One of the things I noticed when I was in college ministry was the large group of students who wouldn’t commit to anything—a college major, a gym, a church, a place to live, a group of friends. The only thing they seemed committed to was being noncommittal. Every semester the talk would turn to another school they might transfer to, a new major they were going to try out, or a new part-time job they were interested in (because, you know, their current one was lame). This group was always holding out for something better and didn’t want to miss out on anything that might be happening somewhere else. They were unstable. And this instability cost them the joy of knowing and being known.
In Song of Solomon 1:7, we read this: “Tell me, you whom my soul loves, where you pasture your flock, where you make it lie down at noon.”
The woman is equating “love from the soul” with a commitment to her partner’s presence. Wherever he is pasturing his flock, wherever he is providing a place of rest and nourishment and provision, that’s where she wants to be. There is an indication here of the desire to commit.
Obviously, when you are first attracted to someone, you don’t make inappropriate commitments, but you do want to see before you pursue someone in a potentially romantic way if he or she is inclined toward commitment. The woman in this Song wants to commit to her suitor’s pasture; for her, the grass is not always greener on the other side of the fence.
As you consider the person you are physically attracted to, look for evidence of commitment in his or her life. Has he joined and become committed to a local church? Does she have a deepening relationship with a group of friends? How is his relationship with his family?
I think that church membership is a huge consideration, precisely because there is no such thing as a perfect church, and in our day and age in the West, we have so many options to choose from. Churches are full of sinners, so there will always be some messiness in a church. Churches are like families that way. So when a person stays in a church for a long period of time, there is evidence that she has been able to see that everything’s not perfect, but she nevertheless said, “I’m going to stay. I’m going to try to make this work. My commitment is more important than my desire to run away.”
If you find someone who is rootless, always looking for what’s next, always looking for “better than”—better job, better group of friends, better church, better hobby, better whatever—you should be extremely cautious.
What you’re looking for is a deep rootedness, or at least a deep capacity for rootedness. Obviously among young adults there is much that is in transition in relation to school and jobs and so on. But despite the transient nature of that particular stage of life, are there signs of deep commitment? If there is no evidence of commitment in his or her life, I would caution you to move very slowly into any kind of serious relationship.
Because the Bible tells us we need to go deeper than physical attraction in our relationships, and because we know that what we find physically attractive has been for the most part culturally informed, it is wise to acknowledge that God has hardwired us for the commitment of companionship over and above sexual attraction or physical pleasure. Companionship brings deeper joy and greater pleasure than the mere physical could ever bring by itself.
If you have physical attraction and no companionship in your relationship, you’ll eventually be miserable; but if you have deep companionship with each other, physical attraction isn’t as important and becomes less and less so as time passes.
In the movie Cast Away, we see a stark depiction of a person’s innate hunger for companionship. The main character, Chuck Noland, is involved in a plane crash. He survives but ends up stranded on a deserted island. As his loneliness wears on him, Chuck finds a volleyball that floated ashore, draws a face on it, and has conversations with it over the course of his time on the island.
After a number of years of isolation and a failed suicide attempt, Chuck builds a raft to try to get off the island. Following his successful launch, he encounters and overcomes a great storm. The next day, once the waters had calmed, his constant companion, Wilson, the volleyball, falls off the raft. In perhaps the most powerful scene of the movie, Chuck begins to weep uncontrollably because of the anguish of losing his only “friend.” Through this brief scene, director Robert Zemeckis laid bare the undeniable ache in every human heart for companionship. It is a beautifully powerful portrayal of a need, which supersedes the mere desire for sexual gratification or “attraction.” It truly is “not good that the man should be alone” (Gen. 2:18).
In the end, of course, it is Jesus who provides this perfect companionship for his children. “No longer do I call you servants,” he said in John 15:15, “but I have called you friends.” Through him we see that the commitment we make to our brothers and sisters in the church far outweighs even the good gifts of marriage and sexual fulfillment. Marriage and sex will pass away (see Matt. 22:30), but our commitment as friends—as family!—with the saints of God will endure forever.
Can your prospective partner commit? His or her physical attractiveness is a good thing, but it’s not an enduring thing—the ability to commit may carry the weight of eternity.
This was taken as an excerpt from Matt Chandler’s new book, The Mingling of Souls. For more information on Matt and his book, please visit his website at www.minglingofsouls.com.
As of 2002, Matt Chandler is the Lead Pastor at Highland Village First Baptist Church (now The Village Church) in Highland Village, Texas, where he lives with his wife and three children.