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Monday, August 12, 2013

Christian Courtship V -- Why Be Different and What are We Looking For?

This is part 5 of a series.
Part 1 is here.
Part 2 is here.
Part 3 is here.
Part 4 is here.

A year and a half ago, while I was writing the initial courtship series posts, I happened to find myself engaged in conversation with the mother of a then 20 year old woman. In the course of that conversation, this mother very proudly related to me that she had engaged in conversation those boys that her daughter "hung out with" during her daughter's younger teen years.  I don't recall why this topic came up; our conversation was not about courtship or dating. Nevertheless, mom told me that she would, "sit him down and say: 'look, you keep your hands out of her pants and her hands out of your pants and we are going to get along just fine'."  Well, color me skeptical of the adequacy of her parenting methodology. I smiled and nodded and redirected the conversation, because I was pretty sure that this woman did not want to hear our family's somewhat counter-cultural --some would say extreme-- approach to such matters.

Both Elyse and I have met with some rather comical reactions to any revelation of our household approach to marriage preparation. Elyse has been told in no uncertain terms by female friends that, "if my dad wanted to talk first to a guy I was thinking of dating, I swear I would drop dead right there. No way, just no way."  We smile about this. Elyse is under the headship and protection of her father until she marries. She is his precious gem; he is her trusted adviser and protector.  If he didn't care about whom she was spending time with, especially if that person were male -- it would be then that she would proverbially "drop dead."  I cannot imagine such a state of affairs in our household.

Why though?  Why not do things in standard fashion? Dating/courtship in our family is a serious matter. We believe that you enter into a "relationship" with someone in order to discern marriage with that individual, and we are not about to encourage emotional intimacy with someone who is not at least a suitable candidate. We also believe that courtship is best lived out in community with family and church playing a supportive role as young people make such a monumental decision. It's difficult to really know someone or predict how he will respond to myriad life situations when you are only spending time with that person alone. Choosing a spouse is a tall order for a very young person whose life experiences are limited and whose reasoning skills may be stunted by emotion.  We believe it best to avoid making such important decisions without advisement. Older folks tend to have wisdom; that's just the way it is.

Like Elyse, I have met with some very negative reactions to our household policies. Adults my age have suggested that we are "sheltering her too much" or "preventing her from having normal experiences of youth." Interestingly, Elyse has never once wanted to do something with a young man that we have had to "put the brakes on." She is a sensible young woman.  We have sought to instill in her the wisdom to make good life-impacting decisions. She was raised in this family and she shares our values. I don't think she feels restricted at all, only protected. Even so, if we have prevented her from having "normal" experiences of youth such as a series of pointless recreational yet emotional dating experiences followed by heartbreak, then I am okay with that. If she has missed out on pressure from pre-courtship-age boys to engage in activities intended to satisfy their instigators rather than to protect her --I think she'll survive the deprivation. In fact, I think she'll thrive in it.

The question has come up as to what we are "looking for." I hesitate to answer such questions only because we, clearly, are no experts. Thanks to infertility, we have only one chance to get this right. Poor kid, she's doomed! Nevertheless, I do not want to overlook a sincere question, so I will offer thoughts on the subject. Please keep in mind, though, that these thoughts are only a working model. We have one child and no experience -- only hopes and dreams for her safety, well being, and happiness.

I also want to point out that we are not of the "parents know best so parents make the choice" mindset. We are not in that camp at all. Heck, I hardly know how to keep the dishes done, I'm in no position to make such a monumental choice for her, and neither is her Papa. Save the clear dictates of Scripture, we do not presume to have many absolutes. We do, though, take seriously our part in the process, even as we fully respect that the choice is hers alone.

So then, what are we looking for? What is essential? What makes us nervous? Whom do we kick to the curb before he crosses the threshold? Well...

1) He absolutely must be devoutly Christian. We don't know much, but we do know that occupying pews works, and we're not about to bless any union on her part with a man who is not independently devoted to Christ. I don't mean some kid whose mommy makes sure his butt is in a pew each Sunday. I mean a man who already independently shows clear signs of seeking after righteousness.  I mean a man who will take his family to church, guide them in righteous living, and lead and counsel them with the Word of God. We have not a sliver of room for anyone who exhibits any degree of shakiness in this regard.

2) He must be kind and respectful toward her. We have a very traditional daughter. She is dedicated to pursuing a future as a wife and mother in a traditional home. The word patriarchy does not frighten anyone around here one bit.  Yet, traditional family roles, when abused or misunderstood, can be a treacherous thing. A man who embraces headship of his family and the responsibility to lead a household with a servant's heart is a rare treasure. A man who takes headship as an opportunity to lord over his wife and children in order to be served by them is dangerous. We will allow no semblance of the latter to enter our home with an eye toward gaining proximity to our daughter.

