Dating, Courting and the Church

johanna_grace_schnakenberg_photography

I am the first generation in my family to grow up in a Christ-centered home from the very beginning. I was homeschooled from day one until walking down the aisle in a church to receive the diploma my parents decided I was ready for. I am currently self-schooling through my bachelor's degree. I grew up with a small group of friends that were always within my homeschool community. When I was as young as 5, my parents taught me to keep my body for myself and to save my kiss for my wedding day. At 13 I asked my dad to buy me a purity ring so I could signify the commitment I had made.

I never cared much for boys. Dating sounded stupid and everyone made too much of a deal about it. Marriage seemed great for the far off future because I had seen a beautiful example of love and selflessness in my parents. But still, girls rule, boys drool... all that good stuff. I had equal parts of all the quality that came out of the purity movement, and all the bizarre practices which somehow was considered gospel. 

When I was growing up the denominations of churches around us were focused on a battle for the purity of their children. Youth groups and summer camps were full of weird dating games. Kids were losing their virginity to each other on Wednesday nights and praising God on Sunday morning. Any parents with any sort of care for their children were terrified, and with good reason. Courtship became a buzzword. It was reactionary. Books were written for parents teaching how the father should clean his guns when young men came to see their daughters, as if these young ladies couldn't be trusted to make wise decisions on who they associate with. Girls were encouraged to make huge lists of identifiers so they could have the perfect husband. Everything I heard had to do with preparing to be his, how I should support a man. How everything in the world revolved around getting a man to love you and take care of you. All the while you are a "daughter at home" who knows how to clean a house and cook a good meal... but not much other than that. 

I didn't really care. I'd skim the latest book picked up at a conference for any nuggets of wisdom. Anything that had to do with God, His glory, and anything, anything that showed me my worth as a woman outside of getting married and making babies. As I grew up, I grew angrier and more discontent with the whole idea of dating and courtship. On one hand, I'd see people I knew go from relationship to relationship without any intention of marriage and that scared me. On the other, I saw courtship viewed as an engagement and breaking that off led to gossip and wondering if something was wrong with her.

It's safe to say that after almost a year and a half of being in a relationship with the one man who ever made me think, "hey, now there's someone I could probably spend the rest of my life with," the whole "dating vs. courtship" battle seems pretty much irrelevant. 

Here's one of the very first things the bible says about dating and courting:

Therefore a man shall leave his father and his mother and hold fast to his wife, and they shall become one flesh.
— Genesis 2:24

Oh. Well, that's rather... uncomplicated. Where's the shotgun by the door? Where's the years of training to become his helpmeet? 

It's simply not there. For as much as we talk about the holiness of courtship, the sensibility of dating, the fact of the matter is God is the one who puts people together. 

House and wealth are inherited from fathers, but a prudent wife is from the Lord.
— Proverbs 19:14

When marriage is mentioned in the New Testament it's referencing God and his glory. The bible is this great romance between God who is seeking the heart of His bride who wants nothing to do with Him. He's patient, He's loving. In the beginning, He gave all He had made to His small church. He gave one rule and it was broken, and it started humanity on this cycle of breaking laws and asking for more so we didn't have to answer to our creator. Yet His heart still cried out for us. Then Jesus, out of love for His father, and love for the church took all of our sins away -- making our garments white again and reclaimed what was lost as His own. This is what God calls marriage. He gives, and bleeds, and pours out His love for His bride. All He asks is that we'd love Him, that we'd follow Him, and join the work God is doing in the earth. 

Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her,
— Ephesians 5:25

This is the picture of marriage God gave us. That's it.  It's deliciously uncomplicated while being the greatest romance ever told. 

For as a young man marries a young woman, so shall your sons marry you, and as the bridegroom rejoices over the bride, so shall your God rejoice over you.
— Isaiah 62:5
johanna_grace_schnakenberg_photography
  • Marriage isn't holy, God is holy.

If you are focusing so much on your relationship (or the lack thereof,) that it makes you fall away from God, it's wrong. Marriage isn't going to make you holy. Heck, being in a relationship with someone isn't going to make you holy. The crap that God has pulled out of my heart in the past year has been gross. Being with someone who loves you isn't going to make your life perfect. In all honesty, looking at someone you want to marry is terrifying. Not because I'm scared of marriage. I think marriage is great. It's the fact that suddenly, you're so close to a person that you say "they deserve to know how rotten I am. I can't hide my sins. I have to come clean. I have to be open." It means laying your heart open and trusting that they'll be gentle. God makes us holy. It's not marriage, contrary to what some biblical teachers think. 

