Tag Archives: Courtship

The Mess of Relationships

Nevertheless, each person should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to them, just as God has called them. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches.
1 Corinthians 7:17 (NIV)

My friend Matthew is a marriage and family therapist here in our small Iowa town. This is a great little community founded in 1847 by a Dutch pastor and his devout group of Jesus’ followers. After 170 years our community retains a strong culture of Christian values, and I would daresay that a majority of our town’s citizens would claim to be believers. Nevertheless, I’ve noticed over the years that my friend Matthew never ceases to be booked solid with clients. My quiet observation is that even among those who sincerely seek to follow Jesus, relationships are a never-ending challenge.

Today’s chapter reads like a modified bullet list from Dear Abby as Paul advises those who are married, those who are single wishing to be married, those who are widowed, those who are separated from their spouses, and those who are married to unbelievers. He weaves in and out of stating what he knows from Jewish laws and tradition, and what he believes in his own opinion as the first century believers struggle to determine what it means to live as a follower of Jesus in a rapidly developing faith tradition. Based on what he has already established earlier in his letter, Paul is addressing a fledgling group of Jesus’ followers from diverse cultural traditions living in what is primarily a pagan Greek town in the first century Roman Empire. Most of what the Corinthian believers knew of Jesus’ words and teaching was transmitted orally by the Apostles. It is likely that none of the Gospels had even been written when Paul wrote his letter to the Corinthians.

I’m an amateur student of history, I’ve come to accept that every generation of believers in every culture have struggled with all of these relational and marital issues. Courtship, sex before marriage, marriage, sex within marriage, infidelity, separation, divorce, widowhood, sex outside of marriage and remarriage have always been challenging issues. They have always spurred intense debate and emotional turmoil for individuals, families, churches, communities, and nations. I believe they always will this side of eternity.

As I read through today’s chapter and couldn’t help thinking of real people I know in very real and very unique life situations. It spurs questions of “Yeah, but what about….” God’s Message through Paul provides a general  guide for believers, but it certainly isn’t  exhaustive and it doesn’t come close to addressing countless specific situations. Being a divorced and remarried follower of Jesus, I have grappled with my very own relational struggles and failures. I have received (both solicited and unsolicited) diverse opinions from other sincere believers ranging from grace and forgiveness to judgment and condemnation. [sigh] Life gets messy on this earthly journey.

This morning I find myself grappling with my own past. I have continuously journeyed through and studied the Bible for almost 40 years. I have sought to increasingly live as a sincere believer of Jesus, though I regularly fall short. The failure of my first marriage and all the personal shortcomings that led to it are right up there at the top of my failure list.  Yet, there are a few things Holy Spirit continually whispers to my soul when my shame rolls in like the tide:

  • First, nowhere in God’s Message does the failure of a marriage exclude a person from God’s grace, mercy and forgiveness.
  • Second, God has a long track record of redeeming and using broken people with personal failings for His good purposes.

The good news for my friend Matthew and his colleagues is that they will have job security as long as imperfect human beings date, get married, and seek to successfully live together in this fallen world.

Meeting the Parents

Then scarcely had I left them
    when I found my love!
I caught and held him tightly,
    then I brought him to my mother’s house,
    into my mother’s bed, where I had been conceived.
Song of Solomon 3:4 (NLT)

When I was a young man I found myself desperately seeking “the one.” Looking back after years of introspection and therapy, I think that I now begin to understand why I felt so driven to find a girl to marry. At the time, however, I just followed my heart and hormones without much thought or question. I was on the prowl to find the girl I would marry. To that end, I dated several girls, and was rejected by as many as I dated. Some relationships lasted a day or two. Some made it a few weeks. Some lasted months. A few where on-again-off-again over a decent span of time.

This morning I was reminded of a very nice young lady whom I dated in college. We had dated a month or so when she invited me home to meet the parents. I was a pretty sharp kid, but I was completely unaware of the gravity of her invitation. While spending the weekend with her parents and family, I suddenly began to realize that she was also on the prowl to find “the one” and she had decided that I was it. This trip home was not about a fun weekend getaway from campus. I was on display for inspection as “the one.” I found myself scared and freaked out by the sudden and subtle seriousness of the situation. I quickly and awkwardly ran away from that relationship.

I thought about that fateful weekend as I read this morning of Solomon’s young female lover dreaming of her search to find him. When she eventually locates “the one,” she immediately brings him back to her mother’s house, into her mother’s bed where she had been conceived. There is something deeply rooted in our human experience here. It’s serious stuff when a young woman takes a young man home to meet the parents. Ironically, God’s Message defines marriage as a man and woman leaving their respective parents and homes to become one with each other.

Today, I am pondering this dance of courtship that men and women have been doing since the beginning of civilization. As I think back to all of my dating relationships I shake my head at my own foolishness, awkwardness and inexperience. I appreciate many positive experiences and regret many mistakes. And yet, I am thankful for all of my relational experiences and the lessons they have taught me. Most of all, I am grateful for God leading my long and winding road of relationships to Wendy, and pray I have learned my lessons well enough to be “the one” who blesses her every day of our journey together.