By April Motl, Crosswalk.com
Recently, I had a mom of a teen ask me some questions about navigating the dating scene with her son. I think she was surprised at my lack of "rules" regarding what I might counsel about finding God's mate for your life. We've lived through a number of different church movements prescribing how young people ought to find love and marriage. And while my husband and I gleaned good things from each, whenever we lean on anything outside of Scripture for guidance, we will undoubtedly come up short.
When we look at Scripture to find the prescription for love, we see guiding principles more than a litany of rules. Consider these biblical romances:
- God brought Eve to Adam. And the rest is history.
- Isaac was 40 when God brought Rebekah into his life. They didn't court, date, or write letters. They just took major leaps of faith and relied on God. Scripture does record that Isaac did indeed love Rebekah and that he never took any other wives.
- Jacob wasn't walking with God or trusting Him as much as his father was when he started to make a living and find a wife. He kissed the first girl that caught his attention and then spent 14 years trying to work for her hand. He ended up marrying (through the deception of his father-in-law) her sister first and then finally his first love, Rachel.
- Abigail found love when she sought to save the life of her foolish husband, who had ticked off David, the future king of Israel. When Nabal, her husband, found out what she did to save him, he died of something like a stroke. Then David swooped in to make the wise and helpful Abigail his bride.
Scripture tells us that God saw it wasn't good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18). He made us to need a partner in life that uniquely complements the gifts He poured into us. When man and woman are joined in marriage, Scripture says they together reflect His image.
Yet the path to finding that partner for life is unique to each person. That's probably why so many of us enjoy a good love story. Each one has its own twists and turns. And Scripture affirms this. One person might find love through a dating service. Another might feel like God wants them to wait for Him to bring someone along rather than posting a search. I've watched love unfold in both scenarios. One person finds love at "too" young of an age, while another waits until middle age - and God was in both journeys. Both romances required faith to see that story bloom.
When I spoke with that mom about her son, I shared that I felt strongly that finding a mate in life is a unique part of learning to follow God personally and relationally. If you replace the pursuit of God's leading with a set of rules from a book, your son or daughter will miss out on important lessons about following Him.
We've watched the Lord write love stories in all sorts of beautiful and unique ways in our ministry experience. Here are a few guiding principles for discovering the path to love. You can share these with your son or daughter and also pray for them over their romantic relationships. Many of these principles can be practiced outside of romantic relationships earlier in life. I think God designed relationship principles to build that way, first practicing the fundamentals before adding the intensity of romance. So regardless of your child's age, they can benefit from learning these basics.
1. Acknowledge God in All Your Ways
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge Him, and He will make your paths straight. Proverbs 3:5-6
Relationships that foster a spirit of acknowledging and trusting God are good ones to have! If a relationship does not nurture that spirit, perhaps it is best not to invest a lot in it. By the same token, maybe your child needs the maturity necessary to bring God into the relationship. Both aspects of this point deserve prayer and attention. Teaching our kids to ask themselves if their relationships foster trust and acknowledgment of God is a healthy practice to instill long before romance enters the picture.
A very practical litmus test on this point is to ask your child if they feel embarrassed saying grace around the person they are in a relationship with. Thanking God for our food is the most basic and commonplace way we invite God into our day. If they can acknowledge God in this very accepted and ordinary way with the person they are in a relationship with, that's a good sign. There's more, but this is a good starting point.
2. Do Everything from Love
"Love is patient, love is kind and is not jealous; love does not brag and is not arrogant, does not act unbecomingly; it does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness, but rejoices with the truth; bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails." 1 Corinthians 13:4-8
In 1 Corinthians 16:14, Scripture tells us to "do everything from love." Earlier in Corinthians, love is defined as patient, kind, not self-seeking, etc.
Practicing love in friendships before romance is fundamental. All too often, especially in the case of early romances, love is not even part of the story. Lust takes centerstage. There is no patience, it shows off arrogantly, it is jealous and thoroughly self-seeking. Teaching our kids to avoid relationships like this and repenting these kinds of emotional responses in their own hearts in their friendships is vital to preparing them for a healthy and satisfying marriage.
Another defining quality of love is that it forgives (does not take into account wrong suffered). Teaching our kids how to forgive is one of the most important spiritual/emotional processes we can pass on to them! (For a deeper look at forgiveness, contact the ministry for a Bible study about forgiveness.)
