Taken from the book "boymeetsgirl" by Joshua Harris
How to grow and guard in friendship, fellowship and romance
What’ your definitions of a successful courtship? It’s an important question to answer before you set out on the adventure of seeking God’s will for marriage. Often we act as if the only successful courtships are those that culminate in the sparkling diamond ring and the words “Marry me!” But careful examination reveals how limited this idea is.
Think about it. Engagement isn’t necessarily a good thing. Today many couples base their decision to become engaged solely on emotions or temporary passion instead of on reality and wisdom. Can a courtship that leads to an unwise union be considered a success? No! Or what about a couple who gets engaged after having had a courtship that was rife with selfishness, sexual sin, and manipulations? Successful? I don’t think so. We can hope that their marriage will be better, but it’s impossible to call this kind of courtship a success.
Growing and Guarding
It’s clear that we need to refine our definition of success in courtship. Getting engaged should not be our overriding goal. What should be?
I believe that in a God-glorifying, wisdom-guided courtship we have two central priorities. The first is to treat each other with holiness and sincerity; the second is to make an informed and wise decision about marriage.
In courtship our goals should be to grow and guard. We want to grow closer so we can truly know each other’s character, but we also want to guard each other’s hearts because the outcome of our relationship is still unknown.
At the beginning of a courtship a man and a woman don’t know if they should get married. They need to get to know each other, observe each other’s character, and find out how they relate as a couple. This is what it means to grow closer. But the fact that the future is unknown should also motivate them to treat each other with the kind of integrity that will allow looking back on their courtship without regret, regardless of the outcome.
Second Corinthians 1:12 sums up what every Christian couple should be able to say at the end of a courtship:
Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with holiness and sincerity that are from God. We have done so not according to worldly wisdom but according to God’s grace
Instead of making engagement the finish line of courtship, our goal should be to treat each other in a godly manner, make the right choice about marriage, and have a clear conscience about our actions.
My friend Leonard, a single man in his thirties, was disappointed when Rita broke off their courtship. But because he had acted appropriately towards her, he had the peace that comes with clear conscience. “Sure my pride was hurt,” Leonard says.”I asked myself ‘Why’ and ‘What went wrong?’ many times. But i consider our courtship a success because I was able to walk away from it praising God that I had served and honoured my sister. I treated her with respect a child of God deserves. To the best of my ability, my motives, thoughts, words and actions were in the right place.”
Maintaining the priorities of growing and guarding each other can make courtship something of a balancing act. You have the clear purpose to consider marriage, but you also need to fight the urge to assume that you’re going to get married.
It reminds me of a high-wire circus act. Have you ever watched a performer traverse a wire a hundred feet in the air? If you have, you know that the secret to their safety is the balancing pole they carry. Holding it horizontally with both hands keep the performer from losing the balance and falling off the wire.
You could say that in courtship we’re walking across the high wire stretched between friendship and marriage. The two priorities of growing and guarding are like two ends of our balancing pole. We need to hold in the middle for success. If we’re too guarded, we won’t move forward in the relationship. If we grow close too fast, we risk emotional injury or unwise choices later on. There’s tension you want to maintain. Just remember that its a good tension. If God leads you into marriage, you won’t need to guard your hearts—you’ll belong to each other completely. And believe me, you’ll cherish the memories of your courtship walk across the high wire as an exciting, one-of-a kind time in your relationship.
I’ll never forget Valentine’s Day during my courtship with Shannon. How wonderfully awkward it was! On the holiday for lovers, I wasn’t sure how to address her. She was my friend, but then we were more than friends. So, we were more than friends but not quite lovers. I felt like I was back in seventh grade agonizing over the meaning of the words on valentines!
In a card I spent hours writing I asked, “How do you guard a girl’s heart while attempting to tell her how special she is? Can you give her a rose as you thank her for her friendship?” My question captured the healthy tension of courtship. Can you give her a rose as you thank her for her friendship? It sounds funny, but I think you can. It’s part of the process of letting romance blossom slowly under the watchful eye of prudence and self-control. You’re more than friends, so you can determine whether you should join your lives in marriage, but you’re also less than lovers — your hearts and bodies don’t yet belong to each other.
Enjoy it. Don’t rush. Don’t despise or hurry the in between time of courtship, even though you often feel the tension. Instead treasure the season. Balancing the need to grow and guard during courtship is a necessary and fulfilling part of making the journey towards marriage wisely and with holiness and sincerity.
