Lately I’ve been contemplating the work of the Holy Spirit in the lives of individual believers and, more specifically, how God brings two people together for marriage. Among a significant number of Christians (especially in the homeschooling community) there is a strong leaning toward courtship. This view has been heavily promoted by various authors and organizations over the past fifteen years.
I’ve never been comfortable with the whole courtship concept and I’ve definitely not bought into the idea that courtship is the only Biblical model for a number of reasons. Primarily, my own life did not develop like that and yet I can clearly see God’s hand in every aspect of my meeting David and marrying him. I’ve seen God clearly move in the lives of friends and it had nothing to do with courtship.
Christian Courtship Is Too Often Man-Centered
I had one of those aha moments this past week when God brought something to mind that affirmed to me afresh that the parent-led courtship model is… flawed? Dangerous? Wrong? I’m not sure where to draw the line with my statement.
But I’ve become increasingly convinced that the courtship model is often man-centered and not truly God-centered. I know that courtship proponents would argue that it is God-centered, but I honestly don’t believe that is true in many cases. It is parent-directed, parent-centered, and, in many cases, father-centered.
I even find it hard to accept that it is couple-to-be-married-centered in many cases. Yes, there is prayer involved and so people would call it God-centered. But the idea of parents setting the agenda for a child’s marriage – even with that child’s “input” – simply does not seem God-centered to me.
Holy Spirit’s Leading In Marriage
I have never understood why a mature young man or young woman who has been brought up in the church and taught to love Christ and follow the leading of the Holy Spirit would need parents to direct them to a suitable marriage partner. Isn’t that what the Holy Spirit is for?
If the child isn’t mature enough to walk with Christ and find a spouse on his/her own, then submitting to a courtship process isn’t going to make him/her any more ready for marriage and all the spiritual aspects that it entails. If the child is mature enough to marry another Christian, the child is mature enough to be led by the Holy Spirit to find a proper spouse.
For More Than A Diamond
Back when I was a struggling single and wanted to be married, I came across a little book put out by Moody Press in 1966 called For More Than a Diamond: Romances from Real Life compiled by Don W. Hillis. I don’t know if I can fully express the impact this book had on me. It was profound for a number of reasons and I knew when God led me to it that it was a tremendous answer to prayer.
The collection of short stories tells the romances of fourteen couples. In every case, there is an overwhelming sense of dependence on God to intervene in the romance.
There is no formula. There is no parental direction or oversight. But there is a clear recognition that Christ is sovereign in their desire to marry the person of God’s choosing.
There are people who meet and then are separated by the mission field (long before the days of Skype and regular jet travel). Others make the difficult choice to put their Isaac on the altar to keep God’s calling on their lives first and their desired romance second. These are young men and women who found romance while serving God in ministry, at college, on the mission field, etc.
These are all people who found their spouse while serving God in the world. The romance simply grew out of the fact that they were living full lives in service to the Lord literally around the world. They trusted that if they sought the Kingdom first, everything else that was good would be added to them (including a spouse).
Courtship and Excessive Dependence On the Parents
I contrast these men and women with the young people today who are kept dependent on their parents for everything – a place to live, work to do, and choosing a spouse. The women especially are expected to go from complete dependence on their fathers to complete dependence on their husbands. The idea is promoted that they cannot have lives of their own and ministries of their own. They aren’t even trusted to follow the Holy Spirit on their own.
How profoundly sad it is that these young women and men are being kept in a perpetual state of spiritual adolescence rather than being set free to follow the Holy Spirit. Shouldn’t parents rejoice that their child is spiritually mature enough to make her own decisions rather than continually telling her that she needs parental direction in order to make the right choice?
Raising Our Children To Walk With the Holy Spirit
I can think of nothing that would make me happier as a parent than to see Caroline walking in step with the Holy Spirit and experiencing the overwhelming joy of seeing God’s hand at work in her life. The moments where I have been overwhelmed by the obvious presence of God’s hand in my life are the greatest moments of my life. They are the stones of remembrance that I return to time and time again.
What more could I want for her? To see my child trust and wait on God… what else is there as a parent that can possibly compare? And what greater gift could I give her than the understanding that God directs her steps and orders her life? What better heritage could I give her than the knowledge that the Holy Spirit is active and alive, guiding and protecting her?
