Oct 11, 2012

Remember When?

Remember when your great-grandmother and grandfather were dating courting?  They lived in the same community, so they likely knew each other from a time before they could remember.  Sometime over several months as he became more and more inclined to leaving his parent's home and establishing a home of his own he noticed that she was catching his eye more frequently.  She had always been one of the other young people of the community, he remembered her from school or church, but now she was standing out more and more to him.  He wondered, what kind of a wife would she make?

So he began watching her.  Over several months he observed her behavior out in public, at meetings.  She seemed to be much of what he thought would make a good wife, but he also knew that public faces are not always what private faces are, so he wanted to see her in her home environment.  Was she helpful to her parents?  Did she have patience with her siblings?  How did she respond when asked to give up something that she had been wanting?  He asked her if he could "call" on her.

She had been noticing him, as well.  She wondered if he truly was the kind of person he seemed in public, maybe he seemed kind and friendly, perhaps he seemed serious and reserved, what was he really like?  And so he began visiting the home.  He visited after church and shared a meal, visited in the evenings after a hard day's work.  Eventually he might offer to help on the farm if there was something that her father needed tending to.  This way he could get to see her in her family--families are important, one usually lives in their own home what they learned in their first home.  He watched how her family interacted, how she responded to her father's teasing, to her mother's requests.  After meals (did she help clean up?  Did she have a heart to serve?  Did she consider the needs of others ahead of her own?) they might sit on the porch or take a short walk (always in view of the house, no need to put pressure on each other by rushing intimacy or to give people reason to talk, after all this is just getting to know each other).  This time 'alone' gave them the chance to see how well they interacted.  They might share their views on important matters such as God and how the world worked.  They might discuss their dreams.  They discovered if they thought that they could work as a team.

Time would tell.  They grew an appreciation for each other--or an awareness that they were not well matched.  They did not look at merely how "fun" the other was because they had seen enough throughout life to know that fun was important but not what drives a relationship.  Above all they respected each other's integrity.  They might end up together for life, but until and unless they did, they were interacting with what could potentially be someone else's future spouse.

Eventually it was time for a decision.  Was she one with whom to build a life?

He went to her father.  Could he support a marriage?  He had been observing the young man as well.  He knew his daughter.  What did he think?

He thought that they were suited for each other.  He knew his daughter's weaknesses and strengths and he felt that he had a handle on the young man.  He knew of his standing in the community, and that of his father.  He had watched him interact with the youngsters of the home, perhaps a new experience for him if the young man was an only child.  He could see areas that might prove a challenge, but one has a lifetime to polish a marriage, the question was, could they make a commitment to spend that lifetime together?

He discussed the young man's interest with his daughter.  What were her thoughts on the matter?

He relayed them to the young man.  He was free to pursue the young lady.  Or, he was a fine young man, liked and respected, but the young lady simply had too many reservations, they wished him well.

What did all this accomplish?

The young man and the young lady were able to actually look at the issues that might have a bearing on a successful marriage.  They maintained personal integrity.  The young man showed himself patient and respectful of authority.  The young women did not find herself in the awkward position of having to reject a young man that was otherwise imminently acceptable but with whom she simply did not "fit".  There was a layer of emotional protection built into the process...one was simply exploring, contemplating, not giving one's heart away!

And for those who did commit to marriage, that marriage was usually as long as life allowed.

And today?

A young man (or equally possible, a young lady) sees someone that interests them.  She likes the way he looks.  He seems fun and outgoing.  She is full of energy and flatters him.  They agree to go out together and meet at a restaurant or bar.  They have fun.  They agree to meet again.  They continue to have a good time.  They may--or may not--meet each other's families.  The families may live too far away, or the young man or young woman may not want the one that they are seeing meeting their parents.  This might prove awkward, what if the families have issues?  What if a parent states that they find the girlfriend or boyfriend to be not acceptable for some reason?  They develop an emotional bond, very often a physical bond as well.  Time will eventually tell--is this a long term relationship or simply a short, enjoyable interlude after which it is on to the next interest, for fun or for forever, again, only time will tell.

What did all this accomplish?

The young man and young woman built a relationship on the emotions fueled by fun activities.  This is enjoyable, but practically speaking, is often nothing more than simply using someone else to meet one's own needs.  People have worth in and of themselves, not merely for their entertainment potential.  They do not ever have to (if they so chose) to see the other person in light of the day to day responsibilities of life.  They see an idealized picture of the person that they are interested in--they do not have to ever see them in light of the family that shaped them and that will thus have--for better for for worse--a direct bearing on their new relationship.  They are, in effect, seeing a stage prop, dressed and situated for the moment, not the true image of what the person is.  Why should they be surprised when circumstances show the person to be "not the kind of person I thought they were!"  The relationship is not based on respecting the other person's integrity for a lifetime--the person of interest, practically speaking, exists only in this time and place.  Consideration that this person may go on to have a life completely separate of the current relationship is inconvenient.  Who wants to consider that what may be only a casual, entertainment based relationship may in fact impact the other person to the degree that it hampers their ability to develop a trusting relationship in the future?  Additionally, how many times can one give away one's heart and maintain a semblance of a heart, a life to give fully to another when the time comes to make a commitment?  Does establishing a series of monogamous relationships prepare one to be able to persevere in one specific relationship, or does it literally 'train' one for a lifetime of serial commitment for as long as the relationship is not too challenging?

What does this mean for those who want something different today?  How does one pursue the benefits of the older way in a modern world?  What might great-grandma and grandpa's story look like today?

