How to Live a Great Love Story Vol. 3

Falling in love is a dangerous thing anytime. I suspect it’s even more terrifying when the public is watching, and about half of your fan base is single women who may be secretly hoping that God has saved you solely for them. And maybe a handful of fellows who feel the same, if statistics about these matters are true.

You may have heard by now that Don Miller got engaged, quieting the rumormongers who speculated that Miller, an aging bachelor by any evangelical church standards, had commitment issues.

Miller, for the most part, has managed to avoid controversy of any sort (not an easy task for a writer, trust me, I know). But he really cowpucked up (Thanks to Haylee Steele of Linfield College for that fine verbology) last week when he wrote a couple of posts about living a good love story.

First he wrote a post to the women — How to Live a Great Love Story Vol. 1 — and then he wrote a similar admonishment to the men —How to Live a Great Love Story Vol. 2.

For the record and the sake of a disclaimer, you should know that Don Miller and I do not pal around together. We have friends in common. We live in the same state but not the same town. We serve the same God and we might even laugh over some of the same stuff but he doesn’t have my phone number and I don’t have his. I’ve been to his Story Conference and enjoyed it very much.  I read his books long before anyone heard of him. My son bought me Prayer and the Art of Volkswagen Maintenance back when nobody had even heard of X-box, iPad, or the Emergent church.


I was slammed last week with events of my own to tend to, so I could only pick up a bit of the discussion that ensued when Miller put up those posts. The little bit that I was able to read made me grimace. First for Miller, and then for all those people who are still desperately searching for the right incantation to chant so that they, too, will find their one ain love.

I’ve had time now to go back and read those posts in their entirety and I’m still wincing.

I won’t recite all the ways in which Miller’s posts upset some — particularly, and not one bit surprisingly, a goodly portion of his female readers. You can hop on over to his site and read through the comment section yourself. But I’d like to point out some areas of concern.

– Shouldn’t you live a great love story first before you tell everyone else how to do it?

From all appearances, it seems that Miller is on his way toward creating a great love story. He certainly can’t be accused of rushing into a relationship. If the formula for a great marriage included a complex calculation of LENGTH OF TIME SPENT DATING (x) LENGTH OF TIME ENGAGED = A LIFETIME OF DEVOTION, then Miller might be on to something.

But love is more mystery than math.

I knew on our first date that I would marry my husband. We got engaged six weeks later. Six months later we married. That was 33 years ago. By the same token, I’ve had girlfriends who grew up going to junior high and high school with the men who became their husbands, and then their ex-husbands.

The first lesson you learn after you marry is that you aren’t as smart as you once thought you were. If you want your marriage to last, you might own up to that from the get-go. If you want to be married someday, you might start practicing some humility today.

–  If you want to create a great love story be egalitarian in your approach to others as much as possible.

I’d been married about 10 years when a dear friend from college said to me, “Your husband is the most egalitarian man I’ve ever met and it’s completely wasted on you.”  I had to ask my husband what the word meant, and why my girlfriend would say such a thing. We didn’t use big words like that in the trailer park where I grew up.

Miller caught a bunch of flak over his “slutty” references in his post to women. The problem with that sort of language is that it isn’t very egalitarian. When a man sleeps around, he gains the respect of his peers. When a woman does it, she’s a slut. Or so the old mythology goes, particularly within the church.

For the record, I agree with Miller that “hooking up” is a worthless pursuit.

Dogs in heat have rampant sex but it’s rare that they form any lasting intimacy as a result of all that humping. Unless you want to be treated like somebody’s dog, don’t act like one.

Miller’s mistake was divvying up the roles of what women need and what men want. Once you are married and the kids show up, sometimes in pairs, roles don’t matter. You both darn well better hoe that cotton together. There are mouths to feed, diapers to change, and laundry to fold.

If you both work, hire domestic help. It will save you countless hours of arguments.

And you’ll soon find out that men and women pretty much want the exact same thing — a clean house, something to eat, a bit of wine, good friends, happy children and a house full of laughter, lots of laughter.

– People who aren’t engaged in life rarely get engaged.

Inherent in Don Miller’s advice to both men and women is the suggestion that if you don’t marry, you will fail to live a great love story. That’s not necessarily Miller’s fault. The Evangelical community is still stuck on Noah. We think everything is better in pairs. If there’s a single guy or gal in your church, somebody somewhere is praying that God will send them a mate soon, so that they, too, can live a complete life.

That’s pure cowpucky.

Do you think when C.S. Lewis reached 40 he felt like a failure because he hadn’t married, hadn’t fathered children? Do you think he was arguing with God over, where’s that woman you promised me? He might have been hanging at the tavern but he wasn’t looking for a “hook up.

C.S. didn’t put his life on hold while he waited for God to send him the right woman. Lewis lived a great love story long before Joy entered his life.  He loved his life. He loved his work. He loved his God. He lived to serve and he did a terrific job of it. The community of Christianity continues to benefit from the works of this one single man.

You don’t have to be married to write a great love story. Flannery O’ Connor, Eudora Welty, Harper Lee are some of my favorite storytellers in the entire world and not a one of ’em was married. But all of them were adored by the communities in which they lived, served, and wrote.

