Let’s Talk About Dating, Part Two
Dr. James Dobson calls the age between sixteen (16) and twenty-six (26) years the “decision decade” because most of the decisions made during this time will set the course for the rest of a student’s life. A major portion of the decisions made during this time have to do with the subject of dating and interaction with the opposite sex. In part one of this article, I discussed the complexities I faced as a youth leader attempting to teach on the subject of dating to my hormone-crazed students. As stated in part one, the subject of dating may not be specifically discussed in Scripture, but personal character and Christ-like values are found throughout God’s Word. I believe dating in the right context with the right boundaries set in place can have many benefits.
In their book, Boundaries in Dating, Henry Cloud and John Townsend describe some of the many benefits to dating. The first benefit dating provides is the opportunity to learn about oneself and relationships with others. When a student dates within a supportive community that cares about him or her and gives guidance, students have opportunity to grow, learn, and mature before making a marital commitment. This safe community should consist of parents, youth leaders and youth groups, pastors, proven mentors, etc. When in dating relationships, a key word is “accountability” with those who are looking out for the student’s welfare.
One of the best benefits dating can offer, especially when done in a safe community, is helping to build relationship skills. After all, quality healthy relationships take a lot of work and skill. At first, many people discover their own lack of relationship skills in areas such as communication, honesty, or listening and may be overridden with insecurities. Discovering these insufficiencies in your younger years allows you more time to grow and improve as you prepare for marriage.
Dating also allows you to learn what you like in the opposite sex. Can someone with only sixteen (16) to twenty (20) years of life experience really claim they know with certainty what kind of person they will really be compatible with? For some people, being around a Type-A personality or an intellectual for large sums of time may be Heaven on earth, but excruciating pain for others! Ask any married person about their first dating experiences. Most will share common stories of discovering what they thought they valued in a person was not what they realized they needed for the long term. Anybody can look good until you’re in a close relationship day-after-day-after-day!
Finally, healthy dating can provide a context to learn self-control and delayed gratification. When you are engaged in learning about yourself and what it takes to build a quality relationship with someone else that will override your insecurities, you discover that a dating relationship can occur without sexual intimacy—contrary to what secular culture may claim. Two people who are striving to be Christ-like can learn how to relate to each other and still deny sexual expression. I make this last point because most of what I observe in two teenagers dating, even within the youth group, is an exclusive, touchy-feely expression without building healthy skills (such as communication and listening). Many teens are dating with selfish motives intent on meeting their own pre-mature needs. Putting godly boundaries in place can prevent the future heartache that can come from such short-sightedness.
I’m certainly no expert on dating, and I was not a “Pentecostal Playboy” taking a different girl out every weekend through my late teens and young adult years. I am very grateful that I was accountable to my parents and spiritual leadership when I did enter the dating scene. Some dating relationships revealed to me what I DO NOT WANT or NEED in a wife, contrary to what I had previously thought. Dating others also taught me my own strengths and weaknesses and helped me learn what kind of person I fit best with in a soulmate.
I’m thankful I had already engaged in learning these lessons before my wife Mendy and I began dating. They key is found in Matthew 6:33: “But seek ye first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you.” Don’t get so focused on dating that you forget to build your own life according to God’s Word and will. Stay focused on Him, and He’ll take care of the rest!
Chad Flowers is married to his best friend and teammate, Mendy. He’s a daddy to two incredible little girls, Jadyn and Keira, and one son, Chandler. He lives in Mesquite, Texas where he has a private practice as a licensed professional counselor and serves as pastor of Emmanuel Pentecostal Church.