So, yes, I watched about half of the just-completed season of The Bachelor.
My embarrassment compels me to quickly explain—my 17-year-old daughter started watching this notorious (and wildly popular) show only this year, a permission that came with a price. Namely, that my wife and I would need to watch the show with her. At first, she was totally embarrassed by this arrangement, and was hyper-sensitive every time I (or my wife) failed to stifle one of our dozens of groans, sighs, grunts, or “you gotta be kidding me’s.” Just being honest here—the hours I’ve spent watching this show have been some of the most torturous of my TV-watching life. Here’s why…
- The premise is a reality-show staple—it’s a show about manufactured relational drama. One handpicked guy (a previous loser from the companion show The Bachelorette) is gifted a harem of two-dozen eager and equally perfect-looking babes from which he chooses, ultimately, his lifelong partner.
- Along the way the guy “gets to know” each of the assembled babes at varying levels of intimacy. The starting block for him is always a physical relationship—this guy kisses so many girls, for so long, that his supply of lip balm must have been Costco-sized. Both he and his harem spend very little time exploring the foundations of friendship; they simply leapfrog all of that and hold hands as they cannonball into the deep end of sexual intimacy. Of course, this is reality TV—its purpose is to capture eyeballs for advertising, not offer a template for healthy, respectful, God-honoring relationships.
- As the show progresses the guy eliminates more and more of the babe-harem until he’s left with just two to choose between. It’s like The Hunger Games, where contestants are expected to live together in harmony while they’re plotting their rivals’ demise. At some point he tells pretty much all of the “candidates” (and for some, their families) that he’s falling in love with them—he’s like that guy at the frat party who insists he can drink six or seven beers and still safely drive home. In the end, he and his chosen babe get engaged, and she gets to wear an $80,000 custom Neil Lane ring. One stipulation—the couple has to stay together for two consecutive years to keep that ring and very few of the show’s couples clear that bar. In 24 seasons of The Bachelor, only four couples are still together.
As the show progressed toward its lemming cliff-dive of romantic passion, one member of the babe harem upset the apple-cart of the show’s standard moral universe. Madison, daughter of an Auburn University basketball coach and a committed follower of Jesus, told bachelor Peter on the eve of the “fantasy suite” episode (when he and the remaining three women choose whether or not to spend the night together) that she is committed to waiting for sex until marriage, and wouldn’t feel comfortable continuing in their relationship if he slept with the other two women.
This honest proclamation, shared with humility and strength, was treated by the other contestants (and millions of fans) like she had just admitted to practicing witchcraft. Of course, in reality-TV land, this is like catnip… But in the end, Peter does sleep with the other two women, and nevertheless chooses Madison for the “final two.” In turn, she tells him that, though she’s grown to love him, their differences represent a chasm she can’t cross, and she leaves the show.
The takeaway lesson for strengthening our approach to youth ministry… Don’t soft-sell the counter-cultural cost of following Jesus—that will backfire for your kids.
1. It turns out Bachelor Peter’s parents aren’t thrilled at all about the possibility of their son pairing up with the “very, very religious” Madison.
Remarkably, they (especially his mother) will fight to the death to maintain his right to have sex with as many women as he wants to, and to party as often as he wants to. They see Madison as a freakish zealot who’s unwilling to compromise for the sake of Peter’s “appetites.” For her part, Madison has to deal with the pressure of reality TV and Peter’s disappointment/confusion, as well as his mother’s outright attacks on her character. She remains calm, engaged, emotionally pliable, and rock-strong.
This “test” of her resolve reveals a repeated commitment to love and serve and honor her relationship with Jesus, no matter what the cost. And Peter, for his part, senses that strength (really, he’s sensing the Jesus in her), and is inexorably drawn to her. He’s experiencing a transcendent beauty that draws him so persistently that he defies his mother’s extreme pressure and his family’s bewildered disappointment to sacrifice everything for her. That beauty is the sweet fragrance of Jesus’ goodness, whether or not he realizes it.
2. Jesus communicates this straight-up strategy with His disciples: “If the world hates you, remember that it hated me first.
The world would love you as one of its own if you belonged to it, but you are no longer part of the world. I chose you to come out of the world, so it hates you. Do you remember what I told you? ‘A slave is not greater than the master.’ Since they persecuted me, naturally they will persecute you. And if they had listened to me, they would listen to you. They will do all this to you because of me, for they have rejected the one who sent me” (John 15:18-21).
3. If Madison had merely made a moral choice in her life, that commitment would have withered under the suffocating pressure.
She’s just 23 and still plumbing the depths of her identity. But because her relationship with Jesus is already intertwined with that identity, she experiences the fruit Jesus told us to expect: “Though the rain comes in torrents and the floodwaters rise and the winds beat against that house, it won’t collapse because it is built on bedrock” (Matthew 7:25). This identity-strength comes only when we’re captured by the heart of Jesus—because we’ve tasted, over and over, the goodness in His heart. Too often we bend over backward to make following Jesus (or even softer, “the Christian life”) sound easy, low-cost, and culture-compatible.
The girl Peter turns down in favor of Madison says everything he wants to hear, and promises everything he wants to do. But he is unsatisfied by that soft-sell. Instead, he’s drawn to the differentiated presence of a girl who is serving a higher master. Deep down, our teenagers are craving the same. They want a love that transcends the “torrents” in their culture, not an unending menu of moral imperatives or, worse, a wink-wink capitulation to amoral realities. They will give up their life for the “treasure in the field,” as long as we’ve helped them to accurately value that treasure.