Never Say Never (or my response to Timothy Keller)

Recently Relevant magazine posted a stirring article by Timothy Keller that has caught some attention. Entitled “You Never Marry the Right Person,” I know I’m not the only who’s feathers  are ruffled a bit by this bold statement. After the comments blew up with over a few thousand responses I wanted to direct mine to Timothy Keller. 

If you don’t know Keller, he is the Senior Pastor of Redeemer Church ministries in NYC. A sound and wise “relevant” pastor, who I greatly respect, Timothy Keller is also an author of books such as “The Reason For God” and “The Meaning For Marriage.” So here goes, Pastor Keller, having attended Redeemer Church in Manhattan, one of the most highly-populated cities of singles in the world, I have to say how much I appreciate that you steer clear of the trendy fluff that coddles us Christian singles today. You consistently speak the truth with clarity and I think we need more of it. Having said that, as a 27 year old single adult woman, honestly your title was the last thing I wanted to hear. Then again, anyone my age never likes to hear “never.” So of course, I had to read it. I was eager to catch what you had to say about the very hope I’ve held onto for some time, that God indeed has someone “right” for me.

Certainly, Pastor Keller, you have a birds-eye view into the dreams, desires and frustrations of young adults today. A view I think deserves our attention. For those who have yet to read this article, in short, Keller observes:

“… Some people in our culture want too much out of a marriage partner. They do not see marriage as two flawed people coming together to create a space of stability, love and consolation, a “haven in a heartless world,” as Christopher Lasch describes it. Rather, they are looking for someone who will accept them as they are, complement their abilities and fulfill their sexual and emotional desires. This will indeed require a woman who is “a novelist/astronaut with a background in fashion modeling,” and the equivalent in a man. A marriage based not on self- denial but on self-fulfillment will require a low- or no-maintenance partner who meets your needs while making almost no claims on you. Simply put—today people are asking far too much in the marriage partner.”

After reading a bit of the 20,000-some comments (and still counting) clearly I’m not the only one a tad baffled by your words. So, you think we’re asking for too much? I agree, our age group can certainly carry an air of entitlement. This is no news, not even to us. While I’m not asking God for an astronaut I do have some specific expectations, but am I really asking for the moon? Does having certain desires for the person I want to marry, that have stuck with me as I near my thirties a single woman, mean that I’m a self-fulfilling individual naively seeking for Mr. “Right?” 

I can’t say your article has been the first to challenge my hesitant search. As I get older I seem to be more discouraged from “waiting” for something right. The fact that I’d rather not “casually date,” especially when it means weekends of draining dinners more full of pregnant pauses than good food or attempting to flame a fire that lacks spark initially, has brought some to sum me up as picky, cold, unrealistic, and idealistic. I’ve even been asked how much longer I “plan to stay at the nunnery.” Because apparently I like wearing long robes, live in a church and avoid all contact with men (excuse my sarcasm - but I do practically live at the church since I work at one.) So while I don’t “date around” it’s assumed that I have unrealistic expectations. But what is so unrealistic about wanting someone “right?” When did expecting to find someone who would complement my abilities and “fulfill sexual and emotional desires” be the equivalent of asking for a novelist/astronaut/model? In our airbrushed culture most think young singles want just that; a perfect person. But I certainly do not want perfect and I don’t think most singles my age do!

In this article, Keller, you also refer to an interesting quote. A very logical approach to, what would be considered, this generations “dilemma” of singleness.  

Duke University Ethics professor Stanley Hauerwas has famously made this point:

Destructive to marriage is the self-fulfillment ethic that assumes marriage and the family are primarily institutions of personal fulfillment, necessary for us to become “whole” and happy.

  The assumption is that there is someone just right for us to marry and that if we look closely enough we will find the right person. This moral assumption overlooks a crucial aspect to marriage. It fails to appreciate the fact that we always marry the wrong person.

  We never know whom we marry; we just think we do. Or even if we first marry the right person, just give it a while and he or she will change. For marriage, being [the enormous thing it is] means we are not the same person after we have entered it. The primary challenge of marriage is learning how to love and care for the stranger to whom you find yourself married.

Having parents who’ve remained faithfully married for over 30 years, I realize my upbringing is a rarity. But if anyone knows what “destructive” looks like, it’s the majority of those singles that are being referred to. Those singles who are the cause of the statistics that say people are waiting longer than ever to get married, are also those singles who are effected by the following staggering statistics.

In 2009 an article, from National Affairs publication, the “Evolution of Divorce,” honed in on these facts:

From 1960 to 1980, the divorce rate more than doubled — from 9.2 divorces per 1,000 married women to 22.6 divorces per 1,000 married women. This meant that while less than 20% of couples who married in 1950 ended up divorced, about 50% of couples who married in 1970  did. And approximately half of the children born to married parents in the 1970s saw their parents part, compared to only about 11% of those born in the 1950s.

It’s easy to see how single young adults are cautious to marry just anyone. I have more friends who’ve endured broken homes than those with parents still married. I believe a majority of us are looking for someone who feels like home, someone who is faithful, someone who is right.  If you ask me, the “dilemma” is that most young people can’t recognize a healthy relationship, let alone a right one. In our culture, the realities that no one person is capable of meeting all of our needs are next to crystal clear. With the lowered rate of successful marriages, anyone expecting Prince Charming has yet to have been exposed to reality TV. After all, it was our parents who were raised on “Leave it to Beaver,” not us.

I’m not sure if there were ever generations before us who were more accepting of quirks, faults and failure. In my opinion most singles are accepting of imperfection to a fault. We certainly aren’t your cookie-cutter group of individuals. We’re sick of facades and fluff and eager for what is true. If my full trust is in God and I’m not seeking on my own, I believe I will marry the right person. Why can’t the God who ordains my step (Proverbs 20:24), lead me to someone who is“right?” So Timothy Keller, if your post is a clear depiction of what you believe is true, I’m not saying your wrong, I’m just saying I’ll still be waiting for someone right.