Some Questions Have Come Up

When I started the series on courtship I wasn’t sure what kind of feed back I would get, if any at all. I’ve been pleasantly surprised and happy to hear of the conversations people have been having on the topic because honestly, I think it is vital that Christians recover the ground lost on this front. I had planned to be finished after last week’s post but a friend read all three of the posts and brought up a couple of really great questions that I think warrant some discussion.
The first question is what does the young man do when the father of the girl in whom he is interested does not have as high of standards as the young man in terms of the courting process, the purity rules, etc.?
The idea of courtship for most of my generation (the forty something parents of the coming of age children) is a foreign one. Our parents came through the turbulent sixties and seventies during the so-called sexual revolution, and questioning and rebelling against authority was just all the rage. That doesn’t mean everyone was amoral, but the culture did shift – along with the way dating and marriage were viewed. Gaining a father’s permission was, and for the most part still is, a hat tip to a quaint old fashioned custom and really doesn’t mean much more than that.  For a young man with a courtship model in mind to approach a father who doesn’t share a general understanding of courtship probably isn’t that far fetched. 

I haven’t seen this directly addressed anywhere, but I believe the young man’s approach will be the same even though he may need to guide the process more firmly than he necessarily would if everyone was on the same page. I think he would do well to acknowledge his interest in the man’s daughter and ask if it would be possible for the two of them to meet on a regular basis so that, man to man, he may present his case as a worthy suitor. This is a respectful way to place the responsibility in the father’s court, with the knowledge for it to progress any further requiring the father to give his consent. Any young man who has a desire to court a young lady must do so with open hands, realizing that while he may be attracted to her, his own emotional attachment must be kept in check so that at any time the father may tell him no. He must be willing to go in with humility, understanding that the father has the right to deny him if he sees fit to do so. 

It’s entirely possible that the father may just shrug and say, “Sure, you can date her.”  I think wisdom would dictate a frank conversation with the father, and possibly the daughter as well, with regard to the structure of the relationship. Just because the father may not be taking his responsibility as seriously as he should does not relieve the young man of his responsibility to behave honorably. He would have to be willing to set the boundaries in place that would protect both himself and the young lady. 

Interestingly enough, we have some friends who have experienced this very situation. The father loved his daughter and wasn’t abdicating his authority in her life, but courtship was just a new idea to him. The story is that if her parents weren’t home, Justin would sit on a bar stool outside the kitchen window and talk with Jessica while she made cookies or tinkered around in the kitchen. When their families were stationed in different states and he would go for a visit he would always stay in a hotel instead of their home, and he never allowed Jessica to take him back to the hotel. He was protecting and honoring her from the very beginning even though it was a new way of doing things for her family. 

A follow up question was, what can a young woman who has a higher standard than her father do to both honor her father and her conscience? I don’t believe it would be dishonoring for a young lady to refrain from dating if she sees the value in preparing for marriage differently than her father sees it. She should offer him every opportunity to be as involved as he is willing to be. If her father has no definite opinion on the matter, then she must think very carefully about what she wants it to look like. She can be very clear in her standards and expectations with any potential suitors and only welcome the attention of the ones who are like minded. Again, as things progress she should be careful to include her father as much as he is willing to be involved, keeping communication open and honest between them. 

We’re not all going to have perfect fairy tale love stories. We don’t live in a perfect world. Life is messy, people are messy, relationships are messy. But somehow, when we seek to honor Christ in all we do, He is pleased to use our messiness to show His glory. 

Guarding Hearts Part One, Part Two, and Part Three


Guarding Hearts ~ Part Three

There’s not really much more that I want to add but I thought some final thoughts were in order as well as a couple of resources that could be helpful. I enjoyed the conversation and hope that it has been helpful to read and maybe jump started some conversation for you too.

In the very first post on courtship that I shared  a couple of weeks ago, I stated that just because you do or don’t date doesn’t mean you love Jesus any less than those who do or don’t court.  My aim has not been to draw lines in the sand and demand that we all do it the same way. What I want, what I’m after in these three post, is for us, the Church, to redeem the process of preparing for marriage. With recent court decisions and the way the political wind is blowing we must show that Christian marriage, and how it comes about, is sacred and holy. And that means we cannot do it the way the world does. 

Here’s the thing: Whether it is a redeemed way of dating that rejects the casual shallowness of the world or a more structured courtship, we have been given freedom to shine Christ into a dark world that does not know Him or His ways. No matter which mode you use, the process should cause the world to pause and question. It should look starkly different from what they experience and practice.

We all should be starting at the same point. Our lives, everything we do, is to bring honor and glory to our King. Our first thought in the process of finding and taking a wife or husband is that we glorify Christ…that we seek His good pleasure and use godly wisdom in dealing with matters of the heart. 
The building of a home has a common beginning…a strong structurally sound foundation. The layout, design and decorating of that home will not necessarily be the same as the one next door. I may not care for a particular floor plan in one house. Or I don’t like the design flow from one room to the next or the paint color in the kitchen. But if it isn’t my house it doesn’t matter whether I like it or not. I cannot insist that they move the front door over by six inches or use my favorite color of paint on the walls. There is no sin if their house just looks different from mine.
And there will be differences. Every family has a distinct culture that will shape the cultures that flow out of it. While there are some indisputable truths that should pass from generation to generation there is a lot that is just preference and “the way we’ve always done it.” We must be careful that we don’t judge one another based on those preferences but only take a stand when it contradicts those indisputable truths.
I say all of that because our hearts are prone to pride and self deceit. Our duty is to wage war against a world that says family doesn’t matter, that marriage is meaningless, that it doesn’t matter what we do with our bodies as long as we don’t hurt anyone else. The enemy sought to destroy the created order but Christ has come and through His death has put it back to rights. Our calling as His followers is to continue the now and not yet process of redeeming the culture.
I mentioned earlier that I would share a few resources that deal with dating and courtship. One of my favorite books on the subject is Her Hand in Marriage by Douglas Wilson. Several years ago Rob and Sarah read this together and we’ve all since reread it separately. This is a great book if you think that anyone who speaks of courtship automatically slams dating…Pastor Wilson doesn’t and it’s full of sound Biblical wisdom.