I sincerely hope people will rethink the courtship model and ask themselves if there isn’t a better way. A way that is God-focused and allows young men and women to strike out on their own walk of faith. A path that allows them to experience the joy of seeing God personally move on their behalf without any intervention from their parents. A way that brings maturity and consistent spiritual growth as men and women of God.
I agree with you 100%!!! I write posts about my 2 married children all the time because they are SO happy together and THEY found each other…I love how God wrote their love story so perfectly because they were seeking Him. Great post!
I think that courtship is the response to the pressure to date young and with out commitment. I doubt that is what you experienced when you met David or most of the people in the Moody book you referenced experienced.
Where I draw the line at this point (and my oldest is only 9) is that teenagers do not really need to date. Maybe this is just assumed, but the pressure is GREAT – even in church youth groups – at least it was in mine. The pressure was also great to be a “good” dating couple and when you add 16/17 year olds with lots of free time and no parental oversight it is a recipe for disaster (as me how I know, or rather don’t, I don’t want to talk about it 😉 ). Maybe you weren’t even talking about teenagers?
I have no problem with young marriages though, but in any relationship those two people are not just marrying each other, they are marrying a family and I think it would be important for the whole family to be involved in getting to know the potential mate. Not to the exclusion of the couple having some alone time but so as the focus is not them being alone. Does that make sense? I am still trying to flesh all of this out in my mind anyway, and through the lens of my (not so great) experiences.
Thanks for sharing your thoughts Sally 🙂
Interesting. I found my husband, on my own at 18 (my husband was 21). We decided to get married after being together for only 3 weeks. We knew we wanted to be together and we knew there was no way we could maintain a healthy Christian ‘dating’ relationship and ‘stay in control’. We were married 7 months later. My family did not agree with the match (I was the youngest of 5 – they baby of the family – and was expected to be at home for many years yet!). Never-the-less we did it, and I don’t regret it at all. I am now 30, we have been married for 12 years and it has been a rollercoaster, yes, but wonderful too. So wonderful. I am glad I was in control of choosing my husband. The Lord definitely put us together. But our view is that there is no place for a Christian to ‘date’ unless they are prepared and ready, to get married. And once the decision is made, do it! No year long engagements, etc. But that is our story and how we feel 🙂 🙂 Sorry for the long post. Thanks for the thought provoking post.
Amie – Thanks for your thoughtful comment. A couple of thoughts in response…
The primary idea I tried to express here is that young men and women need to be brought up into spiritual maturity so they are able to make their own decisions about a mate. Part of that spiritual maturity will probably also include discussing the situation with their parents. I would have been hard pressed to marry a man my parents disliked or had a bad feeling about because I do trust their judgment. But the courtship model that is being heavily promoted is not about consulting your parents and gaining from their wisdom. It is about parents overseeing and basically driving the entire experience. I don’t think that is best for the couple and is even unnecessary if the children have been raised to walk with Christ. If they aren’t mature enough spiritually to make this kind of a decision, they probably aren’t spiritually mature enough to be married.
Re: the pressure to date without commitment and, let’s be frank, have random hook-ups with whoever is interested and available… Yes, this is completely different from when most of us grew up. It is interesting as I watch young people today to see just how worldly they are even in “Christian” settings. Even among Christian and churched teens there is such a look of hardness about them that I find so sad. And not just in their outward appearance, but even if you look into their eyes or listen to their tone of voice. There is a hardness there.
It calls to mind a question we discussed here a long time ago regarding a person’s default mode of thinking. Do you primarily think of yourself as a called out one, set apart by God or do you think more of being in the world but not of the world? I primarily think of myself as a called out one, set apart for God and so I do tend to withdraw from worldly situations and situations that have a strong worldly influence. Others feel differently and think more as one who is in the world but not of it. Both are Scriptural, but I think they impact how you interact with the world and walk out your life each day.
So if gravitating toward courtship is a response to the pressure to date and hook-up, I don’t think it solves the problem but instead probably creates a new one. Instead of kids messing around they end up spiritually stunted and overly dependent on their parents. Neither one is healthy for the child.
And can I play devil’s advocate for a moment? Where is the Scriptural basis that someone doesn’t just marry a person but also their family? I understand (all too well) that when you marry someone you marry into their family and the influences that can have on your married life. But a husband and wife are to create their own family, even if it is just the two of them. I agree that it is good to meet the rest of the family and understand where your future spouse has come from. And I also agree that couples need not spend all of their time alone. But, again, this idea that you marry a family… I don’t think that’s Scriptural (but someone please point out to me if I’m wrong!).
