The Third Way

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My Befuddled Beauty,

I have heard your objections.  “If it is about neither dating ‘The Right Way‘ nor ‘Doing Whatever We Want‘, what IS that and what does it look like?”  You have discovered the reason I write, the reason I contemplate, and the reason that we are having this conversation:

I don’t know, but I desperately want to find out.

I wish God wrote another book in the Bible called The Book Of Dating and it contained formulas that I could use to calculate the perfect date to move in for the first kiss, the words that will communicate hurt without condemnation, and if two people should get married or even go to dinner at all.  When I allow my heart to hope and become attached, I fear it will be hurt if I do something wrong.

But God, in his love and mercy, has not deigned grace us with set plans and procedures.  He created us to be in relationships as he is eternally in relationships with himself and his creation.  The great dance of life has ebbs and flows as songs and partners change, but the band never stops playing.

It is a good thing we don’t have the rules.  God gave man the law, and we have made a royal mess of it ever since.  No man can keep the law; that’s why Christ had to come.  We would break the laws and then have no excuses for our mistakes in dating, and live in condemnation for all of our days.

No, our Heavenly Brother, with his victory over sin and slavery, has ushered in his kingdom of grace.  It is a kingdom where the perfect law is fulfilled by love and striving is replaced by peace.  It is a kingdom where the legalism of the Pharisees is replaced by freedom.  It is a kingdom where condemnation is replaced by forgiveness and “go and sin no more”.

So, how then shall we live in this realm, alien to the world that birthed us, of love and grace and mercy?  Surely not by reverting to law.  The LAST thing I want to do with these letters is to create a new legalism, an extra burden to those bent over under weight.  If I ever come across to you as mandating rules for you to follow, I apologize.  I do not have the answers, but I am desperate to live a kingdom life of grace and want to know how I could even start in my romances.  I want to know what to look for in a woman of Christ, and how to be the best man of Christ I can be.

The Galatians dealt with something similar in the time of Paul.  They had received the gospel of grace, but had been wooed away from it by those who claimed they had to follow the law of circumcision on top of the grace of God.  Paul was rather harsh with these who would remove grace by adding to it.  Adding legalistic rules to dating is no different.  It makes grace counterfeit and returns us to the slavery of the flesh.

I want grace! How do I get it in my dating?  I don’t yet have the answer, but I suspect that dating is no different than any other sphere of life in that Christ has given us freedom and calls us to live according to the Spirit and not flesh.  It will look drastically different from both the pagan and aesthetic culture, as grace always does.  I think the kernel is in Galatians 5:13-14:

“For you were called to freedom, brothers. Only do not use your freedom as an opportunity for the flesh, but through love serve one another. For the whole law is fulfilled in one word:“You shall love your neighbor as yourself.”

Will you sharpen me, as iron sharpens iron, as we discuss and live the freedom and grace in the scary world of dating?  Please continue to read, beauty.

Freely and Lovingly Yours,

A Christian Guy

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I am no expert at dating

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My Questioning Queen,

You are correct to bring into doubt my authority to comment broadly and sweepingly about dating.  And, I would never claim to be an expert at dating.  I have tried and failed many times over, leaving a trail of broken hearts, my own among them.

If you look at the advice you can get from friends, family, pastors, authors, and humble bloggers, you quickly see that we have a noticeable void not just of relevant voices on singleness and dating, but a void of voices at all.  We single people are a real demographic of amazing people who sometimes have more to offer the body of Christ than the married folk, but we have but few self-styled experts, and fewer true experts that can speak to us where we are with compassion and understanding.  So few that most churches’ idea of a “singles ministry” is putting all of the single people in a room together once a week with coffee and pastries so they can meet someone to marry (commonly known as “find-a-spouse”).  Christendom cannot ignore our demographic of disciples hungry for guidance and wisdom.  But, if we need experts on dating, what makes an expert on dating?

If an expert is someone who has never failed, then only those who have never dated can be called experts.  Yet, if they have never experienced dating, how can they be an expert on it?

