I have so many dear friends who have either divorced or who have gone through intense struggle in their relationship because of differences in one of the most important categories in life – Religious Preferences. These friends of mine are having a tough time because they tried to fool themselves during the very beginning of the relationship.
“She’s a Mormon and I’m a Catholic. We can both go to both churches.”
“She’s an atheist and I’m a Baptist. I think I can win him over in time…”
“I’m a Christian and she doesn’t go to church. But she is a very spiritual person. We’ll get along just fine.”
Unless you prepare The List beforehand, you will be susceptible to a loud heart and a quieted brain. It will be much easier for you to make excuses. It will be easy for you to justify the pursuit of this woman who seems like a great catch but with religious differences. You must have a list of negotiables and non-negotiables before you jump back into the dating scene, AND you must not compromise.
FREQUENCY OF RELIGIOUS ACTIVITY
When you are getting to know a gal and are considering moving forward in a more serious relationship, consider the Religious Preference issue THE MOST IMPORTANT compatibility category. For you, you may land in once of these:
*I honestly have no religious preference
*I have a background in ______________ church or religious affiliation, but I no longer have ties to that group.
*I sometimes attend _______________ church or religious organization. Just depends on what else is going on.
*I attend religious services at _______________ on a regular basis and I like it, but it’s not the most important thing to me.
*I am extremely active in the life of ______________ church or religious organization. This is the most important thing to me, or at least I want it to be.
The woman you are considering pursuing will fall in one of these religious descriptors, as well. I urge you to move forward ONLY IF she has the same descriptor as you. Otherwise, it will be like puling teeth. You will butt heads. AND, I assure you, most likely your relationship will be characterized by the lower of the two descriptors within a short amount of time. If you have a differing level of priority for religion, ABORT THE MISSION RIGHT NOW. Both of you will be happier for it in five, ten years. Don’t be fooled by her amazing looks or her charming personality. Your religious preferences will make or break your relationship.
Not only does the level of priority you put on your religious activity matter, the actual religion you are affiliated with matters. I assure you, there are deep, essential, foundational differences between all of these major camps of religious thought – Christianity, Catholicism, Mormonism, Islam, Hindu, Buddhist, Baha’i, Wiccan, Universalist, new-age, etc. etc. etc. If you take the tenets of your religion and compared them side-by-side to those of the woman you want to pursue, I assure you there are going to be unavoidable differences, i.e. how one must live, what does the afterlife consist of and how do I get there, the origins of evil, what religious activities should I partake in, whom should I worship and how should I worship?, etc etc… Catholics and Hindus are not spiritually compatible. Mormons and Christians are definitely not compatible spiritually. Again, if the woman you want to go after is in a different camp of religious thought, I implore you, ABORT THE MISSION! Hang out with women of like mind, and have them make up your pool of possibilities. Otherwise, you’ll be drowning in further heartache.
A NOTE TO CHRISTIANS
Now, a note to Christians of different denominations. Some denominations are more compatible than others. Lutherans and say, Pentecostals, not so much. But perhaps Baptists and Presbyterians are more. Here’s my point – before you pursue the really cool Christian chick that has caught your attention, do a side-by-side comparison of your statement of beliefs and hers. Doctrine is important. Probably the most important question you should start with is, “What do you both believe about the Bible?” If one of you believes the Bible is the infallible Word of God and depicts historical men and women in history and is literal, and the other believes that the Bible is simply hyperbole or analogy and is just an inspirational book for living, I would have to say, ABORT THE MISSION. This is an impasse and you should not try to force a relationship to work that has this fundamental of a difference.
Another important question, then, is how much of an authority does the Bible hold in your life? Do you find yourself easily obeying whatever it is you read in the Bible, or do you prefer to adhere to what you personally agree with and disregard what seems out of date or just too hard to do? You both need to have the same general response to Scripture to be compatible.
