Shaney Irene

On Faith, Life, and Being the Church

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Links for Learning, October 13th

One of my goals for this blog is to be a place where people, including me, can learn. Because of this blog, I am pushing myself to read books and articles, to learn more about issues affecting the church and the world. So once a week, I’m going to post links to blog articles that I’ve found thought-provoking, and I think my readers might as well.

A few disclaimers:
  • Just because I post a link doesn’t mean I agree with the article 100%. Just that I think it’s good food for thought.
  • I read a lot of good posts in any given week. There’s a lot of stuff that I find edifying or helpful that I don’t post here. This post is specifically for thought-provoking and educational links about issues I care about or I think my readers would be interested in.
  • In the future, I’ll limit myself to posts from the past week. Since today is my first go at this, I’m being a little looser with that.
  • Not really a disclaimer: Feel free to recommend links in the comments. 🙂

And now for the links!

And to wrap up, the most popular post on my blog this past week:

Which of these links to you find most helpful or thought-provoking?

What links would you recommend? 


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A Letter to Girls About Dating, Loneliness, and Sex Outside of Marriage

Dear Friend,

I may or may not know you. Even I do know you, we may not know each other well. Who am I to be giving you advice? Isn’t that a little presumptuous of me? Perhaps. But, please know I have no desire to preach at you. If I could, I would invite you to Starbucks and we would sit outside, me with my chai latte, and you with your mocha frappucino. Or maybe a pumpkin spice latte. We’d have this conversation face to face, going back and forth instead of just me talking to you. If we ever get the chance, take me up on this. I’d love to get to know you. But for now, this will have to do.

You probably go to church regularly, you may even attend Bible studies and volunteer. You’ve probably heard all the right messages: about how you’re supposed to wait until marriage for sex, how your virginity is precious, how you should only date Christians. Maybe it all seems simple to you. Or maybe it doesn’t. I don’t know.

Your leaders are realizing just how not simple this is. Recently, the National Association of Evangelicals made headlines for their willingness to accept money from an organization that promotes use of contraceptives by unmarried people. It’s sparked a debate within the evangelical community: would promoting contraceptive use among unmarried people mean promoting sin?

I have an opinion, but I don’t know the answer. Regardless, that’s not what I want to talk to you about. Church leaders, if they haven’t realized this already, are going to need to start asking why things have gotten to a point where it’s safer to assume that single Christians are sexually active than to assume they’re remaining chaste. You have a different question to ask yourself:

What would lead you to abandon your morals?

My vulnerable area is loneliness. I think for a lot of people, it’s loneliness. Not everyone struggles with this, but I think a lot of singles do, and that it’s worth talking about. God made us to be connected to each other, and for most of us, God gave us a desire to be deeply connected to another person for life. Yes, there are some to whom God has given the gift of singleness, but most of us do not have that gift. We want to be known, to be accepted completely, to share life. Sex is not just physical pleasure. It’s an act that requires two people to be incredibly vulnerable with each other. It’s relationship in one of its deepest form. That’s why the Hebrew word for sex is yada, which literally means “to know.” Yada is the word used to describe how deeply God knows us.

Some have suggested that churches need to do a better job demonstrating how beautiful marriage is, and that when you see how beautiful marriage and purity is, that you’ll have a reason to avoid sex outside of marriage. I could be wrong, but I suspect that you already know that marriage is good. I’d even venture to guess that you want to get married someday. But someday isn’t now. Seeing healthy marriages doesn’t really help when the desire is be known and accepted now.

You may not ever find yourself struggling with whether or not to have sex outside of marriage. But loneliness can make you do other funny things. Maybe it’s being willing to loosen your physical boundaries just a little bit. Maybe it’s being willing to stay with a guy that you know isn’t good for you. There have been times in my life that I’ve been so lonely that if the cute guy sitting next to me in class had asked me out for a drink, I probably would have said yes. If he had wanted to make out later, I probably wouldn’t have objected (I thank God that he did not ask me out for a drink!). That’s an embarrassing little confession to make, but I hope it illustrates the point: loneliness can really cloud our thinking.

I don’t know in what ways you will find yourself struggling as you live to please God in your relationships. I wish I could give you some sort of advice that will make it all easy. But I can’t. It doesn’t work that way.

But if you were here with me right now, I’d tell you it’s okay to struggle. I’d tell you it’s okay to be confused. And it’s okay to not know the answers.

