What to Look For
About the Guest
Ben Stuart remembers the season he took a "time out" from the dating scene to focus on the Lord and recover emotionally after his parents' divorce. He reminds single men and women that singleness exists for devotion to the Lord, and encourages them not to settle for someone outside the body of Christ, but to lean into Jesus as they walk in faith and wait on Him to lead them.
Ben StuartBen Stuart is the pastor of Passion City Church, Washington D.C. Prior to joining Passion City Church, Ben served for eleven years as the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly Bible study attended by thousands of college students on the campus of Texas A&M. Ben earned a master’s degree in historical theology from Dallas Theological Seminary. Ben and his wife, Donna, live to inspire and equip people to walk with God for a lifetime. They live in the District with their three k...more
Ben Stuart remembers the season he took a “time out” from the dating scene to focus on the Lord and recover emotionally after his parents’ divorce. Ben talks about the purpose for singleness.
What to Look For
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Thursday, June 6th. Our hosts are Dave and Ann Wilson; I’m Bob Lepine. You might say it takes a village to form strong, healthy, permanent marriage relationships. We’ll talk more with Ben Stuart about that today. Stay with us.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today. Thanks for joining us. We’ve got a dumpster fire back with us here. [Laughter] I’m sorry; I had to say it.
Dave: Bob, they don’t know what you’re talking about. [Laughter]
Ann: I’ve never heard that term before.
Bob: Haven’t you?!
Ann: I like it!
Ben: Yes; wow.
Dave: I’m just glad he’s not talking about us. [Laughter]
Ann: Me, too. It’s always better when it’s someone else.
Dave: It’s somebody else this time!
Ben: Oh no!
Bob: Ben Stuart joins us, again, on FamilyLife Today. Ben, welcome back.
Ben: Thank you.
Bob: Ben is a pastor in Washington—he’s not really a dumpster fire; you were at one point.
Dave: He was.
Ben: I was.
Bob: You’re a redeemed dumpster fire—
Ben: There you go.
Dave: —a new creation in Christ.
Bob: He is now a pastor in the Washington, DC, area—Passion City Church that is a little over a year old there. He’s married and a father of three kids. He’s written a book about—a little bit about his own experience—but a lot about what’s going on in the culture and about the realities of what it’s like to be single or what it’s like to be dating, or engaged, or moving toward marriage. In fact, the book is called Single, Dating, Engaged, Married; and that’s what we’re talking about this week.
We’ve already talked about your college career, as a single person—
Bob: —which I was proud of you for including a lot of that in the book.
Ben: Yes; well, I just think vulnerability breeds vulnerability. You’ve got to share your story with people: “Yes; God’s been gracious with me. Come on, man!”
Bob: So, you were in the midst of college at the time that the whole issue of dating for Christians was like a big conversation; weren’t you?—when people were going: “Should we date?—is that right? Is it courtship? How does this work?” Were you in the midst of that?
Ben: Yes; you know, I remember all that going down; but for me, I was at the place, where I had already just like wrecked so many relationships. People were like, “Hey, there’s this”—you know—“courtship versus dating—whatever” I’m like: “Yes; good luck with all of that, guys. I just don’t care.” I didn’t read the book—don’t know; and so I skipped it, man. [Laughter]
Bob: After high school and some college relationships that didn’t work out well, did you kind of shut down and say, “Okay; I’m not doing this”?
Ben: Totally shut down—I mean, when I was at my church—you know, I’m talking like 22 to 28—I was involved with this church. People were always like, “I’ve got this cousin...” I’m like, “Don’t care.” I mean, it—literally, word got out: “Don’t set Ben up. He will not make eye contact with you ever again if you do.”
Now, meanwhile, there was another young single guy on staff; and just—he was just like: “Yes; set me up. Let’s go! What’s your niece’s name? Let’s roll,”—like he thought it was fun. They realized, pretty quickly, “Ben does not think that’s fun.”
Dave: And why is that? Why did you not want to be set up?
