From Joshua Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye to P.B. Wilson’s Knight in Shining Armor, Christians have been trying for years to define Christian dating, courtships and relationships.
We have been told to be intentional, to date with purpose and to be with someone we could see ourselves marrying. Men are told to begin the practice of loving their girlfriends like Christ loved the church, and women are told to strive to be a “Proverbs 31 Woman” for their significant others.
But as well-intentioned as these pieces of advice may be, are they truly helpful in the long run? Can a solely future-focused frame for dating actually be more harmful than helpful? Is this mindset even biblical?
In the midst of trying to figure out what Christian dating looks like in my own personal life, I have come across three pieces of well-intentioned advice that gave me pause.
“Don’t date someone you don’t see yourself marrying.”
A common reason people date is for the purpose of finding a spouse and starting a family, so in this sense, it is only natural to take these future plans into consideration.
But what about the 18-year-old who is deciding between colleges? What about the widower who is dating for the first time after the loss of his wife? What about the woman who is figuring out her wants and needs after a broken engagement?
While it is true that dating with purpose is important, what we fail to remember is that there can be more than one purpose.
Dating for the purpose of practicing vulnerability is just as commendable a purpose as dating for the purpose of stepping out of a life driven by fear. And both of these purposes are just as commendable as dating for the purpose of marriage.
Making the blanket statement that anyone who is not marriage material is not dating material does not only dismiss other reasons for dating, but it also creates an astronomical standard to meet before even reaching the first date.
The truth is that holding every man or woman we meet to the standard of marriage early on puts undue pressure on both the individual and the relationship at hand.
“Guard your heart.”
Regardless of how one chooses to interpret Proverbs 4:23, it is wise to practice discernment and caution when it comes to matters of the heart. But where do we draw the line between necessary protection and invulnerability?
C.S. Lewis puts it best when he says that we all have the option of either being vulnerable or locking away our hearts for protection’s sake. He says that while locking up your heart would indeed keep it safe, it would also cause it to change.
He says, “It will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable.”
The thing about vulnerability is that unless it is practiced, it cannot be strengthened.
There is no love without vulnerability, and what better way to begin practicing said vulnerability than in a dating relationship? There is wisdom in protecting your heart, your self and your emotional well-being; and there is also wisdom in allowing dating to be a platform by which you practice being vulnerable.
“He/she should love God more than he/she loves you.”
Most Christian men and women prefer to be in a relationship with someone of like mind and faith. There is no doubt that dating relationships with someone of differing values have their own sets of challenges; however, it may not be as black and white as we choose to believe.
In the gray area lies the woman who is doubting but feels God pursuing her daily.
In the gray area lies the man who has been interested in attending church but feels the weight of loneliness when he attends alone.
In the gray area lies the woman who is filled with head knowledge about God but desperately wants to feel God in her relationships with the people around her.
The gray area is filled with people who love God in various levels and degrees, but through a dating relationship, it may be possible for them to grow closer to the God who loves them at the highest degree imaginable.
There are times when I unfortunately love television more than God. Some days we love sleeping, shopping and traveling more than we love God, and there are going to be days when we love our significant others more than we love God. But our relationships with God grow and develop constantly.
God is persistent and does not let go of those who have chosen Him. In the moments when our love for Him fails, He draws us back to Him, reminding us that He is our one true love.
What would it look like if we showed our potential suitors the same patience and grace that God shows us in these same moments? What would it look like for us to strengthen all of our relationships by practicing vulnerability in our dating ones?
What would it look like to allow vulnerability, grace, growth and knowledge to be the purpose of dating, while still tucking the idea of marriage in your back pocket?
It might look scary, and it might look like failure in the end; but it might also just look like Jesus.