What a privilege to write to you today and share with you important wisdom that helped me navigate through the high school dating season of life.
I like fruit. A lot. And while savoring it’s yummy sweet or sour goodness, I often try to think of the Fruit of the Spirit and pray for it to be evident in me through Christ’s redeeming work and power. I’d like to use the list of the Fruits of the Spirit found near the end of Paul’s letter to the Galatians to help guide the encouraging advice I pass on to you today.
First up, LOVE.
What could be a more appropriate word than that when it comes to dating a fine young man who you find attractive and interesting, right? You would surely not be “in a relationship” with him if you weren’t hoping, or already saying and believing, that you’ve “fallen in love.” Correct? 🙂 Well my, oh my, love is a vastly complex, profound, and interesting thing that we won’t have time to talk on and on about in this letter, but I have an especially important point to make before moving on to our next “fruit.”
The song “I Am Loved” by the Gaither Vocal Band was sung on my wedding day, and I can’t begin to tell you how often I’ve come back to the lyrics and clung to the truths shared within them during both challenging and good times. Please do look it up and listen to it, but the main point is summed up within the chorus: I am loved, I can risk loving you, for the One who knows me best loves me most. I am loved, you are loved. Won’t you please take my hand. We are free to love each other. We are loved.
The absolute best way you can grow “in love” with someone is to know and experience God’s infinite, crazy, awesome love and forgiveness for you. And as you rest in that abiding, tender, fully encompassing love, you will be all the more free to truly love another.
🙂 Don’t stop smiling. If you start losing your smile, don’t delay in madly searching for the reason why so you can uproot it’s ugly cause and get back to embracing joy in your life. One thing that helps is thinking of things to be thankful for. Being joyful doesn’t mean you’ll never be sad or angry or grieving about any given event in your life. But it does mean that the joy will always be “hugging” that negative event or thing, not letting go of you. Ever present. Keeping the hard stuff in perspective of the joy that comes when we’ve realized that our hope lies in eternal life because of Christ’s work on the cross to forgive our sins and bring us back in right relationship with the God of the universe. Therefore. enJOY life, fully. Those who are in Christ have more reason than anyone to laugh, play, have fun, and enjoy the good things in God’s creation. Do this with your boyfriend. Keep the joy there. And whenever and as often as possible, don’t just keep it between yourselves. Share fun times while getting to know each other’s family better, while hanging out with friends together, while serving someone in the community together. Be creative. And be JOY-full!!
My favorite verses for over a decade have been from Paul’s letter to the Philippians, the ones found in chapter four that remind us not to worry. I used to be kind of a worrywart as a young girl, but after clinging to this truth and growing more in relationship with my Savior, I can thankfully say that a deep-seeded peace has taken up root in my heart and doesn’t often let me waver into deep fears or despair, even when, or especially when, I don’t know what to do next in life. What will be just around the next corner? How do I make a hard decision? etc. There will likely be several of those moments and questions while navigating a new relationship. When is it okay to hold hands, to kiss, to show any other physical affection towards each other? When will he or I say those words “I love you?” If these things have happened already, then how often should they happen? Where will we both be after we graduate high school? The same college? The same state even? Does this guy already like me enough to consider me someone he could see as his future wife? And on and on and on the questions go. Heed this advice, dear one: “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, bring your requests, worries and fears before God. And the PEACE of God, which goes beyond all understanding, will keep your heart and mind deeply rooted in Christ Jesus.” (A bit of my own paraphrasing was used. Go ahead and paraphrase it personally for yourself and never forget it!)
I would also add that if you’re feeling uneasy, without peace, or have “checks in your spirit” about how the relationship is moving forward, don’t ignore them. Talk about them with wise Christians you trust, ideally who know you both and have witnessed at least a little of your relationship interactions live, and then of course, be honest with him as well. If you do truly care about each other, you’ll want to know the thoughts and concerns either of you has and be in a place that you’re real with each other. You want to move forward only if you’re both honestly feeling like you would feel even less peace to do otherwise. Learn to recognize, listen for and trust the inner voice of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding you, urging you to follow in obedience the good steps He has planned for you for God’s glory.
PATIENCE. KINDNESS. GOODNESS. GENTLENESS.