Another good read is Voddie Baucham’s What He Must Be…If He Wants to Marry My Daughter. This book is a good read whether you have a daughter and you want her to know what sort of young man to look for, or a son that you want to train up as a godly husband.

There is more that can and should be said on this topic. My prayer is that you will start the conversation in your world, with your family and your church…and that we would all enter the battle armed and ready to fight because family does matter, marriage does mean something, and what we do with our bodies is important.

Guarding Hearts Part One
Guarding Hearts Part Two

Guarding Hearts ~ Part Two

I think as we continue our conversation on courtship it would be helpful if we remembered to view courtship as part of a whole. Our position on courtship and dating are part of the bigger overall picture of our family way. It’s not a subject that exists in a separate compartment that comes up only when our children reach a certain age. It is fertilized and finds it’s roots in our family’s theology of life.

Because each family has it’s own distinct culture courtship, stories will be varied, illustrated by the personalities of the individuals involved. While I expect a certain amount of similarities among the tales of love and romance for my five children, I also expect that no two stories will be written in just the same way.

However, there are certain non-negotiables that we’ll work from that will be the same for all of them. Our children, being raised in covenant households as believers, will not be allowed to court or marry unbelievers. A teenager’s social life, especially in the heart department, is not a mission field. We do not seek to win the lost by allowing our children to have romantic relationships with them in the hopes that they will turn to Christ. It is far more likely that our own children’s heart would be led astray. And since I know that many of you are already gearing up with the “But I know a couple” stories where one or the other was not a believer that came to know God through that relationship, I ask that you remember what I said last week. The exception does not become our rule. Just because we know someone that has survived swimming with the sharks doesn’t mean that we should throw our children into those waters.

This will also be a no contact sport. Until a ring is on a finger, there will be no hand holding, no kissing, no nothing. (Total sidebar: do any of you remember that 80’s song by the Georgia Satellites, Keep Your Hands to Yourself? I always liked that song.) It seems inconceivable that we would expect this from our children in this day and age. This is shocking and radical behavior even among the most devout evangelicals. But it really isn’t. It’s smart and safe. There are two phases to this and they both have the same starting place. Physical attraction is designed by God and is quite powerful. It is beyond foolish to think that somehow because our children know better and are Christians that they aren’t tempted.

Courtship is not the same as engagement and it is a time when clear thinking is sorely needed. Physical activity can blur the thinking and cloud judgement during a time when a couple is searching out whether they are suitable for each other. I know the question begs to be asked, how will they know if they’re physically compatible if they never touch, if they never kiss? I have a better question. Why wouldn’t they be physically compatible? Physical attraction is already a given because one really doesn’t enter into any stage of courtship if one finds the other physically repulsive. So why wouldn’t a young lady thrill to the young man’s touch if she has already found him to be attractive, trustworthy and honorable enough to consider marrying? Why would he not want and enjoy kissing her if he has already determined that her worth is far above rubies?

Sex is a part of any romantic relationship…couples will have sex – the question is whether it will be honorably or dishonorably. We can do a lot to help make sure that it is experienced without regret and shame and with honor. Even after a ring has been given and accepted strong and sturdy boundaries should be in place for the protection of the couple. Wisdom tells us that alone time should be limited and handled with great care.

So, with our chief end being to glorify God, as we walk the road of courtship with our children and those two load bearing walls in place let’s talk a little about what we’d like to have happen next. My husband will have essentially vetted the young man and given him permission to press his suit with our daughter. If she has no interest, Rob will let the young man know and she is spared any awkwardness. If, however, she does have an interest then we will all sit down together and lay out what expectations are. By “we” I mean everyone including his parents, so that we’re all on the same page. We hope for both families to spend as much time together as we can. Everyone is better able to give counsel to their respective offspring by watching how each family interacts and is governed. There is wisdom in a multitude of counselors and insight is gained by getting to know how each family functions.

Time apart from everyone will be done according to the discretion of my husband. Whether they are allowed to be alone from the rest of the family on the front porch, going on walks or the young man picking up and driving our daughter somewhere will be established by her father. This may seem like overkill and ridiculous to some but my husband’s job is to protect our daughter. I wonder how many christian fathers look at the messes their daughters have ended up in and wished they had done a better job protecting her?

This is a heavy responsibility on the father and a lot of trust is required from the daughter to rest easy in his decisions. A godly father will have shown himself to be seeking only her good all of her life. She will trust that he will withhold no good thing from her, so while it may not be easy to go at his pace she will yield to him in good faith.

Rather a fitting way to enter a marriage, don’t you think?

Guarding Hearts Part One

Guarding Hearts

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.

Let me begin by saying that I dated. My husband dated. And yes, we survived. But we survived with a lot of drama and heartache that was not necessary. I realize that having your heart broken a time or three is like a right of passage in our world but every relationship leaves you with baggage. And even little stones add up to a cumbersome and heavy burden after a while.

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.

Part Two 
Part Three
A Few Follow Up Questions