TRAVERSE CITY —“Baggage.”
Cards printed with the word rested on every seat in the chapel. Parishioners would have to claim their “baggage” or at least move the card to sit down for Sunday’s service at Bay Pointe Community Church.
It’s not just any baggage – sexual baggage. Childhood abuse. Pornography addiction. Abandonment. Ragged scars and generational burden of divorce. Heavy, minefield-strewn stuff for any conversation – much less one inside a church.
Those seats would see some serious fidgeting come Sunday, predicted Linda Lewis.
Talking about sex and its modern facets — in church or otherwise — makes people squirm, said Lewis, the church’s Care Ministry Director. But you still have to do it, as relationship issues plague people like nothing else.
“We took a survey and asked people what they needed help with,” Lewis said. Responses were no surprise to the licensed marriage and family therapist of 30 years. “It was overwhelmingly love and relationships.”
Other findings: 42 percent of their large, 500-plus member congregation is single, and mostly older than 35.
Being single wasn’t “the plan” for most of them, said Chris Bornschein, who runs Bay Pointe’s Single Adults Ministry.
It wasn’t his plan, either, but it happened anyway, he said. Bornschein is divorced, as is Lewis and a number of others on the church staff. Their battle scars make them empathetic ears to folks going through similar experiences, they said.
“It’s sad to watch,” Lewis said. “These are grown adults who are successful in many ways — bank executives, gourmet chefs, business owners — who can’t understand why they fail in relationships.”
Another finding (Lewis quotes from Christian sources): Divorce is just as common inside Christian churches as it is outside of it.
So, what’s the answer? Or rather, what’s the question?
“Marriage: Why bother?” tackles relationships in six parts. Bay Pointe is halfway through the series, which continues through Mar. 9. Its foundation is to help parishioners avoid two common pitfalls: over-idealizing or undervaluing marriage.
Both are recipes for personal disaster and are perpetuated by our current culture, Lewis said.
Over-idealization leads to unrealistic expectations within a partnership, Lewis said. Consumerism kicks in when people take a “refund and exchange” approach when conflict arises.
“If one person doesn’t work, just find someone else,” said Lewis said. “Replace them. Fill the void.”
Today’s “hook-up culture” lends itself to long-term relationship avoidance. This mask of “casual” puts one at war with a true desire for connection and often works against it, Lewis said. “We numb ourselves to other people and the fact that their heart is in play,” Lewis said.
Lonely hearts, don’t despair; hope abounds when you focus on “love” as a verb, not a noun, said Bornschein and Lewis. Love God, love self, and love others ... in that order. The path to happy relationships is grounded in deep, enduring friendships that are allowed to ebb, flow and change with time. This is true in all relationships, not just the romantic ones, they said.
Being single is not a sin, either, Lewis said.
“Christianity celebrates singlehood. The organization of the church advocated marriage out of convenience, but the Bible doesn’t take a position for or against it,” Lewis said, adding “Jesus was single.”