In God's grace, Boundless has taught me what to look for in a wife and how to meet a woman. But I'm not sure what percentage of the evaluation process should occur before I initiate courtship. What happens between "hi" and the beginning of courtship?
I don't think you can be too exact about at what point the scales tip and you move a relationship from friendship to courtship. There is a point, I think, where you have a sense that the time has come, but let me suggest four areas to consider before initiating courtship. You can imagine these as rings of a target, starting with the bull's-eye and moving outward from there in terms of significance.
For the purposes of this column I define "courtship" as beginning when both persons agree to point this relationship intentionally toward marriage, a time for more thoroughly unpacking the four areas I list below.
Before courtship I think you need, and can get fairly easily, a general sense of these four areas. Some time spent in casual and intentional conversation over the period of a few months can give you the headlines; courtship gives you the details and allows you time to experience together, living some of these out. Engagement then is that time to actually practice more regularly the idea of making decisions based on "two of us" rather than "me."
First, shared core spiritual values. Everything grows out of this. Don't assume that just because you attend the same church or student ministry that you're in agreement on core spiritual values, or even what you consider a core spiritual value to be. Here I'd include what you believe about God, Scripture, basic doctrine, the church, life purpose, where history has come from and where it's going, and how all of that plays out in real life, which leads to my next point.
Second, shared core moral values. Again, don't assume that agreement on core spiritual values will always translate into shared core moral values. Here I include how as Christians we walk out being "in the world, but not of it," such as values regarding marriage, parenting, family, stewardship of material things (or lifestyle), media consumption, alcohol, purity, education, politics and culture to name a few.
Keep in mind that we all grow and mature in these areas as we learn and add more experiences to our lives. Certainly your values will evolve and be refined over the years, which is a good thing. That's also why it is critical that you anchor them in Christ so they don't float out in a wrong direction. Agreement on the Anchor is a non-negotiable.
The third area I'll call "passions." These are things a person highly values that may or may not be in the core spiritual or moral values. Some passions will have more significant ripple effect than others. For instance, a passion for God or missions is going to probably play out a little differently than say, a passion for art or baking. The closer a passion is to a core spiritual or moral value, the more significant it is to the relationship. But passions matter, and I would advise getting at least a general sense of them, certainly the primary ones (not every detail) before courtship.
The final ring on the target is interests. These are things a person doesn't have much emotional investment in, but still enjoys. A couple should have some interests they share, complementary or, at a minimum, compatible. Being male and female guarantees different interests, so I'm not talking about those. I'm talking about more casual hobbies and preferences. Just know that where interests are incompatible (his ideal vacation: bustling city; her ideal vacation: cabin in the woods) compromise will be required. Lots of incompatible interests will require lots of compromise. This is good to know ahead of time and make sure you're OK with it.
Starting from this outside ring, the closer you get to the core values the more important it becomes to be in sync with one another before making marriage your intention. I think these values, passions and a good many interests can be discovered during a "friendship" stage of a relationship. At least those are the discovery "minimums" I would consider before moving toward courtship.
Copyright 2012 John Thomas. All rights reserved.