God’s plan, God’s plan
I can’t do this on my own
—Drake, “God’s Plan”
#RelationshipGoals has been a trending topic worldwide for years now. Search for this hashtag on social media, and you’ll find celebrity couples posing at exclusive clubs, stills from romantic movies at the point where the boy gets the girl, cute couples kissing on a beach or cuddled up in bed, a boyfriend-girlfriend pair holding balloons in the park and giving the impression that their relationship has never been anything but pure happiness. And when people repost these pictures with the hashtag, what are they saying? They’re saying, “I want a relationship like that!” Kim and Kanye, Jay and Bey, Prince William and Kate, Will and Jada, some unidentified couple who look really good in a picture that happened to go viral—we can easily become obsessed with their seemingly perfect images and make them our idols and ideals.
Okay, maybe you’ve never noticed the #RelationshipGoals tag online, much less posted anything with it. But if I were to ask you to think about the relationship you want, would an idealized picture flash into your mind? Maybe it’s you with a tall, handsome pro athlete who takes you on shopping sprees. Or maybe it’s you beside a girl who’s hood like Cardi B but has a sweet side like Carrie Underwood. Is he an amazing listener with a classic swag like George Clooney and a job that pays both his bills and yours? Can she cook like your mama and get just as hype as you do when your team scores?
Now, if you just asked What’s wrong with that? in your head, allow me to submit to you that maybe there’s more to relationship than what pop culture has taught us or our own imaginings have dreamed up. Maybe our society sells an illusion of intimate relationship that’s more like a mirage—the closer you get to it, the more you realize it’s not real at all. Maybe the things we tend to celebrate are built on unstable foundations and are bound to eventually fall. But also…maybe there are some truths here that can be unlocked about how and why human connection is so important and how we can achieve it.
I believe so, and that’s why I’ve written Relationship Goals…about real relationship goals.
Why Our Generation Is So Clueless
Let me rewind really quick through some of the photos of my life so you can get to know me, okay? There’s baby Mikey in his crib, born 1986 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Ain’t he cute? Here’s one of me and my whole family when I was little: Mom and Dad with their four really active boys, minus my baby brother, Graceson, who came unexpectedly late. How could they do it with all of us and still be married today, after forty years? I don’t even know. Now, here I am playing drums at church, the place where I spent most of my childhood. So, I knew what was right from an early age; I only wish I’d done what was right more often. There’s me on tour with the late great Wayman Tisdale, thinking I’m going to be the next Tony Royster Jr. (Look him up. He’s awesome.) This here is a picture of the most beautiful girl in the world the night we met, but I’ll get to her in a little bit. There’s me at Edison High School, where I became the first African American “Mr. Edison”—an achievement that came as a surprise to many but was the start of my being recognized as a leader. After high school, I had six months of high-quality education from Tulsa Community College. (No picture needed for that.) Then I started a business of my own. So, here’s me at So FLY (Sold Out Free Life Youth) youth and young adults ministry, where I began teaching in ministry and discovered through a lot of crazy situations that the book you’re holding had to be written. And here is a very influential person in my life: Bishop Gary McIntosh, my ministry mentor and the man who gave me opportunities to preach. Then, in 2015, he entrusted me with leadership of the church he’d founded: Greenwood Christian Center, now known as Transformation Church. This one is of me up on stage, doing what I was created to do—re-presenting God’s Word.
So, that’s it—no, wait. Let me rewind some more, because I want to show you something I skipped over. Okay, there it is: a picture of me when I was in kindergarten. I don’t have a shot of the actual moment, but it was about this time that I had my first kiss. That’s right, in kindergarten! I purposely built a wall out of blocks during free-play time, then I asked a girl named Sierra to come behind the wall with me, where we wouldn’t be seen by the others. When she did, I kissed her straight on the lips. (Sierra, if you’re reading this, I hereby apologize.) My excuse is, I was only five. Girls were already fascinating to me; I just didn’t know what to do with them.
That little trip down Michael Todd Memory Lane reminded me of something crazy—in all that time, nobody ever really explained relationships to me. I grew up in church but never heard much about the biblical model of right relationship. There was the granddaddy of all rules (can you guess it?): “Don’t have sex until you get married. Period.” That was the main message preached to me about romantic relationships. Then there was the less emphasized but probably just as important “Get friends who aren’t bad influences.” Aaand yeah, that’s about it. Not very extensive, huh? I’m pretty sure you’ve heard those rules too, but have you ever heard anyone explain how to follow them or why you should follow them?
As a matter of fact, when most people think about relationships, they do not think about church or Christians as a source of wisdom at all. It’s sad. But if we’re honest, we can admit that many believers have failed at relationships, so we don’t have as many great examples to model after as we should. Far too many saved, sanctified, Sunday school–lovin’, stompin’ and clappin’ saints die lonely, and far too many preachers travel the world for ministry but have failed marriages and no real friends. It’s no secret that the church hasn’t done a great job at confronting real-life issues, so many of us didn’t have much choice but to allow movies, TV shows, each big cousin who had a new girlfriend every Thanksgiving, and the slew of instafamous people who take great filtered photos to become our relationship gurus.
If you’re anything like me, I’m willing to bet Cory and Topanga (from Boy Meets World) taught you more about romantic relationships than your youth pastor did. I might be dating myself (shout-out to all the ’80s babies!), but I must admit, watching the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air make a fool out of himself chasing after any girl—“Baby, I know your feet must be tired, ’cause you been runnin’ through my mind aaall day”—started to shape my idea of what pursuit was supposed to look like. At the same time, watching Martin and Gina (from Martin) argue was carving out my context for normal communication.
Let me warn you, some of the things you’ll read in this book are not usually said in books by Christian pastors. I believe in discovering the truth by uncovering lies, so we’re going to put the realities of today’s relationships up against the truths in God’s Word about how to live with others. The Bible, in fact, is the greatest source for relationship wisdom, and it’s time we started applying it to relationships as they really exist. In the One who made us and knows us, there’s hope for better relationships for people like me who grew up clueless.
But then, maybe your experience was the opposite of most and you did see healthy relationships all around you, live and in person. Even so, maybe you never could figure out how the gears fit together to make that beautiful antique clock work for you. Perhaps the perceived perfection of somebody else’s relationship has put unhealthy pressure and expectations on you and now you feel an anxious desire to rush the process. I’m here to let you know that there’s hope for you too.
Some may subscribe to the belief that there’s no point in even trying to have a successful, healthy relationship, and I can’t say I blame them when it seems all we see are statistics like the skyhigh divorce rate and the countless celebrity breakups recorded in tabloids. The saddest truth is that these same trends are just about as prevalent in the church. Many supposedly Jesus-loving people think it’s normal and fine that many people have had more sexual relationships than they’ve had cars (and you know you get a new one of those every few years). That’s what happens when pursuing “good times” dating, instead of faithful marriage in covenant, is your default.
Now, don’t get me wrong—I’m not here to judge (cue Tupac’s “Only God Can Judge Me”). I’m here to try to help. I believe that God has given me a playbook and a platform to help each and every one of us win in relationships. It doesn’t matter if your current status is single, married, dating, divorced, courting, looking, waiting, thirsty, stalker, player, or it’s complicated. And it’s not just about romantic relationships either, though we’re going to emphasize that side. Wouldn’t you like principles you could use in relationships with your sis, your nana, your boss, your bro, your BFF, and every other person you’re in close relationship with?