My heart is pretty full right now. When I posted my first post on this subject, I had no idea it would go where it did. And the stories just keep pouring in! For some of you, it was just nice to know that you aren't alone in your struggles. For others, it confirmed what you've always thought on the matter. And for many, it's left you thinking "Now what?"
I have been cautioned not to "jump from one ditch into the other" but I think that is a false dichotomy. There's a very wide road between those two ditches. Just because I decry the problems with courtship, doesn't mean that I think promiscuity to be the answer. The casual dating that our parents were trying to get away from has it's own set of damaging behaviors and issues. What we need to do is find a balance. How do we conduct our relationships in a way that honors God, honors the other person, and honors ourselves? That allows God to be God and lead in our lives, write our love stories?
I am not going to give you another formula. I don't think one exists, actually. But the scripture is full of teachings on how to interact as children of God. Every principle we need to have God-honoring relationships are outlined in the Bible. These have been called the "one-another" verses. I challenge each of you to get a concordance and look up the phrase "one-another" and see how many instructions there are in the New Testament regarding our interactions with each other. These verses will become your standard for how you conduct all your relationships, regardless of what those relationships are. They are the fleshing out of what it means to love God with all you are and to love your neighbor as yourself. The reason we follow these verses, the very crux of the issue, is summed up in Jesus' words "By this will all men know that You are my disciples, if you love one another".
Any relationship in your life will be God-honoring if these one-another verses are the standard under which you operate. Marriage, dating, parent-child, friend, and sibling relationships should all be conducted with these teachings in mind. Because, when all is said and done, we are all brothers and sisters in Christ, children of God, and every other relationship we have is secondary to this.
Consider verses like these:
"I urge you to live a life worthy of the calling you have received. Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love. Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through the bond of peace." Eph. 4:1-3
"Therefore, as God's chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Bear with one another and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you. And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity. Let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, since as members of one body you were called to peace. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God. And whatever you do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him." Col. 3:12-17
"If you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any fellowship with the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and purpose. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others." Phil. 2:1-4
"Love must be sincere. Hate what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love. Honor one another above yourselves. Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervor, serving the Lord. Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer. Share with God's people who are in need. Practice hospitality. Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse. Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn. Live in harmony with one another. Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position. Do not be conceited." Rom. 12:9-16
If this is the standard under which we are supposed to operate our relationships, how much more should we use this standard in our dating relationships? In our marriages? With the people who we are most intimate with?
One-anothering....it's what being children of God is all about.
If this seems rather vague and general to you....good! It's supposed to be. Because intertwined within following the one-another verses, is God writing your own story. Making it personal, individual, specific. I think He just likes to be creative in how He shows His glory and love to men. If you don't believe me, read your Bible. A fiery furnace. A lion's den. Talking bushes and donkeys. Healing blindness with spit and mud. Manna from heaven. Your story of God's grace and love toward you is no different. Let him be God and don't try to make formulas to control His working in your life.
This might seem scary, this stepping out in faith. Because it requires acting upon something that we can't see the end of or know where we might be taken in the mean time. What I said earlier bears repeating here: "...formula is the opposite of faith. Formula says "I will follow a God that I've put neatly in a box, to give me the desired results". Faith says "I will follow You even when I can't see where I'm going, even when the world is collapsing around me". Formula says "I will not risk, I will be in control of my future". Faith says "I will risk everything, I will trust Whom I cannot see, surrender what I cannot control anyway." Formula is the assurance of things planned for, the conviction of things seen. Faith is the assurance of things hoped for, the conviction of things not seen (Heb. 11:1). But we are afraid. So we control instead of trust. We don't take a step unless we can see where we're going. We build neat little formulas and say "THIS will keep me safe!" Then we blame God when our puny formulas fail."
Any system or teaching that promises a safe, packaged life is promising more than what Christ promised His followers. Actually, it would be promising the opposite. Jesus, in no unspecific terms, told his disciples that if they followed Him, their lives would be anything but safe. If He was trying to teach a prosperity gospel, He failed epically. He promised torture, tribulation, hatred from others, abandonment, ridicule, and all kinds of fun things. But He also promised abundant life, blessings, and intimacy with the God-who-is-love. He never promised ease and safety, but He did promise it would be worth it. I am very suspect of any teaching that promises the opposite of what Jesus Himself promised.
So love much. Risk sometimes. Step out and ask a girl you admire for a coffee date. Invest in other people. Give, expecting nothing in return. Bear one another's burdens. Love one another. Tell your story. Be honest, sincere, and genuine. Give abundant grace. Go talk to him. Be friendly. Be kind and compassionate. Abide in Him. Follow our crazy God. Live well. Live Jesus.