Gary Thomas || A Unitive Interview

Posted on February 18th, by Bryan Halferty in Hand, Interviews, Unitive Sessions: Love. 8 comments

Gary Thomas || A Unitive Interview

While still in seminary I threw a “Hail Mary” email to best-selling author Gary Thomas. In the email I asked him to hire me for a position that didn’t exist. Audacious? perhaps.

But Gary, graciously, responded. The position wouldn’t work (for a number of reasons) but we kept corresponding. Over the last seven years Gary has offered me wisdom that has helped me navigate through some of life’s storms.

He has, also, brought me into the book world–giving me a few pre-release copies of his books. One of those books is The Sacred Search. It dismantles the infatuation complex. It will tell you that young couples need to stop looking for ‘signs’ and start examining character. That’s not all, The Sacred Search is packed with wisdom on how to do dating right.

I got a chance to talk with Gary yesterday about The Sacred Search… and the process of pursuing a spouse.

Halferty: A few days ago I asked a girl who was reading The Sacred Search what she thought about it. Her response was: “He comes down way too hard on infatuation. The first few chapters are brutal.” I laughed, but she has a point. You speak pretty frankly about the problems with infatuation. Why?

Thomas: When I spoke in Dallas last weekend a young woman asked, “Don’t you want your daughters to be in love when they get married?” I get the question.

I’m not against infatuation, God created infatuation. Who am I to second-guess God. There’s got to be a purpose for infatuation–a holy purpose for it. But here’s the thing: the same woman that insists on that high-level of infatuation to get married is likely to be the woman who five or ten years later, when it’s faded, will say to her friends, “Well, I love him. I’m just not in love with him anymore so I think we need to end it.”  If we don’t agree with that now–we don’t say you have to maintain that high-level of infatuation throughout the marriage. Why do we say you need that high-level of infatuation in the beginning of the relationship.

What I want for my daughters is that they marry good men, who will take care of them, who will be kind to them, who will be great dads to their kids, who will convince her of her beauty if she doubts. If he is those things the feelings will keep coming. It won’t be like an infatuation because the feelings will be based on character, they’ll be renewed.

If a relationship is just based on infatuation it’s like putting gasoline on a fire.

The flames go up and the flames go down–what do you have left? Enjoy the infatuation, it’s great. Just don’t marry because of infatuation–infatuation just doesn’t last.

Halferty: I remember you saying in Sacred Search that infatuation is really about “us.” Infatuation is about a feeling our partner gives us–so, really, it is kind of selfish. Did I remember that right?

Thomas: Exactly! It comes down to what we think our greatest need is. Most of us think our greatest need is to be loved, and that’s why we get married. We want to have someone love us like we’ve never been loved before. God’s view is that we’ve already been perfectly loved. He has given us his son as proof of that love. You may not be drawing from that love–but that’s not God’s problem.

More important than being loved–or being in love–is learning how to love.

So if I get married because I like the feeling of “being in love,” the rush, the mental pop it gives me–all that stuff–I’m getting married for a reason that is 180 degrees opposite of God’s intent for marriage. Imagine it: you get married for all those selfish motives and then, all of a sudden, you have to serve.

Even if you married a co-dependent, even co-dependents get sick, say they get depressed later in life. There will be a time when they will need to be served. And you’ll get disillusioned. You’ll say to yourself, “I didn’t sign up for this! I got married to be loved… not to love.”

Marrying in the midst of infatuation is often a pathway to disillusionment.

Halferty: Sometimes I’ll hear a college student say, “The Bible never says I can’t sleep with my girlfriend. We’re not doing anything! What’s the big deal.” How would you respond?

Thomas: Here’s how I respond: it’s not a sin for an alcoholic to walk around with a bottle of whiskey in his hand, but it’s not wise. With sleeping in the same bed I think it’s worse. God created you with sexual urges and desires. You want to learn how to respond sexually. Putting yourself in that situation and making yourself say “no” is not the kind of training you want. Not only is it not wise, it’s hurtful. I don’t think you’re honoring your partner. Frankly, it’s arrogant–to think you can put yourself in that situation and withstand the pressure.