3) We must have no indication that he does not value marriage and family above all other worldly pursuits. If my husband is meeting someone for the first time who is at present simply a friend of Elyse, I don't imagine this matter would be addressed directly. However, if things were moving toward something more serious, you can bet it would be. We are about marriage and family. Our daughter's primary goal in life is a lifelong marriage and family with one man who will be devoted to his family above all else save God. If a young man's mind is not in that same place, there is absolutely no point in his becoming emotionally involved with her. She comes from a long line of 'till death do us part'. We consider it our responsibility to help distinguish those who are equipped to help her follow in that tradition from those who are not. If we have some indication that he is not both dedicated to and capable of lifelong monogamy, he will be kicked to the curb. There is no room for negotiation there.

4) We'd sure like him to be from an intact home. I don't suppose this is necessarily a deal breaker, but we believe that children whose parents "stuck it out" are more likely to stay committed to marriage even during the rocky periods that will come. We understand that each circumstance is individual and that people make decisions that they feel are best for their own family within the context of their unique situations. We don't presume to know what is best for other families, either now, or in any kind of retrospective assessment of their prior choices.  Still, marriage is never easy and we learn how to be married from our parents. If a marriage failed, we (at least initially and until better informed) have concerns about the skills a young man raised in that home learned. Also, we're inclined to think that if leaving has been observed to be an option, that option will most likely be considered at some point. There are exceptions to almost every rule, and we acknowledge that.  However, a serious demonstration of commitment to marriage, and to learning to be married, would need to be shown in order to outweigh our concerns about a young man's experiences in a broken home.

5) Before we were comfortable with a young man awakening emotions in our daughter, we would want to know that he is engaged in work and/or education that will render him in a position to support a family within three, maybe four, years. We don't see any reason for single people to be emotionally involved with one another if they are not discerning the possibility of marriage to one another. If they are discerning marriage, then they need to be able to become married. If they cannot, then they are playing with fire. Unfortunately, we seem to be confronted with a generation of young "men" over twenty who spend their days engaging video game controllers and internet pornography instead of planning for the future. A part time job in order to earn enough money to purchase something to place in the game console is not what we have in mind. If he is not preparing himself to support a wife and children, then we are not about to hand him the opportunity to win our daughter's heart. We don't care how much he will make; that's her decision. We only care that he shows signs of being hard working, dedicated to the support of a family, and consistent. If he is toying with careers that are not realistic, reliable, or in sufficient demand, then we are concerned.

6) We would be very hesitant about a young man whose political views and/or general societal values differed from hers in any significant way. It's awfully difficult for a family to function when guiding principles do not match.

7) We understand that he is young and maturing, but we expect him to be a man. If he appears to regularly expect her to come to him, or to take sole responsibility for planning their time together, then we are concerned about the likelihood of his taking an active role in a family. She is accustomed to a home where mom and dad engage in mutual decision making and both participate fully in household and family management. We do not believe that the burden of decision making and management of the household should fall on one person. A marriage works well when two complimentary and capable people are cooperating in the creation of happy family life. He needs to have masculine strength, leadership skills, the inclination and ability to protect his family, and the desire to participate fully in the process of family life. He also needs to have respect for women, their abilities, and their equally important role in biblical marriage.

I'm not sure whether my husband's list would be exactly the same. I'll certainly ask him to share it in order to provide the inquirer with both halves of the answer to her question. In the meantime, this is my "first blush" response, offered hesitantly and humbly.

Pax Christi dear ones,
May you receive grace upon grace to make your home the seedbed for God-honoring generations,

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  1. I think these are all things I'd hope for in regards to my own daughter. Truth be told, I held very similar standards for myself when I chose to begin dating. Sadly, as you well know, some things I thought would remain true for him did not.

    Obviously I'm still very happy to have married John, but I think having someone there to navigate us a little better would've been helpful. We really were left to our own devices, and I took what John said at face value. No one ever forced either one of us to confront our deepest desires and expectations for marriage.

    I had understood myself and marriage well enough, but I don't think John did.

    So I think it's admirable what you guys are working towards for her. You'll save her my heartache at the very least (which, itself, is worth it). All of you (and her future husband... because he is out there somewhere!) are in my prayers.


  2. what a fortunate young woman your daughter is to have parents who have thought this through.


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