This might be coming across as too narrow-minded. This might fly in the face of the culture of tolerance that has been emerging in our country. But I assure you, just a few weeks or months into a marriage with a difference of Religious Preference or Practice, you will begin to feel the tension. You will begin to notice in yourself either frustration or a growing sense of compromise. The divorce rate is higher for second marriages. I have a hunch that your differences spiritually could have the potential to escalate the odds for a second (or third, etc) divorce. You can’t afford that level of heartache.
If you do find someone, though, that is thoroughly compatible with you on a spiritual/religious level, there is almost no greater joy. My second marriage is centered on our core, religious beliefs in the life and work of Jesus Christ. Yes, marriage is hard, but we have a firm foundation that won’t erode. In our very imperfect way, we are navigating life and marriage and parenthood through faith, one step at a time.
After my 11-year marriage ended, I found myself facing a few very painful Christmases. The first one post-divorce (PD) was an absolute blur. The second one, not so bad. I had begun building a new social circle, and had started my incredible journey of healing. So, the third Christmas PD, I came to a realization.
I had no Christmas traditions of my own! During our 11 years of marriage, we had several awesome holiday rituals that I just loved. BUT I didn’t quite feel like continuing them by myself. I wanted to develop my own PD identity. So, I had a great conversation with myself…
FOOD FOR THOUGHT
I discussed the things that I enjoyed. One thing that definitely came to the surface was my love of pie.
“Well, what kind of pie do you like?”
“I like ALL kinds of pie, but I absolutely love key lime pie!”
So, I made an agreement with myself. No strings attached. For Christmas Eve, I would make from scratch a key lime pie. I had never made one before, so there was significant risk. But what did I have to lose? I agreed with myself that if it was a bust, I would seek a new tradition for myself next year. However, if this key lime pie experiment was a success, then I’d make one each Christmas Eve.
So, how did it go, you might ask.
Several years later, and I’m still making key lime pies each year! (This reminds me, I need to go buy some key limes soon!)
Here’s my suggestion to you. You may be recently divorced, or you may have divorced several years ago. Either way, I think you’ll agree with me in your heart of hearts that the holidays are important. You might be in a fog still or in shock because of your divorce. But trust me, holidays have several layers of importance.
For starters, they allow you an opportunity to reflect on relationships, on life, on the future.
They also allow you to plant some milestones on your journey. They help you to see where you’ve come from and gauge where you’re going.
For me, this pie experiment was a prime opportunity to continue building my own identity.
What’s this mean for you?
Ask yourself what YOU like.
*Do you like live music? Go see a concert each Christmas.
*Do you like to cook? Learn how to make your favorite meal and invite your friends over to share it.
*Do you like to write? Write a poem or short story each Christmas, and keep a notebook of them to serve as a sort of time capsule.
*Do you like receiving letters? Write yourself a letter each New Years. Stick it in your stocking, and then open up that letter the following year. Another time capsule, in a way. Keep yourself informed on how your favorite football team is doing in the playoffs, or what your hopes are for the next year.
*Do you like movies? Watch your favorite movie sometime in the month of December. (For me, to keep things in perspective for Christmas, I like to watch the Passion of the Christ each year to remind myself why Jesus came to earth).
*Are you automotively knowledgeable? Give of yourself each December by offering to all your friends an oil change or a tune-up as an early Christmas gift.
*Do you collect anything? Whether its coffee mugs, coats, cigars, or shot glasses, search for the best possible addition to your menagerie each year!
*Do you have a favorite out-of-town restaurant? Make a pilgrimage there each year, just before Christmas.
*Do you like sports? Each year take a friend to see a football, hockey, or basketball game. (Let me recommend to you the Broncos, Avalanche, or the Nuggets).
*Is there a ministry or charity in town that tugs at your heart? Give of yourself and volunteer there each year around this time.
Let me know what you come up with! And, I mean this with all sincerity, I hope you have an awesome Christmas this year. Here’s to discovering who you are at your core, and to a great year ahead!