It takes extraordinary courage to change how you date. It’s not easy to reset boundaries, communicate better, flee sexual immorality, confess failures, and end the relationship that needs to end. But you will never regret making the right changes.
There were moments through high school and college when I knew with crystal clarity that things needed to change, but the costs kept me from changing sooner.
What will others think about me when I confess how I’ve failed?
What if I fail again, and things never get better?
What if the change I need means I’m single and alone again?
Like a merciless lawyer, Satan piled up every conceivable reason not to do what I knew I had to do — to make excuses, to put off decisions, to be almost honest with friends and family, to stay in unhealthy relationships, to avoid Christ and indulge in sin.
I have prayed that the four resolutions that follow might give some the courage to do what you’ve been afraid to do for weeks, for months, maybe even for years. To lay down your excuses. To take up your cross. To welcome what it will cost you today to pursue love in light of eternity. To date differently this year, in a way that says something stunning about your God.
If you resolve to change nothing else about your patterns in relationships, resolve to make Jesus the most important thing in your dating. Raise Philippians 1:21 over your next relationship: “To me to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” If to live is Christ, then to date is Christ. To marry is Christ. To remain single is Christ. He is our reason for living and working, growing and learning, dating and marrying.
Above every other priority in dating, look for Jesus. It may sound simple and easy, but Satan wages an all-out war on our hearts and minds to keep us from single-minded devotion. Nothing could be harder. It is emotionally impossible to put Christ before our desires for intimacy and marriage — unless we have the Spirit of Christ. Unless it is no longer we who live and date, but Christ who lives in and through us (Galatians 2:20).
Before you entrust your heart to someone else, resolve to love Jesus with all your heart. Before you let yourself daydream about potential futures with him or her, resolve to love Jesus with all your mind. Before you think about knitting your soul with another, resolve to love Jesus with all of your soul first. Before you risk, sacrifice, and work for love, resolve to love Jesus with all your strength. Resolve to love him more than love.
And as you give your heart first and foremost to Christ, make sure your boyfriend (or girlfriend) has too — in the deepest places of who he is and what he wants. His faith is not a box to check along with lots of others; it should be the ink that shapes every other box. Whether you are currently in a relationship or might begin one this year, decide right now to date from a deeper, wider, higher love for the Lord.
One reason we fail in the same ways year after year is that we fail to admit and address our failures. If you have a sexual past or a trail of mistakes behind you, you need to know there is nowhere safer to deal with your failures than in Christ. Someone may have led you to suspect that how you’ve dated has disqualified you from his love, but Christ came and died precisely for the things you’re most ashamed of. The apostle Paul says,
The saying is trustworthy and deserving of full acceptance, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners, of whom I am the foremost. But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life. (1 Timothy 1:15–16)
Guilt and shame qualify us for his love. He wants to put his patience and mercy on display for the world by showering you with mercy and being patient with you. He wants you to step forward, like Paul, to experience what he died to give you.
The process begins by boldly bringing our failures before his feet (1 John 1:9), knowing he loves to forgive our wrongs, heal our wounds, and restore our brokenness. If we draw our darkness into his light, he will not only cover our darkness, but dispel it. He will make us someone new, someone different from the stains of our dating history (2 Corinthians 5:17).
The process begins at the feet of Jesus, but it does not end there. Those who truly want to change where we have fallen before resolve to seek flesh-and-blood accountability in the specific areas where we have failed (Hebrews 3:12–13). A resolve to grow is a resolve to share with others — to consistently confess our failures, seek out counsel, embrace hard questions, and fold others into our dating relationships. Everyone expects this to happen naturally, and in a few rare instances, it might. In the vast majority of cases, though, this will require extraordinary effort and sacrifice. You will have to care about what other believers think about your relationships more than even they care about what they think.
Resolve to grow where you have failed in relationships — to bring your specific failures to your perfectly patient Savior, to confess your specific failures to another believer, and to pursue specific steps, with God’s help, to overcome temptation and cultivate godliness.
Likely you have asked yourself (over and over again) what you’re looking for in a significant other. Most people, no matter who they are or what they believe, ask that question. The more important question that fewer of us ask is this: What am I looking for from dating?
For many, the answer is simply intimacy. In the fantasies of our imagination, intimacy may look like a thousand different experiences and sensations, but intimacy is often the grail of great price. Unfortunately, when intimacy becomes the great prize, it also becomes the great price we pay. When intimacy fails to materialize, or fails to satisfy us, or fails to last for long, we have only bartered precious pieces of our hearts for painful regret and deeper longings.
Beware of letting your dating be driven by the pursuit of intimacy this year. Date to find precious clarity from God about whether to marry. The great prize in marriage is Christ-centered intimacy. The great prize in dating is Christ-centered clarity. This does not mean marry the next person you date, or only date someone you’re certain you would marry; it means make Christ-centered clarity toward marriage the measure of your romance. Am I increasingly confident over time that this is someone I can marry in the Lord?
A new resolve to pursue clarity in dating cuts against our impulses toward flirtation, ambiguity, and enticement, and flows into clear and loving communication. Any relationship that cuts against flirtation, ambiguity, and enticement, that intentionally postpones physical intimacy for the covenant of marriage, swims against the current, at least in America today. It will seem strange and awkward to others your age — and beautiful to God.
Date for something far more satisfying than physical and emotional intimacy. Date for a deeper purpose. Not because everyone else is doing it. Not because it’s fun. Not because he’s cute. Date because of God. Date for God. Let your love life stem from seeing and enjoying and sharing more of him.
The most important change in your love life may not be between you and your significant other but between you and God. Before we try to establish healthy boundaries in our relationship, we need direction from God. Before we go looking for love, we need to seek the Lord. Before we address our communication in dating, we need to address our communication with our Father. Better relationships will begin with God in prayer.
Unless the Lord builds (or rebuilds) our relationships, we date in vain (Psalm 127:1). Unless the Lord watches over you and your girlfriend (or boyfriend), you risk, worry, and date in vain. He knows exactly what you need (Matthew 6:32), where you are weak, and how you will glorify him. Refuse to date anyone unless, like Moses, God goes up with you (Exodus 33:15). And then talk to him about your relationships as much as you talk with anyone else. When passion rises within you, or anxiety creeps in, or confusion clouds your mind and heart, run first to God. No one will help you, keep you, or hear you like him.
The best way to discern what God is doing, and how he is directing you, in a relationship, this year is to stay close to him. The greater the intimacy you have with him, the greater clarity you will have about who to pursue, what to change, and when to marry.
Did you know that almost six out of ten teens leave the church at some point? Nearly 60% of high school students who grow up going to church will close the doors to a Christian life. And usually, they don't come back (survey by the Barna Group). "Because of people breaking the laws and sin being everywhere, the love in the hearts of many people will become cold." Matthew 24:12
Whenever I answer a question like this, I’m deeply aware that someone may be reading this who is seriously contemplating suicide—and I would do everything in my power to convince them not to take that final, drastic step. With Christ, there is always hope. If that’s you, please hear me. Don’t you dare do that! Jesus and I deeply love you and need you.
(This post is written to Christian women and is based on a biblical worldview, supported with Scripture. Since the writing of this post, a sequel has been written, The Motive to Modesty.) Hurriedly I raked through my second dresser drawer in the dim light of the unlit closet, scrambling for pants of some kind. Finding some, I grabbed a workout shirt, jammed feet into tennis shoes and breathlessly answered the door for Mr. M. “Ready for breakfast?” he asked.