Entering into a Cultural “Marriage”: Do I Need to Like the People I Serve?

Reading Time: 6 minutes
attraction people group

Photo credit: Imb.org

Question. How important is it to be physically attracted to the person you want to marry?

Obviously a person can be attracted to other qualities about a person. But then there’s the Song of Solomon, where a husband and wife are exclaiming over the beauty the see in each other’s bodies.

But isn’t charm deceptive, and beauty fleeting (Proverbs 31:30)? And maybe it’s even relevant to ask: How would it feel to be on the other end of the equation: as in, your mate not attracted physically to you?

Interestingly, I’ve found the more I get to know a person, the more their physical qualities take on the attributes of their personality. Kind, thoughtful guys get cuter. Arrogant guys suddenly lose all that initial sheen that glistens from those now suspiciously straight teeth.

As Marshall Segal writes at DesiringGod.com, “Physical attraction is far deeper and more dynamic, even spiritual, than we tend to think. It’s not static or objective. Real, meaningful, durable attraction is far more than physical.”

Segal brings up older couples who are still in love. Are they still physically attracted to each other? Yes. “It’s because their appearance, in the eyes of their beloved, is increasingly filled with a deepening appreciation for the beauty in the other. ” 

On the other hand, he observes,

that celebrity you think is so hot right now can lose all of his or her appeal overnight, literally in one headline. The heartthrob guy beats his girlfriend, or the magazine-cover woman sleeps with three more guys. It’s suddenly harder to even look at pictures of them anymore. They each look exactly the same, but they don’t.

The Parallel

I use this odd illustration because you might be wondering how important it is that you feel any kind of emotional connection with the people group you hope to serve–or even the organization, or the congregation.

Isn’t the need enough?

Using this parallel, consider these words from Jeremy Pierre at The Gospel Coalition.

The basis for attraction is valuing an actual person, body and soul. Husbands and wives should be attracted to one another because they value the whole person… Attraction is more a matter of my commitment to value the full breadth of who my spouse is. (emphasis added)

For these reasons and others, Segal actually recommends against dating a person you to which you aren’t physically attracted. At the core, you don’t naturally value the whole person–which means everything is uphill from there.

attraction people group

photo credit imb.org

Should I Just Go Somewhere Else?

So I’ll say this. There are times in which you may be somewhat repulsed by a culture–not unlike Jonah. I won’t go so far as to say you should not go. I think fish ingestion adequately displays this for us.

But Jonah’s problem was deeper than not wanting to go. He didn’t want to go because, we presume, he had serious issues with a people group that had slaughtered his own people just decades before.

Jonah’s particular attraction problem was actually a heart-level problem. It was a sign of his “commitment to value the full breadth” of Nineveh. …Or the lack thereof.

Clearly, attraction issues are not always issues at heart level. A lot of times, we just like what we like. I personally will always be the girl drawn to the clean-cut, smart, emotionally deep guy rather than the grungy, wacky guy. I have fringe-y, crazy guys as friends and relatives that I thoroughly enjoy as just that–friends and relatives. Sure, maybe there are some heart issues there. But I also like what I like in a guy. I married Clean-cut Smart Deep Guy, and we’re more in love than when we started. For Fringe Guy and I, the struggle would have been real.

God has placed desires within you. Yes, they are sin-infected. Yes, they are–like Jesus in Gethsemane–an occasion for honesty, and then complete surrender to God’s will. (John the Baptist and Jeremiah were other prophets who at times were not too keen on their calling.) But desire is a part of our design, of our story.

Are we willingly surrendering our desires to God’s…or just hiding them behind our backs, pretending they’re not there?

Should I Just Go Anyway?

I also can’t go so far to say, “Don’t value a people group? Unlike Jonah, do you not possess a clear calling from God to that group? Well, go anyway. It will correct your heart problem.”

Let’s take it back to that original marriage illustration. Would you want someone marrying you because it was a good discipline that would correct some character issues, revealed by what they don’t like about you?

Is that really loving your neighbor as yourself?

people group attraction

A Karamojong girl smiles for a picture in Uganda (the tattooed man above is also Karamajong). Beads are a sign of wealth among the Karamojong, an unreached people group numbering 537,000. Photo credit: imb.org

Instead, if you’re going to choose a people group, allow your heart to be compelled by God’s image in them. Open your heart for God to create soul-level “compassion for them, because they [are] harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:26).

A recent, poignant article at IMB.org by Paul House observes that too often, we’ve applied the principles of industrialism to missions, complete with objectives and organizations dedicated to a product: new believers and churches. We bypass the multitude of Scriptures championing love over sacrifice and results (see 1 Corinthians 13). House suggests that we have more recently migrated toward the strategy of technology companies, “following our passion”. House wisely advises,

Like “a passion for justice” and a “passion for peace,” a “passion for the nations” is only a slogan if it does not work place by place and family by family.

Ongoing “Attraction” to a People Group: Harder, and Easier

Just as in a good marriage, know that people-group attraction both gets harder and easier.

Sometimes, in both contexts, you will want to yell at someone for putting mayo on your sandwich after you have asked (in the proper language) for them to not. Put. Mayo. On. The Sandwich (true story). You will occasionally think horrible, quite-un-Christlike thoughts about them. Cultural issues, in marriage and overseas, will make you want to throw things and sometimes ugly-cry in the corner like a little girl.

Yet as time goes on, a deep affection materializes from your journey together. It is far more palpable than any initial attraction to delectable food, beautiful traditions, striking facial features, or cultural traits you wish you had. You will find that when someone mentions “your” people group, your heart warms with names, faces, stories; people who have horsed around with your kids, cooked or ate with you late into the night, and held you when either of you was crying.

people group attraction

A woman smiles in Bangalore, India. According to JoshuaProject.net, India has 2,292 unreached people groups, totaling over 1.2 billion people. Photo credit: imb.org

There’s a chance God may call you–like Hosea to Gomer–to a people group he simply needs to reach. And perhaps, like an arranged marriage, attraction will blossom into beauty and unequivocal appreciation over time. But enter into this wisely, and no matter what, with a profound partnership in God’s love for them. You must have eyes for the beauty he sees, and a heart bleeding with his tenderness for them.

When entering into a cultural “marriage” of sorts, do not leave your heart behind.

What do you think? what role should attraction to a people group play–or not–in calling? comment below!

Click the image above to print it, and meditate on more of God’s heart.

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