Read on to get my take on doing a couples devotional, false intimacy, and relationship bubblewrap.
Over the next few weeks I’ll be covering some of the most frequently asked questions about dating that I’ve heard over the years that I’ve worked with young adults.
The frustration for so many of us is that the Bible doesn’t lay out God’s Rules for Dating in a way that we can just peel-and-stick, one-size-fits-all.
But hold on! Don’t despair! He gives us something better!
First, Christians have the Holy Spirit actually at work in us, giving us the wisdom to discern how to follow God’s will as revealed in his Word in each of our unique situations!
“Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.”
John 16:7 ESV
The Holy Spirit’s teaching and truth aren’t limited to a single culture or society. Unlike a one-size-fits-all manual, the Holy Spirit can work in you to show you how to walk with God with your specific questions and doubts. (Here is a little article you might like on this subject.)
Second, we have the wisdom of others who have gone before us.
“The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to advice.”
Read the books, attend the seminars, and develop friendships with older men and women who can share their wisdom and thoughts when you aren’t sure you can trust your own.
And finally, don’t for a second underestimate the value of God’s Word, revealed to us in Scripture.
“Your word is a lamp to my feet
and a light to my path.”
Psalm 119:105 ESV
God didn’t write us a manual for dating, but he did something better. He told us a greater story – the story of his pursuit of the ones he loves. Let that be your guide as you search for romantic love. (More on that next time!)
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The Most Frequent Questions I’m Asked About Dating
So now I offer you what I can: not rules carved in stone to direct your dating steps. But wisdom that comes from years of learning from mistakes – my own and those of others.
Last time I addressed the question:
And today we dive into the important topics of forced intimacy and spiritual leadership with the question:
Should We Do Devotionals Together?
When Steve and I had been dating for about a year, I bought him a devotional as a gift. At that point our relationship was relatively healthy. I mean, we weren’t perfect, but we were trying. We were walking with God, and we wanted to do things right.
But the one thing that I was desperate to change was that Steve held himself a little aloof from me. He hadn’t yet decided whether I was “The One” (Ooh, maybe we should talk about that question, too...) but he enjoyed my company and continued to want to get to know me better.
As for me, I wanted to marry him. Maybe even more to the point, I wanted him to want to marry me. I wanted him to be head-over-heels in love with me. I wanted him to serenade me outside my dorm window. I wanted him to surprise me in class with dozens of roses. I wanted him to love me with an eternal love.
So I bought him a devotional. And I told him that my idea was for us to do the devotional together. It sounded great. It sounded spiritual. It sounded like it just might work.
You see, I can admit now that really I was just trying to create more intimacy between us. Without fully realizing it, I was hoping that deepening our spiritual intimacy would solidify his love and save me from heartbreak.
The Real Question You’re Probably Asking: How Can I Bubble-Wrap This Relationship (And My Heart)?
I wanted intimacy with Steve before he was ready to commit to me. My relationship with Steve needed time to ripen, but I was trying to rush the process. I was almost ready to settle for false intimacy.
Sometimes we create false intimacy by pushing one of the elements of a relationship forward before the relationship as a whole has actually reached that point. Let’s look together at these elements of a relationship. They are sexual/physical, spiritual, emotional, and legal/commitment; and this is how we can abuse each element to try to force intimacy:
You may be pursuing false intimacy sexually or physically if:
- you are sexually intimate before marriage (more on this to come!)
- you are in “friends with benefits” situations
You may be pursuing false intimacy spiritually if you have:
- intense confession sessions
- unnatural, forced spiritual “homework”
You may be pursuing false intimacy emotionally if you are:
- talking as though marriage is a foregone conclusion before you’re ready to mean it
- sleeping together in the same bed, even if you aren’t having sex
- neglecting other friendships
- taking responsibility for the other person’s mental health
You may be attempting to force intimacy through commitment if:
- you have decided to get married before the relationship has had time to mature. The commitment should start out light as the relationship develops.*
- any person in the relationship feeling like they can’t break up. Many young Christian couples who don’t believe in divorce are under the impression that every dating issue must be resolved and breaking up isn’t an option. This attitude, without the legal commitment of marriage, is forcing intimacy before its time.