Ben: I just knew, “I’m not okay.” There’s some emotion—now, I have more clarity around—man, I had issues with my parents’ divorce and my dad. I just didn’t even know how to get into some of my relational fears—I just didn’t know. I just knew enough, then, to go: “This is kind of a mess; but ministry—I know how to do, and I have a real clear purpose—I’m chasing that, man.” And I just went for it.
I’m like, “I don’t want a relationship to slow me down,” because the way I would do them—we’d get all tangled up, and it was confusing. I would hurt people’s feelings, because I didn’t know what I thought—so I thought: “I’m just taking a break from all that chaos. Let me just run, man.”
Dave: Now, let’s talk a little bit about what you figured out. You said you had issues with your parents’ divorce—blah, blah, blah. A lot of singles—they are there. They are not ready or feel like they can date. How did you figure that out?—what happened?
Ben: Well, you know what it was? It was people that loved me but weren’t impressed with me. That’s what I think everybody needs—someone who loves you enough to speak the truth to you and isn’t scared if they hurt your feelings; but you know what they are saying is: “They care.” I think that kind of relationship helped me—and them, mirroring back as they heard my story. You know, they were people that would hear some of my past and go, “Man, that’s horrible.” I’m like, “Is it?!” because what do you compare it to?
Ann: To you, it’s normal.
Ben: Just helping see some clarity of: “Oh, yes; I do have trouble trusting some people. I’ve been hurt, so I have kind of bought the lie: ‘I’m on my own in the world.’ That’s not really the best way to live; I don’t want to be like that.”—and trying to figure some of that out.
Bob: In this season of 22 to 28, where you’re not looking at the nieces—I mean, you had to notice some cute girls were showing up at church; right?
Ben: Oh, of course; yes; yes.
Bob: But you wouldn’t say, “Maybe, I should ask her out”?
Ben: I didn’t really do it, man.
Ben: I know that’s weird—I wrote the book, and I didn’t do it. I really—because I think it really was because I just was like—I was so focused on what I was doing—I didn’t want a relationship to slow me down.
Ann: It was a distraction.
Ben: They were going to be a distraction. I was like: “I’m not sure I’m going to do this. I’m not ready.” As I went further along in life, I started to realize—started to get some emotional healing, quite frankly, and started to get some life healing—make some good decisions; you know? I had grown up—there was a lot of pornography in my world when I was young that kind of entered my zone. Now, it’s a very common experience with young people; you know? The latest research—86 percent of young men are looking at it.
Ben: You know, I heard a guy say it; and it was just so profound: “Addiction is an intimacy disorder,”—it’s: “I’ve got some emotional pain I don’t know how to deal with; so I’m taking it to this kind of broken place, where I can have some control.” That was a part of my life. There are people that have struggled with it more/less—whatever—but it was a part of my world that I needed some people to empathize with me, without shame—lead me out of that—that when I experience emotional pain, it was like the rejection I felt as a kid. I can process that, emotionally, with other people that aren’t going to leave.
Some of that emotional healing is happening, in community, with some really caring adults and some married couples that would have me over and just were my friends. I got emotionally healthier; so, when I met my wife, I remember going, like: “Hey, that girl is cute. I’d like to date her. Accessing files on Ben: ‘Less of a train wreck.’ You know what? We should try this.” That really—I got some me right, and I was ready to try we out.
Dave: —which is your first/where you start the book—you say, “Man, you’ve got to get your relationship with God right before you get a relationship with a guy or a girl.”
Dave: That’s your journey.
Bob: But hang on. If there are folks, who are saying: “I’ve got to get some emotional healing and deal with scars and pain from the past before I’m going to be good for a relationship. That means, by the time I’m about to be 63.” [Laughter]
Ben: I don’t think you’ve got to be perfect, but I think—especially in your 20s, your—literally, your brain is changing in your 20s. Connections are happening that didn’t exist before; it’s helping you connect some things. You need some people that love you—that, I think, without the romantic entanglement—just some people that love you that can help you process yourself a little bit better.
Dave: There is the other side of that; because I’m sitting, here, thinking: “You know what we did? We did it after we got married.”
Dave: I’m not saying it was right or wrong.
Ann: It was a train wreck.