If an expert is defined as someone who has succeeded, isn’t a successful dater someone who is married?  But, if they are married, what right do they have to talk authoritatively on dating?  I, for one, cannot STAND the self-righteous “oh-you-poor-single-person-whose-life-hasn’t-yet-begun-because-you-aren’t-married” tone of voice that the most sickeningly perfect young married couples have.  This tone usually lasts until they have their first real fight, and then spend years trying to pretend that the Neverland they thought they found is real and still there.  No, married people, while many have sage advice to offer, cannot be regarded as “experts” regardless of their good intentions; they are removed from the day-to-day scene of singleness and can only relate history.

But, if your definition of “expert” is someone who learns from their mistakes and keeps trying, I can write with confidence!  I am so good at making dating mistakes I have thought long and hard about going professional in the sport.  I may not be able to tell how to date correctly, but I can tell you how to do it wrong!

So, that is what I offer in these letters.  Not the authoritative decrees of a self-styled expert (for I am not), but the broken confessions and long-contemplated musings of a fellow Christian in the trenches of the battlefield we call love (or hormones).  My only claim to wisdom is my claim to learning from the many mistakes I have made.  I share it with you for your perusal, but it is very likely wrong.  I admit that, but I sincerely hope that the ideas and images I present in these words and ramblings bring solace to your misgivings or inspiration to your path.

Inexpertly, but willingly yours,

A Christian Guy

Dancing As One

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My Darling Dancer,

In this letter, I wish to wrap up illustrating this metaphor of dating as a dance rather than a formula.  I have already written about how we must dance to the song that is being played and how we must constantly adapt to the room and other dancer, and now I shall address how dating is like dancing in that you must learn to read, react to, and anticipate their partner.

I had a dancing instructor tell me once that the woman’s role in dancing is to look beautiful and the man’s role is to make her look good.  While humorous (and true), it quickly became complicated once I changed partners and started my second dance.  It quickly became apparent that all of the tricks and moves that worked so well with my first partner suddenly were useless.

Every girl is a unique dancing partner.  Some love to twirl endlessly, some get dizzy and fall over after but a few spins.  Some are so stiff that I must increase the pressure of all of my leads to direct them through sequences of dance moves, and some are loose as a wet noodle and require and exaggeratedly strong lead.  Then, there are those girls who are very sensitive followers and will spin at the slightest provocation, so I have to be very careful to not do anything that might be misconstrued as a lead lest they begin a dance move I did not intend.  Some girls dance with large steps and require more floor, some have small, compact steps better suited for a crowded room.

It is the same in dating.  Some girls trust easily, others not so quickly.  Some girls have had miserable childhoods, some have seemingly perfect families of origin.  Some are starry eyed at the prospect of dating or marriage, while others are so broken-hearted by a past relationship that they barely see the point in going out to dinner at all right now.  None of these things are wrong, just as a dancing style isn’t wrong.  It is unique and personal to that dater or dancer.  But, even though there isn’t anything wrong with other dancers, it is perfectly legitimate to enjoy dancing with someone who fits your style well.  Let us say a man likes to incorporate a lot of spins in rapid succession into his dancing.  He will amicably dance with women who easily get dizzy, but he will dance better and happier and be more truly himself with a partner who loves to be spun.  In the same fashion, the personalities of a man and a woman may keep them, to no fault of either, from chemistry strong enough to light fireworks.   Sometimes, a couple will not work well, not because of sin or hurt or immaturity, but simply because they don’t fit each others style.

But this takes the ability to read your partner, and humility.  See, when Paul says we should submit to one another he means, among other things, that the dancers should dance with the other’s style in mind.  Regardless of my “style” of dating, if my girlfriend is convicted to not kiss until marriage, I am to love her by submitting to her conviction.  In the same way, if a man’s style contains a love of dancing, it is part of loving submission for the woman to learn some basic steps (hypothetically, of course).

Once we realize that our we have certain natural leanings and styles, and learn to recognize them in others, it is part of Christian love to accept those differences in style and adapt.  Sometimes, this adaptation looks like taking up a hobby in which I have no particular interest.  Sometimes it looks like breaking up and dancing with someone else.  Regardless, it looks like love instead of judgement, and there is peace in recognizing the beautiful image God has placed uniquely in each person, even if it is a recognition in passing.

