Before You Jump: Questions About Dating, Engagement, and Breaking Up

by Spencer Harmon
by Spencer Harmon

The turmoil caused by dating still makes my stomach churn.  Man was not made to be alone, and so God created woman so that they could be together (Genesis 2:18).  But it was the in-between phase – the phase where I was trying to figure out who to be together with – that made me queasy.  The restlessness brought by yearning for a companion; the self-inflicted duress fueled by the advice of older married peers; the sheer confusion of figuring out if that person is the person (and how do I know for sure?).

For me, the tension was in maintaining the balance.  How do I balance physical attraction and inward beauty?  How do I balance finding someone who is different enough to complement me and yet also ensuring we are compatible?  How do I balance the encouragement from a couple I respect and also ensure that I’m not dictated by the advice of others?  How do I know for sure?

To add to the confusion, the Bible doesn’t give detailed instructions on how to navigate every nuance of dating.  Although the Bible has much to say about purity, marriage, and relationships, the Bible isn’t a dating guide.  The Bible does not work like your GPS on your phone when it comes to dating.  Instead, the Bible gives us categories that we must think deeply about and apply to our lives.  God has given Christians categories through which we can process our most complex issues – even the issue of whether or not you should marry someone.

Perhaps you are in a relationship, and you feel your stomach churning, too.  You care deeply about the person you are with, but you know how serious marriage is, and the commitment makes your head turn.  What was once an exhilarating  adventure of learning about someone else, has become a tangled knot of responsibility and decision-making.  Now, you are seeking to make the decision of whether you should run into or out of this relationship.  Or maybe your stomach is not churning at all, and you aren’t concerned about running at all.  You are coasting with no direction, and you need to get going.  You need to decide  which direction to run or at least to begin running.  Before you make this decision, consider these three categories:

  1. Foundation: Fear or Faith?

Faith is the beating heart of the Christian.  By it we are brought into the family of God (Romans 3:28), and without it we cannot please God (Hebrews 11:6).  It is the posture of the heart that has been made right with God, and the lifeblood that animates our lives.

God loves faith, and throughout our life he is always putting us in situations where it must be exercised.  Prayer, suffering, persecution, and leadership are just a few areas God calls his people to practice faith.  When we bleed faith in a hard circumstance we show the world that God is a rock that is a worthy place to build our lives (1 Peter 3:14-16).

As you consider your next steps in your relationship, look down at your feet and examine whether you stand on the rock of faith or the sand of fear.  Remember that fear or faith can motivate you towards or away from a relationship.  You may know that your relationship needs to end, but you won’t end it because you fear what your mutual friends may think.  But instead of fearing man, God would call you to break up by faith – trusting that God will care for your cares and those of your significant other (1 Peter 5:6-8).  Or, you may need to move your relationship towards engagement, but you are paralyzed by the fear of commitment and the unknown terrain of marriage.  But instead of fearing the unknown, God would call you towards engagement by faith – trusting that the promise of his presence with you through the unknown will sustain you (Isaiah 41:10).

Fear kills relationships.  We will never experience full and lasting relationships if they are in the death-grip of fear.  The God who knows all things and orchestrates them for the good of his people is calling you to build your relationship by faith in his goodness.

  1. Vision: Man’s World or God’s World?

Christian couples are pilgrims traveling through Babylon as citizens of the New Jerusalem (Philippians 3:20).  There are obvious dangers to avoid: impurity, idolatry, neglecting community.  These are the sins that derail and end relationships.

But before we discuss the pitfalls along the road, we must ensure we are reading the right map.  The temptation for many of us is far more subtle.  The temptation is to let our vision of dating be informed by man’s world rather than God’s world.  This is significant because our vision of dating creates our expectations for dating.  If our expectations are informed by a system in rebellion against God (1 John 5:19), our relationships will be stained with upside-down values – prioritizing short-term, second rate things that will leave you bitter, disappointed, and impossible to please.

As you consider whether or not you should move forward, ask yourself this question: are my thoughts and concerns about our future informed and motivated by God’s Word of man’s world?  Perhaps you value the way her body looks more than you value the inward person of her heart (Proverbs 31:30); perhaps you care more about his charisma than his character (1 Peter 3:7); perhaps you care more about pleasing the person in front of you rather the the Person who is always with you (Isaiah 2:22).  These are the disproportionate values are of Babylon – the world in rebellion against God.  Is your mind being transformed from these values or conformed to these values?

The most radical thing a Christian couple can do for one another is to prioritize the fruits of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22) rather than the fruits of the serpent.  Consider which fruit your heart is cultivating before you take the next step.

  1. Expectation: Comparison or Contentment?

Comparison is poison that will eventually affect every part of your relationship.  This poison will infuse your relationship with unrealistic expectations for your significant other, and will cloud your thinking from seeing them for who they really are.  Comparison has an utopian expectation for relationships that God never promised in a fallen world, and it compels us to run when we should stay.

The problem with comparison is that it will never have enough.  Even if you were to end your relationship because you believe there may be something better, you won’t find it.  If you are seeking to find heaven with your spouse, you are trying to find the voice in an echo, the ocean in a stream, the city in a signpost.

Comparison ultimately dishonors God by limiting God’s creativity to your own box of preferences.  God’s creation of your significant other is unique, and not meant to be limited by our sinful expectations.  Our expectations must be expanded by a breathe of God’s fresh air from his Word.  Experience God’s creative pleasure in letting contentment inform your relationships.  God intends for you to experience joy in your significant other through the differences, and sanctifying you through living with another person in an understanding way (1 Peter 3:7).  But you will only experience those differences by growing in your contentment in who God has made others to be, and not giving advice to God in who he should have made your future spouse to be.

Growth Through the Churning

Believe it or not, the churning in your stomach is a vehicle of growth.  God means to grow you through all different types of trials (James 1:2-4).  God also grows us through taking a step of trust in him even when we don’t feel it, but are acting in faith (James 1:25).  Check your foundation, adjust your vision, and inform your expectations, and make your move in faith.  And know that God promises his presence with you, through this decision, and every other one after that.

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