Problems arise when we treat single people as if they are somehow incomplete and in need of fixing.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting to be married but marriage, alone, should not define who you are.

You do that by the way you live.

Or fail to live.

Life is a dangerous affair.

There’s an art to living that requires a good bit of fearlessness. That’s not to be confused with recklessness. They are not the same thing.

But creating anything, be it a marriage or a story, a painting or a family, requires vulnerability.

The only thing you should really plan on when living a great love story is to be completely surprised by God.

I am often asked if I am not lonely on my solitary excursions. It seems so self-evident that one cannot be lonesome where everything is wild and beautiful and busy and steeped with God

John Muir

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  • Those posts of his created far more drama than I could have ever predicted. I won’t dive into too much of what he said that I agree or disagree with, but I do think you’re spot on when you talk about how overvalued marriage is by many Christians. It’s as if Paul and his singleness wouldn’t be given a voice today because he wasn’t married. I really struggle with that, even though I’m married. I never want to look differently at someone who is single, because I know I never deserved the woman who stuck with me.

    Shameful plug to a post I wrote on a similar topic to this overt valuing of marriage:

    • That comment about Paul is spot on. I never thought of it that way, but I think you’re entirely right on that.

  • Murray Wright

    May I add one more single Christian whose life was well lived and provided enormous benefit to thousands – John Stott!

    • Karen Spears Zacharias


  • Great response. I did not read the drama filled responses and I do not wish too. I liked Miller’s areticles a lot but I can see how maybe some of the areas can cause conflict. I think you did a great job at responding to them though. I especially appreciate your input about being single and marriage not being the antithesis of the human existence. I think too often, especially in Christian circles we are taught to find our worth there which is a dangerous place to be.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      There were things about Miller’s post that I liked, but yes, in many church cultures, not just evangelical, it’s a woman’s worth in particular isn’t validated unless she marries. Even a divorced woman is regarded as more highly than a single woman. We think there must be some flaw that kept the girl single.

  • Wonderful, Karen. Thank you for every word of it. As someone married 10 years now – and, I believe, living a good love story – this is much more *true* to me, more in line with what I know and understand about marriage and love and even singleness. Brilliant.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Thank you, Sarah. Appreciate the atta girl. And yes, nothing like being married to season one’s perspective, heh?

  • Hey Karen, I was more than a little cross at DM’s posts, but mostly because I think writers ought to write what they know. I did end up writing my own posts on my blog in response, but it was probably just overkill on my part. I liked your response here Karen.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Ha! I’ve stepped into more than my fair share of cowpucky so I understand how easy it is to do. And I don’t necessarily think writers should write what they know as much as what they want to learn. But there are caveats to that. If you aren’t a parent you prolly got no biz telling others how to be a good parent. And if you aren’t married you prolly have no biz telling people how to make a marriage last.
      The whole evangelical approach to pairing people off needs some serious comeuppance. I’m guilty myself.

  • To women, Miller writes:
    Start training for the freaking marathon. Marriage is the hardest job you’ll ever have. ???

    First comment isn’t a very apt metaphor. If that’s how it worked, seems like I’d have had to live about five lifetimes and have gone through about 50 serial monagamies of varying lengths in order to reach the 40 years of marraige my wife and I now treasure.

    I hear all the time these days how hard marriage is. BS. Not that it doesn’t take two committed people to invest in it. Doesn’t work with only one. But when I look at all the other broken kinds of relationships about, I see many things people and their offspring become tangled in that look a whole lot harder than what we’re doing.

    I’ll cut Miller some slack because of his inexperience. It would be nice to hear his take on how hard marriage is a quarter century from now when, I hope, he’s successfully raised a least one child through teenagerhood and into some kind of stable, self-sufficient adulthood. THAT, in THIS culture, is WAY harder than marriage.

    Much more I’d like to say from experience, but seems to block some of my best efforts from time to time.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Well, Roger, because I want to hear it — if you write a blog post about this matter, I’ll post it. Just email it to me. Anyone else want to guest post on this issue, I’ll be glad to make you all the same offer.

  • jason

    “Problems arise when we treat single people as if they are somehow incomplete and in need of fixing.”

    Genesis 2:18 The LORD God said, “It is not good for the man to be alone. I will make a helper suitable for him.”

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Really, Jason? You need to get out more often. Take a Bible class or something that challenges your narrow-mindedness.

  • melissa

    i don’t really understand why people are so up in arms? As a single girl I greatly appreciate the honesty of his posts both for the men and women. In many areas he was spot on. In no way did I even think he was implying that you “aren’t complete unless married.” I think he was just giving advice, and saying things that everyone thinks but no one has the guts to say in the church. i appreciate your response as well, its good to critique and test everything. But i honestly don’t think his posts were meant to come off the way people are feeling.

    • Karen Spears Zacharias

      Melissa; I don’t think DM necessarily intended to offend people. But I do think his posts were an honest reflection of his thoughts about the roles of men and women. And that saddens me because honestly, far too many people share those same views. And those views are harmful to women in the Body and they put unrealistic expectations (not to mention ego issues) on men.
      I’m not saying you or anyone else should be offended but those posts should certainly give every woman pause. They should sound an alarm for all of us within the body because there’s some truly troubling thinking embedded in those posts.