One of my greatest joys in life is to hear from former students or young women that I have led in the past. After our paths diverge, I sometimes wonder if anything I said or the way I lived my life had any impact at all, so it’s a tremendous affirmation when these women seek my advice or friendship after I’m no longer in an official capacity of leadership in their lives.
Over the years I’ve fielded a lot of questions from these young ladies, and about 9 times out of 10 the questions are about dating! Especially now that I’m married, I’m happy to offer a “from the other side” perspective on relationships. But oftentimes in the process of answering these questions I think to myself, “I bet she’s not the only person wondering about this–I should probably write a blog about this topic!”
Well that is the inspiration for today’s post. I want to highlight two questions I’ve received of late. Both deal with dating, and both are questions that I bet a lot of young women ask. So without further ado, here is some hopefully helpful “big sister” advice for navigating the deep waters of dating:
Question #1: How Soon Should My Boyfriend and I Become Spiritually Intimate?
One dynamic that emerges pretty quickly in Christian dating relationships is how soon you should pray together, serve in ministry together, etc. I would distinguish this kind of spiritual intimacy from simple conversations about faith, which should happen before you ever date–you need to know if he loves Jesus, and the only way you can find out is if you ask!
But what about the intentional investment into one another’s spiritual growth? What about sharing you deepest darkest prayer requests, or making the decision to serve in ministry together? Although these practices would seem like spiritual fertilizer on a budding Christian relationship, I would actually caution against diving into this type of intimacy too quickly.
As I shared with a young friend recently, this type of spiritual intimacy EARLY in a relationship can blur the lines of your own relationship with God. At the beginning of any relationship there are a lot of temptations to overcome, so it is during this time that you have to be particularly guarded about your own spiritual walk. It can, however, be tough to gauge your own walk it has suddenly become wrapped up in the faith of another. The exhilaration you feel after praying together or leading a group of youth together can leave you feeling SO GREAT with God–and also TOTALLY blind to the friends you haven’t seen in weeks, the ministry commitments you ditched to go serve with your bf, or the fact that your quiet times are inconsistent because you’re up late every night chatting with your man and you can no longer wake up in the morning.
You see, spiritual intimacy in dating relationships is not always real spiritual intimacy. In fact, it can be just the opposite. Sometimes when we rush into these practices, we are actually using God to serve the growth of the relationship–not the other way around. And in the process of this misapplication, you become pre-maturely intimate with someone who you are still only getting to know.
That is why the true test of a healthy relationship, EARLY ON, is whether you can stay consistent in your faith independent of one another. As time goes on and you become more serious, it is appropriate to pray together consistently and grow together spiritually, but take it slowly. A relationship will be Christ-centered if both individuals are centered on Christ before they ever begin to date, so take the time to learn whether he has that kind of focus without the crutch or misguided motivation of a girlfriend.
Question #2: What’s the Difference Between Lust and Normal Sexual Desire?
Another great question concerns the line between healthy sexual desire and lust. As you become more and more serious about a man and the two of you are planning to marry, it is perfectly natural to experience increasing feelings of sexual attraction. If you didn’t have that desire then it might mean he’s not the one for you! But what is the difference between this normal desire, and the sin of lust?
The point at which you cross that line is in your imagination. God created sex and called it good, which means it is healthy and godly to desire this good thing. Where you stray into dangerous territory is day-dreaming about sex. It’s so easy to fantasize about sex and let your imagination carry you away, and that’s the point at which a God-given desire crosses into the category of lust.
In day-dreaming about sex, you are allowing your mind to go to a place that God has forbidden at this point in your life. In a sense, lust is like cheating the system–you won’t let yourself go there physically, so you go there mentally. Jesus anticipated this loophole in Matthew 5 when he equated lust with the actual act of adultery–the motivation behind the two is exactly the same.
It should also be noted that when you freely allow your mind to indulge in that degree of intimacy, it will be easy for your body to follow. In the heat of the moment, you are more likely to venture down a path if it is familiar to you–even if only in your imagination.
Well that concludes this edition of Big Sister Dating Advice! If you ever have questions that you’d like to see discussed on this blog, always feel free to e-mail me! Or, if you have personal questions that you want to ask in confidence, I would love to hear from you as well. Even the best dating relationships can be challenging, but as the Body of Christ we can help each other along the way!