Saturday, May 28, 2011
Should an age be established that is acceptable for a Christian young person to date? Should someone avoid dating till they are seriously considering marriage? Should independent dating or courtship with parental supervision be practiced?
Over the years I've pondered this question. I've had a hard time with the "they're too young" argument, mainly because some of the best marriages I know, including my godly maternal grandma's, were started at a fairly early age (my grandma was married at 16). It just so happens that my grandfather was formerly Amish, and it just so happens that the Amish, whom we regard as about the most conservative of all, have a pretty "loose" policy when it comes to dating. They allow their children to see each other in private, at night, normally in courting buggies. Of course they have been instructed how to properly behave, but nonetheless the possibility of indiscretion is there. No one, not even their parents, know they are dating until they announce their intentions to be married at a church service. Marriage soon follows. If they stop seeing each other, no one (supposedly) knows they were ever a couple.
Along with my grandparents, my husband's sister was married at sixteen, her daughter was married at seventeen, one of my brothers started dating his bride around 17, and my close friend and roommate from college starting dating her future husband at around age 15, give or take. All of these couples are very happily married today.
Culture plays a significant factor. The Amish culture, along with earlier marrying ages in general in past generations, made it more acceptable within Christian circles to start dating early, or at least earlier than it is now. Were kids more mature back then? I honestly don't know. Certainly in a more agrarian society kids were forced to carry more responsibility at an earlier age. Some of the strongest advocates of courtship these days would encourage it earlier than the norm for their children whom they've trained to be ready for marriage whenever God provides a suitable spouse.
In covering the first question regarding age, I've somewhat addressed the second regarding the purpose of dating, whether it should be only with marriage in view or otherwise. I think I'm coming to the conclusion that for the Christian family, it's not an either or but a both and. I think the starting point is this. If a Christian desires to date, that's an indication that God has put it in their heart to also desire marriage in the future. For those with whom this never works out after one or more relationships, they may discern God's will for them is to be single. For everyone else, they go through a process of discerning God's will in terms of who their life mate will be as they get to know the person they're dating more and more, and learn more about themselves as well. If they're really young, their purpose in dating should be to mature as a person and allow God to shape them into the person He wants them to be for their future mate. It should not be to make them feel good about themselves, although they will probably find this to be difficult. They may end up marrying the person they're dating, but not likely given all the steps that lie before them as they progress toward adulthood.
The third question then is courtship vs. independent dating. There may be different definitions of courtship, but let's just use the old school one of being chaperoned at first and having the expectation of possible or even probable marriage. I think the conclusion that I'm coming to is that a combination of both independent dating and family involvement is necessary for healthy relationships to exist in young couples. So I would definitely reject the Amish model! Parents need to give their children permission and limits when they're still under their authority, just as with everything else. At the same time, I think children need to be given a certain amount of independence and freedom when the parents deem them mature enough to have it, and if they get hurt, they get hurt. God will bring good out of it either way. Hopefully they'll have the assurance of their parents' love and view them as their first "fallback" if something really painful happens. If it becomes obvious to the parents that the relationship isn't going to be a healthy one, they may have to exercise tough love, but again, that's part of the way God will bring good into the situation.
On the positive side, if dating someone is going well, then hopefully there will be freedom on both sides for parents and kids to relate to one another and get to know and care for each other. This doesn't mean the daters are pressured to make decisions about how far the relationship should go, just because they've "met the parents." Think about it. Normally if Christian children develop long term friendships while still at home, involved parents get to know those friends and sometimes their families. The ideal would be for Christian students who go to college to continue a close relationship with their parents and if they enter into a dating relationship, to give at least a little information about who they're dating and how things are going. Parents need to not stifle their children at this age, regarding any decisions being made, but at the same time, wise children will continue to honor their parents' wisdom. Parents need to realize that their children are changing (hopefully for the better!), and not caution them too much based on the way they were as little kids. Rather, they can encourage the strengths they've always seen in them and support them in finding the person God provides for them.
So, no - age is not the main determinant. Yes - marriage should be the goal in dating, but not necessarily with each particular person that is dated; i.e. the young person should be seeking for God to make them ready for marriage whether it be with the one they are currently seeing or not. And yes and no, parents should be actively involved while children are under their authority, while at the same time giving more and more freedom until the child is no longer accountable to them; children should keep in touch, realizing that if they do marry, their mate will be a part of their extended family if they are to have a God-honoring marriage.
Posted by Nita at 5:56 PM