I understand. I grew up in a home that offered next-to-nothing in the way of instruction on women and relationships, whether from a secular or Christian view, so I understand where you’re coming from. This left me, like you, totally clueless when it came to pursuing a relationship, godly or otherwise. I was “trained” by my peers, which was disastrous. Sadly, when I became a Christian, I was offered little more in the way of instruction, and experienced similar outcomes. As I now read numerous letters like yours some 25 years after I waded into the world of relationships, I see things haven’t changed much.
Looking back there are three things I would advise you to consider as you move toward marriage as a young man, things I wish someone would have told me.
1. Prepare your heart.
As you take a good, long, contemplative look at your heart, what things do you see need addressing before you begin to offer your heart to, and join your heart with, someone else’s heart? Albert Mohler has written a phenomenal piece on marks of maturity for young men. I wish I’d had such a list when I was in my 20s. A good relationship will require from you a willingness to be authentic, someone who is comfortable in his own skin, who receives his masculine identity from Christ, not from the woman he hopes to marry.
So spend some time with God and ask Him to show you what needs to happen in your heart before you move forward. Ask Him to reveal to you where, if anywhere, you are lacking in maturity, either spiritually, socially or emotionally, and pray for His help to grow you up in those areas. For me this initially came through a little book by the late Ed Cole called Courage. It was just the proverbial kick in the seat I needed as a 20-year-old man. Among other things, it challenged me to read a chapter of Proverbs every day, a habit that had a profound impact on my maturity, and one I continue 22 years later.
2. Build your framework now for what you want your dating to look like.
No matter who God has for you, you can decide right now how the process of getting to know her will play out. What spiritual disciplines, physical standards, meaningful activities, conversations, fun stuff, will you incorporate into your season of dating? Remember, that season is pre-marriage, and the habits you develop then will be the habits of your marriage relationship. Develop great dating habits, and you’ll have a great foundation upon which to build a vibrant marriage.
3. As you begin to narrow your focus on a young woman who stands out to you, slowly but intentionally make an effort to get to know her.
Create ways for doing that that make her feel safe and reduce temptation for both of you, like spending time together in groups whenever possible, and initiate some one-on-one conversation. Here’s a little conversation advice: Ask her about her. Without coming across like an aggressive journalist, discover who she is. And here’s another piece of conversation advice: When she asks questions about you, provide a little more information than “uh-huh.” I don’t mean to offend you, but I’ve heard from so many girls that that’s what they usually get from most guys.
As for romance, my best advice is to become a student of her and learn what she considers romantic, what she values. If it’s flowers, then flowers. If spontaneity, then spontaneity. If quality time, then quality time. If it’s vacuuming, then vacuum. For my wife it’s a combination of all those and more. It took time for me to figure that out. The most important thing is get to know her heart and respond to it. Getting to know someone is like a dance—you gently lead, careful not to drive, push or drag her around. She doesn’t want a wallflower, and she doesn’t want a stalker.
The best resource I’ve found for discovering how to do a romantic, godly relationship is the almost legendary teaching on the book of Song of Solomon by Tommy Nelson, pastor of Denton Bible Church. Whether you’re currently in a relationship or one seems miles away, do whatever you can to purchase and listen to it now.
Copyright 2010 John Thomas. All rights reserved.