Looking forward to other people jumping in! 😀
Naomi – We were posting at the same time! Thanks for sharing your story. I agree about short engagements. David and I met and married in eight months. We met in May, were serious by July, engaged in October and married in January. We had originally planned to marry in June, but decided that there was no point in waiting. We wanted to be married and so let’s get on with it! I do think in our case our age made speed possible (29 and 33). But I agree that long engagements and long-term dating without commitment are problematic for most couples.
Another thing that comes to mind is praying for our children to be enthralled, consumed, and committed to the things of the Lord and not to be dazzled by the world, the opposite sex, popular culture, etc. Caroline is only four (almost five) and we already struggle with how much culture to allow to influence our home. I can only imagine that it will get more challenging in the days ahead. I see really only one hope – lots and lots and lots of prayer for her and for us.
It seems to me that the principals of courtship, not seeking till you’re ready to marry, keeping pure etc, are sound. But the particulars, parental overinvolvment, following a set formula and the like stem from a voyeuristic attitude that has crept into our culture. Probably through watching television. I bet these parents don’t even consider that they may be stifling the work of the Holy Spirit in their child’s life.
In one sense I think you do marry a family, Ruth was honored for treating her mil as if she was her mother. It is as disgusting (and in many places still illegal) to dally with one’s spouse’s relatives as with one’s own. However the primary relationship in any family is the married couple, a young and until recently childless couple used to tell nosy people ” We started our family the day we got married, not having children yet doesn’t make us less of a family”
There is a place in any couple’s life for the wisdom of parents, particularly if the couple is prone to “love blindness” but we need to remember these are adult children, not dress up dolls. We parents can provide wisdom and guidelines, but we must not play matchmaker. Leave that to God, he knows their characters far better than their parents can.
Christian @ Modobject at Home
A wonderful, well written post, Sallie. I couldn’t stop nodding my head as I read your thoughts and observations. I want my children to be dazzled by God’s mercy and grace… by His abundance in every aspect of their lives. I want them to see Him tenderly working in their lives and in relationships. God forbid I stand in the way of that.
In the courtship scenarios that I’ve witnessed it seems that fear has been a common theme for the parents (and, perhaps, for the children as well). I’m discovering, particularly in parenting, that where fear resides, there is little room to trust the One who is sovereign… and when trust is lacking so is peace.
Mrs. Nehemiah – Well said!
Christian – I agree that fear is a significant motivator in some courtship circles. I do think some of it is driven by a sincere desire to do what is right and best for their children. And I agree with Mrs. Nehemiah that many of them really don’t even think about how they are stifling their child’s spiritual growth, even the ones that aren’t complete control freaks about everything. But I suspect oftentimes the parents end up being the Christian version of the helicopter parent. People joke about the helicopter parents who are way too involved in their children’s school life, college process, etc. But the church has its own versions as well.
I agree with this wholeheartedly ” If they aren’t mature enough spiritually to make this kind of a decision, they probably aren’t spiritually mature enough to be married.” – I think we do agree on the practical side of this. Throughout the comments I was thinking “yeah, that is what I meant” 🙂
I will have to think about the “married to the family” thing. I guess maybe it is my desire, or a best case scenario. I wish that my in-laws were more involved or that we were more on the same page as them, my Mom is involved in our life but not always in the most healthy way. It has something to do in my mind with having a community for the (nuclear) family to function within that I have missed and hope to have for my children.
Amen! Amen! You said it so well about this whole courtship ritual. My former church was heavily into this ritual and I didn’t like it. I was a struggling single like you and living on my own. At the age of 38, I met my husband online. My former church refused to married us because of the unorthodox way we meet. I left the church and married my husband. We are happily married for 13 years now. I did not like the courtship cookie mentality that had to be the same for everyone. I’m glad to see there is some backlash to this whole ritual. We as parents need to point our children to the Holy Spirit as their guidance especially since we are living in the end times and our children need to be dependent even more on the Holy Spirit. Thanks for writing this Sallie.
Thank you so much for this post! You have put into words what I have had inklings of, but haven’t been able to articulate very well.
I am a teen growing up in a conservative home and circle of friend, and my mom and I have had some problems with the trend we’ve been seeing, of all these amazing young men and women in their mid/late twenties/early thirties that aren’t married, and think a lot of it has to do with some of the courtship idealologies adhered to in some of the stricter conservative movements.