Boy meets girl. He likes her. She probably likes him. At least, they get along smashingly. They joke with each other at church. They agree on C. S. Lewis and covenant theology. Slowly, slowly, this boy starts wondering what on earth to do with the funny feelings. Being a good Christian kid, he waits for a sign. Prays. Tries to figure out all her virtues and vices from afar to make sure they could tolerate one another for at least fifty years. Doesn't dare get too friendly with her now -- doesn't want to get her hopes up, isn't sure she's the one just yet. Then he decides that, yes, yes, yes, he doesn't like the look of a future without her. So he does some more figuring -- does she like him? What if she doesn't? What if she does? What if it doesn't work out? How is he supposed to know? Why on earth is God so slow on delivering that sign? How is he supposed to guard his heart if he isn't 100% certain they will walk the aisle in a year's time?
Don't laugh, reader. We've all wondered the same thing. How do we know...without taking the relationship for a test drive and collecting a few bangs and bruises?
Since I witness excessive PDA and freshman romance as part of the college package, I think about these books, these love songs, these people who opine on guarding one's heart and finding the right one. I see relationships start. I see them crumble. I see them stay steady. And I think hard about this, because what if someone special shatters the air with the stunning realization that hey, he just might like me? No way do I want to mess things up.
That's why I question the Conservative Christian Standards of Dating and Courtship (CCSODAC, for short). Despite groundbreaking efforts, bad stuff still happens to good kids -- even to those who court. Relationships end. Hearts break. Wrong decisions happen. The looming figures of singleness in Christian circles frighten us to pursue a safer, surer way of marrying ourselves off.
Marriage is serious. Relationships are scary. And God forgot to add a relationship guide after the last map in the Bible.
One major problem: life doesn't work like a function -- plug in the numbers for x, watch for the little black mathematical box churn out the correct answer...or however functions work. Forgive my indifference to calculus.
Many (most? all?) of CCSODAC's slogans stem from human attempts to save couples from trouble, heartache and sticky situations. Guarding one's heart. The slow giving away of one's heart that leaves preteen girls terrified that their five-year-old backyard crushes stole every last little bit of their heart and soul. Figuring out if s/he is The One before entering the relationship. Waiting for a sign, a word from God. Nowhere do these ideas show up in Scripture. Prudence, accountability, seeking God's will -- yes, absolutely, and to be fair, many of CCSODAC's ideas probably started with these in mind. Love is no license for stupidity, though it often seems to end that way.
Really, it seems lovers fret more about getting hurt and losing it all than pursuing God's will. We have this rigid idea that all dating/courtship relationships must end in marriage or else the relationship fails. God would never lead a couple into such close quarters only to break them up. God wants us to know His will. God wants us to make the right decisions -- a.k.a. the ones that lead to marriage and five kids.
Is our view of God's will so limited as all that?
I came to realize that many of my so-called Biblical ideas about guarding my heart and keeping a steady head were all about shunning heartache. I desperately didn't want to get hurt. I didn't want to look like an idiot, admitting to the Facebook world that Bailey was in a relationship with so-and-so only to have to delete it six months later after that relationship fell through. I wanted love easy.
Everyone wants this. Especially parents. That's why the courtship movement appeals to so many people -- parents don't want their sons and daughters crying their hearts out over a lost love. They don't want to see their kids go through the pain of break-up -- not like they did back in the '60's and '70's when love came cheap and short. The kids themselves -- they want that happily ever after dream. And they're willing to do the right thing -- anything, really -- to make sure they don't wreck a promising prospect.
This mindset of avoiding pain and heartache under the guise of "guarding one's heart" and "seeking God's best" leads to two problematic scenarios in Christian culture.
Scenario 1: Everyone becomes petrified. It's interesting to watch how different couples with different levels of exposure to CCSODAC go about starting relationships. Those who know enough about it to be careful and respectful usually start relationships rather earlier than others. They get a bad rap for appearing most like the world in the area of dating, but really, they one-up all the other relationships with their sincerity and simplicity. Those who subscribe to CCSODAC wholeheartedly usually wait and wait and wait and wait and wait, and it doesn't surprise me so many of CCSODAC's subscribers marry late or not at all. In other words, guys don't ask girls out. Relationships don't get started. They don't even get a chance.
Scenario 2: In order to technically abide by CCSODAC, special relationships get relabeled as something less than they really are. We call it Hillsdating where I come from. Maybe or maybe not they admit they like each other. In any case, the couple texts 24/7, hangs out all the time, attends school dances together, monopolize the other's time -- but they are only "just friends," technically speaking. That's where heartache breeds -- where a special relationship forms but never gets acknowledged, never gets supervised, never gets serious. It's irresponsible. It's confusing. It's a clear sign the two need to break up or get hitched. Good Christian kids do this because it seems safer to be "just friends" before plunging into a relationship even though everyone and his second cousin knows it's more than that.
I don't pretend to know how to start a relationship properly. I've never been in one, though I have been hurt and know just as well as anyone else how much I hate it. Still, I think we ought to broaden our scope of God's will and trust more in His sovereign power to make marriages happen. It's no excuse to be a fool and line up a whole string of exes. It does mean that we behave honorably toward those we crush on, either pulling away, settling into real just friends or asking that girl out. It does mean that we recognize God's will may include a broken relationship despite our best attempts and prayers. And it means that even when our dreams crash, our God gives grace sufficient for the day. That -- not CCSODAC -- is the key to successful relationships.