- there are unbalanced relationship dynamics, such as the woman believing she should submit to her boyfriend.**
You should notice that many of these things listed above aren’t sinful. But there is a wiser approach of letting the relationship progress naturally in a healthy way. The emotional, spiritual, and sexual/physical areas in our dating relationships should progress and the same rate as our level of commitment.
It may look something like this:
Are you just starting to get to know each other? Are you watching to see how your friendship might develop into something more? That’s an exciting time! I urge you to be careful not to muddy the waters of that budding relationship with the false intimacy of premature physical intimacy, over-spiritualized one-on-one prayer meetings, and tell-all personal confessions.
“Daughters of Jerusalem, I charge you: Do not arouse or awaken love until it so desires.”
Song of Solomon 8:4 NIV
But as you deepen that commitment to one another and start dating, your physical interactions will likely change to reflect that. You will begin to share more about your spiritual journeys together, and you will crave each other’s company more and more. This, too, is a beautiful thing!
But it can be scary. We become vulnerable as we let someone touch our hearts. How can we avoid heartbreak?
I’m sorry to say that sometimes we can’t avoid heartbreak. But the closest thing to bubble wrap for the heart in a dating relationship is to keep the progression of emotional, spiritual, and physical intimacy moving along together as you move toward the legal, binding, public commitment of marriage.
But…Should We Do A Devotional Together?
So maybe now you understand why I was misguided in buying that devotional for Steve. We can’t force intimacy before its time.
But it is possible that your relationship has reached a level of maturity that you think could possibly benefit from doing a devotional together and you want to know, would that be ok?
Here are some things to think through:
Is your relationship ready for it?
One-on-one spiritual activities build an intimacy that can confuse the boundaries of a relationship. Ask the thousands of “just friends” who started a Bible study together and found their feelings turning into something more. More often than not, this crush is one-sided and heartbreak ensues.
I think it’s best to save this level of spiritual intimacy for a very serious relationship, possibly even engagement, so that forced intimacy doesn’t railroad the healthy, natural development of that relationship.
Do you both want to?
Sometimes we girls get the impression that the only way for a man to be a spiritual leader (1 Corinthians 11:3, 1 Peter 3:7) is to do a devotional with us. So many of us believe this, and I’m not sure why. (But I was right there with you when Steve and I were dating.) Back up a moment, girls, and ask yourselves, “What would it look like for him to be a spiritual leader?” Maybe devotionals aren’t his style and never will be.
Steve and I tried that devotional a few times and then he let me know it felt forced and unnatural. It wasn’t his style. Instead, we have a very deep spiritual relationship where we we both pursue growth in our own ways and we talk about it. A lot. Usually while hiking. It works well for us.
Are you pursuing God individually?
This brings me to the next important point: in order to have a deep spiritual relationship, you must both have some spiritual depth. Your walk with God shouldn’t be a co-dependent activity. Consider it a red flag in your relationship if either party isn’t willing to pursue God on their own (2 Corinthians 6:14)
If your answers to these questions lead you to believe it would be a good idea to do a devotional with your boyfriend or girlfriend, then I say, go ahead and give it a try. Proceed with caution, and be willing to step back if it’s not the right fit.
*One of the most unhealthy beliefs that has become deeply ingrained in the Christian community is the belief that young people shouldn’t date until they are sure they want to get married. This is a common type of forced intimacy that leads to underdeveloped relationships, premarital sex, and unhealthy marriages.
**I once knew a young couple who had been dating for over a year. The young woman didn’t know if she wanted to marry her boyfriend, but he told her that he wanted to marry her and she needed to submit to his decision in that. (!) Don’t do that.