Over the years, I’ve observed a trend among Christian singles (myself included) that I found impossible to analyze until about a year ago. The trend is that Christian singles often persist as singles into middle age, at which point they grow so desperate that they sort of crash and burn in a last-chance effort to know what it’s like to be married before it’s too late. Of course, that usually meets with a bad end, as rash decisions often do. About a year ago, I gained enough insight to present it as a question for investigation.
The following statement is a scenario I’ve been pondering for months. I voiced it as a single girl because I’d seen the scenario most often occur in girls, though I’ve now seen it occur in guys as well, and a girl’s perspective was the easiest for me to grasp initially. (pardon the abstract terminology)
‘For me to find a husband and to be the wife God wants me to be, I must attain XYZ.’
– Thus, the evidence for attaining XYZ is Godly love and marriage.
‘I know that I have attained XYZ because God has sent me a good husband and given me a wonderful marriage.’
– Thus, the evidence for falling short of XYZ is an unchanged status.
‘God hasn’t sent me a husband yet because I’m not XYZ enough. I must be even more devoted to XYZ.’
Question: If her current status is itself the negative result for her XYZ endeavor, what evidence would she have if God was actually leading her in a different direction from XYZ rather than Him simply waiting for her to attain XYZ? How could she possibly know whether or not her XYZ endeavor was itself in error, possibly taking her in the wrong direction?
In the absence of this evidence, and in the event that God was indeed wanting her to move in a different direction, it seems to me that she would fall into an infinite loop of trying ever harder to reach XYZ, never realizing that she’s going in the wrong direction.
Admittedly, I haven’t found a complete solution to the problem, but I have some thoughts on it I’d like to put in writing.
The Feedback Loop
As brief technical descriptions, a negative feedback loop (much more common in life) is simply an inactive logical loop in an active process that deactivates the process if something bad happens, like pain from being burned will keep a child from touching a stove a second time. A positive feedback loop (rare in nature because it is usually destructive, like cancer growth) is an actively infinite loop in which the product of a process is the fuel that feeds the otherwise inactive process itself. One of the few examples of a natural positive feedback loop is labor and childbirth. The peptide hormone oxytocin is released upon stimulation of uterine muscles. At the same time, oxytocin causes stimulation of those same muscles. In effect, the release of oxytocin causes the uterus to contract, which causes the release of oxytocin. It’s an infinite loop that can only stop with the cycle crashes, which is when the uterine muscles are no longer stretched by a baby. That’s how a positive feedback loop works.
Applying the feedback model to the problem of seemingly endless waiting for Christian singles, I found that there are striking parallels. As shown in the quoted scenario above, the positive loop model starts with the fuel of I’m just not ready yet. So the process of making myself ready begins. And it continues. And it continues even more, with regular self-checks that reveal I’m just not ready yet… until, at least in theory, I’m ready, at which point the magic button is pressed and the perfect mate falls out of the sky as sort of an ‘attainment trophy’ from God. At last! I’ve arrived! That’s the way it’s supposed to work if we’re going the right way, anyway.
But what if we, like diligent lemmings on their gallant march into a watery grave, have a false idea of where we should be going? Would that not also keep God from providing us with the mate we desire, so as not to drag them down with us? And yet we interpret our singleness as evidence that we must persevere toward our preconceived goal, that we just aren’t trying hard enough, that we just aren’t there yet, pressing ever closer to the last bit of cliff before we plummet into the ocean. Since both of these cases use our singleness as evidential fuel, one as positive feedback and one as negative feedback, how can we know which way to go? That’s the question I still struggle to answer because to answer it requires a bit of omniscience, a third-person perspective of what’s happening. Of course, that isn’t humanly possible.
The solution I’ve found…
After reflecting upon years of observation and experience, I believe the trap of positive feedback occurs when we get tunnel vision toward a preconceived idea of God’s Providence. When we get something stuck in our heads about the way things have to be, we tend to dismiss any possibilities to the contrary. Worse, we often treat those possibilities as temptations and distractions placed in our path to strengthen us in our holy journey toward attainment.
Case in point. I’m a very proud-natured man, and when I get one of those things stuck in my head, there just isn’t much that’s going to get it out. I’ve been searching for a certain girl for a very long time, and when I was young, I daydreamed of this girl and of how we would meet and of the divine magic that would spark for all to see. It would be miraculous – something that everyone who saw it couldn’t help but say, ‘That’s the awesome hand of God at work!’ I eventually realized that I was turning away good, decent Christian girls because of some technical disqualifications that I’d dreamed up. I was turning away girls because miraculous sparks didn’t fly when we met. I was turning girls away because it just wasn’t the way I though it should be. The day I realized that, I realized just how much of an arrogant and spoiled brat I’d been, living on a high of pride, foolishness, and selfishness, sanctifying it to myself as a ‘holy quest for God.’
On that day, I realized just how little God had actually revealed to me about the girl who will be my wife and just how many girls could potentially be that girl. I realized just how small of a box I’d placed Him in with respect to the means by which He might bring her to me. On that day, I humbled my arrogant self and made some resolutions. I started opening myself to the possibilities of unorthodox things like online dating and matchmaking by friends and family. I started placing myself where I could see and be seen rather than just sitting idly in obscurity (indeed, this blog is a part of that effort). I started accepting the fact that it didn’t have to be my way. I started accepting the fact that I could be wrong. I started opening myself up to every way I knew, affording God the decision of how.
Since that time, I’ve realized that many of the things I did and believed were taking me in the wrong direction, toward that cliff. God wasn’t trying to push me onward. He was trying to turn me around. I just couldn’t – or wouldn’t – see it before. While I cannot obtain that omniscience needed to infallibly determine my own way, I can glimpse into it if I listen to the Small Voice which leads me. To do that, I must realize that my own interpretations, my own visions, my own ideas of where I’m going can very easily be wrong. Then I can realize that Divine evidences in my life may not be temptations or trials, but may actually be a warning to turn around. That’s the only solution I’ve found to avoiding a trap of positive feedback in my life as a Christian single.