I’d also tell you this: My door is always open to you. While I know that a friend is not the same as a boyfriend or a spouse, I will always be a friend to you. I’ll be here for movie nights, for Skype chats, and Starbucks outings. My shoulder is available for you to cry on when the loneliness gets overwhelming. And should you ever make a choice to not stick to your standards, I’ll still be here for you. Because I believe that God’s acceptance of you doesn’t depend on whether or not you make all the right choices. You are always valuable, no matter what choices you make.

I’d also encourage you to be that person for others. That you’d be a friend to the lonely, a shoulder to cry on, a listening ear. Because navigating dating, relationships, and waiting for marriage isn’t easy. And while community isn’t going to make the loneliness go away, it’s certainly going to make living through it a lot easier.

In Christ,





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How Long Distance Has Been Good, Even When It’s Been Hard

I have a wonderful boyfriend. His name is Matthew. We went to Baylor together, were friends the whole time, and started dating in October of our senior year. We became a long-distance couple after graduation in May, when he moved back with his family in California for the summer before starting law school in Chicago. Long-distance has been hard, especially on me. I used to say that I was not the type of person who would ever do long-distance. Surprise, surprise! God had different plans. But as always, God’s plan has been really good. For those of you in long-distance relationships, hopefully this post encourages you. For everyone else, may this remind you that God’s plan is always good, no matter where it takes you.

1. It’s pushed me to work on my communication skills.

Communication is a very different animal when it comes to long-distance. Over Skype, it’s a lot easier to hide or miss the things that we would normally see in person–body language, interaction with environment, etc. It has meant that sometimes I need to ask questions that I wouldn’t normally think of asking, or to be more open and specific with how I’m feeling. When separated by distance, it’s easy to feel disconnected. Therefore, using communication to stay connected to each other has become even more important. It’s become close to impossible to substitute other forms of interaction for open and frequent communication. I know that should we get married, I’m getting a lot of practice for the type of open and honest communication required to keep a marriage strong.

2. It has helped me not to focus on me.

I usually pride myself on being able to hold a long conversation with anyone, no matter how well I know them or how much we have in common. But–surprise, surprise!–I’ve sometimes found myself running out of things to say when Skyping with Matthew! Conversation was certainly easier in college, when we shared more of our lives together. Now that we don’t share nearly as much of our lives together, I’ve had to focus on asking lots of questions and learning about his life, since I’m not there to experience it with him! When at Baylor, it was easier to focus on our shared experiences. It’s different, and good, to learn about his experiences that I’m not a part of.

3. It’s removed the distraction of physical tension.

My love language is physical touch. Every time I take a “love language” quiz or test, I always score 100% in that category. So this is definitely more of a distraction for me than for Matthew. Although we set high standards for ourselves and stuck to them, I could still find it distracting if I found myself wondering if now would be a good time to reach over and hold his hand, rather than focusing on what he was saying. And I’m sure that if we hadn’t become a long-distance couple, the distraction would have only become stronger for me over time. By removing the option, it’s helped me to stay focused on other aspects of our relationship, like improving communication. While it’s still hard (really, is it ever easy to be unable to express your primary love language?), it’s good for us in this stage of our relationship.

4. It’s taught me to be more intentional

Between Matthew being in law school and me having a full-time job, we don’t always get a lot of time to talk. Often, if I want to talk to him about something, I have to plan ahead about when I’m going to do it and what I’m going to say. When we were at Baylor, communication wasn’t something I ever really planned. It just happened. Now, I know I’m learning to use time wisely and set priorities when there are many distractions, whether those distractions are school, career, kids, etc.

5. It’s opened opportunities to explore other aspects of our relationship and learn more about each other

Matthew has a wonderful, almost poetic writing style. He can make the most simple thing seem incredibly profound, just by the words he chooses to use (you can see an example of his writing here). I often find myself reading his letters and e-mails over and over again. Sometimes, something that he struggles to put into words when we’re talking will just click when he writes it out. I tend toward the opposite–I find it easier to give a good speech than to choose the right words when writing. Being apart has meant that we have written more e-mails than we probably would have otherwise. It has given me the opportunity to experience how beautiful his writing is, as well as the opportunity to improve my communication in the written form. This is an aspect of our relationship that I don’t think we would have explored very much had we not become a long-distance couple.

Have you ever been in a long-distance relationship? How has it been beneficial? What is something you’ve done that you never thought you’d do, but turned out to be very good?