Let me be honest: I really love the idea of a soulmate: “The one,” destined to be with me and complete me for the rest of my life. How can that idea not get you stoked?
But in actuality, that idea probably does more harm than good. Many a marriage comes to an end when someone realizes that the person they’ve married isn’t quite the “soulmate” they once pictured and is, in actual fact, a sinner.
It’s actually idolatry. I make a person, namely my mate or potential mate, an object of worship. They become what defines my life and my happiness (or perhaps I idolize those things, and so no mate is good enough). So when they ultimately disappoint me, what I once idolized quickly becomes demonized in my eyes.
John Calvin said that the human heart is an idol factory. We can turn just about anything into a god and worship it if we think it will make us happy or fulfilled. The problem? None of these are actually God. We are putting secondary things in the place of primary things, upsetting the proper order and leading ourselves to chaos. This is true whether it’s that movie-like romance that gets hit by reality or the marks we pursue to get us the job to give us security. These aren’t bad things — they’re actually good things — they just aren’t ultimate things.
Idolatry disorients our thinking. This is especially dangerous in romance, where our hearts are so easily captured by a potential mate and yet so at risk for devastating and life-altering hurt.
It’s not just the idolization of other people that is so damaging. It’s also the idolization of romantic relationships and marriage.
For example, idolatry can make you pick the lackluster relationship. This is settling: you come to a place where you are willing to pick (or really, just accept) someone you know you don’t really want, just so you won’t be alone or will finally earn the status of “being married”.
It might sound extreme, but it’s more common than you think. Marriage is, in my view, one of the most worshipped gods in our Christian subculture. As a result of this idolatry, settling is bound to happen.
This may seem counterintuitive, but I believe that trusting God means we can say “no” to relationships that aren’t for us. This isn’t about seeking perfection, it’s just being honest with your own desires. As Gary Thomas points out regarding selecting a mate, “it’s not sinful to want some degree of happiness. In fact, it’s probably wise” (The Sacred Search).
So if you want to make a healthy choice in who you marry, prayerfully trust God and the desires he’s given you, and ensure you have good, healthy relationships with others. Then you will be strong enough to say no to settling and yes to a healthy and happy choice when the time is right. No need to rush or settle.
On the other hand, idolatry can make you a perfectionist; you aren’t ok with a person who’s less than perfect.
This might happen when you idolize your own satisfaction and fulfillment. Ultimately, as we’ve said, no relationship or person, no matter how great, can offer complete fulfillment. So if that’s what you’re doing in your idolatry, you will never land the plane and will overlook great options for relationships and other opportunities.
If instead we are willing to set aside our perfect ideals to a point, we may take a healthy but realistic perspective. Thus we know that no relationship will ultimately fulfill us in every way, and we will always have our gripes. That means we all have to adjust our expectations. But we are free, with the helpful wisdom from God and others who love me, to make the call for ourselves just how we will adjust our expectations to make room for less-than-perfect people.
The research of marriage expert John Gottman has played this out well. Relationships with less than a 5:1 positive to negative interaction ratio are in serious trouble. If you want to make a good marriage choice, be honest about where your relationship is at and whether or not it is wise for you to continue as is – or at all.
The point is this: no relationship is perfect, but you have to decide for yourself what is “good enough”. Idolatry might lead you to an everlasting discontentment and singleness.
While idolatry can take you down these two extremes of perfectionism or over-settling, you aren’t trapped by it. Idolatry can be beaten by idolizing what we were meant to – the one true God in Jesus Christ. If I really trust God with my relational life, I don’t need to keep dating someone who is not a good fit for me or not ready for a relationship. It may still hurt, but I can say goodbye when I need to, trusting God and others in my life for support and friendship.
If I really trust God I won’t be so selfish that I can’t forgive someone’s faults – in fact, I’ll know that I have plenty of my own! Instead, I can make a healthy choice that says yes to the right things and can accept someone’s imperfections up to a point. How exactly to navigate that decision making process is another discussion, but keep first things first and trust the rest will be added to you (Matt. 6:33).
There is no “one person” for us, friends. I know that by God’s grace I can make a good choice and work through whatever unexpected comes. But if idolatry gets the better of me, whether I end up paralyzed or insecure, the results could very well be disastrous. I want to save you of that! So take your time, worship God, and ask him to give you a good gift (Proverbs 19:14).