Life 201 is a weekly advice column headed by pastor, counselor and RELEVANT Podcast member Eddie Kaufholz. Eddie answers questions and gives advice on issues you want to hear about. Email your questions to [email protected].]
Hello! Today we talk about love, love in full bloom and love unrequited. Let’s get to work …
My girlfriend and I have a joint question for you: We love each other, but want to set good physical boundaries. How far is too far?
– Travis and Zoey
Well, well. Our first his’ and her’s question—and what a question it is! Alright kids, let’s have “the talk.”
As a preface to my answer: I love that you’re asking this question because it affirms a very central part of your relationship, that is, your attraction to each other. God has designed us as sexual beings, and so the very notion that you’re into each other physically is one of many important indicators on the journey of dating. Yay for you!
Christians have used attraction and the “how far is too far” question to instill shame and fear into well-meaning followers, which is a tragedy. Travis and Zoey, there’s no shame in what you’re feeling for each other. Sexuality is a beautiful gift, and don’t think for a moment that there’s anything wrong with you because it’s hard to keep your hands off the other person. God created you as sexual beings, and any rumors you’ve heard otherwise just aren’t true.
OK, now to the question:
When we ask “How far is too far?” we’re appealing to a part of ourselves that wants rules for making God happy and parameters for how much we can get away with before He becomes unhappy. It’s a natural tendency, and we do it with many things: “How much alcohol is too much alcohol?” “How much do I have to tithe?” “How much should I pray or read the Bible?” And so on.
The truth is, we’re a law-abiding people, but we serve a heart-abiding God. When Jesus was directly asked (in so many words), what rules needed to be followed in order to get into Heaven, He replied (in these exact words), “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind,” and “Love your neighbour as yourself.” (Luke 10). You see what Jesus did there? He not only challenges the concept of a rule-based life, but He also gives us a much harder and more thoughtful command: to love.
So, Travis and Zoey, does that answer your question? Of course it doesn’t! You’re wanting me to say, “You’re allowed to do [somewhat super-hot act] but you can’t do [really super-hot act].” The fact is, though, I’m not going to do that.
What I’m encouraging you to do is pursue a deep and God-focused love for the other person. If you do that, a few things will start to happen:
1. The question will morph from “How far is too far” to: “How respectful can I be?” “How guarded can I be about not moving our affection into a place of guilt?” “How much can I love this person without entering into a place of intimacy reserved for marriage?”
2. You’ll view the other person more in-line with how God views them. He knows the inherent value of your significant other. He knows who their husband/wife will be. And He knows the painful reconciling that will take place when they do meet their spouse and have to wade through the guilt of giving too much away in an old relationship. That’s not a fun feeling, and you can love your partner enough to help them avoid that.
3. Your relationship will get better and better. I’m not saying that there’s anything wrong with it now. But if you are truly on the path to marriage and, subsequently, sweet lovin’ by the fire (yep, I said it), the work you do toward intentionally and respectfully loving each other will make the days pre-marriage significantly more rewarding and impactful.
I’m sure this answer isn’t as concrete as you’d like it to be. But I know and promise that if you truly dig into God’s desires for your relationship, you’ll be less focused on the “line” and more focused on the opportunity to love each other well.
As a Christian woman, how do you let a man know you’re interested in him? I don’t want to take the reins in a relationship, but I don’t want to just sit around and wait, either. What do you suggest?
Alice, women have an equal voice in this world, and there’s no reason for you to be silent when you have something valid to express. I respect your desire to find someone who will initiate, but I think there might be some middle ground between doing nothing and “taking the reins.”
Here’s my suggestion: Talk to him. You don’t have to lay it all out there and declare your fondness for him, but I would encourage you to at least strike up a conversation. Ask questions about his life, share a bit of your life, and basically do what you’d do with anyone else—be a friend.
If a single woman is chatting with a single man, chances are, he’s figuring out if he’s going to take a next step with her.
Now, this “taking a next step” may be hindered by one of a million factors including him not wanting to date right now or him not being comfortable asking a woman out on a date, but whatever the case is, he knows you’re single and he knows the ball is his court. And if I was advising him (which I have in a previous post), I’d encourage him to be bold and ask you out for coffee or pizza or disco dancing or whatever the kids are doing these days.
Alice, I don’t know you, but I can assure you that you’re an interesting person who many people will be excited to know better. Don’t “sit around and wait” for the world to get to know your awesomeness—get out there and make some new friends.
And with that, our work here is done. As always, thank you for submitting wonderful questions and being brave enough to do the hard work of change!
Have a question? Good! All identifying information will be kept anonymous. Send an email to [email protected]
Eddie Kaufholz is a writer, speaker and podcaster and serves as a director of church mobilization for International Justice Mission. He also hosts and produces "The New Activist" podcast. You can find on Twitter @EdwardorEddie.