Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Breaking Up for the Wrong Reason

Note: I have been chewing on the following thoughts off and on for several years. I don't have any specific scenarios or people in mind here—so if you're reading this, understand that I'm not talking about you in particular!

For years, I have watched women break up with men for the wrong reasons. "Immaturity!" they claim, when what they really mean is simply youth.

I am, as anyone reading this blog knows, very much in favor of high expectations. I have frequently written (and sometimes railed) on the low expectations we set for Christians in general. I am deeply frustrated by men my age who continue to act like adolescents and so give the rest of us a bad name. I am particularly annoyed by Christian men in their twenties who refuse to step up and lead in their homes and churches, abdicating their God-given responsibility to exercise their gifts for the good of their families and communities—whether because of laziness or fear. I have little time for immaturity that is not the product of simple ignorance.

So when I say that I have seen women break up with godly men for the wrong reasons, I hope you take my meaning clearly. I am not letting men off the hook, not excusing immaturity, and not suggesting that we lower our standards. I am, however, suggesting two very important correctives: realism and humility. (I should also note that everything that follows is equally applicable with the sexes in the discussion flipped; I write as I do because it is the main way I have seen this problem play out.)

Let us imagine for a moment two early twenty-something people who meet and begin dating. Both are serious about their faith, but the woman has been a Christian most of her life while the man came to Christ only a year or so ago. He is new to walking with God, but passionate and hungry for more. She is solid in her walk, and still passionate and hungry for more. They date for several months, but eventually she grows convinced that he is simply not mature enough to lead her spiritually, and breaks up with him.

This scenario is common; I've seen it at least a dozen times over the past five years. It concerns me deeply. Here's why: in many of these cases, the woman was wrong—perhaps not to break up with him on the whole (that's between her, God, and her spiritual authorities) but certainly in her reasoning. The man she was dating was quite capable of leading her spiritually. Sometimes he was not only capable of leading, he was leading. The problem was that she didn't think he was capable because of a few symptoms of an entirely different issue. She misunderstood what she was seeing and, heeding the advice of godly mentors who told her she needed a man she could follow, broke off the relationship.

This would have been the correct course of action if indeed the problem was immaturity in the way her mentors meant. That sort of immaturity essentially reduces down to two things: a lack of humility and a lack of responsibility. Men who lack humility cannot be taught, because they are sure they are capable of figuring things out on their own. They are unwilling to learn. They stagnate. Men who are not responsible will not carry the relational and spiritual and physical weight that they must if they are going to be faithful husbands. Women should certainly be willing to end (or forgo) a relationship with this sort of man. (If so, make it absolutely clear why—no stepping lightly around it. Tell him the truth and pray God uses it to break his heart and make him the man he should be. You do him no favors by trying to be "nice" about it.)

Unfortunately, people often confuse real immaturity and simple inexperience. A woman may see a man who is only beginning to develop the habits she has had for years and assume it means he cannot lead. The man is beginning to read his Bible daily, developing habits of prayer, getting the basics of theology under him, and struggling to do relationships in a godly way—to break years of ungodly habits. He is relatively immature in one sense of the word: he has far less knowledge than she, far less experience than she, and perhaps even less steadiness than she.

In the long run, though, none of this matters a whit. I remember hearing Matt Chandler comment that a man's trajectory is far more important than his current position, and I think he was absolutely right. A man's position tells you where he is now, but his trajectory tells you where he will be in five years. Give a man a year with his Bible, a few good mentors, and a heart that is on fire for God and see what happens. He'll grow like an aspen tree by a stream—fast and strong. A man who is teachable and works hard at his faith will soon surpass a much more "mature" man who has stagnated for lack of teachability or discipline. The real measure of a man's ability to lead spiritually in the home is how much he is willing to work hard at growing and learning—no matter how long he has been a believer.

As I said, many women need a dose of realism and humility. Realism, because they often expect men who are relatively young in their faith—even those who are working hard at it—to have knowledge or habits that take time to form. More: because they are often modeling their expectations on men much older—their fathers, their mentors' husbands, their pastors. No man my age will look like that; we haven't had time to grow into it yet! (Ask Jaimie: I'm much more mature than I was when she met me... and nowhere near as godly as lots of other men we know!) How much more is this true of men who came to faith in college than for those of us who grew up in the church? This is where humility is necessary, too. Be honest, ladies: how many of you think you would measure up well if men held you up to the standard of your mentors or their pastors' wives?

In short, to all my single female friends: before you break up with a guy (or turn him down for that first date) because he's not mature enough, stop and look again. Is he someone who is on fire for God, who is willing to work hard at his faith and his life, who receives correction humbly? If so, stick with him, even if he isn't very knowledgeable or wise yet, because you have a treasure. He might pass you in knowledge and wisdom—and he might do it sooner than you think. There are plenty of legitimate reasons to break off a relationship. Real immaturity, the kind made up of pride and laziness, is definitely one of those—but simple youth usually isn't, in my opinion. Sometimes it's even an asset.

Don't break up for the wrong reasons!


  1. Great post.

    You're pretty cool, you know that? It is great to grow beside you--I wouldn't have it any other way, my dear aspen tree. ;)

  2. Thanks! And if I'm an aspen tree, what does that make you (besides amazing)?

  3. This is a great post! Thank you for helping single Christian ladies like me understand humility and realism.


Got some thoughts? Fire away. Please be polite, thoughtful, and kind! Please provide your name and, if applicable, website. Anonymous comments, along with all forms of spam, trolling, and personal attacks, will be deleted.