Tuesday, January 19, 2010

Advice on Courtship

Not too long ago, a lovely young lady wrote me.  She was just beginning a courtship relationship with a young man.  She wanted to know if I had any advice on guidelines for proper courtship.  I have had some first-hand experience with this.  My wife and I courted without really knowing what we were doing at the time.  My oldest daughter courted a young man, is now married, and we are expecting our first grandchild.  My oldest son is in a courtship relationship now.  And with five more daughters and another son, I imagine courtship will be something of a continual exercise at our house.

So here is the advice I shared with this young lady plus an additional thought or two I have had since then:

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  • You will pretty quickly figure out you are crazy about one another. But before you make plans for activities, stop and think about family first. You need to court one another's family as well. When the time comes for you to get married, your family is giving up a daughter. Their time with you is especially precious right now -- even more so if you have been away from home for a while.
  • Work on developing relationships with his parents and siblings even when he is not around. When you get married, you marry one another's family, too. 
  • When my daughter and son-in-law were courting, I asked Donald to always clear plans with me before inviting her to something. That way, if we already had plans to do something as a family, I didn't have to look like the bad guy who had to tell Melody that she needed to go with us instead of doing something with Donald that day. If your young man will clear things with your Dad even before asking you, then it will help him build your father's respect for him and will also help avoid potential conflicts and hurt feelings that can so easily arise during courtship.
  • During the courtship -- prior to engagement -- focus on spiritual unity. This is a great time for the young man to demonstrate his ability to be a spiritual leader. Before you listen to what men will say about different subjects, it would be good to make sure you are both on the same page about what God says. So here's some specific projects you might do together:  
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with finances. Make an outline about what God says about finances.
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with marriage. Make an outline about what God says about marriage.
    • Find every verse in Proverbs that deals with parenting. Make an outline about what God says about parenting and children.
    • Try to not discuss specific details about wedding plans until after you are actually engaged. Otherwise you short-circuit some of the spiritual unity you need to be developing.
    • It is good if you can occasionally have some joint-family activites that involve both families. It helps for your entire family to know his family better -- that helps them to better get to know your beau.
    • Younger siblings often struggle during this time. They perceive that they are losing a brother or sister who is their best friend. So spend time cultivating your relationships with your own siblings -- strengthen those relationships as much as possible before you are married.
    • Journal what you are doing and thinking during this time. It will be a treasured memory and may allow you to give insight to others in the future.
    • Over-communicate. The devil loves to interfere with courtship by having problems arise through missed communications. NEVER DEAL WITH CONFLICTS IN WRITING (EMAIL, LETTERS, ETC.). Conflict will arise as families are adjusting to new situations. Make sure these are discussed in person when possible, on the phone when not possible -- but never in writing. Written words can stay around for a long time to hurt. The more you communicate with everyone, the less likely there will be problems.
    • Daily pray (together) over your courtship. Ask God to put a hedge around it and to make Himself known in the midst of it. Journal how God provides specific answers to prayer. One of the surest confirmations that a courtship is right -- outside of mutual parental approval -- is to see that God is working out the details of your lives together and answering specific prayers.
    • Be careful about your physical proximity to one another. There are actually two reasons for this.
      • Being too close together -- particularly if unchaperoned -- can present real temptations to both the young man and the young woman that could result in a loss of focus on spiritual priorities.  It could lead to physical intimacy that violates the spirit of courtship.  Worse yet, it could lead to loss of sexual purity prior to marriage.  My daughter and her husband practiced a "Bible's distance" between them when courting.  They derived the standard from another family that practiced the same thing. Watching my son-in-law practice this during courtship led me to have a great appreciation for his self-control and personal discipline.  It caused me to respect him all that much more.  I know that my daughter will enjoy the blessings of the life lived with a man who understands the principles of moderation and self-control and that she will only grow to respect him more as time goes on.
      • Each of us has a "personal zone" of intimacy that extends about 24 to 30 inches away from our bodies.  People enter the zone because they have something intimate to give to us.  Perhaps they lean in close to tell us the secret, or to give us a hug or a kiss.  Some of us have the zones that extend further out than others.  However, we are all aware of the personal zone around other people.  If a young man and woman are seen together in public as being inside one another's personal zone, it often makes others feel uncomfortable -- as though they are witnessing a level of intimacy to which they should not be privy.  For that reason the concept of personal space in is especially important when in public.  People are watching young couples who court to see if courtship really works and if it is really different at all from dating.
      • When I see a young couple inside one another's personal space, with eyes locked upon one another, and the young lady's hands on the young man's jacket (or the young man's hand and the young lady shoulder), I feel I am witnessing something private and intimate between two people that should not be in front of me.  Public displays of intimacy and affection often make others around the couple feel uncomfortable.  Also, young couples who believe in courtship need to embrace a set of godly standards for their behavior so that younger adults and children around them and have a good example of deportment that they can follow in the future.  (I have had many people tell me that my daughter and her husband encouraged them by the example they set during courtship.)
