Shocking Dating Lessons from My Very Good Friend Ron

I’ve written before about my friend Ron’s dating escapades. He’s now in his 60s, and it’s been quite eye-opening to reenter the world of dating after a marriage of over 30 years.

At the advice of his kids, Ron signed up for Match.com after his divorce was final a few years ago. There he quickly found a Christian woman named Sherry, whose favorite books were Rick Warren’s Purpose Driven Life and Living Courageously by Joyce Meyer.

“This is my kind of woman!” Ron confidently told me before his coffee date with her at Panera Bread.

But things didn’t exactly go as he had hoped. The first thing he noticed was that Sherry looked at least 10 years older than the pictures she had posted. Hmmm…pretty disappointing, he immediately thought.

However, Ron is a nice guy, and he decided to at least engage Sherry in some friendly conversation. After some small talk, he asked, “So, how long ago was your divorce?”

Ron thought this was a pretty easy, straightforward question. But her answer stunned him.

“Well, I’ve been married four times,” Sherry informed him, “and for a while I also lived with a guy I wasn’t married to.”

Ron’s jaw probably dropped at this point. But she went on to say she had eight children and fifteen grandkids, attributable to her various marriages and boyfriends.

Yikes, Ron was getting queasy. How did things go so amiss in his attempt to find a wholesome Christian woman? While the conversation was running its course, he couldn’t help envisioning Thanksgiving dinner if he married Sherry. How would he be able to figure out “who’s who” among the kids and grandkids—not to mention remembering who everyone’s daddy is?

This was a rough start to his online dating experiences, no doubt. Yet Ron wasn’t about to give up. He continued spending time on Match.com every day, trying to find suitable prospects for dating and eventual marriage.

Uncomfortable Encounters

Things didn’t get any easier in the following months, though. One day he was having a nice phone conversation with a woman named Sarah, and they seemed to have some things in common. But he started getting uncomfortable when she mentioned her distress that her son was gay and had married his lover. Once again, Ron started envisioning Thanksgiving dinner, and he wasn’t sure how he would respond to the family dynamics of Sarah’s son and the guy he was married to.

Then he had another coffee date, this time with an attractive woman named Sheila. But her husband had died of HIV, her father had been shot to death and, once again, Ron felt there was just too much baggage for him handle.

Ron says one of his favorite dates was with a woman named Linda. She attended a good church and clearly had a strong relationship with the Lord. But the conversation took a difficult turn when she described her daughter’s bipolar personality disorder and the incredible anguish it had caused her. Some days her daughter loved her, and other days her daughter hated her, making Linda’s life miserable.

Another disappointing date occurred when Ron went out to dinner with a woman named Sarah. She had been a single mom for many years and was now agonizing that her 16-year-old son had become a neo-Nazi skinhead, hating Jews and believing all sorts of conspiracy theories. She had no idea how to convince the young man of his erroneous views—and neither did Ron.

5 Lessons

Eventually Ron had some relationships that were more than a one-time phone call, coffee date, or dinner. He says some of these were with very nice women, but he just couldn’t see himself spending the rest of his life with them.

Recently Ron and I took time to review his dating experiences, hoping to glean lessons for others entering the dating scene in their 50s and 60s. Here are five lessons we came up with, but perhaps you can add some insights from your own experiences:

  1. Dishonesty is rampant. While it’s understandable to “put your best foot forward,” it’s sad there are so many outdated pictures and misleading online profiles. Also watch out for the out-and-out scams that target online daters. Despite your hopes for “love at first sight,” be careful to verify that the person you’re dating is who they say they are!
  2. Baggage is rampant. Ron chuckled that many woman on Match.com describe themselves as “baggage free” and “drama free.” What a joke. He concluded that it’s virtually impossible to be a divorced person in your 50s or 60s without accumulating some baggage along the way.
  3. Our OWN baggage is rampant. Like many men, Ron initially thought all the baggage was on the female  side of things. Yet after some painful breakups, he had to admit that his own baggage was often a large part of the problem. Just like landmines under the surface of the ground, he discovered emotional scars that were triggered in pressure situations and close relationships.
  4. Sexual temptation is rampant. Ron was a virgin when he got married, but he admits that sexual abstinence is a lot harder these days. Perhaps this can be attributed to several factors: (1) Loneliness in being single after many years of marriage; (2) feeling like “time is running out” to have a close, intimate relationship; (3) the amazing willingness today of many women (even longtime Christian women) to engage in sexual activities with men they aren’t married to.
  5. Not everyone really wants to be married again. At the beginning of his online dating journey, Ron assumed anyone on Match.com or eHarmony was there in search of a marriage partner. Surprisingly, it turned out that many people were more interested in dating than marrying. Why so? Some are fearful. No one wants to enter into another unhappy marriage. And some prefer the freedom of not having to answer to anyone. Instead of being tied down, they would prefer to “keep their options open.” And, once again, Ron had to come to grips with his own commitment phobia. “I have a pretty good life as a single guy,” he told me. “Why run the risk of another bad marriage?”