The young man and the young woman notice each other.  Perhaps they attend school or church together, perhaps they volunteer together for a cause in which they both believe.  Perhaps they met online.  He becomes interested in her and wonders if she really is as she seems to be at school/office/online.  He observes her, how she interacts with others, what she believes in.  He pursues opportunities to get to know her better by working more alongside her.  He asks if he can visit her at home.  He gets to know her family, they spend time with his.    This may be a challenge if everyone lives a distance away from each other, but still possible via such modern tools as Skype, email, phone and three day weekends.

The young man will eventually reach a point where he believes that this is someone with whom he may build a life.  He approaches the girl's father and asks if he may pursue a relationship with an eye towards marriage.  Not simply dating, having a good time or avoiding boredom, he respects her enough to not develop a relationship or be intimate beyond the level to which he has been granted the right.  He has seen enough that he feels there is every reason that this relationship is one that will lead to marriage, he does not take this lightly.   The father knows his daughter, and may well say that he has serious reservations.  The young man and the father discuss the issues to see if they can be resolved.  If they can be, the father goes to the young lady and asks if she shares an interest and a belief that this relationship could be one that could give birth to a successful marriage.  If all are in agreement, the relationship progresses.   At this point they may spend more focused time together, perhaps even time away from the family, but always taking care to respect each other's integrity, not allowing themselves to become tempted to a level of intimacy not yet appropriate, this they usually do by always remaining in public settings.  They still observe and share as in grandma and grandpa's time, the key being in real life situations, not in artificial situations constructed to show the other only the best parts of their personality with no accountability.   They allow themselves to be guided by the observations of their parents or if parents are not willing to serve as a guide in this area, they seek people who are willing to assume a role of mentors.  At any point the young man and young woman could put an end to the relationship without harm to their ability to develop a relationship with someone else in the future.  Should this relationship, this courtship, end, the couple should have no awkward memories to make it difficult to be friends in the future.  When they marry--whether each other or another--they will be able to pledge a heart that has not been used and abused, they will be able to build a relationship with no regrets.  When the relationship does move to the point where the young man desires to propose and approaches the father for his blessing, it will likely come as no surprise to anyone, as each step along the way the relationship will have been confirmed by all who know and love the young man and woman.  There is no need for a lengthy engagement to hash things out and confirm compatibility, that has been done, and the couple may more towards firming the details for their marriage with confidence.

These are just the broadest of parameters.  The specific details will vary from one family, one couple to the next.  The important factors help in common are these--a daughter commits to wait for the one with whom she can build a long life.  The young man respects the heart and integrity of the woman.  The father holds his daughter's heart in trust for the time when she will give it to her husband, not repeatedly to a series of men with whom she has a relationship.  The families share in the joy of watching a relationship unfold.  The marriage can be entered into without regret or shame.

Does this mean that a young man or woman without a family willing to take part in this kind of relationship is 'ineligible'?  No, it simply means that the young man or woman must take care to seek authority to hold them accountable.  If the young man or young woman has already tried the typical route and already has regrets and damage done to their  heart this likewise does not mean that this once-old, now new approach cannot be taken.  These individuals know the devastation and destruction that casual relationships can cause and seek to pursue a better way!  It may be a challenge for them to not follow the habits and patterns of the past, but the truth is that many who would desire a more measured, honorable approach to building a potential marriage relationship will come from a past that they regret.  While there are always consequences to past behaviors, there is also forgiveness and a fresh start--if one desires it enough to humble themselves and seek it.  Additionally because this is not a relationship based on entertainment or filling a need, something lacking in one of the partners, the young man and woman work on making themselves ready for a serious purposeful relationship until such a relationship presents itself.  They focus on their own maturity, knowing that if they cannot trust God and be content in singleness they will likely not find themselves able to trust God and be content in marriage when it is less than perfect.

The once old, now new path is what our family has chosen.  There are many terms for it, (not all of them complimentary!), but courtship is the most common.  We did not come to this way of thinking easily, as a couple we have our own memories of how our relationship grew and developed and it was not a path we would desire for our own children.  While our memories are special and enjoyable to us, we nevertheless have regrets about choices made and we desire more for our children.  Thankfully as our children have grown into young adulthood they have committed to this path.  When our daughters are young teens their dad specifically asks them to grant their heart into his keeping until such a time as it is appropriate for it to be passed on to the man to whom she commits her life.  She wears a ring to remind her of the commitment that she has made, until she receives a wedding ring to commemorate her lifelong commitment.

We believe that this approach has much to commend it.  It moves finding a partner from the realm of happenstance to careful consideration and planning.   It recognizes the role that family will play in shaping the life of the new family.  This will happen regardless, better to recognize this and accommodate it rather than be surprised when relationships with in-laws impact the marriage.  This method provides emotional protection by not promoting progression in a relationship that could be fraught with challenges due to significant differences in belief and lifestyles.  Marriages of very mismatched individuals can thrive, everyone knows at least one such couple and it can be a joy to see.  Unfortunately far more common is the heartbreak and pain caused when marriage is entered into lightly or on the basis of what later prove to be superficial similarities.  As parents, our desire is to prepare our children to fully become what God created them to be and this includes preparation for establishing homes of their own.  It is our hope and expectation that courtship will prove a means to that end.

Some suggestions for further study--

"Her Hand in Marriage" by Douglas Wilson  (good overview)
 "I Kissed Dating Goodbye" by Joshua Harris (from the young person's perspective)
"Passion and Purity:  Learning to Bring Your Love Life Under Christ's Control" by Elisabeth Elliot
 "What He Must Be...If He Wants to Marry My Daughter" by Voddie Baucham
"When God Writes Your Love Story: the Ultimate Guide to Guy/Girl Relationships" by Eric & Leslie Ludy

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