Millennials, Messy Relationships, and the Mystery of the Incarnation

Danny Silk

3 Christmas Lessons on Love

Earlier this year, I sat down with a group of young adults to talk to them about one of those hot topics—navigating singleness and dating as Christian millennials.

I started by asking each of them to describe what they most wanted when it came to romantic relationships. Each of them echoed the same theme:

“To prepare for marriage, I want to identify who I am and who I will be, and become more and more the best version of myself.”

“Before I make that commitment to someone else, I need to be whole myself.”

“This season for me has been about exploring my passions and working on myself . . . being fully in touch with my purpose and what I feel called to.”

“It’s very important for me that I am content with myself before I jump into a relationship.”

Next, I asked them, “How many of you are afraid of making a lifelong mistake in marriage?”

Every hand went up.

We began to explore this fear and what they were doing about it. They admitted that they were afraid of getting their hearts broken or marrying the “wrong” person. One of the biggest manifestations of this fear, they said, was that they were always trying to look into the future of potential relationships and see what would happen ten, twenty, or thirty years down the road so they could prepare for every possible problem that might come up.

Inherited Realities—and Their Resolution

As I listened to these twenty-somethings, I realized something. On one hand, certain aspects of their experience were somewhat unique. As a generation, they have inherited a few tough realities. The secular culture around them serves up constant, confusing pressure both to define themselves by themselves and to identify with everyone else. Divorce culture has painted a discouraging picture of hope for successfully building long-term relationships. And our often-apocalyptic view of the future urges young people to play it safe, hedge their bets, and fortify themselves against potential catastrophe.

On the other hand, the longing to feel whole and confident in our identity and purpose, the fear of relational breakdown, and the desire to control the future are not unique to millennials or our contemporary culture. These are the tough realities we all inherit living in a fallen world.

And the resolution to these issues lies in the mystery of the Incarnation we celebrate at Christmas. When Christ was born two thousand years ago and lived a human life, He both revealed God’s purpose and design for restored humanity, and blazed the path of restoration ahead of us.

Here are three powerful truths He showed us about that path:

1. Wholeness in our identity is only found in relationship with God and others.

When Jesus took on our humanity and fully identified Himself with us, it didn’t diminish His identity. He didn’t lose Himself in becoming one of us—in fact, this was how His distinct identity and unique selfhood as the Son of God became real to us.

This is how our identity and selfhood were created to work, too. None of us can define ourselves by ourselves. We weren’t designed that way. We were made in the image of God, who is three distinct Persons defined in relationship to one another. This relational identity does not hold the members of the Trinity back from being fully themselves—it allows them to freely and fully be who they are.

Jesus said we must lose ourselves to find ourselves. This simply means giving up on the doomed project of trying to define our identity on our own, allowing Him to tell us who we are, and then learning to live in the reality of what He says. And learning to live out our relational identity as sons and daughters of God is something we can only do in the context of relationship. It will never happen in isolation. We only discover and become our true selves by interacting with God and the brothers and sisters He’s placed beside us on the journey.

How do we know we’re growing and maturing in our God-given relational identity?

Not only do we stop looking to the wrong voices to define us, we stop living in fear that they could. In the same way that Jesus could fully identify with us because He was fully Himself, so we become able to empathize and connect with people, no matter how different they are.

2. Love casts out fear of our mess and brokenness.

The circumstances of Jesus’ birth look nothing like what most of us would imagine for the Son of God’s arrival on the planet. He was born to a virgin in a culture that ostracized her for having a child outside wedlock. He was born homeless and poor. He was born with a price on his head. Lastly, He was born—that is, He came as a helpless infant who could do nothing about the hostile realities that surrounded Him.

From His birth to His death, Jesus made Himself vulnerable to the evil and brokenness of the world. So many people still have this demonic idea that God is withholding Himself from us because of our sin. But God is the exact opposite of self-protective. He is not afraid of our sin, mistakes, pain, or brokenness, but passionately moves toward us in our mess. Why? Because He loves us, and He is supremely confident that in the end, His love will win.

How do we know that Jesus’ vulnerable, fearless love is transforming our hearts?

We lose the fear of sin and punishment that drives us to withhold ourselves from God and others. We risk our hearts for love, even when it’s messy and painful, embracing the truth that, as C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love is to be vulnerable.”

3. The only way to love is unconditionally and sacrificially.

To many people these days, the traditional wedding vows of “for richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, till death do us part” sound half inspiring and half impossible. Our longing for true covenant love is strong as ever, but our hope to experience it has been devastated by many painful disappointments. Many of us feel deeply powerless about the future of our relationships.

The Christmas story is the answer to our pain, commitment phobia, and pessimism. When Jesus took on human flesh, it wasn’t temporary. He permanently joined Himself to us, bringing us into the total oneness of covenant love in the Trinity for eternity. Eternal love is not only possible—it is happening, right here and right now. We are loved with an everlasting love that will never go away, despite what the future may bring.

How do we know that we are living in the reality of this covenant love?

We are powerful in walking out a long-term commitment to love others like Jesus in every relationship. We courageously face the unknown with what we do know—that nothing can separate us from the love that empowers us to love no matter what.

This Christmas, I challenge you spend time meditating on this wonderful mystery of Jesus coming in the flesh, this incredible reality that tells us who we are, delivers us from fear, and empowers us to enter into to the love we were made for.

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  1. I’m not a millennial… but I deeply resonate with these powerful truths. And I spend my life trying to live in and out of this truth. Some days, I’m more successful than other days! In my long journey of walking out of a painful past, I came to my own version of these three statements— not fully understanding how to work them out in my life, but none the less knowing deep inside that these things are true. The most critical gyroscope in an aircraft is considered to be the attitude indicator which operates as the pilot’s view of the horizon during poor visibility. When a pilot is flying in conditions that no longer enables him to see the horizon, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to keep the plane flying level unless he trusts his instruments, particularly his attitude indicator. These truths you discussed are components to my life’s "gyroscope". As I read this blog this morning, it reminded me that when I lose my orientation and can’t see the horizon… that if I will trust the gyroscope…, I will fly on the level!

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