For courtship to be a resounding success and a delight, we need to grow and guard in 3 areas: friendship, fellowship and romance. Let’s look at each one and see what it means to strike a healthy balance in each.
The first and most important thing you can do in your friendship is to deepen your friendship. You don’t need to worry about igniting romantic immediately or figuring out whether or not you’re compatible for marriage. These things will work themselves out as your friendship develops.
Growing in friendship involves learning through conversation that you are as individuals. It’s having fun together and spending quality and quantity time together. When you are just starting out, don’t stress yourself out trying to orchestrate incredibly entertaining or romantic dates. Relax and enjoy each other’s company. Look for activities and settings that allow you to be together and talk freely. And don’t limit yourselves to going out on dates. Look for ways to share the different parts of your life – the fun, the mundane, and the in-between. Work- together serve side by side.
The strategic question to keep in mind is:; How can you let each other see the “real you”? Whatever it is that captures your imagination, invite the other person into it – and ask the other to take you into his or her world too. “I think myself as a student of Nicole,” says Steve, who’s been in courtship with her for three months. “I want to better understand who she is so I can be a better friend. A lot of what I learn happens when we’re just together and talking. But I’ve also discovered that I have to be intentional with my questions. During the day if I think of something I want to ask her, I’ll write it in my palm pilot so I can remember to ask her when we get together.”
Guarding each other hearts during this time means making sure friendship has appropriate pace, focus and space.
1. Pace should be unhurried. Don’t try to become best friends the first week. Just like any other friendship, this one takes time and consistent investment to develop. Don’t rush or try to force your way into each other’s lives.
2. The focus of your friendship in its early stages should be on getting to know each other, not on creating premature intimacy and emotional dependence. Instead, seek to learn about each other. Don’t grab for more intimacy than is warranted. The focus will change as mutual confidence about commitment deepens. You’ll learn access to each other’s hearts over time.
3. The amount of space your friendship occupies in your life will also grow over time. In the beginning, be careful that it doesn’t crowd out other relationship with friends and families. Don’t be threatened by other relationships the other person has. Make room for each other. Don’t try to monopolize each other’s time. Remember that premature exclusivity in your courtship can cause both of you to depend on it more than is wise. Be faithful to your current friendships and responsibilities. As the relationship progresses, you’ll make more and more space for each other, but this should happen slowly and be done cautiously.
As your relationship unfolds, you want to make sure it has a spiritual foundation. For your relationship to be strong, love God must be common passion of your hearts. Courtship is the time to grow in your ability to share this passion for God and learn to encourage each other in your faith.
Growing in biblical fellowship involves sharing with other Christians the most important aspect of our lives — the reality of Jesus Christ and His work in us. It involves praying together as well talking about what God is teaching us and showing us.
Men, it’s our responsibility to take the lead in biblical fellowship. Find out how you can be praying for each other. Take time to talk about what God is teaching you in your individual walks with Him. There are many other ways to grow in fellowship. You can read Christian books together, talk about sermons after a Sunday service, and discuss how you’re going to apply what you learn. During our courtship, Shannon and I read the book of Acts together and sent e-mails back and forth about what we were learning.
Another important part of fellowship is spurring each other on in righteousness. Nate, a young man from Great Britain, did this in his courtship with Clare by inviting her to point out any areas of compromise she observed in his life. “I would consistently ask if she saw attitudes or behaviours that were offensive or dishonouring to her, others, or to God.”
Guarding the fruit of true biblical fellowship means increasing your love and passion for God, not your emotional dependence on each other. Your goal is to point each other to Him. All the ideas shared for growing in fellowship have to be guarded from abuse. We should never use spiritual activities as a way to grab for more intimacy than is appropriate for our relationship.
One couple I know wound up in sexual sin as a result of their extended times of “prayer” in his car. Others use the facade of “talking about spiritual things” to share very private details about themselves prematurely. Although there’s a place for confessing areas of sin to each other and asking for accountability, this should never be of a sexual in nature. Our primary source of accountability should be with members of the same sex. Another part of guarding our hearts in fellowship involves making sure we’re not trying to take God’s place in each other’s lives. I you’re beginning to look each other as your main source of comfort, encouragement, and courage, something is wrong. Remind each other to find soul’s satisfaction in God alone.
Our discussion of romance has been left till the end intentionally. Growing in romance should take place only when friendship and fellowship are deepening.
The essence of pure romance is pursuit — a man showing through his words and appropriate actions, his care, affection, and sincere love for a woman and the woman responding in kind.