      • Remember that we are not to place a stumbling block before other Christians.  If other young couples are less spiritual or are less committed to courtship, your behavior should not be anything that could cause them to stumble into compromise or moral failure.
      • The question should be this: If Jesus were in the room right now with me and the one I am courting, how would my behavior change?  Let that be a constant guide to you.
    • Set a reasonable curfew for conversations.
      • It is true that the devil loves darkness.  There is nothing that can be said after 11:00 PM between a courting couple they could not have been said prior to that time.  In fact, since courtship is supposed to focus on spiritual activities (followed by planning for a life together during the engagement phase), it is usually counterproductive to a couple's spiritual growth to engage in intimate conversation so late at night -- just before going to bed.
      • While you are still at home, your family relationships are paramount.  Make sure you get off the phone with the one you are courting early enough that you can say goodnight to your siblings -- hopefully after having some time for conversation or prayer with them.
      • Ask your parents what they think an appropriate time boundary is for speaking to the one you are courting, and honor their wishes in this matter.  This will bring you the blessing of God.
    • Determine when it is appropriate to initiate a conversation. Be sensitive to cultural differences between families.
      • Times have changed, but I do not always change with the times.  When I was fourteen, my father made me break up with my girlfriend because she would call me several times each day.  He said that it was inappropriate for young lady to call a young man.  This broke my heart, but I now realize that he was wise.  This young lady was emotionally needy because she did not have a good relationship with her father.  She needed to work on that relationship so that she could have a more effective relationship with her future husband.  Also, she should not have been giving her heart to first one guy and then another at so young an age as sixteen.
        • I have maintained the old-fashioned belief that the man is the one who should initiate communications, rather than the young lady.  In general, I believe God designed a man to be the initiator of the relationship.  The apostle Paul tells us that marriage between a husband and wife is an analogous relationship to that between Jesus Christ and his church.  Jesus initiated the relationship.  He sought out sinners -- sinners did not seek out Christ.  In fact, Jesus made it plain that no one would come to the Father unless the Holy Spirit of God drew them.  Even in the wedding ceremony, the man always enters the auditorium first to symbolize the fact that he is the initiator of the relationship.  It is men who are supposed to propose to the women.
        • I do not know that this principle was recorded anywhere, nor do I have a chapter and verse of Scripture for the same.  But whenever I hear a young woman calling a young man, I perceive her as being in pursuit of the young man -- rather than his being in pursuit of her.  Now obviously, after marriage a wife often hands need to talk to her husband numerous times each day and it is perfectly appropriate for her to call him.  However, during courtship it seems to me that a young lady calling a young man puts her in the position of the pursuer -- the position that I believe God designed for the young man.
        • I did not communicate this concept to my daughter, but she seemed honor it intuitively.  She wanted the young man who was courting her to initiate communications and to call her.  She would only call Donald when I instructed her to call him for a specific purpose.  Otherwise, she would wait until he called her.  If he was working late he might actually miss a call one night.
      • However, my main point here is not whether it is appropriate for young lady to call or not.  I certainly have no verse or scripture that says it is a sin for her to do so.  And perhaps, in her family, it is a perfectly acceptable activity.  The real point is this -- you need to be sensitive to cultural differences between families and not do those things which would cause them to perceive you unfavorably.  So if that family would think it inappropriate for you to call, then you should make other arrangements for communicating with the one you are courting.  For example, you could call him earlier in the day when he was not with his family.  Or you could send a signal -- perhaps a single ring on his phone followed by your hanging up -- to let him know that you are at home and near your phone whenever he has a moment to call.  Or you can set up a scheduled time for him to call and know that if he does not call by certain time, he will call the next morning.
      • This requires that you ask the one you are courting if his family has expressed any concerns or adheres to any standards of which you are unaware.  By being sensitive to the fact that your families have cultural differences, you can improve your relationships with his family and avoid unnecessary irritations.
    • Never assume that the young man you are courting has properly communicated with his family about planned or scheduled activities.  Young men are often busy with their jobs and other social relationships and failed to communicate to their parents adequately.  It is always appropriate when your family is extending an invitation for the young man to come and do something for you to communicate that imitation and the details around it to the family of your beau.
    • Do not forget to focus attention on the young man's family.  It is easy to get so wrapped up in one another, that you forget the purpose of courtship is also to get to know one another's families.  If you go sometime without communicating with them, they may feel as if your future relationship to them is no longer important.  Constantly cultivate your relationship with his family.  It will make future Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners so much more enjoyable.
    While these tidbits of advice were given to a young lady, you can take almost every point and apply them to a young man who is courting a young lady. 

