Courting, someone wrote, is like a rose. It is beautiful. A special feeling for someone else… the first date and the first kiss. Growing love – who can describe it? Courtship is a high point in many a person's life.
When you pick a rose, however, you find out that it has thorns. Thorns, too, are experienced in one's courting days: disagreements and maybe even harsh words; the nagging feeling that you may not be fit for one another, followed by times at which you promise never to end the relationship.
Many couples could tell stories about the ups and downs in their growing pre-marital relationships. This summer I picked up a book entitled Fit To Be Tied (Zondervan Publishing House, Grand Rapids, 1991), by Bill and Lynne Hybels. The bulk of the book is about marriage and solving conflicts in marriage. The first part, however, deals with courtship. The authors use their personal experience to write about courtship and marriage. They recognize that many married couples sigh in despair, “I have married the wrong man/woman.” They state the twofold purpose in writing their book: “First, we want to help single people choose their marriage partners wisely… Second, we want to help married people stay married…”
In this article I would like to highlight some aspects of courtship which are described in the first few chapters. Therefore I dedicate this editorial to all the young people who are now or will be courting in the near future; to all those who experience courtship like a rose: beautiful and sometimes thorny.
A common treasure
Before you read the remaining part of this editorial, you should ask yourself the question: what should I look for in my future spouse? We all agree that the two should have the same faith. The authors call it spiritual compatibility and a common treasure. Why is it such a treasure? A common faith ensures “that every husband and wife can share that which is most precious to them with their spouse” (p. 48), that they can “tap into a common strength in the face of these inevitable adversities” (p. 52), and “that children can be raised by parents who share common values” (p. 54). The authors rightly quote 2 Corinthians 6:14-15,
“Do not be mismated with unbelievers. For what partnership have righteousness and iniquity? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what has a believer in common with an unbeliever?”
The authors correctly reject the argument that romance can be used for the purpose of evangelism. They state, “It is amazing how much disobedience flourishes under the guise of evangelism” (p. 47). Their advice: “Some of you are all wrapped up romantically with a person who doesn't share your faith. What do you do now? We hope that you will end the relationship” (p. 55).
I hope that you are still with me and have not put the paper away and muttered that you heard all this before. There is more to come, which may assist you in your courting days.
Having the same faith and showing true commitment to the LORD does not guarantee success in marriage. During the courting days the lovers must get to know one another's character, and must learn to communicate honestly. Such communication leads to intimacy, which is the key to resolving possible conflicts which may arise in marriage. If you have not communicated openly before marriage, it will not come automatically within marriage. The lack of open lines of communication during courtship will hamper solution of problems later on. This is not a minor matter!
The test of time
Chemistry. Physical attractiveness. Lovers know all about it. You long to see the one you love, to talk on the phone, to hear his or her voice… When love grows, the desire to get married and always be together increases. Take your time, the Hybels advise. Don't storm head over heels into marriage. Go slow. It takes time to get to know each other. Be patient. Talk, talk and then talk some more, about your background, your families, your childhood memories, your faith, your schooling, your plans, your expectations of marriage, your love for the LORD. In this way you will truly find out if you belong together and if you are able to start your life together. The time for dating should not be short.
There is another reason not to rush into marriage, although many dating couples may raise their eyebrows when reading about it. Don't just dismiss it. “Dating relationships must be submitted to the test of time so they can be affirmed by parents and Christian friends” (p. 80). “Ask your parents, your minister, your friends what they think of you as a couple. Seeking godly counsel is wise” (p. 82). Dating couples, have you ever invited other people's opinions about your relationship?
At the end of the section on courtship, the authors summarize it as follows, “Subject your relationship to the test of time. Find out whether your attraction is infatuation or lasting love. Test your partner's spirituality and character. See if your communication patterns continue to draw you closer together. Give parents and trusted friends time to observe your relationship and then take their input seriously” (p. 83-84).
And then what? Then you have to decide prayerfully if you continue your relationship and work toward your wedding day, or if you break up the relationship either temporarily or for ever. If you are not convinced that you are a good match, don't continue. If you come together to this conclusion, you can part as friends, and maintain contact as friends. If you are convinced that the LORD has brought you together and that you should spend your life together in marriage, continue to prepare for that. Ask the LORD for his blessing on your wedding day. You may be fully assured that He will guide your life in times of prosperity and adversity.
In the meantime, enjoy your courting days. It is a time you will never forget.