3. Honor Your Family
"For Moses said, 'Honor your father and your mother'; and, 'HE who speaks evil of father or mother, is to be put to death.'" Mark 7:10
This is one of the Ten Commandments and is repeated by Jesus in the New Testament. God's heart for family is that we would honor one another. There are reasonable boundaries to what honoring entails, just as the direction for fathers to not exasperate their children (Colossians 3:21) also has some logical and biblical balance points. But the heart is that we would honor one another in our family relationships.
Teaching your kids from the earliest age to avoid relationships that stir up a disrespect for parents is important. Nine point nine times out of ten, a parent will have their child's (grown or little) best interest at heart. A friend they just met or a romance that is pulling their heartstrings won't necessarily have their best interest at heart. Teaching our kids to acknowledge this reality is wise.
Any relationship our children (grown or little) choose to nurture ought to value and respect their parents and siblings. Helping them grow a heart of wisdom about this early in life will help them readily identify the qualities of a solid, healthy person to invest in later in life when it comes to romance.
4. Exercise Self-Control
Self-control starts in relationships and starts young. When our little ones get too wound up, we remind them to slow their roll down the church aisles as they play together. When they want the toy or the first turn, we remind them to consider others before themselves. This personal quality needs a lot of exercise to prepare them for an eventual healthy, fulfilling romantic relationship.
"For by these He has granted to us His precious and magnificent promises, so that by them you may become partakers of the divine nature, having escaped the corruption that is in the world by lust. Now for this very reason also, applying all diligence, in your faith supply moral excellence, and in your moral excellence, knowledge, and in your knowledge, self-control, and in your self-control, perseverance, and in your perseverance, godliness, and in your godliness, brotherly kindness, and in your brotherly kindness, love. For if these qualities are yours and are increasing, they render you neither useless nor unfruitful in the true knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ." 2 Peter 1:4-8
Self-control is an inextricable part of our Christian experience. The pieces of our Christian faith that fit together in our personal journey are also the pieces we share that fit together in a maturing romantic relationship.
The effort taken to sow a spirit of self-control in childhood will blossom into a mature individual that can live within a budget, work beyond their own fulfillment for the wellbeing of their family, disregard the desire to relax in place of playing with the little ones at the end of the day, etc. During the days of budding romance, self-control is most often thought of concerning expressions of physical affection. And this is true, but it is not the sum total of self-control. Helping our young adult children grow this vital fruit of the Spirit is necessary before they find romance, during their romantic relationship, and throughout the entirety of their adult life.
Teaching them to identify their "self-control" panel in their heart is a healthy start. It is vital to teach them how to lean into God's help to grow in this quality. Teaching and praying for them to discern with wisdom the kinds of people who are also pursuing self-control in their personal walk with God is key to building maturing, healthy relationships. When romance enters the picture, the ability to discern the kind of person who values and nurtures self-control instead of self-indulgence will bless our kids' journey into marriage and their future families.
5. Trust and Expect Good from God
"No good things does God withhold from those who walk uprightly." Psalm 84:11
"And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him." Hebrews 11:6
"He who finds a wife finds a good thing and obtains favor from the Lord." Proverbs 18:22
Every aspect of our lives requires a significant amount of faith to see it blossom into God's complete design for it. Friendships need faith as well as romantic relationships. And most certainly, our kids' future family life will require their best faith poured out over their marriage and children. Instilling a heartbeat of faith as our children relate to the people God places in their lives will prepare them for their future partners.
Many romantic relationships seem to go through a season of testing when one of the parties can only trust God with the end result. I remember how my relationship with my husband had its own moments of testing when both of us had to trust God with our heart's desires and trust the outcome of our romance to His leading and care. It was a heavy season, but it prepared us for a marriage built on faith and reliance on our Lord.
The path to love is exciting and designed that way by God. But it is a piece of our kids' lives woven into all the rest. The relationship skills they need to navigate romance with wisdom come from seeds planted in their childhood. Those same qualities mature to develop them into joy-filled adults with fulfilling family lives - and hopefully a romantic love that partners with them for the rest of life's adventures.
For a free Scripture Prayer Guide to pray to help your kids navigate romance, email info(at)motlministries.com.
April Motl is a pastor’s wife, homeschool mom, and women’s ministry director. When she’s not waist-deep in the joys and jobs of motherhood, being a wife, and serving at church, she writes and teaches for women. You can find more encouraging resources from April here and here.