by Wendy Clark
When asked what was the best advice she ever received, comedienne Anita Renfro responded, “Moisturize your neck.” She was being funny, and at the same time pointing out that there is no one “best” piece of advice because there are different types of advice for different parts of our lives. Still, when I think of the “best” advice I’ve ever received, a very short list pops up in my mind.
One that sits towards the top of the list has to do with thinking through what kind of person I would want as a husband and a father of my children—long before I ever met that person. In a culture that speaks of “love” like it’s a deep hole that we fall into and can never escape, one woman taught me that we have great power over the where, when, how, and who of love and that marriage is about choosing a partner for life and choosing a co-parent for my children. It is a choice not to be taken lightly and too important to drift into without a lot of thought and prayer.
And so, when I was about 15 years old, I wrote out a list of the qualities I hoped to find in the man I would one day marry. I started out by listing everything that came to mind. Then I divided my list into three parts: (1) Non-negotiable—things he must have, (2) things that are important, but I might be willing to reconsider, and (3) things that I think I would like but aren’t necessary.
Under the non-negotiable list, I put things like these:
- He must be a believer and actively growing in his faith.
- He must make church and ministry a priority.
- He must treat his mother (and women in general) with consideration and respect.
- He must have the attitude that marriage is for life and divorce is not an option.
- He must get along with my parents and enjoy spending time with my family.
- He must have a good sense of humor (see point above).
Under the important (but I would be willing to reconsider) list, I put things like these:
- From a home where his parents did not divorce
- Headed for full-time ministry (?)
- Member of my same church denomination
Under the thing-I-think-I-would–like category, I put things like what I thought he would look like and other things that were not really important but fun to think about.
The point of the list was to spend time really thinking and praying about what is important to me—outside of the emotional turmoil of romance. I used my list well, I often pulled it out and took a good look at it, praying over it, and it helped shape my decisions.
There was more than one young man that expressed an interest that I never even considered because they were not believers. One young man I could have easily fallen for because he had many other qualities on my list, but not the very most important one.
I’ll admit that he was a difficult one to let pass on by, but I’ve never regretted that I did.
There was one Christian young man that I was “smitten” with for a time, but as soon as he met my family and I saw that he didn’t get along well with my parents or really fit in with my family, he was gone. I quickly turned my attention away from him and in a different direction.
But can we really control our feelings? How do you fall out of love with someone?
The answer is actually pretty simple—wherever you put your treasure—your money, your time, your creativity, your energy, your talents—that’s where your heart will go. If you want to “fall out of love,” then stop tending to it—cut off your treasure and set your mind in a new direction, and the feelings of love will die.
The same principle works in reverse. If you have “fallen out of love” with your spouse, and you want to “fall in love” again, then do all those things that you first did back when you first fell in love. Focus the treasure of your money, your time, your creativity, your energy, and your talents on your spouse, and the feelings of love will return.
Whenever I met a young man who showed an interest in me, I was quick to observe him carefully, to pull out my list, and to spend time thinking and praying. When I met Roy, the man I would eventually marry, I discovered that there were only two qualities on my list that he didn’t have. One was at the bottom of the list in the category of things that I thought would be nice but didn’t matter much. He wasn’t at least 6-feet tall. Since I’m only a bit over 5ft 4, I decided that I didn’t really need someone that tall anyway. Maybe I should leave the tall guy for some tall girl. That’s only fair, right? (On the plus side, he did have a last name that was easy to spell and pronounce. You get the idea of the kinds of things that were on the bottom part of my list.)
The second place on the list where he didn’t match up was the one on my list that I had followed with a question mark. Roy wasn’t planning to go into full-time ministry, but I wasn’t’ so sure that I was supposed to be looking for that, hence the question mark. Still, I prayed over that one a lot, and the more I prayed, the more I wasn’t so sure that I was the type of person who should marry someone going into ministry—especially at that time in my life. I sought some wise counsel on whether or not that should be something I would let go.
My list, prayerfully considered and constructed, became a kind of filter or a measure by which I could compare the young men that I met. I encourage young men and women to make a list like this. If you have a dream that God has placed in your heart, be sure to include that up at the top part of your list. Maybe you will want to include the names of two or three people you will trust to tell you the truth about your relationship.
What we all need are some safeguards against our own efforts to re-think and rationalize in order to bring about an outcome that lines up with our “feelings.” We need an objective way to evaluate an emotional experience, and this kind of list helps to do just that.