When I first started in youth ministry, my then-boss, now-mentor told me that he actually preferred to hire people who weren’t like him. In fact, he preferred to hire people who think differently and work differently than he does. He told me in my first days as a youth minister that working with people who are different than him challenges him in a good way. When we work with people who think and work like we do, we are hardly ever challenged to grow because we get comfortable working with people who are just like us. His advice is something I’ve always held to in ministry as I try to work with people who have a different way of approaching things than I do. If it weren’t for that advice, I think I’d never grow out of the way I’ve always done things or thought about ministry. Working with people who aren’t exactly like me makes me a better person, all the way around.
It is a wonder, then, that it wasn’t until recently that I began to apply this idea to my personal life, especially when it comes to dating. Often times when it comes to dating, people want to be with someone who is nearly exactly like them. We want someone who will let us complain whenever we need to, will be a shoulder to cry on, and will approach problems the same way we do. After all, being with someone who is just like us creates less conflict and thus there is more peace in the relationship. Sounds great, right? The problem with dating in this way is the same problem I’d have in ministry if I only worked with people who are just like me: I’d never grow. If I date someone who is just like, who thinks the same way I thinks, who solves problems the same way I do, who listens to me complain just for the sake of complaining, then I’d never grow, and neither would they.
A relationship with more peace and less conflict sounds great, and even easy, but is easy what we are called to? What relationships (whose goal is marriage) boil down to is this: helping each other become saints and get to heaven. That’s it. Holiness and sainthood is no easy task, and it certainly won’t come about without serious effort. I realized that if I apply the work-with-not-so-like-minded-individuals idea to my work in ministry, I should also apply it to my dating life. The truth is that I don’t want to date someone exactly like me. Of course, I want the foundational things to be the same, i.e. Catholic, well-grounded moral person, etc. But I don’t want to date a male carbon copy version of myself. I want someone who is going to challenge me when I complain, someone who will move me from complaining into action. I want a shoulder to cry on, but I want that shoulder to push me to be a better, stronger person. I don’t want someone who looks at problems the same way I do, because often times their perspective lends wisdom and insight to my problems that I hadn’t considered. While that can all create conflict, it can (and will) create growth – in both of us.
I have no doubt there will be days that I may just want to yell at this person to stop trying to make me so holy. I’m sure I’ll just want to throw in the towel and sulk back to the days of dating someone like me, someone who doesn’t make me think so much or work so hard for holiness. But that is where the beauty comes in. This person who isn’t like me, that is the person that I will daily choose to love. Love may come a lot easier if I chose to date someone just like me, but with the person who challenges me (and who I challenge in return) I have the great opportunity to choose to love, and they can choose to love me in return. In each moment they push me towards holiness and heaven I will have a choice: to walk away or to love them and to thank God for sending someone into my life who points me towards Him, someone who doesn’t let me wallow or become stagnant, but someone who lovingly pushes me to be better than I am.