I recently sat in a tight wooden pew in the back of a Catholic church thinking about past relationships and future commitments.
I thought about how my dad divorced my mom to marry a stranger three months later.
I remembered my senior year of high school when my first serious love interest left me for a guy who played in a bigger band and drove a cooler car. My mind cringed in thinking about the more recent girl who I thought I wanted to spend my life with. After a few years, she said she didn’t want to be in any relationship, then started dating one of my good friends a few months later. That one hurt.
I felt the temptation to become cynical and callous.
If genuine love and enduring affection do not exist outside of heaven, I thought to myself, why the hell should I make a long-term commitment? I don’t think I’m the only one who feels this way.
Sadly, many guys in their 20’s have fully given into this cynicism. When combining this with selfishness, prolonged adolescence, indecisiveness, passivity, discontentment and peer pressure to stay single, commitment starts to seem as desirable as a rusty ball-and-chain.
The alternative certainly seems easier, in away. Mindless hook-ups, independent flings and cohabitation offer instant gratification without any strings attached.
These may not satisfy deep relational desires, but at least they numb them for awhile, right?
As I breathed in the aroma of frankincense burning in the church, I thought about the way scripture defines relationships. Genesis says that a man should leave his mother and father to become one flesh with his wife. Ephesians says a man should love his wife as Christ loves the church through absolute sacrifice. 1st Corinthians says true love never ends.
These verses offer beauty, depth and hope, but can they ring true in modern relationships?
Our individualistic techno-driven culture tells us all of our wants and needs should be fulfilled every hour of every day. If we feel dissatisfied, there’s an app for that. If our significant other fails to meet our expectations, we can end the relationship in search of something better and easier.
As a result, commitment often seems irrelevant.
My thoughts continued to war against one another as I sat in the pew, but then I looked up and noticed the white advent candles burning on the church’s marble alter.
They reminded me of the candles that flickered at my grandfather’s funeral just a few weeks prior.
Although my grandfather had a prestigious career as a Navy captain, worked in the Pentagon and owned a red 1968 Thunderbird, his greatest legacy was being married to my grandmother for 56 years and raising four great children. In his will, he specified that he did not want a five-gun salute or a grandiose memorial at his funeral.
He understood that his legacy resided in the way he loved his wife and children with sacrificial commitment for the majority of his life.
My family held the funeral at a church similar to the one I sat in at the moment. Although the priest gave an eloquent eulogy that Monday morning, the beauty of the funeral lay in the memories shared by my grandfather’s family and friends about his devotion, care and trustworthiness.
Through his actions, my grandfather showed others a picture of the love of God.
Without commitment, relationships lose meaning and purpose. Fully giving our lives to future spouses, families or churches carries the risk of unreciprocated love. But if we do not take this risk, we only guarantee ourselves shallow relationships and a slew of regrets.
Of course, some relationships need to end, and in some circumstances, long-term commitment is not the wise decision. Yet by and large today, many young men (like myself) want to shy away from sacrifice and simply do whatever feels right in the moment.
So are guys afraid of commitment?
It would be unfair to give one sweeping answer for half of the human population, but in comparing our culture to other times and places, the answer, by-and-large, is yes. Or, at least I am. And many men I know are.
The good news is that we do not have to continue living with this fear.
I stood up from the pew and looked right at the long, slender crucifix hanging from the ceiling. In that moment, I remembered the Gospel, the story of a God who committed Himself to a people despite the fact that they would take advantage of him. He gave us the greatest example of pursuing a bride with grace, honor and unrelenting commitment.
I loosened my clenched fists and realized that my past relational frustrations did not have to dictate my future.
I walked out of the church thinking only of the cross. Because Christ committed himself to us, we can commit to others.
Are you a man or woman? Do you think men are afraid of commitment? Are you afraid? Why or why not?
[photo: donjd2, Creative Commons]