"Are Relationships Worth It?"

A Seminar Featuring Your Prof's Love Life

Elise Arsenault | Reporter 

On Wednesday, February 10th, Student Life facilitated a conversation between students and professors on the topic of relationships. Dr. Deborah Bowen, Dr. Darren Brouwer, and Dr. Marie Good graciously answered our questions with stories, revelations, and lessons gleaned from personal experiences. The event saw poignant moments, comical remarks, inspiring tales and sobering perplexities, all shared with utmost honesty.

Overarching themes included (a) the roles of vulnerability and commitment, (b) Kingdom-minded relationship, and (c) the gift of singleness. My retelling will focus on these three topics and conclude with the panelists’ final advice to students.

Informing the professors’ responses were three unique narratives of how they’d entered their current most committed relationship. For example, Dr. Bowen met her husband at an Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship group at Oxford University while they were both undergrads, and will have been married for 45 years come this summer!

Dr. Brouwer recounted the tragic loss of his first wife to a car accident, leaving him widowed at the age of 32 with their ten-month-old son. He has since remarried, and shares his truth out of the experience of “building a new life that doesn’t exclude what happened in the past, but tries to make sense of the two lives [he’s] lived.”

As of this past Valentine’s Day, Dr. Good has been with her husband for 19 years. He first asked her out at a Jr. High youth group event, with construction paper hearts stuck to the nursery walls for romantic ambiance. They were married five and a half years later.

It is with this trio of perspectives that the evening proceeded. Before delving into discussion, however, all attendees participated in a Twitter poll answering whether they most feared commitment or vulnerability when entering a relationship. The tally revealed that 76% were more inclined to fear vulnerability, and 24% were more afraid to commit. After revealing the results, Dr. Bowen noted that approximately 76% of the audience was female… An interesting factor to consider.


Vulnerability and Commitment

When asked about the role of vulnerability, each panelist agreed it is essential to a relationship. Honesty provides the groundwork for trust. What isn’t usually monitored, however, is the degree to which we should be vulnerable with each other. There’s a risk of being too open, since it is rarely helpful to say everything you think, experience and feel.

In addition, vulnerability can become manipulative if used to pressure someone else into being vulnerable in return. Being mindful of these things, then, means using discernment and setting the right boundaries around the parts of yourself you share with others.

Dr. Good admitted that commitment is not always easy, quipping that “some days, I don’t even like my husband! But sticking it out is always worth it.”

While entry into a married relationship means making vows to another person, it is also “committing to the bigger idea of the relationship.” “You’ve made a covenant,” explained Dr. Brouwer. “To take that seriously dispels superficiality, and undergirds the whole process. As hard as it is, there arises a sense of putting the other person’s needs before your own — and that helps to weather any storm.”

Moreover, being vulnerable with and committed to God makes all the difference. He alone can handle the whole of your honesty, and is most worthy of life-long devotion. Dr. Brouwer reminded us, too, that honouring God means “trusting him to look after the other person when you can’t work things out.”

Kingdom-Minded Relationship

When Micah Van Dijk shared the synopses of films “Friends with Benefits” and “No Strings Attached,” we were given scenarios where vulnerability and commitment were wayward. Both plot-lines glorified the fleeting, overlooked the worthwhile, and offered a disheartening take on relationship — lust leaving love for indifference.

Dr. Bowen likened interactions like these to scar tissue; a quick and lesser fix. An exclusively physical relationship is so contrary to what we are made for that it quickly becomes damaging to everyone involved.

We then considered another common, and perhaps less obvious, expectation. “Over the years,” Dr. Bowen explained, “I’ve seen young people thinking that they’re called to marriage when they’re actually not even a full person yet. There’s the danger of looking for another half to complete your half, instead of being two wholes. God calls you to be a whole person with Him.

“If you don’t work on becoming the person you’re called to be, you actually can’t really love your neighbour because you don’t have anything to give.”

He alone can draw us out of fear and into wholeness, but he certainly places people in our lives to bring joy, growth, and accountability. “God himself is already in community,” Dr. Bowen reminded us. “The trinity’s holy dance is imaging to us the importance of being in a kind of family. I find that very meaningful.”

Kingdom-minded relationships, then, can incredibly powerful. All three professors agreed that something more emerges from unity. “There’s synergy” said Dr. Brouwer, “in building on strengths and reaching out.” Dr. Bowen added that “it cannot only be for yourselves, but must be for other people too. Turning inward can be destructive and unhelpful, but turning outward can be complementary. That’s one of the most amazing things about relationships — the newness in the combination.”

The role of mentors can be helpful in maintaining and enriching friendships in your own life. “Find people who are living out a relationship you want to have,” suggested Dr. Good. “Be purposeful about it and seek them out. It’s a worthwhile learning experience.”


The Gift of Singleness

When the topic of singleness surfaced that night, it was not dubbed a misfortune or a shame. Seasons of singleness, ephemeral or long-term, are meant to be fruitful ones.

“Unfortunately, our churches tend to be very marriage and family centric,” said Dr. Good. “When we elevate the status of marriage over singleness hurt is created. Something has to change.” She then proposed that throwing more parties could be part of the solution.

“We throw so many parties for married people! The engagement, the wedding, the baby shower… Single peoples need parties too. Why don’t we make a bigger deal of milestones like career moves and new apartments?” Yes, it is a funny remark, but there is truth to be found in it.

Dr. Brouwer continued with this thinking, saying “we as a church have to find a way to equip and send those who find themselves incredibly gifted, and have far more resources than someone who can sometimes turn inward on their own family life. They have such potential for God’s kingdom.”

“We each have different gifts,” added Dr. Bowen, “and some might not necessarily be given the gift of marriage — or may choose not to take it. But that doesn’t mean that they are not an absolutely vital part of the body.

“I think it’s deeply wrong of us to assume that there’s only one way to be human.”


Final Advice

Here are the panelists’ final last wise words for Redeemer students:

 Dr. Darren Brouwer: “Life can be hard. That’s the reality of it, and trying to flee from tough situations can get messy. It’s so important to prepare who you are as a person, and trust in God in order to withstand the storms that are coming. Through great friendships, and deep relationships, life can be rich and full at the same time.”

Dr. Marie Good: “No matter how cliché it is, and regardless of your calling, focus on your relationship with God. Keep walking that faith road with perseverance. Also, I encourage you to worry less about what other people are thinking about you. God’s got big things in store!”

Dr. Deborah Bowen: “If you hide God’s Word in your heart, he can use it when you need it. A number of times, in difficult spots, a passage of scripture has popped in my head. I haven’t looked for it, but it’s there because I’ve hidden it in my heart before.

“Also, make the most of this Christian environment! You’ll make friends here that you’ll have for the rest of your life. Whether they turn out to be your spouse or not is neither here nor there, in a sense. You want to have people that you can call up 45 years from now and say, ‘I’m going to be in your part of the world next month, can I stay with you?’ and they’ll say ‘Sure, it’d be wonderful to see you!’”

So have courage and discernment when giving of yourself to others. Know that “iron sharpens iron,” and Christ delights the whole of his Body. Seek Heaven for wholeness, and love with audacity. These things bring depth to life’s seasons, and surely make relationships worth it.