What About You?

If you’re in the dating world today, my heart goes out to you. I sincerely hope you’ve had an easier time than my good friend Ron.

Although I could attempt to provide all sorts of spiritual platitudes and additional advice, let me close with just a simple reminder from Scripture:

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
And lean not on your own understanding;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
And He shall direct your paths
(Proverbs 3:5-6).

I wish you well on this perilous journey!

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The Basic Incompatibility of Men & Women

Attractive young hipster couple on white background

A friend was surprised by my reply when he said that he and his wife were incompatible.

“Of course you are!” I said. “Apart from a miracle by God, men and women are inherently incompatible.”

“Hmmm… a miracle from God?” he wondered aloud.

Then I told this friend the result of my informal study on the subject. “Based on personal observations and lots of statistics, there aren’t nearly enough couples who ever receive that miracle from God,” I opined.

I recounted a conversation I’d overheard between two men, one divorced and the other married.

The divorced man was complaining about his lonely lot in life, all caused by the fact that his wife had left him for another man. Although he apparently thought he would get some sympathy from his married friend, that’s not at all how the conversation went.

“Don’t you realize, there are MILLIONS of men who would gladly  trade places with you?!” the married friend told him.

So sad, but so true. Not only are many people unhappily divorced, but there are also countless people who are unhappily married.

Remember what I said about needing a miracle from God in order to have a different outcome than this?

When I look at what the Bible says about this difficult subject, here’s what I conclude: God made men and women inherently different, but not inherently incompatible. The incompatibility didn’t begin until sin and selfishness entered the equation in Genesis 3.

You know the story. Eve was deceived  by the serpent into disobeying God and tasting the forbidden fruit, but Adam apparently did so quite intentionally. Why? My guess is that he didn’t want to be separated from Eve, the wife he dearly loved.

But here’s where the story gets quite ironic. By disobeying God in order to be with his wife, Adam created an ongoing state of friction (incompatibility) within the marital bond.

We see this when the Lord confronted Adam about his disobedience. Instead of immediately repenting and accepting responsibility, Adam chose to throw Eve under the bus, blaming her for his decision: “The woman whom You gave to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I ate” (Genesis 3:12). And notice that Adam found a way to blame the Lord  as well…

By choosing to embrace the woman instead of obeying God, Adam unwittingly created a barrier to his relationship with both. Apart from a miracle, there would never be harmony again between men and women, or between humankind and God.

But thank God for His miracles! Through the cross of His Son Jesus, He broke down the wall of separation and alienation, making it possible for us to freely enter His presence.

That same cross solves the incompatibility between men and women. You see, the only hope for marital bliss is for the partners to die to themselves. Like Jesus, they must set aside their own interests and lay down their lives for each other.

The good news is that God makes this miracle readily available to those who will embrace the cross. Yes, it ultimately takes TWO to have a happy marriage, but it always starts with ONE. Someone has to take the first step, trusting God to work His miracles in their partner’s heart as well.

Are you willing to go first? You never know whether a miracle might come, replacing incompatibility with harmony, and maybe even some bliss.

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Brokenness, Vulnerability & Scrambled Eggs

eggs broken

I have a new theory—I would even call it a discovery—about two of life’s greatest mysteries. The two mysteries are related, and my theorem explains both.

The first mystery is why there are so many unhappy marriages, and the second is like it: Why is it often so difficult to find fulfillment in the modern-day churches we attend?

I call both of these “mysteries,” because God intended something far better. He created marriage and the church to be enjoyable, life-changing institutions.

So what has gone so terribly wrong?

That brings up my theorem, which I discovered while cooking eggs for breakfast recently. I’ll start by applying my discovery to churches, then proceed to marriages.

Most modern churches are like a carton of eggs. People come and sit together in neat rows of stadium seats, never touching, never relating, never sharing their hearts. They just sit there and observe the show, which probably would be more enjoyable if popcorn were served. After an hour or so, it’s time to leave. But the churchgoers, like eggs still in the shells, are usually unchanged by the experience.

How sad! No wonder millions of Christians have chosen to opt out of the egg-carton church experience. They’ve concluded that they might as well stay home and listen to a podcast.

Here’s the problem with this scenario, as my theorem so beautifully illustrates: Life-change only happens when there is vulnerability, and vulnerability requires brokenness.

