To date or not to date – that is the question swirling around the minds of many conservative Christians. When I was growing up, dating for us Christians meant going to Bridgemans for a hamburger and malt – and then maybe out to a movie.
You could date someone a couple of times and decide you didn’t like them much. If you did like them, you’d keep dating them until you decided you loved them or not. If you did love them – you got married. If you decided you didn’t love them, you broke up, cried a little, and moved on to the next prospect.
It wasn’t a perfect system, but I’ll bet most of us got married using it. In our culture today, dating means making arrangements (or not) to spend the night together. I don’t think that’s the M.O. for most Christians, but that’s pretty normal behavior now in the culture at large.
After graduating from a Christian college and dating four different guys somewhat seriously, I decided I had enough of that. I remember clearly the night I knelt by my bed and gave my “dating life” to God. I told Him I was no longer going to try to find a spouse, but that I would trust Him to bring the right man into my life at the right time.
That year I met my future husband. We were both on staff with a campus ministry organization, and we ended up developing a friendship over the course of the following year, spending a lot of time together in the student group. The next summer he told me he loved me and wanted to spend his life with me. I felt the same way, and we were married the following February. I was 25 and he was almost 30.
When we started having children, I was fearful that they would grow up and make wrong choices. I spent a lot of time researching how to best protect them from the world. The whole courtship thing was starting to gain momentum, and I thought it sounded similar to what we had done. If it worked for us, it would work for all of our kids, right?
I was a very black and white thinker. I still tend to lean that way, although I have grown in leaps and bounds in this area. I haven’t really read all that much about the different courtship models (I’ve heard there are several). I guess you could say we are now winging it as life unfolds over here, trusting God one step at a time – one life at a time. Depending on Him for wisdom and discernment as the need arises.
Why am I writing about this? Our oldest son (20) met a girl in his small group at church this past spring and got to know her over the course of about 6 months. They would stay after the group was over each week and talk. And talk. And talk. It became apparent that there was a mutual interest. When we talked about “the next step,” he felt somewhat paralyzed. What was the “right” thing to do? Being a highly analytical, logical type person – he wasn’t sure. This whole emotional thing was a surprising new experience for him.
Since he didn’t know her well enough yet to make a lifetime decision, and the only way to get to know her in order to make that decision was to spend time with her – I suggested that they spend some time together outside of small group. She has come over here a couple of times. My son talked to her father – and he has spent some time at her parent’s home, where she lives.
They’ve had coffee after work. They’ve met for lunch. They have a mutual group of friends that meet for a movie night each week – so they spend time together with others. But now everyone knows that they are purposefully pursuing a relationship with each other.
Why? For recreation? For kicks? No. They are curious about whether or not they are meant for each other. They don’t know. They may not be. But until they know for sure one way or the other, they need time together. I wouldn’t call this courting. I would call this dating – in the way that I grew up thinking of the term.
I’m not really sure why I’m writing about this. I guess to simply share that I don’t have all the answers, and I think what we see unfolding is kind of special and sweet. I’m nervous. I don’t want my son to get hurt. I don’t want the girl to get hurt. Whenever we risk exposing our hearts, we risk getting hurt. I’m not so sure that’s a bad thing anymore.
My own life has not been void of pain. And yet God has always been near to me. Always been faithful. Always led me to believe that risk is right. Risk, for the right things, is worth it. You can never ultimately lose when you belong to the Creator.
I don’t want to live in fear. I don’t want to make decisions out of fear. I don’t want to live my life trying to figure out what is the “right” way or the “best” way according to another family or another author. I believe God is so much bigger than our systems and our methods.
When we make rules and draw lines of our own and then expect everyone else to build their convictions around our personal rules and lines, we play the part of God. We rob God of the glory that He deserves for doing big things in and through all kinds of people in a million different circumstances.
And that’s what I’m musing about these days when it comes to that whole dating thing.