My heart bleeds for this issue. It’s bled because of it, too. Dating is a source of immeasurable joy and pain, tangled up in a beautiful, complicate mess—testing us, shaping us, and often blinding us. Yes, believer and unbeliever alike, it will blind each of us.
So what’s the best approach for a Christian to have?
Just less than a month out from my own wedding, I’ve spent a great deal of time looking back over the last few years, examining the steps (and missteps!) of my dating season. There are so many things I’m glad I did and so many things I wish I never did. I have memories of God’s clear guidance and memories of my own foolishness…both paired with memories of God’s immeasurable grace. And, together with all of that, it’s left me thinking of what advice I’ll one day want to pass down to my own children.
In his piece, Seven Prayers for Christian Dating, Marshall Segal, of desiringGod.org, gives one of the greatest pieces of advice in this area: the importance of prayer in dating.
“We read articles, text friends, listen to podcasts, even ask for advice, but put off kneeling at the feet of our Father in heaven. If we want to date well, we will need to pray more.”
Dating is going to be one of the greatest testing grounds of our pre-marriage seasons. Segal points out the struggles: discerning our hearts, communicating with one another, balancing out priorities and responsibilities, and rejecting sexual temptation.
“We wonder why we make the same mistakes and fall into sin over and over again, while we leave the King sitting on the bench. We may talk about praying, but we rarely actually talk to God.”
That’s why it’s not just about the act of prayer. I speak from experience when I say that we can pray our hearts out hourly and still struggle and fall at the same rate. It’s about the connection of prayer. It’s about a posture of devotion that we maintain through thick and thin…in the highs, lows, and (particularly) in the absences of our emotion towards the Lord. Even an emotionless-but-sincere heart of prayer will keeps us facing up, especially as our eyes are tempted to stay looking down. Or at ourselves. Or at each other.
In addition to looking up, prayer helps us stay looking forward. We don’t want to lose track of the calling God has for our lives. And we definitely don’t want to let our affection or even love for the other person deter them from their own calling. God has work He wants to do in each of our lives, and it doesn’t stop in the dating season. This will give us clarity to discern what God wants us to do—and be the only way to know how to move forward as a couple.
Walk with Others
This was probably the biggest lesson for me. Even the power of prayer won’t reach its full potential without the presence of other believers. God wired us to be dependent on community, and this proves no less true in our dating season. It’s a period when, more than any other time, the beauty of affection will inevitably distract our attention—especially to purity. This is where community becomes crucial! I would encourage you to look at Hebrews 3:12-13, which gives us some great insight into the role of community in this context.
Segal encourages us to “weave [our] dating relationship into other meaningful relationships…into real, consistent, and engaged community.” He points out that “distance is one of the greatest dangers in dating” and we need to pray that God will “draw men and women we need into our feelings, our communication, and our decision-making.”
No matter how strong of a believer you are, this is going to one of the greatest testing grounds of your unmarried life. And no matter how well you raise up your child, this is going to be one of the greatest tests for them as well. And you know what? Just as everything in life, no one gets it right.
Does that mean we should avoid it? Ban it? Set as many rules as possible to shelter from all conceivable danger?
While boundaries are absolutely necessary and setting clear rules is vital…more than anything, it comes down to a heart issue. So as we navigate the ups and downs of the dating season–and as we allow our children to do the same–may we keep our eyes on Him. It won’t be easy. It won’t be perfect. But the Lord will use it all.
Though dating, He will teach us to hear his voice, allow us to make mistakes, redeem our failings, and strengthen our will to follow Him. And, more than anything, He will show us Himself. So hold fast, and have grace. He will reveal more deeply the beauty of our relationship with Him…and how, ultimately, the highest highs of our dating relationship are just a small reflection of His love. Yes, the perfect, passionate, and patient love He has for us.
In closing, I want to leave you with Segal’s final prayer:
“Above all, forbid that any love would begin to overshadow or replace our love for you. If either us consistently draws us away from you, give us enough faith and love to walk away. Guard us from anyone who wants your place in our heart, and lead us to a husband or wife who has already given all of their heart, soul, mind, and strength to you. Whether we ever marry or not, we pledge our love first and forever to you — from this day forward, for better, for worse, for richer, for poorer, in sickness and health — until death once and for all marries us to you.” Amen.