    As a parent, I would like to offer one final observation.  One of the goals of courtship is to secure the blessing of both sets of parents for your marriage.  Parents are not perfect.  They do not always have reasons for things that you will understand.  But you should honor them.  There is an interesting story in the book of Genesis.  Abraham took his only son Isaac -- who was about twenty years old at the time -- to Mount Moriah where they would build an altar and worship God.  Unbeknownst to Isaac, God had told Abraham to sacrifice his only son on the altar they would build.  On the way up the mountain, Isaac bore the wood for burning the sacrifice on his own back.  At some point during the journey, he asked his father, "where is the animal we will sacrifice?" Abraham replied, "The Lord will provide a sacrifice." After they had constructed an altar on top of Mount Moriah, Isaac put the wood on top of the altar.  Then Abraham ordered his son to lay upon the altar where his father bound him with cord.

    Surely Isaac understood as he lay upon the altar ritually bound with cords, that he was the intended sacrifice.  The fascinating detail about the story is in what the Bible does not say.  The Bible does not record that he questioned his father, or his methods or motives.  He simply obeyed.  The Bible does tell us in the New Testament that Abraham believed that God would raise Isaac up from the dead again after he offered his son as a sacrifice.  But we do not really know what went on in the mind of Isaac.  He simply obeyed.  If you are courting, let me encourage you -- to the greatest degree possible -- to honor the wishes of your parents with respect to the standards of your courtship.  It may be that your parents do not really care about how you conduct your courtship.  Or it may be that they have very definite feelings on a number of topics surrounding your courtship -- some of which they may have developed due to their own premarital experience.

    There is a great temptation when you are courting to say in your spirit, "I am an adult now.  I have my own job.  I am starting my own family.  I am going to do this my way."  However, you risk damaging relationships that you should be able to enjoy for the rest of your married life.  Moreover, as we honor our parents, we get the blessing of God.  In fact, the first commandment that ever carried with it a promise was the commandment to honor your parents.  Consider carefully whether yielding a few personal freedoms or adhering to a few standards -- even if they do not make sense to you -- is worth receiving the blessings of God and the blessings of your parents toward your future marriage.  Your attitude during courtship will affect the attitude of your family and the family of the one you are courting.  Consider carefully your response to issues that arise.  A wrong response can lend a parent in ways more deeply than you can imagine.

    May God move upon the hearts of more young people to adopt courtship rather than dating as their preparation for marriage.  May God help young courting couples to build lasting ties to their families and serve as a lasting example of godliness and righteousness to others.

    To you parents with children of courtship age, let me encourage you to love your children unconditionally -- even during the inevitable conflicts that will arise during the process of courtship.  If you love your children, giving them up to someone else will be the hardest thing you ever get to do as a parent.  They are essentially taking their hearts -- which you have worked so hard to win and to keep -- and giving them to someone else.  In one day, you will go from HERO to ZERO.  In one day, you can go from their very best friend to someone they will probably never even call unless it is a special occasion or they have a particular problem.  I have never jumped off a cliff into the ocean, but I think I know how it feels.  Our family has been unusually blessed with the addition of my new son Donald.  And I know we will experience a similar blessing with a young lady who will become my new daughter.  But while you gain these blessings, you are giving up others.  So my heart goes out to you.  You will undoubtedly experienced some hurts, some disappointments, and some frustrations during this time.  Give your expectations to the Lord and your love to your children.  Try to let your children leave home without slamming the door behind them.  And pray like crazy!


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