Passion and Purity, Chapter 7: The First Date

This chapter is only vaguely about a first date.  It is mostly about poor communication skills.   Elliot doesn’t actually say much about the date, except that it wasn’t typical (who goes on a first date to a missionary meeting instead of dinner and a movie?  Evangelicals, that’s who.)  But let’s focus on what she says on page two of this three-page chapter:  A journal entry:

I am wiling to do God’s will but I cannot tell if my desires are wrong and should be “plucked out”

And then this:

[In a letter, Jim] confessed to having been in some way out of line on the evening of our date.  It was a bit obscure to me, but I felt I might have been at fault.

And then this:

More testing today.  God is asking me insistently, “Lovest me thou?” and I find myself evading the question.

And then, finally this:

I was wishing that my wishes were what God wished, and if my wishes were not what God wished, I wished that I could wish that my wishes would go away, but the wishes were still there.

GIRL. Jim seems like kind of a jerk here, right?  “I was out of line, and I’m going to hint that it’s your fault, but I’m not going to tell you exactly what it was.”  So it was something bad enough to apologize for, apparently, but why on earth would you bother apologizing for something that the other party isn’t even aware of, if you aren’t also making her aware of it?  We saw a few chapters ago that Jim wasn’t afraid to call Elisabeth out on her flaws, as “a sister in Christ.”  So why doesn’t he do the same here?  What is the point of an apology if the injured party doesn’t know what you’re apologizing for…unless it’s some passive aggressive way to stir up emotions.  Why involve her if the fault was yours?  And if the fault was hers, why not tell her exactly what it was?  This just seems awfully manipulative to me, a “Christianese” way of stringing her along.  I want to yell at them both: USE YOUR WORDS. And good lord, the angst.  Over and over again, Elliot says that she wants nothing more than to do God’s will.  I’m going to take her at her word.  I have prayed those same prayers, I know what it is like, and I trust her self-evaluation. The problem here then is not that she didn’t have a pure desire or that she didn’t REALLY want to follow God.  The problem is an over-spiritualization of every small thing, and some medium-sized things, too. Look, I get that a letter like that from your boyfriend can throw you for a loop.  But does it really fall into the same category as a Great Spiritual Test?  Could it not easily be solved with some boring old human communication, thus eliminating the need to wallow in spiritual self-pity for days on end and freeing you to focus on other things?  As far as I can tell, there is nothing keeping her from following up with him and saying, “Hey, I was a little confused by that letter.  Can we talk about it?” This whole chapter, and her many previous statements about “wishing what God wishes” belong in a tradition where God is always asking more of you and what you have is never enough.  It’s not enough to simply want to follow Christ.  You must also analyze every little thing to see if it’s acceptable.  You must question every desire, every motive, and every decision.  Look at this chapter in particular.  Elliot is doing all any good Christian should do: not having sex, praying, journaling, studying to be a missionary, and maintaining hyper-awareness of all her little desires and thoughts.  And she still does not know which of her desires are “wrong.” There is place for self-analysis, obviously.  It’s good to be self-aware, and it’s good to make sure your life decisions are generally pointing the direction you want to go.  But there’s something else here.  The culture encourages more than self-awareness.  It encourages self-doubt. This is because your wholehearted desire to follow God is not enough.  Your intuition is not enough.  Knowing your own personality is not enough.  Every thing you do and think is suspect because “the heart is deceitful above all things.” This is bad advice that encourages self-doubt and delayed decision-making. Yes, our hearts can be deceitful.  But isn’t that the whole point of the Holy Spirit–can’t a Christian rely on His guidance?  Now that we’ve been “made holy” can’t we at the very least trust our own insights and desires?  If some desires are holy (for instance, Elliot’s desire to be a missionary) and some are not (for instance, Elliot’s desire to be with Jim) how on earth are we supposed to tell the difference?  Elliot hasn’t said, and I think that is probably because she doesn’t know, either.  So far the calculus seems to be that that falling in love can lead sometimes to sex, and that’s a no-no, so obviously being a missionary is a better bet. I simply can’t believe that God wants us to put ourselves through an emotional ringer every time we have to make a normal, day-to-day decision.  He gave us minds to use–and hearts, too!  I simply don’t think that every interaction with anyone of the opposite sex is a great spiritual test–especially if you aren’t communicating well in the first place!  It seems obvious to me in this section that Elliot and Jim are creating their own relationship obstacles that have nothing to do with compatibility or purity and everything to do with poor communication and over-thinking.   In sum: use your words!

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