Relationships need a LOT of this fruit in them. So eat up!! 😉 No matter who the person is you are growing to like, enjoy, and love more and more, there will never be someone who doesn’t come with a long list of weaknesses and quirks to match his equally long list of wonderful qualities. You need to learn and forever continue practicing patience. And kindness. Understanding. And gentleness. For the sake of being real with you, I have failed pretty miserably at these things for much of this summer. I’ve been a hot, tired, sore, cranky really pregnant mother of a two year old, and I’ve had a number of pity parties for myself in which I have become very self-centered instead of focusing on how I can serve and love my husband in the midst of his own difficulties he’s been facing in this season. I have not been quick to forgive in the moments he has let me down. I have not been kind, tender, meek or gentle with him in many of my words and actions. I have not sought to do good towards him, but more often, I have sought to manipulate him to do good towards me, to grant me the good things I desperately think I have the “right to” receive from him. It doesn’t matter how “right” I am or not or what sort of long list of excuses I could make for my own horrendous behavior. This is not beautiful, attractive, or easy to live with in a relationship with another. We all have moments of weakness and failure, and the best we can do for each other is show love through patience, kindness, gentleness, and seeking the good for another, and not first for ourselves. It is so incredibly freeing and life-giving when we can begin living this way. God, help us! (And actually, He already has if we’ll only keep at the forefront of our minds His own incredibly humbling example. Go check out Philippians 2:1-11. I especially like the way the Message paraphrase puts it if you can access that)
It’s one thing to live these qualities out in a daily marriage relationship, but it’s also important to begin practicing these things often in a dating relationship. There’s this awkward tendency when you’re dating to think you have the right to shop for the absolute “perfect product,” so the moment that your partner messes up, you think you have the right to break up with him because he has failed you, and you haven’t sworn to commit yourself to him yet. (This is one of the biggest challenges and problems with dating that we’ll mention a bit more about in the next section) On the one hand, it is wise to seek the counsel of others who have had a chance to know you both and can affirm if you can serve and love one another well as a relationship team with your mix of personalities and gifts. Heed the advice and warnings mentioned, for sure. But at the same time, both of you will also do and say things in your relationship with one another, and simply in living your own daily lives, that will not be perfect or God-honoring or “marriage quality material.” I encourage you to have a heart first to look beyond these faults in the other to the deeper more important matter. Does this person have a repentant heart and attitude when they have failed? Are they allowing God to work in their life to produce a Christlike character? Do you see evidence of them giving room for the Holy Spirit to plant this Fruit of the Spirit tree in their life to produce these super important fruit qualities? Are you yourself allowing God to work in your heart to produce patience, kindness, gentleness and goodness towards others even when you feel you have been unfairly treated or misunderstood? Think about these things often and seek to make them a part of your dating relationship, and they will serve you well not only in your future marriage relationship, but also in any relationship! I would encourage you to memorize the “love chapter” of the Bible, 1 Corinthians 13, that lists these exact qualities for what true love is!
What first comes to mind with this word might be its opposite – unfaithfulness. When you hear of couples ending their dating or marriage relationships, you’ll often hear it was because of the unfaithfulness of one or the other or both. Obviously, this is against God’s perfect design, and in fact, the Bible is one long story displaying God’s faithfulness to a broken and lost, unfaithful people. This is where I throw in an emphatic encouragement to study the Bible and get to know The Story. It’s the most beautiful love story there is. I pray you’ll come to know and love more and more our faithful and loving God.
Also, I think this is an appropriate “fruit” heading to bring up another important topic regarding “Christian dating” in this modern age. I think there is a misconception out there about what is more important regarding how “seriously” you should date someone. Is it better to not be “too serious” about it because you are “still so young.” Or is it wiser to be very serious about it because supposedly its only intended purpose should be to lead towards an exclusive marriage relationship one day. I will admit that I definitely lean towards the more serious side of things. If you are “playing with another’s heart” just for the fun of it, with the idea in mind that you can “get out” of “being in a relationship” whenever you want, you are treading in very dangerous waters. As soon as you know for sure in your gut that you could not see yourself marrying the person you are dating, end the relationship as calmly and clearly as possible. Do not keep hanging on for any excuse you may be clinging to, like the fact that it could be a painful death of a fun friendship, or how afraid you might be of being single again and never finding someone else. I promise it will be the best thing for each of you and your future spouses the sooner you can recognize the necessary ending when and if it arrives. Yes, I am speaking from personal experience.
Before I met my husband, I have once dealt with a broken heart after mutually ending a relationship of several years, and I once had to be the heart breaker after just a couple short months of dating. Both necessary endings happened because the relationships were being taken quite seriously with a view towards marriage. Both were painful, although for quite different reasons. Everyone’s experiences will be different, but certainly learn from the advice and experience of others when you can, but also recognize we each have our own stories and timelines that will vary based on where God will lead you in life, so the most important relationship to be faithful to is the one with your Heavenly Father, Your Savior, Your Guiding Counselor who will lead you each step for His glory if you will learn to humbly listen and follow obediently.
With this final fruit, I have way more to say than a simple, “behave yourself,” and “keep yourselves pure.” Of course, that would not be wrongly suggested advice, but it’s a bit simplistic. More than this, I think this fruit means we should be thoughtful and wise about our every action, not just the physical aspect of a dating relationship. It means take each of your thoughts and desires captive. Examine them. Ask yourself what feeling or experience, belief or truth has planted any particular “need” you think you have in you that compels you to act on it. And once again I bring up learning to listen and distinguish the Holy Spirit’s guidance above any other!
I remember for the first years of my high school dating experience trying to find that perfect answer to the question “Where is the line?” so I can make sure we don’t pass it, but maybe it excuses bumping up against it. At the root of that question is simply trying to excuse behavior that already feels like it is likely too far. But to truly help you, I would say a better question to ask to help set a healthy boundary for yourselves might be, “Would I be embarrassed to tell my parents in detail about the experience we’ve just had together?”
Sex could be compared to a fire in a home. Kept contained in the fireplace, the context it was made for, marriage, it is a beautiful thing. Left to burn out of context in the middle of the living room will destroy the whole house. And one last analogy. The stickiness of duct tape decreases exponentially the more times you pull it back and try to re-stick it again. It is so much better to let that first connection be with your spouse one day – oh what a gift that powerful bond is!
I hope you will cling to these truths, encouragements, and advice I’ve shared with you today. Keep them at the forefront of your mind as you journey through your dating experience. As a woman who has lived approximately double the number of years you have, I can only hope this extra life experience has been profitable for you to learn from. May God help you live out and apply all that is good and true and comes first from His heart to you. May God bless you and fill you up to overflowing with His peace, love, and joy. May He work in you to create a patient, gentle, kind spirit that seeks the good for others. May you be built up in Christlike character through self-control. And may you be hopeful in God’s faithfulness to you and let your story become a part of His grander story by following Him obediently and faithfully first and foremost.
Your sister in Christ,