- What does it feel like to be around me when I’m at my worst?
- What do you admire about the way I live my life?
- Are there any areas of my life that you find off-putting?
- What are ways I could be a better friend?
- Which of my character traits will be a blessing to my spouse?
- Which of my character traits will be burden to my spouse?
- Is there anything I could do to be a better communicator?
- What do others think of me?
- What’s the 10 percent you’re holding back?
If you’re anything like me, after doing a few interviews like this, you’ll plunge into a semi-depressive state for a couple of weeks and want to withdraw from the people who blessed you with their honesty. But don’t give into that; let the experience operate as a mirror that will help you see the rotten spinach that’s been jammed in your teeth for years. If you do, you’ll not only want to clean your teeth, you’ll probably be less inclined to judge the next time you see a potential mate with a little ketchup on their chin.
If you decide to go forward with this challenge, please understand that this isn’t a formula for getting married or forcing you to settle, and it’s not supposed to be. It’s a tool for helping prideful people recognize how forgiving God and other people are to them so that, hopefully, they’ll be less inclined to be picky and more inclined to give others the very thing we all need: grace.
Copyright 2014 Joshua Rogers. All rights reserved.