Dave: It was a train wreck, but we grew up together. We figured out all that together and didn’t end up divorced. I know a lot don’t.
Dave: But there are two ways to do it; but I mean, if I had to do it again, I would have done a little more healing before; but we might have never gotten married.
Ann: I think that is one of our regrets—is that, one, we didn’t recognize all the baggage that we had.
Ann: We didn’t know how to deal with it. I think this is true of married and singles. We really encourage singles, “Man, start dealing with it now—
Ann: —“because you’re going to deal with it, at some point, because it comes out somewhere.”
Bob: But you know what? Most singles today—instead of dealing with the emotional baggage so that they can be ready for a healthy relationship, they are accumulating additional emotional baggage during their 20s—
Bob: —so that they are in worse shape when they are 28 than they were when they were 23.
Ann: It’s because we think the marriage will take care of all of the baggage, and it will somehow magically disappear; and it doesn’t.
Ben: One of the biggest concerns I have in the world today with phones is—you think about it—when you sit at a stop light, or when you lay in bed at night,—
Ben: —that used to be time of—it’s basically you and God: it was meditation, and meditation leads to insight—that’s usually where insight happens. That’s why people say, “Well, I got a creative idea in the shower.” Why?—because you were isolated, and it was just you and your thoughts. You connected some thoughts and went, “Oh!”; and it led to insight. But that moment has been removed from most young people; so if they have some emotional pain/some relational baggage, there’s not that moment to help connect pieces at the same degree that there used to be. There’s also not the connectivity, relationally; it’s all online.
To me, there was benefit in me delaying marriage some—I don’t think everybody has to. Nowadays, you see people delaying it a really long time; why? They are not using, I think, the opportunities they have, in singleness, to really process that stuff—it’s just distraction, which I think is interesting. Paul says, “undistracted devotion”—like distraction is a major problem in the world today. Rather than taking my pain to a place, where I can get insight and healing, I’m just kind of dorking around, online. It’s not just a young people thing—that’s the world—but it concerns me.
Bob: You said, at the point that you saw your wife for the first time and you were attracted to her, you stopped and accessed the files. You said, “How am I?”—I mean, was it a conscious thing to say, “Am I doing okay where I could actually ask her out?”
Ben: Yes; absolutely.
Bob: How did you come to the conclusion: “I’m doing okay”?
Ben: I think—you know, life is an event and process. I think I had been in a process of getting in healthy relationships at my church, which is something I really encourage singles to do, and something I love about our church—we’ve got that. Just get in that healthy matrix of relationships.
I didn’t really think about it that much until that moment, where I’m like, “Well, here is another dating opportunity.” I looked up and went: “You know what? I think, if I asked her out, there are some people I trust/I could process with that would be honest with me about how we’re doing, and just how I’m thinking about it, and help me kind of deal with some of the fears—
Ann: Did you do that?
Ben: —of commitment. Oh, yes.
Ann: Did they help you?
Ben: Yes; there was a couple—I mean, when I was young and single, first going to this church—there was this couple that invited me over right away. I like barely knew them, but I knew nobody. I used to just walk around by myself at Walmart® because I was living in a new town. I was like, “I don’t know people.”
This family invited me over. What I loved about it was—I was not the center of attention. When I moved in to this lunch at their house, it was just this normal deal; there were all these people there. I’m like: “Oh, this isn’t like: ‘Okay, Ben, sit down. Tell us your journey.’” It was just like: “Hey, hold this baby,” “Here are some green beans,” “Waahh.” Suddenly, I’m like in a fight with her dad—I’m like, “Wow; why are we yelling?” [Laughter] I was just, suddenly, a part of these relationships.
Yes; when I dated Donna, there were all kinds of people that I’m like: “I don’t want these people to know. There are people that are like way too interested in Ben’s dating life. If they find out I’m even interested in somebody, it’s like this little gentle flower growing; and they are going to like grab it and be like, ‘Grrr, flower’; and spread the petals out.” I’m like, “I’ve got to get their hands off this thing.” So, I kept it on the DL from a lot of other people.
Ben: But there were a few couples that I already had that I knew loved me.