While romance is not the first priority in courtship, it’s still important. Romantic feelings and the pure nonphysical expression of those feelings are an essential part of this time in a relationship. If God is conforming the wisdom and rightness of the relationship, romantic feelings should be seen as a good thing and a gift from God. Our goal during courtship is not to stifle our feelings of affection and love, but to submit them to God and to grow in and guard them.
Men, its our privilege to be the initiators of romantic expression in our courtships. Throughout the relationship, it’s appropriate for us to communicate “genuine affection” (Romans 12:10).Send her an e-mail during the day to let her know you’re thinking of her. Give her cards and write encouraging notes. Give her flowers to tell her how special she is. Romance doesn’t have to be fancy or flashy. The most romantic things a man can do for a woman are the little things that let her know that’s she’s on his mind and his heart. And remember, these skills aren’t just for courtship. I you get married, it will be your privilege to keep pursuing your wife for the rest of your life.
Our guideline for what we do and don’t do during courtship is that we never want our romantic expression to promise more commitment than we would be ready to express in words. It should grow as our confidence about marriage increases. The goal is to tell the truth about relationship. It doesn’t serve a girl if a man’s romantic expression is too far ahead or too far behind.
During the first month of his courtship with Nicole, my friend Steve was so determined to guard her heart that he forgot to show through his actions how much he really liked her — and believe me he really liked her! Steve was actually very confident that he wanted to marry Nicole, but Nicole interpreted his reserve as a lack of serious interest. This caused her to be very guarded, which in turn made it difficult for them to grow closer. Fortunately, Nicole’s father and mother were providing insight for the relationship. They saw the problem and intervened. One weekend while Nicole was out of town visiting her sister, her dad took Steve aside and told him that he needed to express his feelings more. “It would serve Nicole if you were a little more romantic,” he said.
Steve was so happy to oblige. He felt like a kid who had just been told he needed to eat more candy! The next day when he picked Nicole up at the airport, he was waiting at the gate with a huge grin and a bouquet of flowers. Steve has since been increasing his romantic expression through his words and actions.
Ladies, it’s appropriate for you to respond to the guy’s increased romance. Your goal should be to match but not out-pace him. Nicole has done this in her relationship with Steve. As he picked up the pace romantically, she reciprocated. When Steve took a trip with some friends, she arranged little surprises and notes for each day of his travel. First, she baked his favourite brownies and had a flight attendant deliver them to him on the plane. Then when he arrived at the home where he was to stay, his favourite ice cream was waiting in the freezer. (Do you see a theme emerging? Women like flowers, men like food!) Steve and Nicole are growing in romance at an appropriate time in their relationship and for the right reasons.
Gentlemen, when we know that we want to marry a girl, we can begin to actively seek to win her heart. God-honoring wooing is neither licentious nor manipulative. It’s pure, it’s sincere, it’s backed up by a desire for lifelong commitment.
What does it means to guard our hearts with regard to romance? In my relationship with Shannon, the principle that guided me was simple. Romance during our courtship needed to flow out of deepening commitment. I refused to stoke the fires of romantic zeal before I knew I wanted to marry her. Doing so might have led to short-term enjoyment, but it would have deeply hurt her eventually. Romantic passion awakened without commitment can lead to sin and regret (see Song of Solomon 2:7).
A practical application of this principle is the question of when to say “I love you.” I you love for the person should you verbalize it? Again, we must be guided by what’s best for the other person. In some cases, saying “I love you” prematurely can be very unloving thing to do. Unless those words are sincere and an expression of true commitment, they are meaningless and can cause great pain.
There are no hard and fast rules here. We need wisdom. I chose to save the words I love you for the moment I asked Shannon to marry me. I wanted her to know the words meant something — they were tied to my commitment to her. I wanted to spend the rest of my life loving only her.
I share this not to say that’s it’s always wrong to say “I love you” before engagement. Other men I respect have said it earlier. In their particular relationships, it served the one they loved to let her know the depth of their feelings, and engagement followed soon after. My encouragement is to use caution.
The excitement Continues
Couples growing in friendship, fellowship, and romance still have to think about their different roles as men and women, communicate authentically, and have a game plan for sexual purity.
It is idealistic to try to be more than friends, but less than lovers— to be cautious and careful in courtship? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s unrealistic. Someone has said, ”Ideals are like stars we will not succeed in touching them with our hands, but by following them, as the seafaring man on the ocean, we will reach our destiny.”
I believe that, guided by the ideals to love each other sincerely and to consider marriage wisely, we can reach the destination of being lifelong friends and lovers in marriage.