Saturday, September 3, 2011
What is courtship?
Whenever someone asks me what courtship is, I always suggest reading Boy Meets Girl: Say Hello to Courtship by Joshua Harris. One of my favorite books by one of my favorite authors, Boy Meets Girl challenges its readers to rethink romance. Harris explains his decision to hold on romance until he was ready for marriage. Taking it even a step further, he challenges his readers to evaluate the right way to romance.
Everyone has all kinds of questions about romance. How will I meet my spouse and get married? When is the right time for romance? How will I know if he/she is my future spouse? How do I have a Godly romantic relationship? What’s appropriate and inappropriate for a pre-marital relationship? That's the intent behind this post: to explore these questions and to re-introduce a new way to romance. You'll see me reference Boy Meets Girl quite often. That’s because this book has unparallel wisdom in romance. And from now on, you'll hear me refer to courtship as "purposeful romance" and to dating as "recreational romance." I'll explain why later on.
So what is courtship? Is it “Christian dating”, an old-fashioned custom, or something entirely different? In Boy Meets Girl, Harris wrote, "Courtship is a relationship between a man and a woman who are actively and intentionally together to consider marriage" (p. 27). Keeping in mind our new definition of courtship (purposeful romance), we understand that courtship is a romantic relationship with a defined purpose and intent. You enter into a courtship with "the very clearly stated purpose of finding out of God would have us marry" (BMG, p. 27). That's quite different than the way the vast majority of young people do romance today in America, isn't it? Most "romance" that I've seen is recreational romance. Recreational relationships form because of selfishness, adrenaline, and convenience. Courtship isn’t romance for the fun of it or to satisfy sinful, curious desires. It isn’t a romance based on adrenaline or convenience. It isn’t based on feelings or selfish desires. And if you start a relationship based for these reasons, it’ll surely fail, and more than likely end with drama, heartache, and shamed regret. Don’t you think God has something better in store for us than recreational romance?
Most people have a misconception that courtship is an old-fashioned, unattractive, boring way to do a relationship. Harris, speaking of his own courtship-turned-marriage, wrote, "Were the feelings there? You bet! Our courtship was an unforgettable time of growing to love each other passionately. But we weren't simply trying to get swept up in our emotions. Instead, we were letting our feelings grow naturally out of our deepening respect, friendship, and commitment to one another. Setting a clear course for a defined season of courtship helped us keep from rushing into involvement with our hearts and bodies before we had time to get to know each other's mind and character" (BMG, p. 28). Therefore, courtships are meant to be a time in which you deepen your friendship and respect for the other person. Adhering to the concept “friendship first, romance later,” the relationship is clearly defined with the intent of figuring out of it's God's will for the two of you to marry. You start the relationship with the purpose of answering the question, “Are we meant to be together?” Harris remembers, "For us the season of courtship was a wonderful time in our relationship in which we refrained from physical intimacy, deepened our friendship, learned about each other's values and goals, and interacted on a spiritual level. We asked a lot of questions. We went on dates. We grew closer to each other and ultimately grew to love one another deeply" (BMG, p. 27). God didn’t design romance to boring. He intended for us to deeply enjoy it! He wants us to be head over heels in love with our (future) spouses. He wants us to revel in the satisfaction of being emotionally, spiritually, and physically one. He designed us to work that way.
But such wonderful relationships aren’t effortless. “Success doesn’t come without effort.” We must apply wisdom to our relationships. Think of the relationship between wisdom and romance like a kite and its string. Romance is the kite; wisdom, the string. When the two work together, they can fly beautifully in the sky. But what would happen if the kite suddenly thought, “This string is tying me down. If I could cut myself free, I could really fly!” But that wouldn’t happen, would it? In reality, the kite would nosedive and crash into the ground. Or what would happen if the string decided it didn’t want to be attached to the kite any longer? It would be just a piece of string, doing nothing to help anyone. Wisdom and romance, like the kite and the string, are meant to benefit each other. If romance decided to detach itself from wisdom, things get messy fast. When romance is without wisdom, all kinds of problems arise, such as pre-marital sex, teenage pregnancy, broken friendships, and dramatic, ugly, bitter breakups. The bottom line is that without wisdom, romance is really just unchecked lust.
But not only do relationships take wisdom and effort, they also take time; relationships don’t form overnight. Speaking from observation, the most romantic and successful marriages always began with friendship. It’s like I stated a few paragraphs earlier, “friendship first, romance later.” I see relationships in two categories and five different stages: (non-romance) acquaintance, friendship, (romance), courtship, engagement, and marriage. The problem I’ve noted is too many people jump from acquaintance to romance, skipping friendship. They get involved physically or emotionally long before they’ve gotten to actually know each other. I truly believe that romantic relationships should be based in friendship. You simply can’t skip this stage if you want to have a successful marriage.
I’m greatly looking forward to experiencing my own love story. I know God has already written it; I just can’t wait to experience it. And who knows? Maybe it’s happening right now. Maybe my romance story is in the friendship stage. The irony is that since she and I would be just friends, I wouldn’t know that she is her! It’s such a terrifying, exciting thought! But God wants me to take my love story one page at a time. It’d be a real shame if I already knew who my wife is, right? Sure, I guess knowing who she is would be nice. But it’d take the thrill, nerves, and beauty out of watching and experiencing my own friendship-turned-courtship-turned-marriage. It’s like when I saw the movie Bridge to Terabithia a few years ago. I already knew that the girl died in the end, so it took all the luster out of the movie. Or how Christmas time losses some magic once we find out Father Christmas doesn’t actually exist. I want to experience all the little emotions of falling in love; the fear, the passion, the desire, the anxiety, and the love. I want a relationship where I grow to respect and look up to her. I want a relationship firmly planted in friendship. I want, through courtship, to learn how to love and appreciate her, as any husband should adore and cherish his wife. Through friendship and courtship, I want us to interact spiritually together, to discuss the Bible, and learn about God together. I want to have a purposeful romance. Any other type of relationship simply won’t do.