Feeling some summer lovin' in the air? A "dating blog" is always one of our highest requested blogs. I keep putting it off because dating is so personal. Everyone's story is different, and I never want to put "rules" or "regrets" on people. (I also always answer dating questions with "Ask Holy Spirit" because that really is my answer for all things). But I really felt prompted this week to give it a go, so hopefully this is encouraging (and timely) to someone.
I think it's important to go into dating with a mindset of "how do I honor God and honor others". I am not a fan of casual dating... aka dating so you aren't lonely or bored... but I also don't think having coffee with a guy means you are going to marry him. God is a God of journey and process and as long as you are hand in hand with Jesus, everything seems to work out in the end. (Even if it's an outcome you weren't expecting). So dating... here's my thoughts: There are two sides to the spectrum. Paranoid on one side and perversion on the other, the goal is to stay grounded in the middle in purity. (And not just sexual purity, but purity as in a clear heart clinging to the Lord).
Paranoid is when you are so terrified of "missing God" or "messing up" that your picture of dating is rooted in fear. That fear has left you gripping your heart with your own hands, instead of trusting the Hand of Jesus to protect it for you.
Looking back, that was my story. I had the idea that dating only had two outcomes:
Distracted from the will of God.
I didn't want either of those, (and I had two brothers and a dad that SHOWERED me with love and affection) so it was easy for me to ignore any thought of "needing a guy" or the pursuit of dating. (Thankfully, Ryan was patient for 3 years as the Holy Spirit so kindly pulled me out of fear and showed me what "Dating Godly" looked like.)
Perversion is the other extreme. You hop from guy to guy, girl to girl, sleep around, and treat your heart, and the hearts of others in such a playful way that will always end painful. Maybe that's the only version of dating you've seen. Let me be the one to give you the good news, that's not your only option.
The way culture portrays "dating" is such a damaging view. It is rooted in selfishness. The only thing that grows from selfishness is lust and loneliness. I beg you, do not "date" the world's way. It is such a rip off and you were created for more. The goal for "healthy dating" is to dwell at the cross, the middle of the spectrum - Purity. Purity walks in balance, has a clear view, and stays close to Jesus Christ.
In purity :
There is no fear, and yet there is wisdom.
There is beauty and at the same time boundaries.
There is innocence and maturity that coincide together.
So my challenge to those who feel ready to date is to first make sure you are close and connected to Jesus Christ, for He will help you navigate the dating waters well. If you start drifting left or right, in paranoia or towards perversion, He will alert you and draw you back to the place of peace and purity. May we date in a pure way, not a weird way, not a vulgar way. In a way that shows honor to God and others. (*This is the part of the discipleship/mentorship session, that I would refill your cup of coffee at my kitchen table and start switching gears to practicals. I do wish so badly I could have this talk with you face to face, it's so important and personal. But for now, this will have to do.) With that said, here are some things to consider as you dive into dating.
1. Do you admire His/Her walk with Jesus?
At the end of the day, the most important thing is the way this person loves Jesus. If he/she loves Jesus well, they will love you well.
Instead of asking the questions : Is he/she the one? I challenge young adults to start by asking the question : Do I admire his/her walk with Jesus? If the answer is yes, bring in a Godly friend or mentor as you begin to process what the next step should be. If the answer is no, I suggest holding off on getting into a dating relationship with them.
2. Define the Relationship.
Due to this paranoid/perverted spectrum going on, the trend I'm seeing in Christian community is a lack of clarity due to a fear of commitment. We treat a date, like it's a proposal. If someone is your "girlfriend" in the church's mind (very generically speaking here) that is synonymous to "wife". Do you know how much pressure that puts someone in?! Yuck. So sorry we've done that. This has led us is into the newly created category of "We're talking but not dating". This is the land of "we are acting like boyfriend and girlfriend, but we don't use a title just to be safe and to not cause suspicion/drama from other people." (Deep sigh) This is not setting anyone up for success. In my amazing college ministry (*Shout-out to Antioch) I heard a sermon that changed my life. (I can't find it. If I do I'll link it here). The college pastor showed us a chart that brought so much clarity on how to date in a "balanced, honoring" way. This is what it looks like :
Four levels of relationship : Friendship, Dating, Engagement, Marriage.
Three bars of involvement : Time together, Touch, Tech Talk.
The goal is for everything to be balanced with the appropriate "Title". Here are some examples:
This gives you an idea. Your "title" should raise the "privilege bars". (*This also goes for marriage - you aren't in a healthy marriage if your time and touch is at friendship level :) ) I am a southern gal who believes in chivalry, so I personally believe that it's the guy‘s responsibility to sit down and have a face to face (FACE TO FACE fellas... not through text) conversation each time the relationship takes a shift/needs to be defined. Ex : "Abby, I've really enjoyed our friendship and getting to know you and I want to pursue a dating relationship with you. Will you be my girlfriend?" - Ryan ***Note, whereas it's more preferred for this to be on the guy, I don't think it's bad for a girl to speak up and say, "I need some definition of our friendship." Don't live in the grey zone! Remember, clarity keeps your heart in purity.