Put simply, the eggshell must be cracked open if anyone is going to enjoy the egg. I don’t know anyone who eats the shells—it’s what’s inside that counts.

So if you’re going to have a meaningful experience with other believers, there must a touching of hearts (involving the egg whites and yokes), not just a superficial touching of the shells. That’s why so little transformation occurs while you sit, unengaged, as a spectator in a church congregation. The experience failed to reach your heart, will, or emotions in a meaningful way.

That brings us to an even more illuminating application of my theorem: unhappy marriages…

Last year I overheard a conversation that really troubled me. A recently divorced man was complaining to a married friend, saying he didn’t like being single. The married man just smiled and said, “Brother, do you realize how many million men would gladly trade places with you?!”

Ouch. The statement reflects today’s common view that it is preferable to be single than to be in an unhappy marriage. It’s a pretty sad commentary, but King Solomon reached a similar conclusion (Proverbs 21:9, 21:19).

Fortunately, my egg analogy helps to explain the demise of marriage in our culture, and it also offers hope for better outcomes if we learn its lessons.

The Bible says marriage involves TWO people who become ONE (Genesis 2:21-25, Ephesians 5:22-33). However, this phenomenon is often misunderstood, as my egg theorem shows:

  • Eggs in a carton are like individuals who live in close proximity, yet never interact on an emotional or spiritual level. This could describe singleness for many people, but it also helps to explain unhappy marriages. Many husbands and wives today start with prenups, move on to separate bank accounts, and end up with separate bedrooms. They are under the same roof, but become more akin to roommates than marriage partners. Do you see why this would be unsatisfying? The eggs are together in the carton, but they are back in their shells.
  • At the other extreme are scrambled eggs. Although many people think churches and marriages are supposed to model this kind of extreme “oneness,” that is NOT what the Bible teaches. Just as the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are “one” but retain their separate identities, so it is with happy marriages. The husband and wife each have a unique role and some individual interests. They have not become “scrambled eggs,” where their identity is forever lost. No, God made us to remain distinct, “male and female” (Genesis 1:27)—and marriage is meant to enhance that fact, not erase it. You are who you are, and getting married shouldn’t radically alter your God-given personality or love languages. So if you’ve allowed your identity to be swallowed up in a relationships that resembles a pile of scrambled eggs, it’s no wonder your unhappy. Perhaps that’s why I’ve always preferred my eggs cooked over easy, touching and overlapping in some ways, but still separate.

If you are unhappy in your marriage or church, I wish I could sit down with you and apply my theorem to your specific situation. The good news is that it may not be too late to unscramble your scrambled eggs. But there’s no time to waste.

To rediscover the joy of intimate relationships, here’s what I recommend:

  1. Make sure you are broken and vulnerable in your relationship with the Lord. Let Him get past your hard outer shell and deal with the issues of your heart. You’re never going to restore your marriage or find a life-changing church experience unless you first have a tender heart before God.
  2. After you’ve been broken before the Lord, you can expect a new fragrance to emerge in your life, affecting all of your relationships. In a pivotal story in the Gospels, a woman broke an alabaster jar of perfume in order to worship Jesus. The resulting fragrance filled the house and changed the entire atmosphere (Mark 14:3-9, John 12:1-8). The same can happen with the atmosphere in your home or church.
  3. As hard as it may be, you must let down your guard (i.e., remove the eggshell) and expose your heart and your emotions to the people closest to you. Men tend to have an especially difficult time with this. Too often, we come home from work, curl up on the couch to watch our favorite sports event on TV, and never take time to become emotionally vulnerable. Hmmm…no wonder that scenario doesn’t lead to a satisfying marriage.

Wow. There’s so much more I could say about my eggshell theorem. I’m praying for you to regain your tender heart and the joy of true intimacy—starting with God and then working outward to your marriage and close friendships. You’ll be amazed by how the atmosphere can change.

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The #1 Cause of Failed Marriages & Churches

Lately I’ve been pondering what’s the primary reason so many marriages and churches ultimately fail. Is it because of self-centeredness? Narcissism? A refusal to die to our own interests so that the love of God can reign in our hearts?

I guess we could debate this all day. All sorts of core issues could be cited, and entire books have been written to analyze the subject.

However, I’ve been increasingly focusing my attention on an obscure passage in Nehemiah 4:2 that seems to describe where much of the problem lies. Nehemiah and his followers wanted to rebuild the walls around Jerusalem, but their efforts were ridiculed by critics as impossible: Do they actually think they can make something of stones from a rubbish heap—and charred ones at that?” (Nehemiah 4:2)

The imagery here describes people who want to build something grand and glorious, but the available building materials are seriously flawed. Rather than coming directly from some manufacturing plant, the bricks have been drawn from a “rubbish heap.” No longer in pristine condition, they are charred and broken.

