Over the weekend I had a conversation with a friend about courtship. This is a topic of conversation in our lives quite a bit right now. Partly because Sarah is, at seventeen and going into her senior year of high school, frequently asked, "Do you date?" or "Do you have a boyfriend?". When she says no she immediately gets this very puzzled look from the asker and the follow up question, "Why not?"
This is a fine question, but I would like to turn the tables and ask, "Why date?" For most of us the answer is literally a no brainer...because dating is what our society says in normal. Our culture dictates that dating is expected so there is no real thinking going into the process of dating. It's just the way it's done. But if we can agree, and we should, that the culture is not God oriented much less family friendly, then we have to know that the culture's way of doing things will not be God oriented or family friendly. And if we agree, and we should, that as Christians we have been given the task of reclaiming the culture...of remaking culture...then the topic of dating is something that cannot be a no brainer.
My sister Lisa started dating her husband when she was fourteen years old. Chuck has been my brother and part of my life for as long as I can remember.
But, and I shamelessly borrow this from Douglas Wilson's book "Her Hand in Marriage", just because someone survives a plane crash does not mean that we are advocates of plane crashes. Stories like Lisa and Chuck's are becoming more and more rare and the exception should not become our rule. And I think it is high time that God's people begin to question the rules and ways of dating because something other than Biblical wisdom seems to be driving the process.
So what does not dating look like? What does courtship look like? Well, remember up there I mentioned that my husband and I both come from dating backgrounds? Being perfectly honest...we've no idea :-) Actually, we have something of an idea but it isn't completely in focus. It's a work in progress, and thankfully we have a community of people around us that are living their stories of courtship and love and romance in front of us. Each story is different because while our lives all tell the same story...His story...we all live different chapters.
It has been said that modern dating is a training ground for divorce. People get their back up at this and emphatically disagree, but think about this a second. How do you comfort the friend or child that has just gone through a break up? By telling them that there is something better out there for them...someone better. We automatically condition ourselves to believe that there is someone better suited to us out there...someone better looking, or with a better sense of humor or who will love us better. At best dating plants seeds of discontent that will have to eventually be weeded out with much labor, or at worst it cultivates a very casual disposable view of relationships that will perpetuate itself repeatedly.
While we may not know exactly what it will look like there are a few things that we do already have figured out.
We believe that courtship is a time when two people, who are ready for marriage, explore whether they are suitable for each other. Having your daughter's boyfriend eating dinner with you every night is not the same thing as courting.
By ready for marriage we mean a few things. The obvious readiness to look for is maturity and that will be different for everyone.
For a young woman it is also about whether she is prepared to tend a home. If she cannot find her way around a kitchen, manage money and other practical duties that are a wife's work she has no business accepting anyone's suit. If she will work after she marries or go to college then she needs to be prepared for what it is like to juggle those things. While she is in school at home under the safety of her family she should have responsibilities so that she is training herself to do multiple task and do them well. She also needs to know how to work within a budget.
For a young man it is about being able to provide a home. As the father of four daughters, my husband will expect the young man who is interested in our girls to be able to, on paper, show that he is ready to provide a home and to care for a wife. My husband will want to know that the young man not only handles his money well but that he is aware of what it costs to have a home, no matter how modest, whether he buys or rents one. He has to have knowledge of what insurance cost, car maintenance, and what other living expenses are like. It's well and good for a young man to feel all warm and fuzzy about a girl, but if he cannot provide materially for a wife he has no business pursuing one.
Wise parents will be raising their children with the idea of marriage in the future. If a young man is taught from his early teens that he will want a wife one day and that he will have to provide for her then he is able to work toward that goal earning and saving money. Whether he will be eighteen or twenty eight when he finally meets her doesn't really factor into the plan...he'll be ready regardless. It is the same for a young lady. She is taught to love and tend home then she will have the skills needed to be a blessing to her future husband.
We believe that courting necessarily involves the parents and that there are steps in the process in the beginning between the young man and the girl's father that provide a measure of protection for the young woman. And this is a big deal. Ideally the young man will approach the father, who will spend as much time as he deems necessary to get to know him. He will evaluate what he knows and learns of the young man before it is ever brought to the young woman to decide whether or not she is willing to accept his suit. If the father sees any moral failing or poor character qualities then the young lady is spared possibly having her heart broken by a man who is not worthy of her.
Please also note that the father is not ultimately deciding who his daughter will marry. Many who object to the idea of courtship do so on the misguided belief that the process happens without any input from the girl and the father is dictating her life partner. The father is actually sparing her heartache or any awkwardness if she has no interest in the man.
Rather than try to cram more into this post I think next week I'll post a part two. What happens after the father has presented his daughter with the young man's suit and she is interested in getting to know him more?
Not everyone is going to "court," and I am not suggesting that it is the only way to find your spouse or that if you date you somehow love Jesus and your spouse less than the rest of us. I am saying, however, that Christians are crazy if they think doing it the way the world does will yield different results. The process of preparing for marriage must be redeemed.
A Few Follow Up Questions