As we dance through life, we will have many relationships.  Some will be romantic.  Every person we encounter will have their own style, their own brand of living life.  When we dance with them, we must remember that style is not sin, and each dancer grants beauty to the dance when they take the floor.  As the dancers learn each other better through multiple songs, they begin to anticipate the flourishes that are coming, which allows for more creative beauty in the expression.  Our lives do not have to be drudgery, and in dating what are we looking for but a partner in a tandem masterpiece?

Those are my thoughts, and even by the end of letter three, I still find the metaphor apt and beautiful.  In related news, what are you doing Saturday night?  I have heard of a band and an open floor…

Brushing up on his steps for the floor and life,

A Christian Guy

Dancing in a Crowded Room

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My Darling Dancer,

Since I liked the metaphor of dating as dancing, I wanted to write about it again.  This time, I want to illustrate how dating, like dancing, must react to the environment.

Have you ever been to a large dance?  One where there are dozens of other couples trying to show off to not only their partners but also everyone else in the room?  An extra element of danger is added to the dancing, where you have to keep an awareness of the room so you don’t toss your partner into another person.  You have to avoid poor dancers who take up far too much space and men who need to be reminded that they are dancing with a woman, not swinging a wrecking ball.  You have to fight for space on the floor.  It is the same with dating.

Dating isn’t done in a vacuum.  There are other relationships in each of our lives, we live in a specific city, and we have our churches.  These factors affect what our dating actually looks like.  We shouldn’t date the same way if you live within an hour of your family as opposed to if you live several states away; there are different ways to respect your parents with different distances and levels of involvement. We shouldn’t date the same way in New York as in Des Moines; the tempo of those two cities is different.  We shouldn’t date the same way if we attend a Baptist church as opposed to a Roman Catholic church; we must submit ourselves in love to serve those with convictions on their consciences (while never abandoning our Christ-given freedom).  This is not to say that we should allow others to heap legalism onto us, but rather that we must be aware of those around us so that we may love them through our romance.  I want our relationship to point others towards Christ, which requires knowing where others are physically, emotionally, and spiritually, so we do not weigh them down but lift them up.

Dating has pitfalls and dangers from without.  So often post-evangelicals focus on the dangers inherent in dating, but let us not forget that there are forces and people who will push back against our health and well-being as we date.  If we are trying to date in a way that points others towards God, we will be laughed at by those dating in the secular world where moving in together and sleepovers are commonplace, and seen as normal and healthy.  Our Pharisaical Christian friends and family may be mortified that we aren’t convicted to not kiss until we are married or that we base our romance on grace and not the latest fad of romantic legalism.  We must fight to keep our eyes on Jesus and his grace, and accept the wisdom of others without bending to their demands and rules.  It will be very difficult, but worth it.

In dating, we have to stake out our “space”, our boundaries.  Even if we are dancing along in a living room, we must first move the coffee table out of the way so we don’t destroy our shins.  In our romance, we must “clear the area” so to speak.  This is where I believe a conversation about sexual immorality is properly understood: as something that will bruise us if we don’t remove it from the space first.  In addition to physical intimacy, we need to know where our emotional and spiritual boundaries are, for each other and the rest of the people in our lives.  I do not see this as legalism and rules, but rather as protective walls to guard the freedom we exercise within their safety.  Honest communication will be needed, and grace when we find we needed a boundary one step behind where we find ourselves.

Like in dancing, dating requires adaptability, awareness of the places and times we are, and a space in which freedom can operate.  Balancing the grace and boundaries that keep us safe will require prayer and trial and error, and Lord help us if we move cities and have to re-evaluate almost everything about our dancing.  The bottom line is that no hard-and-fast rules will be directly applicable to our dating relationships, because every single romance in unique in it’s place and time, just like floor, band, and song is unique.  General principals can be helpful, but the beauty is that no one has ever been exactly in our shoes.  We are the stewards of the time and place we have been given, and it is for us to wisely navigate the floor and steps.  I believe that God has our backs as we fumble through it, but he is delighted that we wish to glorify him through our romances rather than the blamelessness of the final product we create.

Part three of three forthcoming from me,

A Christian Guy