Tuesday, November 15, 2011

As of today, there is only one month left until the end of the semester. Every day that passes marks another step my students take towards getting their final project done. My Introduction to English class is stuck somewhere in between the "More Research!" stage and the "State your Thesis" stage. Right now, they're trying to figure out what they believe and why about a particular topic. For a significant percentage of that group, the topic they are addressing is online dating: Is it okay for a believer to "do" online dating or not?

I assigned the topic in a fit of inspiration after my English teacher mother visited last week. Although I know that online dating has a host of problems, I see nothing inherently wrong with it, provided that the user exercises caution. I reckoned that a group of students who can't remember not having a family computer in the home would weigh in in support of online dating, or at least acknowledge its potential. I reckoned wrong.

A Story

As I've talked to my students about their topic, student after student has told me that they are completely against online dating. Generously they acknowledge that, sure, online dating sites help daters meet more people, but in the next breath, they mention a concern that has plagued Christian evangelicals since Josh Harris published his first book. Christians, my students murmur, should not try to tip God's hand by poking around on online dating sites. They should wait on God, hope He'll bring them a spouse in the normal way in the normal amount of time.

Problem is, these students are all about 18 years old - just now old enough to even consider marriage. Most of them won't even want to get married for another couple years. Admirable as their opinions are, they are necessarily uninformed, thanks to the students' age. I am more than 8 years older than most of my students. My younger sister, as I expected all my life, married long before I did. I once heard "extended singleness" described as being single "one day past when your younger sister gets married," so I guess that makes me not only a single woman but also someone who is an extended single woman.

As long as I don't have to exchange all my short-leg jeans for long-leg ones, I'll be okay with being an extended single woman.

Okay, bad joke over. I don't want to convey disapproval of my students' opinion against online dating. I approve wholeheartedly that my students have an opinion, and I'm thrilled to see the stress they put on pleasing God in their relationships. All I really want to convey is the shock of realizing how a few years and a little experience changes you.

See, eight years ago I was in my students' shoes. I was up to my eyebrows in both the Josh Harris books, and I'd never had a boyfriend or really even a crush. I probably would have weighed in against online dating, just like my students do now.

Then, a girl I knew (she worked with me at AWANA) married someone she found on an online dating website. Another girl I knew at Bob Jones asked her future husband out for the first couple dates. I got my first real crush. A couple years later, I went out for coffee with a guy. Another close friend met a guy on an online dating website. A lot of what I held to so fervently as a college freshmen went out the window.

Don't panic. I've not become a '60s hippie who advocates free love. I don't really want to discuss how, specifically, I've changed my views in these areas (maybe in a later post). For right now, I'm just fascinated: Hearing my students express their concern about online dating shows me how much I've changed in the last eight years, and how much I'll probably change in the next eight.

An Interpretation

In the Bible, young people are pointed to the older ones for wisdom for a reason. All that life experience accumulated over 50 or 60 years counts for something. However, if you stack that experience against the 110 years of Joshua, the 800 years of Adam, or the 900+ years of Methuselah, and suddenly "the wisdom of old men" becomes foolishness. Stack it against the eternity of God, and even the great wisdom of Methuselah is nothing.

Listening to my students talk about their papers has taught me how much I've changed. It's taught me to appreciate the wisdom as one of the "gifts reserved for age", hard-won over many years.

Most of all, though, my students have taught me this: Every single one of our human beliefs is just as limited as my students' considered opinion against online dating, limited by our narrow human experience and narrow philosophy.

Perhaps this is why T.S. Eliot begs,

           Do not let me hear
Of the wisdom of old men, but rather of their folly,
Their fear of fear and frenzy, their fear of possession,
Of belonging to another, or to others, or to God.
The only wisdom we can hope to acquire
Is the wisdom of humility; humility is endless (East Coker).

It's not worth it to not have an opinion. Most of us will always have opinions, no matter how stupid they are.

Even as we voice and support these opinions, though, we should have humility enough to remember that we belong to God, that it is His wisdom that matters, and not ours.

My students taught me all that.


  1. It's a true teacher who can learn from their students things that the students never even intended to teach. This is a great post! And just for the record, I'm in favor of online dating, too - in the right circumstances and with the right attitude, of course. All technology was new and frighting and "not normal" at some point - even writing. Think about that one for awhile. :)

  2. very nice post, Megan. Isn't it great to be getting older, gaining wisdom and learning from the young ones? Even if it is not what they think they are teaching us. tee hee.