In the past couple generations, there has been a fairly large movement of couples who have decided to raise their families differently. This differently takes on many forms and fashions and does not look the same for every family. Generally speaking though, there are many families who have made the decision to not follow the status quo, but to search the Scriptures for the best instructions on how to raise a family, whether that be homeschool, homebirth, herbal remedies, no child-prevention methods, home-fellowship, etc, etc, you-fill-in-the-blank … and the big one that I want to discuss – courtship!
While there are many differences among so – called “conservative families”, there seems to be a common perspective on the method of finding a spouse. Dating is bad … it’s worldly … it’s practice for divorce … we don’t date — we court! There is a prevailing aversion to dating and a strong affinity for courtship. Why? Why is dating a bad thing? We must know the answer to the question so that we can stay far from it! Here are some aspects of dating that provide a faulty foundation for marriage.
There is no commitment in a dating relationship. You can date someone one day and go out with someone else the following day. This is why many people refer to it as practice for divorce; it is establishing a pattern that can prove detrimental in a marriage. Dating lasts as long as the two parties involved “like” each other. Once one or both of them do something the other doesn’t “like”, the relationship ends and both parties walk away with broken hearts and try to find someone else that will fulfill their desire for romantic attention. Generally speaking, the process repeats itself over and over before the person finds his or her spouse and then the precedent has been set that “if I don’t like it, I can leave”. When marriage difficulties arise, what happens? In many cases, divorce is the result.
While many people date in order to find a spouse, in most cases the relationship is centered around romantic attraction rather than determining if this person is the one and only, whom the heavenly Father has destined for this purpose from before the foundations of the world. Most people do not enter dating relationships with the objective of discovering whether the persons suit their requirements for spouses. We know one young lady who informed us thatshe had a new boyfriend but also explained that he wasn’t the type of person she would marry. Now, I hope you all know the correct answer to this … but does it really seem wise to spend time in a romantic relationship with someone that you’re not going to marry??? Another concern with the dating process is that it usually does not involve chaperones or physical boundaries and thus provides a perfect opportunity to fall prey to temptation
One of the biggest (and overall) problems with dating is that you are investing time and emotional energy into a relationship with someone who may very likely not be your future spouse. Each relationship and breakup leaves one with emotional (and possibly physical) baggage that can cause difficulties in his or her marriage one day. People who date leave parts of their hearts in each unsuccessful relationship … parts that should be saved for their future spouses.
While books have been written on the subject, that is a short summary of the dangers of dating. It is enough to make one understand the objections that many people have to it. Most of our parents probably experienced the dating process and they want to spare their children the heartbreak and difficulties that are usually a part of it. So now that we aren’t going to date, we have to court, right? We have to find spouses somehow! But the question inevitably arises – what is courting and why is it “safer” than dating? Courtship is a more old-fashioned term and seems to often be associated with medieval and Victorian eras. Let’s look at a couple definitions:
Courtship – “The act of wooing in love; solicitation of woman to marriage.”
Courting – “Flattering; attempting to gain by address; wooing; soliciting in marriage.
– Websters Dictionary, 1828
Observation #1 – a man courts a woman, not vice versa! Nowadays, it is common to say, “Jim and Susie are courting!” or even, “My daughter is courting!” According to the definitions above, this does not seem to be a proper usage of the term, unless your daughter is the one doing the wooing!!
Observation #2 – there doesn’t seem to be a huge difference between dating and courtship, except that marriage is the objective of a courtship. The part about “wooing in love” and “flattering” could definitely apply to the dating process. Courtship, as defined by Websters, is still about a relationship based on romantic attraction.
Observation #3 – courtship is considered safer than dating because there is a sort of commitment; the ultimate purpose of the relationship is marriage and, generally speaking, if it becomes apparent that the two parties are not compatible, the relationship is not continued. Normally people do not enter courtship with someone whom they know would not meet their requirements for a spouse. Also there is usually parental involvement, chaperoning and boundaries.
On the surface, courtship does seem to be a safer and better method of finding a spouse, but in observing several relationships in the recent months, I have found myself developing concerns with a specific aspect of courtship. While I am sure there are different definitions for courtship, we have seen that the dictionary defines it as a relationship based on romantic attraction, with the purpose of resulting in marriage. It is about a man appealing to that inherent aspect of a woman’s nature that craves masculine attention. He is trying to win her heart and affections and, to use the words of the infamous Ernest T Bass, “woo and charm her with his ways”!
But there is more to marriage than romance and emotion. Marriage is a covenant between a man and woman, who enter into it knowing that their partners are the ones that YHWH chose to be their spouses, and that the purpose of their marriage is to glorify Him and raise a family who will do the same. Once the marriage has taken place, there is no turning back. When the romance has temporarily disappeared and is replaced with a disagreement or difficulty, they are going to need to rely on something more than wooing and charming! This is why it is very dangerous to build a relationship on this foundation.
If the purpose of a marriage is to glorify the heavenly Father, there needs to be agreement on how to do that. Yeshua said in Matthew 12:25 “[every] house divided against itself shall not stand.” Why are marriages falling apart at an alarming rate? I believe that a part of it has to do with the lack of agreement and unity between the husband and wife. This is why I believe it is imperative for relationships to be built on a foundation of mutual convictions, beliefs and standards. If this is not the first objective in the relationship, then how are you escaping the dangers of dating?