This explains a lot about the difficulty of constructing healthy marriages. While the bride and groom typically dress up in their finest apparel on their wedding day, underneath the tux and gown are flawed, burnt, and broken people.

You may not want to own up to the fact that you’ve been “charred” by your life experiences, but we ALL have. We’re in this together, so we might as well be honest. If “original sin” wasn’t a big enough problem, we’ve all been scarred by imperfect childhoods, toxic relationships, poor choices, or mishaps in our career.

So what happens when two flawed, broken people come together in holy matrimony? Well, ideally, God’s healing process can begin. But too often, the opposite occurs: The flaws and brokenness come to the surface in even greater ways than before, and the couple has no idea how to handle them.

And no wonder it’s so difficult to plant healthy churches these days. People may bring their “Sunday smiles” to church, but during stressful times their dysfunctions emerge. Unity is strained, because everyone wants to get their own way.

Yes, it’s hard lay a strong foundation when you’re working with charred materials.

In case you think I’m being far too negative, let me also point to one reason for hope. God knows all about our flaws and imperfections, and He loves us anyway. The whole point of the Gospel is that the cross of Christ provides both forgiveness and a remedy for our sin-wrecked nature.

However, here’s the problem: In order for the Gospel to do its restorative work in our lives, we have to acknowledge our brokenness and sincerely want to change. Otherwise, our inherent flaws will be compounded rather than healed.

If you’re feeling like a charred stone today, don’t despair. You aren’t alone. There’s hope for a turnaround when you cry out to the One who’s able to make ALL things new (Revelation 21:5).

And I almost forgot to mention another very encouraging fact. Despite his persistent detractors, Nehemiah and his team were successful in rebuilding Jerusalem’s wall—even though their building materials came from the rubbish heap. With God’s help, you can build something beautiful as well.

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Things Too Wonderful to Understand

It seems a person of my age should have figured out everything by now. But in some ways the opposite is true—I’m more aware than ever of life’s mysteries.

The writer of Proverbs 30 seemed to have a similar experience, marveling about the things he couldn’t really understand:

There are three things that amaze me—
no, four things that I don’t understand:

how an eagle glides through the sky,
how a snake slithers on a rock,
how a ship navigates the ocean,
how a man loves a woman
(vs. 18-19 NLT).

This man was humble enough to recognize he didn’t “know it all.” He was still in awe of God’s wonder-filled creation.

First, he watched an eagle soaring high in the sky, without even flapping its wings. That’s impossible!  the writer thought to himself. The eagle is flying higher and higher, without exerting any effort at all.

Of course, eagles are a picture of our lives as believers. The Bible says we can gain new strength and rise up as eagles when we wait on the Lord, relying on His power rather than our own (Isaiah 40:28-31). Just like the mystery of an eagle’s flight, the Christian life is meant to be supernatural and amazing, rather than a matter of strain and struggle (Colossians 1:27).

Next, the writer of Proverbs 30 sees a snake rapidly slithering across a rock. How does it do that?!  he wondered. Snakes have no legs, after all. Like the effortless flight of eagles, the movement of a snake seems almost magical.

The ability of ships to navigate the oceans was also bewildering for the writer. If ships could only go in the direction of the winds, that would be understandable. However, he observed that ships frequently travel against  the headwinds and the ocean currents. They are able to make progress toward their intended destination even when circumstances make matters difficult.

This is another great picture of the Christian life. We don’t have to drift helplessly in the water, nor must we be blown about by the shifting winds of our culture. Against all odds, we can set our sails to catch the breeze of God’s Spirit, and we can set our rudder to achieve our life’s purpose.

Finally, the writer comes to the most humbling, most baffling, most incredible mystery of all: love between a man and a woman. Even if you can figure out the wondrous mysteries of eagles, snakes, and ships, only a person of extreme hubris claims to fully understand the dynamics of male-female relationships.

Well, actually, I used to understand women pretty well—when I was in my twenties and still single! I even recorded a Bible study message explaining it all. Yes, I had women figured out back then, and I was happy to tell anyone who would listen.

Oh well…

Hopefully I’m not the only one who is still struggling with life’s mysteries. Are there still some things “too wonderful” for YOU to understand? If so, that’s fantastic! May you never lose your sense of wonder and amazement. And may you always recognize your need to rely on the Lord rather than on your own understanding (Proverbs 3:5-6).

Remember: In this life we’re destined to merely know “in part” (1 Corinthians 13:9). Someday in heaven, though, we’ll be able to ask God about all the mysteries we were never able to figure out.

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