We can be attracted to lots of people. This is normal, and to some extent is the same as how the aroma of a bacon sandwich is attractive, especially if we are fasting. It seems to hint that it can satisfy all our needs and desires at once in one bacony indulgence. But the reason I am fasting – I am talking about my own love affair with bacon – is for more and deeper reasons than a bacon sandwich can fulfill. It just seems at that moment that this one need is more important than the others. But when I am in my own mind I know that I am fasting to focus on God, to add strength to my prayers, to gain self-control etc. And these are also important goals that giving way to the desire to eat will subvert and undermine.
At the time, eating a bacon sandwich can be an overwhelming desire, and causes many a Christian to abandon their efforts. But having in mind why we are doing things helps us to keep balance and persevere.
If we were sitting an exam, and we wanted to get a good mark, and we found that the exam questions were posted on line, and would only cost £10, we would have a choice to make. We have a desire to do well in our exams, but more is at stake I would imagine. We want to do well but we want to do well honestly, we have a morality that we do not wish to break, we have a sense that God is at work in us and with us, and we do not want to cheat just to gain advantage and satisfaction of the desire to do well in the exam, if it means that everything else is compromised. And probably we are afraid that if we do cheat and we are discovered then the consequences of trying to fulfill this one desire at any cost are so significant for the rest of our life that it would be better not to take the risk from a practical point of view let alone a moral and spiritual one.
Likewise, we might want a job, and know that we need a job. But if we have worked hard to gain qualifications then we will not easily or wisely choose a job just because it is offered to us. If I had qualifications in psychology, with post-graduate degrees, I would not accept a position as a Trainee Ward Assistant in a Mental Hospital just because I needed a job, and just because the right one, or a suitable one, had not yet come along. I would rationally create a list of what was required for me to take a job, and I would consider the position of Ward Assistant against each of the important criteria I had set. Some criteria would be more important than others. But I would not devalue my qualifications and experience just to accept the job because there was a subsidised canteen, or I would be given a free uniform, or even because the person offering me the job seemed really nice. More is at stake, my life would be at stake, and I really need to have a level of rationality about such a choice.
We cannot have less rationality and self-reflection when dealing with close relationships. Just because the bacon sandwich smells attractive doesn’t mean I should eat it. There are other choices I have to make, which are more important. There is a time and circumstances for a bacon sandwich, but it is not now and not today. I am fasting, and fasting for a purpose, not out of a legal necessity. My fasting is part of who I am and who I am becoming, and if I abandon the fast because of an overwhelming desire for self-indulgence then I cannot be who I am or become who I am becoming. I find myself stuck in this place where I cannot control myself and allow real needs, but lesser needs, to dominate me and control me so that I become a slave to them and bound by them. I am more than this in Christ, and I desire to be more than this in Christ.
Just because I do need a job, and know that I need a job, and everyone else seems to be getting a fantastic job, doesn’t mean that I should take any job that is offered. I need to know what sort of job I really need to help me fulfill all my potential, and the fact that someone pleasant offers me a job would not be enough to make it sensible to take a job if all the other criteria were wrong. I might even lie awake at night thinking that I had better take any job, as a Trainee Ward Assistant in a Mental Hospital, because I just need a job. But that would be a poor decision from any perspective. I would not find even short-term job satisfaction. My qualifications would not find scope for being used. I would find myself resenting the choices I had made, resenting the people I had to serve among, resenting the person who offered me the job in the first place, and I would find that the qualifications I had put so much effort into gaining were slowly lost to me, as I found it harder and harder to put what I had learned into any practice.
And even if I do want to do well in an exam, why do I want to do well? Is it just for the score? Is any compromise with my moral and spiritual values possible, because I will promise to use the qualification I gain fraudulently for good purposes? But if I am willing to compromise in this regard, then what else will I compromise in? What other wrong choices would be required if I took this one? And what would be the consequences? Even if I was not discovered, the fact would be that throughout my life my whole career would be based on deception, on a wrong choice and a wrong action, and that would affect everything I did, and would also prevent me being and becoming the person I would wish to be, and that God has created me to be.
The fact that we are attracted to someone is no measure of anything. Lots of people are pleasant, and lots of people look attractive. We are made at one level to notice such things. But when we considering something more serious then lots of other things have to come into focus. The rest of my life is worth more than a £10 set of exam questions even if that seems to fix my immediate problems. My growth into personhood is worth more than a bacon sandwich, even if I am hungry. All the work I have put into my life already is worth more than any job, an unsuitable job, just because I see others getting employment.
What do we do, in spiritual terms, and outside of all these analogies? We recognise that there is more to life than the need we have for a deep relationship with another, even though this is a real need and one to be taken seriously. But if we make a mistake in the choices around this need, just because it is very real and insistent and can seem overwhelming, then it can prevent us ever becoming the person we are called to be. And it is the person we are called to be who is the person who is properly able to enter into deep relationships with other persons.
Slipping back into analogy. If I want to be a Doctor, I have to work hard at the preparation required to be a Doctor. I can’t short cut it. It will take years of study at university, and then more years of post-graduate study. I have to spend endless nights revising and learning, and I have to take exams and show that I have made practical progress in my studies. Just because I want to be a Doctor, even with all my heart and ambition doesn’t mean I can avoid the years of effort. Because the years of effort are what make me a Doctor. Putting on a white coat and hanging a stethoscope around my neck don’t make me a Doctor. Even printing out a Certificate and hanging it on my wall don’t make me a Doctor. It doesn’t matter how much I want to be a Doctor, to be and become a Doctor requires that I follow a particular process.
I am convinced of this, that we need to be preparing ourselves through becoming the person that God created us to be, before we enter into the deep relationship with another that seems to present itself as the answer to all our dreams and desires. And this preparation in personhood allows us to become that person who is already mature, already able to make wise choices, is already sustained by the deepest relationship of all with God, and so is able to enter into deep relationships with others without compromise and without finding ourselves bound by needs and emotional drives. This does not mean at all these needs are not real, but that as in all these analogies, to simply satisfy a need is not always or often the best choice, if it means that we are subverting other equally necessary and more important choices and considerations.
It can never be a good idea for a serious Christian person to consider a deep relationship with someone who has little in common with the Christian spiritual life, and this is beyond even ordinary morality. It is understandable entirely why this might seem an option, but it is never the right option or a good option. In this season of our lives we experience a sort of Lenten time, but the Lent is a time for preparation. In the Lent we certainly feel a real hunger, an overwhelming hunger at times, but we are keeping the Fast for a reason, and if we understand the reason then we look for fruitfulness beyond the satisfaction of our immediate need. It is the same at this time in our lives. We are preserving ourselves but for a reason, and we need to understand this reason. It is not a legal requirement, as if God will punish us. It is not a social reason, as if our family and friends will disown us. It is not an emotional reason, as if the needs and emotions we have a wrong or sinful. But it is because now, right now, there is other work we all and you should be doing. This is the work of becoming the person you are intended and created to be.
And this is as much a process as becoming a Doctor, or gaining a degree, and it is a necessary process if we wish to truly live a fulfilled life in the divine grace and energy of God, and in union, true and deep union with others.