Imagine this scenario: a young man comes a’courtin’. He likes you and would like for you to become his wife. Your parents approve of him and the courtship begins. Of course, he makes himself very agreeable and attractive to you and you start to respond. This young man is not just another acquaintance and brother in Messiah … he is special! Sure, you’re not going off by yourselves on dates. Your times together are likely chaperoned, your correspondence may be monitored by both sets of parents and there may be absolutely no physical contact, but you are experiencing the thrill of receiving masculine attention that is so attractive to a woman and you begin developing feelings for him. Your heart is being won. Then the inevitable happens – the relationship isn’t going to work out. Maybe he lost his interest in you or maybe you saw something in him that caused you to realize marriage was not an option. It’s sad … you cry … you experience pain … you heal … and the next thing you know, there is someone else that wants to come a’courtin’. Now can you really enter this next relationship with your heart and emotions intact?
A healthy marriage has three main aspects –
• Unity – simply defined; being in agreement. Whether that has to do with doctrine and theology or how you raise your children or what type of meals you prepare or your favorite color paint for the living room walls! While you are probably not going to be in absolute agreement on every single detail, unity in big things and little things will go a long way in helping to strengthen your marriage relationship.
• True love – I’m not talking about the emotional, romantic aspects of love. I am referring to the conscious decision to love this person, even when he or she is not being very loveable! It is the love that is defined by laying down your life for the other person, not necessarily in a physical way but on a day-to-day basis. Dying to your self.
• Romance – while a marriage built on romance is a shaky one, a healthy marriage will contain romance, passion, emotional feelings … the things that unmarried people are supposed to keep in check and wait until marriage to express!
I am finding myself more and more convinced that the third-mentioned aspect should be the last to develop in a healthy relationship. I have been informed that is impossible, but I disagree! Yeshua said in Mark 9:23 “If you can believe, all things are possible to him who believes” and in Matthew 19:26, “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible.” Of course it is not easy to build a relationship with someone who could potentially be the spouse of your dreams and not get emotionally involved. I don’t deny that! But I do believe it is something that we ought to work toward and believe for … and our heavenly Father will make it possible.
You see, there is no point in developing feelings for someone that is not going to be your spouse! It’s a waste of time and emotion and it leaves scars. So instead of entering into a relationship that is centered around emotional attraction, it is better to first lay a healthy foundation – determining if this person is the one for you and if you are in unity on the many issues that are important to you (and your potential spouse). These two objectives must be synonymous. It is likely that you could come into contact with someone that is in agreement with you in nearly every area you can think of, but that does not necessarily mean that person is the one. On the other hand, you could feel that YHWH is showing you that a certain person is the one for you but if you are not in agreement on how to live your lives together for His glory, you need to really question whether you are hearing Him correctly. It is too easy to take our impressions and desires and make them out to be His will.
Establishing the foundation of unity and agreement and the conviction that you are in YHWH’s will are both very important but there is something else to take into consideration as well. You have to make a conscious decision to love this person sacrificially, in a dying-to-yourself kind of way. Once you are emotionally attached, it is going to be hard to see clearly enough to make that decision! At that point, you would be willing to do anything for the person with whom you are in love! But when there is a difficulty in your marriage relationship, feelings aren’t going to help you respond in a Messiah-like way. That is when you will need to know that you made a commitment and covenant to love this person for better or for worse … and you made that decision when you were still thinking clearly and were not affected by your emotions. You counted the cost and you have no excuses! You have to die to yourself and let the love of Messiah shine through you. This is the only way you will overcome the struggles and win a victory for the heavenly Kingdom!
So after you have established the unity and agreement, you have heard the heavenly Father say this is the one for you, and you have made the conscious decision that you are going to love this person … then what do you do? This is the time to make the commitment. Some people refer to it as “getting engaged to be married”. There are many couples now that are practicing betrothal, a Biblical custom where the two parties covenant to each other to be married. This covenant is so binding that it requires a divorce to separate. Once this commitment is made, then you can allow your feelings to develop. You don’t have to worry about whether or not this relationship is going to be successful or end in a breakup! You have committed and covenanted and now you can let your heart go and experience those feelings that you have worked so hard to control!
In closing, I want to make it clear that I am not condemning those who have done things differently than what I have described. There are many different methods and ways to approach the marriage altar and I certainly do not want to imply that there is only one right way! I also understand that I am writing this from the perspective of unmarriage (didn’t know that was a word, did you? Well, it’s not … technically … but it makes sense to me!), and some may wonder how I can be an authority on the subject. Don’t worry – I’m not! I am only sharing the conclusions to which I have come through observing relationships of all kinds … healthy marriages and unhealthy marriages, successful courtships and unsuccessful courtships and last but not least, those undefined relationships where two people are playing with each other’s emotions with absolutely no commitment. I hope that these thoughts will be a blessing to you and that you can really consider what I have shared and how the heavenly Father may want you to apply it in your own life.