Couples Are Still Singles11:38 AM
It's a funny thing, dating. (Or courting, if you prefer semantics.) Dating relationships wind up the most intimate -- physically, spiritually, and emotionally -- yet they seem the most volatile as well. Nobody asks me, "So how are you and your sister Bethany doing?" They assume that the sister relationship stays relatively static as far as commitment and stability.
Not so with dating relationships. Doubts, questions, talk of breaking up -- these plagues rock that relationship boat. Significant others develop into best friends, close confidants, sources of spiritual comfort and strength. Yet there is more lack of commitment there than in any other relationship. One party can simply (though painfully) say, "You're not the one for me. I'm done. There's somebody else. God told me." And then just walk away into another relationship. No one can accuse that person of adultery or unfaithfulness if the reasons seem legitimate.
It's a love held gingerly, something so fragile, something hoped to turn into the reality of a life-long commitment. Until then, the couple walks on eggshells.
I find it difficult to apply the wisdom of Scripture to dating relationships. There seems to be only two stages mentioned -- betrothal and marriage. And obviously, that was the culture of the time. No couple grabbed coffee at Starbucks to get to know each other better. Both relationships were backed by a promise, a commitment, a vow. That stability made the relationship real, serious. It made love easier -- no awkward in between stage of wondering if the love of your life could leave you at a moment's notice with no legal or spiritual ramifications. Love flourishes under commitment.
In any case, I was reminded by a recent course of events that dating couples cannot enjoy the benefits of the commitment without the actual commitment -- how totally free expression of touch, emotion, and future plans together cannot exist without that commitment. Not merely should not but cannot -- the threat of splitting up makes it difficult to plan a marriage or a life together.
It was good for me to take a step back and realize, "Wait. I'm still single." Which seems an odd thing to focus on, but the implications are huge for accepting that identity as still single in a relationship.
Take a look at this interesting verse: "And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. ... I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord" (1 Corinthians 7:34-35). Actually, just go and read the entirety of chapter 7. Wrestle with the seemingly paradoxical things Paul says.
Here's what I'm seeing: Until a couple says "I do," they need to strive for the mindset, the goals, and the activities of a single person. Paul flat-out assumes that the betrothed woman -- someone in a much more committed position than a girl "in a relationship" -- cares about the same thing the unmarried woman cares about: a passion for the Lord and personal holiness. Only the married men and women get the excuse of having divided passions between their spouse and the Lord. Only the married people. And if a couple singles start getting distracted and passionate and sexually tempted, they ought to marry ASAP -- because only married people can claim those divided passions.
Well, what if a couple finds themselves in the twenty-first century where modern life makes relationships awkward -- committed dating relationships with no ring or binding promise, college delaying marriage, financial reasons and cultural expectations and the price of milk making it difficult, if not impossible, to get married as soon as the couple starts burning with passion? Two options: (1) take a risk and get married in school and pool financial resources to barely scrape by. (That sounds negative, but actually can work quite well. See Candice Watters' piece, "Is It a Bad Idea to Get Married in College?" here.) OR (2) stop burning with passion. In other words, stop striving for the mindset, the goals, and the activities of married people when you've got to wait several years until marriage becomes financially viable and parentally approved.
What is the mindset of married people? It's anxious about earthly things -- pleasing their spouse. What is the mindset of single people? Solely pleasing the Lord.
I saw myself as excused from embracing only the single mindset because of this dating relationship. But I am not married. I am not even betrothed. I am single. I am currently devoted to Christ. I am currently pursuing a relationship with Him first. His desires and His needs and His commands come first in my life.
Single people in dating relationships, ponder these questions:
Do you spend more time in prayer and Scripture meditation than you do texting, talking, or Skyping with your significant other? Does your dating relationship prevent you from serving in your church, pursuing God-given dreams, and ministering to others? Are you currently defined by your relationship to your significant other or by your relationship to Christ? Do you feel pressured to compromise the pursuit of purity in order to please your significant other? Jesus' commands to flee sexual immorality come first.
In simple words, does your relationship to Christ come before your relationship to your girlfriend or boyfriend? If not, fix it. With the grace of God. Because until you approach the marriage altar and pledge yourselves to each other, you are held responsible to pursue God full-heartedly as a single person.