  • Relationships never look the same

Look, for some people, the courtship mentality works for them. For some people, betrothal works. And yeah, dating multiple people over the course of a year has worked too. My parents came from a culture of dating and free "lust". They played that game before they knew Jesus' love. They had both sworn not to date ever again unless it was the person they were going to marry. When they met, they put themselves under the authority of the believers around them. They were strict with their flesh. They knew they wanted to honor God. They knew their paths were calling them to the mission field and nothing could distract them from that. In the world where even Christians were participating in premarital sex, they refused to kiss, and rarely held hands. The culture said "but everyone is doing it!" but they knew God had a bigger purpose. Today, 23 years later, they're so in love and it's actually kind of gross. Gross in a beautiful kind of way. The point is, God put it in their hearts to be incredibly chaste with each other. 

  • There is no fear in the love of God

A lot of the courtship movement is centered on fear. Fear of messing up and giving in to passion and losing your purity. Fear of giving too much to the man you love because you're afraid he won't love you if you don't. Fear of not being enough, not knowing enough, not hearing enough. Fear of giving your heart just so someone can break it and they will tell you that it's your fault. 

There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear. For fear has to do with punishment, and whoever fears has not been perfected in love.
— 1 John 4:18

Read that again. Read it over and over. Let it wash over you. Because you know what else the bible says? 

Anyone who does not love does not know God, because God is love.
— 1 John 4:8

The very essence of God is love. He isn't up in heaven with an eraser over your name, just waiting for you to mess up. No! God wants you to be in Him. In Him there is no darkness, in Him there is no fear. So why are we afraid?

I think we do not trust Him to be the God He says He is. We like to do things on our own. Because of that Christians HAVE failed in their commitments to one another and before God. It's why teen pregnancy is so high in the church. It's why young marriages fall apart. It's why people who once loved each other will divorce after 30 years of marriage. We do not put our faith in Jesus to preserve us. I'm guilty of this, I'll be the first to stand up and raise my hands. I need God's grace every day. Sexual immorality is the biggest way we're attacked in the church of the western world. Because it's easy to say that you're going to be careful. It's even easier not to admit that you haven't been as careful as it seems. 

It's because of the fact that we are fallen as humans which gives my boyfriend and I reason to bring a few siblings along on our dates. The sheer fact of having someone else care about your heart is kind of empowering. It made my rebel heart stop and go "why am I pushing so hard against someone seeing what we're doing? I don't have anything to hide!" 

so as to walk in a manner worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him, bearing fruit in every good work and increasing in the knowledge of God.
— Colossians 1:10
  • Relationships are overrated and underrated

Holding the hand of a boy who says nice things about you is not going to make your past go away. Having a girl hug you and show you that she believes in you is not going to make you a better man. These things are not bad in the slightest! In fact, having a man who reminds me of my worth has made me more independent and confident in who I know I am. But without knowing these things first from God, it's nothing. Our lives can not revolve around each other. Noble and I agreed early on that God is our focus, God is our goal. It's not marriage, it's not staring into each others eyes as the sun sets. If God is not all we care for, we care for nothing. 

The world makes relationships seem trivial. You're supposed to have a relationship just to get something out of it. I remember when I was young, someone asked me why I was wearing a ring on my ring finger at 14 years old. I patiently explained as I was prepared to, but then someone asked "but if you don't sleep with the guy, how do you know you should marry him?" That's where our culture is. Simply choosing to hold ourselves to a higher standard gives us witness

When God is our focus, all things become intentional without becoming all-consuming. 

At the end of the day, having a someone choose to love you is a good feeling. You know they've seen you at your worst, but they don't care. We see the good in each other and choose to bring it out. Having someone wrap their arms around you and just hold you when life is heavy is a good thing. We are not built to be alone. We need each other. We need physical comfort, we need words of encouragement and affirmation. We need someone sharing what they're learning about God and challenging the way we think about things. But our hope lies in Jesus Christ.

It really isn't all that complicated.