3. Set boundaries before you set sail. Before you fall in love, and set sail towards the sunset, set boundaries. You'll come back around and tweak them as things evolve but having boundaries first will save a lot of time and heartache. These are great to set alone with the Lord or with a mentor that knows you well. (Ex: You may think kissing during dating is fine, but a mentor who knows your past may bring up that kissing during dating for your context won't be the healthiest.) I know you'd love for me to give you a "list" but there really isn't one. There is a "sit down with Holy Spirit to listen and obey". If I was personally mentoring you, and knew more of your story I could throw in some suggestions, but the biggest thing in my heart and story is that truly Holy Spirit knows what's best and following Him is much better than following rules. For me personally, before even knowing Ryan I set a few boundaries knowing myself and situation:
I knew I wanted my Dad to "give permission" to date. In my context, this was important.
I knew I couldn't talk about "family future" with anyone I dated. I am WAY too maternal. I knew if I started talking about "what type of home we'd live in, and the names of our children" it would be very emotionally unhealthy for me and would make breaking up extremely hard if the Lord required it.
I knew I wanted to save sex for marriage, so making physical boundaries to set myself up for success in those areas were important.
4. Follow Peace
Dating is such a fun season! The flutters, the conversations, the adventures, the dates.... it's such a fun fun season! Ryan and I had a long dating season (3 years, 4 years including engagement). To some that is not necessary, but for us it set such a healthy foundation! When getting married, our friendship was deep, we had faced a lot of trials already, we had learned about each other's families, and made fun memories. The learning curve wasn't nearly as big as some other marriages. There were many times in the dating season I was TIRED of waiting. But looking back, for our story and journey, it was exactly what Jesus was setting us up for. There is no such thing as a perfect dating story. I think what I'm most grateful for is the way Ryan and I followed peace. It was a lot of adjusting, pausing, moving, and waiting. If we didn't have peace we would pause, talk about it with each other or with a mentor, adjust a boundary (maybe loosen it, maybe tighten it) and go from there. Walking in obedience was the win. Walking in obedience is ALWAYS the win.
Let me say it loud and clear - a breakup doesn't (*always) mean you didn't hear God. Sometimes a breakup is the sign that you did hear God and are obeying. "Dating Successfully" doesn't mean your journey ends in marriage. "Dating Successfully" means you honored God and honored others along the way. If you've had green lights throughout a relationship and then all of sudden you see some red flags and don't have peace so you breakup.... there will be disappointment, but hopefully not damage if you've been walking hand in hand with Jesus.
I feel such an unction right now as I type to pause and pray shame OFF of you who feel "what's wrong with me?" from a breakup. ***"So In Jesus name, I pray for the person reading this right now who has been illegally arrested with shame. If they've made choices not pleasing to You during a dating season I ask for repentance and forgiveness. Wash over them with Your love that cleanses and restores.
If they've had hard breakups that caused lies of "you missed it,” I uproot those lies of shame. May you walk in the joy of your obedience, and may the tarnish of the enemy be removed from your pure heart.
For those who face weariness of "will I ever be loved" - I ask you Jesus, to fill their standards with vision from You! Remind them of their first love to you, a love that fully satisfies. And teach them of their step right now." Amen.
You weren't created to live in trauma and drama. Peace is your portion in every area... including dating. Follow peace!
I have so many more thoughts, but we'll cap it at this amen. For those who desire to be married, I'm believing with you for a supernatural relationship with a delightful dating story and fruitful marriage for the Kingdom of God. And just remember, all of "this" dating, marriage, relationship stuff is a means to shape you more into Christ. Molding isn't always painless, but it produces some pretty beautiful vessels in the end. You Hear His Voice! Abby
***Don't Forget... The Cirkles are Cheering you on! ***P.S - I can not honor Ryan enough for the way he pursued me! He did so with such honor and patience and courage. If you are a guy PLEASE text, email, call, take him out for a steak to pick his brain. I remember before we dated, we were just friends and I gave him my phone number because a group of us were going to hang out. I didn't think anything of it. Yet he replied with, "A girl of your caliber deserves special treatment. When the time is right I'll ask you for your number." Cue the heart eyes. Being rejected never made me feel so loved. (Ha!) Standards are romantic to us Glory Gals and he set the tone realllll early in a way that caught my eye and gave me peace. ***I'll also note, he lasted about 3 weeks after that until asking me for my number :)