Ben: I was like: “Hey, I’m going to do this. I want you around us. I want you seeing this with us.”
Bob: See, this is a key marker right here; because I think too many people venture into—maybe, this is a new relationship in isolation—
Bob: —they don’t have anybody wiser/anybody who can see blind spots, speaking into it. They are just caught up in their own infatuation/their passions—they are carried away by that.
Ann: I think women—we can tend to want someone in a relationship so much—
Ann: —that I’ve seen this. I remember being with all these college girls, and they are like [speaking sweetly], “Oh, that’s so sweet that he loves you, and you should do that.” I’m thinking: “Are you kidding me?! This guy has so many danger things around him. This would be the worst guy to date in terms in where he is and where you are.” I was like, “Why are these girls like pushing her into that?”
Ann: It’s because we think that love will fix us and fix everything. I think there is a danger to that a little bit. I love the wise counsel; I like the idea of helping another couple.
Ben: I don’t spend time with the young women in our church—
Dave: Good idea.
Ben: —very much, directly.
Dave: Good idea.
Ben: Yes, I think that’s a solid decision; but you know, my wife does; but it is great, though, there have been ones that, when they have a question about dating relationships, Donna will say, “Why don’t you come over and you can—we can have dinner, and you can ask Ben in that moment?”
Dave: Yes; that’s great.
Ben: For some of them, they like ask if I’ll meet the guy—and not in a real formal-like—[speaking as a butler] and he will sit down in the parlor; you know? It’s more of a: “Hey, tell me what you think of this guy.”
Ben: I like that; I’ve never initiated that: “Now, if you start dating, I expect an essay on my desk,”—no; but it’s more of a—
Ann: It’s just hanging out.
Ben: In the past, we used to do that. We used to protect young women—
Dave: Right; right.
Ben: —especially, because the dating world can be pretty dangerous; and some guys’ motives are not great. We have a sense, as a community, “We’ve got to protect people as young love forms.”
Nowadays, it’s happening, in isolation, online. It’s happening, in isolation, in bars—and a lot of young Christians are—that’s where they are meeting people. You can meet someone great there, but it just—it’s hard because you are missing out on some really helpful pieces.
Dave: Define “great,” because you talk about it in the book. What would you advise a single person—and I’m thinking you did it with Donna—but what should they be looking for?
I’ve sat down with—remember?—a friend of Ann’s/a single girl had me meet with her boyfriend for an hour. After one hour, I went to her and I said, “You run and you run as fast as you can,”—because I could see all these warning signs; but she couldn’t. Talk to singles about: “What do you look for?”
Ben: One, for me—I think singleness exists for devotion to the Lord; I’m running after Him. Paul told Timothy: “Flee youthful lust. Pursue righteousness along with those who call out to God out of a pure heart.” He’s telling this young, 20-something guy: “Run away from things that are going to mess you up, man. Run toward the most beautiful life possible, and do it with a crew who wants Him as badly as you do.”
I tell people, “That’s the first thing—cause—man, what cause are they chasing?”
Ann: Well, that is exactly what attracted me to Dave. I was dating this other guy that I was like: “Come on. You should do Jesus with me.” It was pulling him along, and I wanted to run after Jesus. When I met Dave, I thought: “This guy is going harder than I am.”
Ann: “I want to catch up with him.”
Dave: I’ll throw it in here—same thing—we go to Findlay Reservoir—that was a date.
Dave: That sound pretty romantic, Bob?—[Laughter]—sitting by the water.
Ann: We weren’t even dating; I guess it was our first date.
Dave: We were just becoming friends, but I asked her—she was what?—1819. I’m going into my senior year of college; and I said, “What do you want to do with your life?” I’d never heard a woman answer this way, especially a young late-teen. She said, “I want to follow Jesus wherever He sends me and impact as many people for the kingdom.” I remember just sitting there, looking at her, like, “I’ve never heard this.”
Number one, it had nothing to do with me—
Dave: —or a guy. She’s doing this whether we get married or not. I remember, right then, thinking, “That’s the kind of woman I want to marry.”