Halferty: Pride comes before a fall.

Thomas: Yep.

Halferty: I have heard a lot of people say that couples that are dating shouldn’t pray together. The argument–I think–is that couples should be very careful about forming those spiritual ties. On the other end, I hear authors and mentors say, “Of course dating couples should pray together. It’s a no-brainer.” I know you touch on this in the book but refresh me.

Thomas: Yep. I think the presence of God is a great place to get to know someone. You can learn a lot about someone else in the presence of God, does it sound like they’ve been there before… for one. Are they comfortable in prayer. Do they really know God or is it really awkward for them to pray.

I’ve heard some say it’s too intimate and creates dangerous situations, I just don’t see it.

If you end up naked I don’t think it’s the fault of prayer.

Halferty: Haha. Got it. Well, how about this: is it the guy who always pursues? Or the girl?

Thomas: I don’t want to slam the guys, this doesn’t apply to all the guys, but this is the most passive generation of guys I’ve seen. So, in the real world, girls might have to make the first step, or two.

When I was in college a girl made some brownies for me. Attached to the plate was a note that said: “I’d be happy to play a game of tennis with you to work these off.” I didn’t think that was being too forward, or obnoxious. It was a subtle way of saying: “I’m open to going on a date.”

But the other side of it is, ladies, if you have to work too hard to draw his interest, ask yourself: Is that the type of guy you want to be married to, that is that passive. If he is that passive what’s going to happen if you get married and he needs to get a job? What’s going to happen when his daughter is going out Friday night wearing nearly nothing and he’s afraid to say something?

I’d urge the women to keep your eyes open. If the passivity has reached the character point you need to ask yourself if you want to be married to that man.

Halferty: What is the main thing you’d like to pass on to the young adults reading this interview?

Thomas: I say it in the book and I’ll say it here; the blessings of a very wise marital choice are immense. I don’t want anyone to miss it.

Be aggressive. Don’t fear rejection.

I think most people would much rather be poor and have an intimate marriage as opposed to be rich but have a marriage filled with tension and hurt.

The consequence of a foolish marital choice can cause such pain and such hurt, for decades. I don’t wish that on anyone. That’s why I wrote The Sacred Search. This isn’t a choice that you should be sentimental about. If you get your marriage right–even hardship will be filled with joy. If you get this wrong, even the great successes will feel frustrating because they’ll be felt with contention. I think Proverbs 31:10 is true, a great marital choice is worth more than jewels.

You can find more of Gary’s thoughts on dating, pursuing a spouse and falling in love in The Sacred Search. We’re also very thankful for Josh Durias’ photo of Gary.

Bryan Halferty Bryan Halferty runs, reads, writes, pastors and spends copious amounts of time with his beautiful wife and two children. He studied theology at Regent College (Vancouver, BC) and currently pastors Salt, the young adult and college ministry of Mercer Creek Church. He contributes to and edits The Unitive. Connect with him at @bhalferty.
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8 Responses to “Gary Thomas || A Unitive Interview”

  1. Holy cow, what a great interview! I’ll definitely be passing these nuggets around. Such great advice in there. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Evan Tidball says:

    Awesome interview. Words of wisdom every college student should digest.

  3. Dillon says:

    I have enjoyed reading the thought provoking conversations on here, especially this relevant topic and I just started reading Gary Thomas’ “Search for Sacred.” It’s been an interesting and provoking read.

  4. Lizzy Vick says:

    Truth! Thanks for bringing truth about some tough issues.

  5. Bryan Halferty Bryan Halferty says:

    Great feedback guys. I’m glad you all found it helpful!

  6. MJ says:

    “Most of us think our greatest need is to be loved, and that’s why we get married. We want to have someone love us like we’ve never been loved before. God’s view is that we’ve already been perfectly loved.” – Amen and amen! Thank you for this fabulous interview!

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