Courtship is a topic that’s dear to me because I believe in it. It’s also a topic that’s fresh on my mind.
We have six children. Four are married. Another is engaged and will be married in a month. (Oh, my goodness! What am I doing writing blog posts?! )
This will be our fifth wedding in a little more than six years! We can say that we’ve seen courtship work – in spite of the mistakes we’ve made.
Courtship is also a topic that’s important to me because I think a lot of Christian young people have been burned by what people have called “courtship”.
They’ve come out on the other side of an unpleasant courtship experience, bitter and disillusioned, or skeptical about ever trying that approach again.
It doesn’t have to end that way.
We’ve made our share of mistakes in our almost-30 years of parenting, and the area of courtship has not escaped the fact that we are just fallen sinners, saved by His glorious grace.
We look back and there are things we wish we had done differently. We do not have all the answers. But we also look back and very clearly (and gratefully) see God’s hand of blessing and guidance in leading our children into godly marriages. He is the one who brings any good from our efforts as parents.
What is courtship? Or at least what do I mean when I use the term? I wish we could come up with another name for it. A lot of different people mean different things when they talk about courtship, so we end up with a lot of confusion.
There are a lot of different ideas about courtship out there, and our own experience with five different courtships has confirmed the fact that every courtship is different. There is no textbook formula or 5-step plan for the perfect courtship, because no two people are alike, no two couples are alike, no two families are alike, no two moments in time are alike.
But some basic principles have been foundational in all the courtships in our family:
- Courtship involves a guy and a girl. 🙂
- Both the guy and the girl are ready to consider marriage. (So this means romance is not entertained in the preteen and early teen years.)
- The young man is the initiator in the process – not his parents or her parents.
- The guy and girl are getting to know each other with the express purpose of considering each other as potential spouses. (So they are not just looking for someone to go out and have a good time with.)
- The girl’s emotions are being protected from involvement with young men who have no intention of marrying her.
- Both the guy and the girl are seeking to remain chaste. They are saving any sexual activity for marriage.
- Parents are involved. Both sets of parents (ideally) are involved and provide counsel and guidance. (Of course, this is not always the case.)
- The girl’s father is the final authority in the process. He grants permission to potential suitors, he sets standards, he helps his daughter evaluate the young man’s character and readiness for marriage. (This doesn’t mean he ignores his wife’s valuable input. And if the father is not available or interested in filling this role, this can also be some other man who is acting as the father figure – some other willing and interested relative or leaders in the church.)
- There is accountability to others in the relationship. This includes other family members, as well as the church community.
So our definition of courtship is does not include arranged marriages. But it also doesn’t include a guy just showing up long enough to ask a girl’s dad if he can date her. And it doesn’t include a list of do’s and don’ts, or any specified timeline.
Our definition of courtship includes a relationship between a young man and young woman who are potentially interested in marrying one another. The young man screws up his nerve and asks the girl’s father for permission to get to know her better, and then they both honor the authority and counsel of their parents throughout the relationship. From there the relationship can vary greatly! Different parents will set different standards (hopefully with humility and prayer) for their children’s courtships.
You might ask why we would ever want to pursue this sort of model for our children? Why courtship? Isn’t it kind of old-fashioned or unrealistic or just plain impractical? Why not stick with traditional dating?
Here is a quick list of reasons to consider.
- First, “traditional” dating is the new kid on the block, not courtship. Dating as it is practiced in our present day has only been the accepted norm since the early 20th century. Before that marriages were usually arranged, with romantic interest playing a small part in the process.
By the late 19th century, a practice called “courtship” or “calling” came into being. A man was invited to call on a young woman, and got to know her in the context of her home and family.
Modern dating didn’t appear until the early 1900’s. Now the young man took the woman “out” to get to know her, instead of staying at her home. The focus became having fun, rather than assessing each other’s character and suitability as a marriage partner. This doesn’t mean that courtship can’t be fun; it just means the relationship’s primary purpose is to evaluate each other as potential marriage partners.
- Hormones are another good reason to consider courtship.
Think back over your life. Think of the biggest mistakes you feel like you have made, the ones you are most embarrassed about or ashamed of. What comes to mind?
I think most of us would probably say that those center on relationships with the opposite sex. It is far too easy to compromise our standards or experience what sometimes seems like a period of temporary insanity when someone of the opposite sex is involved or when hormones get aroused.
No matter how committed our children are to the Lord, they are not immune to sexual temptation, and can fall just like anyone else. They can make huge, life-altering mistakes during this period of their lives when it’s just plain hard to think rationally at times.
This is a time when they need special guidance. We need to be extra involved in their lives, talking to them, being their friends, advising them, protecting them – not sending them out alone in a car with their girlfriend or boyfriend for the evening.
Because of this, courtship usually excludes much time alone together, and includes many group and family activities as the couple gets to know each other.
- The difference between guys and girls
Have you ever noticed? Men and women don’t think the same way. They’re not designed to!
It’s easy for us to think that everyone thinks the same way we think. It’s especially easy for girls to think guys think like they think. Our kids need help understanding the opposite sex.
Girls need to understand that a teenage boy’s attentions and nice words don’t necessarily mean that he loves her.
Guys need to understand what kind of message they are giving to girls when they say and do certain kinds of things.
Steve Farar has written a good book entitled How to Ruin Your Life by 30: Nine Surpisingly Everyday Mistakes You Might Be Making Right Now.
He claims that the most important decision you make about marriage is not, “Who will you marry?” It’s, “Will you ever divorce?” I believe this is true. We need to go into marriage committed to sticking with the person we’re marrying, and not even considering the possibility of divorce. We need to not plan on divorce as our backup plan.
Think about the practice of dating. Dating tends to encourage a mentality that moves from one relationship to the next. You date around, find someone you get along with pretty well, start dating them on a regular basis, and get emotionally (and often physically) involved at some level with that one person.
Then you run into the inevitable challenges that arise in any relationship, or you find out there are things you don’t particularly like about the person.
You break up, and start looking for the next person, the next boyfriend or girlfriend, the next person to become emotionally and physically involved with. Courtship helps guard against this mentality.
- Marriage is not just about two people.
It’s for the Church and it’s for God. So the church community and God should be part of the process that leads to marriage.
Marriage is a picture of Christ and His bride, the Church. When Christian marriages fall apart, we mar that picture before the watching world.
When Christian marriages fall apart, the next generation suffers, and children who should be standing on their parents’ shoulders as they move into establishing their own households, often find themselves confused or ill-equipped for the challenges of marriage and family.
The practice of courtship, which involves accountability to others, gives fellow-believers the opportunity to offer input and counsel to young people who are considering marriage.
So there you have an overview of the approach we have taken with courtship. It’s not the only way, but God has worked through it to bring our children into strong, God-honoring marriages.
What do you think about courtship? Good or bad? Why? Let’s talk about it!
(Photo by Daniel Forster)