Ben: That’s what you want, man. That’s the—if they are not running with you—
Ben: Then, you’ve got to see character: “Do they have a character that is shaped by God?”
Bob: This all sounds great unless you are 35, and you haven’t seen those guys running by; and you go, “I don’t think they exist anymore, and I’m really lonely.”
Ben: I hear that all the time: “Where are guys like that?” You know what’s crazy? I’ll go places, and young women will say that to me, “Where are the guys?” Guys will come to me, “Man, I don’t know how to talk to girls.” A lot of it is girls end up going to online or bars—places like that—which, again, there are probably some nice people there; but the pool is so diluted. That’s why I encourage them: “Get involved in a church community, where you know these are people who are interested in the same sorts of things.
It’s interesting—Aziz Ansari wrote a book on dating.
Ben: You know, he’s not a Christian—not a Christian book—but he has this one chapter, where he’s talking about—he’s doing like a case study—like getting these groups together/kind of dialogues. He was talking about how they are all talking about how depressing dating was. They get online; they swipe all these people; and they meet them at random places. They have small talk. It’s like, at the end of the day, you’re like: “I don’t know what your life’s about. I don’t know anything about you. I don’t know any of your people.” He said it was just really depressing.
He said, then, there was this one dude—wasn’t the most attractive dude/wasn’t the coolest dude—he was just talking about how awesome this dude was. You’re like, “His dating life stood out as so different.” The guy—they asked him, “What were your last two dates?” One was—he was part of, like, a serving project through his church; and then another one was he was part of this, like, athletic club through this missions organization he was a part of. Then they leave it there. They don’t touch the fact—you’re like: “This guy is a believer and has a completely different philosophy in forming the way he meets people. He’s crushing it, and you’re all sad. Get on his level—like: ‘Do what he’s doing. Get in an orbit with people who are…’—you know, community forms around causes. No one unites around unity; you unite around something.
Ann: That’s good.
Bob: Okay; again, you know folks who are going, “The church is not necessarily the safe place to find guys or girls, because I’ve gone out with a guy from church; and after the fourth date, he’s pressuring me to have sex.”
Ben: Yes; well, that’s the character piece, because anybody can say they are Christians. I don’t care—man, If a guy has got a Christian fish on his car or a Bible on his coffee table—I don’t care, man; I want to watch his life.
I remember, in college, there was this girl—she was an attractive girl; lots of guys would hit on her. I remember sitting in the lunchroom once and watching this dude, just full court press, hitting on her: “Well, how can you get to know me if you don’t go on a date with me? I don’t understand. Just come out with me. Just go….” She’s like: “No; it’s not going to happen. It’s never going to happen; stop asking.” She just kept shutting this dude down until, finally, he gave up.
Literally, I came—like knelt at her feet—and was like, “Teach me her ways.” I was like, “How did you do that?” She said: “You know what, Ben? The community of people who care about the things I care about isn’t huge, and I’ve never seen him in any of it. No one I know knows him, so no one I know knows this guy. He’s not around any of the places I’m around. I’m not getting in a car alone with that dude.” I just thought, “I’d never heard of that.” She’s like, “I’m putting myself in communities, where the quality of people is different; then, I’m watching their lives.”
Dave: Talk about this. I know there are single men and women out there, agreeing with everything you are saying; and yet, they settle.
Dave: They end up lowering the standard; they get into a relationship. I see it all the time. I know what they want—they want what you are saying—and yet, they settle. Why?
Ann: They think that they can get this person to become that.
Dave: Yes; why do we see that?
Ben: Yes; I don’t know. I think fear might lean into that for some—I think it’s a big part of it.
One thing that gives me a lot of compassion, right now, is—I’m watching, particularly women, as they get into their 30s, and want to be married, and aren’t meeting good guys, go, “What happens now?” I don’t want to provide them a pat answer.
I think we are in a season, right now, that is difficult. I say this as someone who loves the young men that I have had the opportunity to minister to and be around. When you look at the culture—when you’re running into numbers like 50 percent of men are self-reporting that they looked at pornography last week and then you look at the data—that is so destructive in the way people relate, personally. It’s not good.
I think men—I feel compassion, because they didn’t create the world they are in. They didn’t make Google®; they didn’t make this phone—it got handed to them when they were babies/I mean, this young generation. So much of media is so alluring, because it’s built to attract what men attract; but the cost is—it’s hurting their socialization with women. I think we, as men, need to help men and release them to be men, and strong and courageous, and good. I think, if we do that, then we can see some really great matches; but it’s challenging.
Bob: I’m just sitting here, thinking, “If you want to be good at anything in life, you would get input; you would get training; you would get coaching; you would read on it.” I have a son who wants to be a farmer. I have zero to offer him about farming; right? He can’t come to me and say, “Dad, so, how does this crop rotation thing work?” I don’t even know what the categories are; I don’t know what he would be asking; but there are people he can go to and there are books—he’s got a stack of books that he’s reading to do all of this.
I’m saying all of this—if you are a single person, and you want to be good at relationships, and good at marriage someday, get some coaching/some mentoring—some folks speaking into your life—and get a copy of Ben’s book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married. Put it in the stack of books that you are reading on how to get good at this.
Dave: I would add: “Don’t read it alone. Read it in community and talk about it.”
Bob: That’s right.
Ann: I would add, for us that are married, we need to really keep our eyes open—
Ann: —for singles, and draw them into our worlds, and create and form a friendship.
Bob: Yes; this week, we’re making Ben’s book available to any FamilyLife Today listener who can support the work of this ministry with a donation. As you guys know, we are listener-supported. That means that folks, who are tuned in today and have benefitted from this program—when you contribute to this ministry, you make it possible for this daily program to be heard on this local radio station, on our network of stations all around the country and all around the world. The program is now being heard more than ever because of its availability on the Internet and on our mobile app. In addition, we’ve got FamilyLife Today resources and events.
All that we do, here, at FamilyLife® happens because listeners, like you, say, “This is important, and we want to help make it happen.” If you can help with a donation today, we would love to send you, as a thank-you gift, upon your request, Ben Stuart’s book, Single, Dating, Engaged, Married: Navigating Life and Love in the Modern Age. You can donate, online, at FamilyLifeToday.com; or you can call to donate at 1-800-FL-TODAY. Thanks for partnering with us, and we hope you enjoy Ben’s book.
You know, talking about singleness, and dating, and engagement, and marriage—just a great reminder that this is a part of God’s design to bring sanctification into our lives. David Robbins, who is the President of FamilyLife, is here with us. David, this is a part of the marriage journey; isn’t it?
David: Yes; dating and marriage does one thing consistently—and I would also add relentlessly—it brings two people together that are still very in process and still have lots of room for growth. It’s usually not a recipe for bliss all the time. [Laughter]
Today’s conversation just makes me cry out, personally. It makes me self-reflect some and cry out to God: “I have so far to go, Lord. I know I’m still so in process. I know I have so much to learn. I’m not making space in this time with young kids to really go there in the ways that I, maybe, used to.” It kind of makes me reflect on that.
I’m just like: “God, what are the ways that You want me to grow in this season as I keep going through this year? God, what are You doing in my life, and how do You want me to grow? What are the places that You know about me that You’re wanting to reveal to me that I don’t see? What are the places in my story You want to restore that I’m not paying attention to?” This conversation kind of makes me attentive.
No matter what the season of life we’re journeying through—whether that is singleness; or dating; or newlyweds; or young kids, or teenagers, or empty-nesters—let’s be a people, who constantly ask God to make us have soft hearts and to keep growing.
Bob: Yes; let’s not get so busy that we miss what God is doing on the journey; right?
David: Yes; I’m having to ask myself that question today.
Bob: Yes; that’s good. Thank you, David.
Well, we hope you can join us back again tomorrow. We’re going to continue our conversation with Ben Stuart, and we’ll find out how Ben knew for sure that the woman he was dating was the woman he should marry. We’ll hear more about his journey tomorrow. I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, along with our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our hosts, Dave and Ann Wilson, I’m Bob Lepine. We will see you back next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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