02 June 2007

Matchmaking, Boyfriends and Girlfriends

I've mostly considered it to be a kind of grown-up, parental silliness, that my wife and I have often enjoyed matchmaking our children with the children of our friends. I've been wondering lately, though, whether there isn't something more to this than fun and games. Daddies are contractually obligated to tease their children a bit, but even such teasing is another way of teaching and, dare I say it, catechizing their young charges. When my wife and I arrange to "betroth" our sons and daughters to the daughters and sons of our friends, we are saying something significant about the sort of people we do hope and pray they will marry someday. We identify the values and commitments, the ways of faith and life that are important to us, which we want our children to emulate in their own marriages and families. We also indicate a connection between friendship and marriage, such as I touched upon earlier this week.

My son has asked me to comment on the relationship of boyfriends and girlfriends, and this is where I'm "thinking out loud" about that. I certainly don't suppose that I will solve the whole kettle of fish in a blog post, or even in my lifetime, but perhaps I can make a contribution to the topic. I agree with others who have said that this particular relationship is a transitional one, and that it should not be prolonged indefinitely. Generally speaking, I'm not in favor of long engagements, either, because they pose a serious and dangerous temptation to the sinful flesh. I'm even less excited about long-term romantic relationships that are not going anywhere in particular. Such arrangements are too easily, if not always, driven by selfishness and a mutual self-gratification that is idolatrous at least, and probably adulterous. Waiting and waiting to make sure that everything is right, that all the ducks are in a row, and that both the man and the woman are "ready," may be a mark of maturity, wisdom and discretion. Or it may just as well be a matter of self-righteousness and foolish unbelief. So, how does one figure this out?

It is by God's creative design that boys and girls are attracted to each other. Sin befuddles this attraction, so that it often becomes something entirely other than God intends. For that reason, young men and women must learn to avert their eyes, to guard their hearts and minds (and bodies) with the Word of God, to flee all manner of temptation and impurity, to repent where they have fallen, and to seek the shelter and strength of Holy Absolution. Relationships that have developed into unchastity, perversion, or other shame and vice, ought to be let go and set aside, at least for a significant time of repentance (if not permanently). But for all of that, boys and girls ought not to flee from one another, as though it were impossible for them to have a God-pleasing friendship or, as the case may be, a godly and healthy romance.

Friendship is a good place to begin, with its shared interests, common values, and mutual pursuits. In cases of close friendship between young men and women, there is almost always going to arise a certain tension, because of the natural attraction of the sexes for each other. Care and caution must be exercised, in order to prevent the breaking of that tension with sin. But the tension can also be "broken," in a positive and wholesome way, by leading to something more than friendship. When there are not only those shared interests in other things, but in each other. When there develops a back-and-forth between walking side-by-side and turning toward each other, face-to-face. Twitterpation cannot sustain a permanent relationship or life together, but it does have its place in this dance of love. There ought to be a joy and delight in each other, which is not driven by lust or perversion, but by the goodness of God's creation.

It is not only at that point, but especially then, that a young man or woman (of whatever age) ought to be seeking the counsel and advice of father and mother and other authorities, such as pastors and teachers, in particular. There is no Holy Scripture to tell you whom to date, nor whom to marry, but there is the Word of the Lord that commands you to honor your father and mother. It is mainly through your parents that the Lord your God guides and directs your life, especially from childhood into adulthood. Aside from that, there is no one who knows you better (despite what you may think at times), and no one on earth who loves and cares about you more. Similarly, your pastors and teachers know you well and have your best interests at heart. Your pastor is called and ordained by God to shepherd you with His Word, both the Law and the Gospel, unto repentant faith in the forgiveness of sins. You shouldn't proceed with any major decisions in life without relying upon that divine and heavenly wisdom!

Fathers and mothers ought to be involved already in approving their children's circle of friends. All the more so should they be consulted when one of those friends is becoming something more than just a friend. Hormones, especially under the curse of sin, are powerful and persuasive, and lust has a crafty way of masquerading as love. Young men and women should not rely upon their feelings and emotions to determine whether a particular girlfriend or boyfriend is a meet, right and salutary one. Hard as it may be to accept, if Mom and Dad (or pastors or teachers) are skeptical and apprehensive about a relationship, then it's probably not one to pursue. Caution needs to be exercised, at any rate, and regular counsel sought at every step along the way.

Where a good friendship between a boy and a girl does transition into a romantic relationship, that will be a terrifically exciting time. But the thrilling fun of dating should not be perpetuated for its own sake, nor allowed to go on and on without any guidance or direction. I'm not hung up on terminology like "courtship" vs. "dating," but whatever you call it, this stage in a relationship is really a testing of whether these two friends may become husband and wife. If it becomes clear that marriage would be unwise or out of the question, then romantic dating ought to stop, and perhaps a normal friendship in the company of other friends may be resumed. But if the relationship continues in a positive and healthy direction, with the blessing and approval of parents and other authorities, then the couple ought to be thinking and planning toward marriage. Long-term dating relationships are simply too subject to abuse. Engagements, too, should only be as long as necessary to make arrangements for marriage, including pre-marital pastoral care. There are all sorts of exceptional circumstances, I suppose, but I'm thinking out loud about things in general. The bottom line is to honor the Word of God and obey the Fourth Commandment, that it may be well with you, and that you may live long on the earth.

I'm not convinced that the arranged marriages of the past were such a bad idea. Americans are frankly too hung up on romance. Don't get me wrong; I'm all in favor of romance, but it doesn't make or sustain a marriage. It is the agape love of Christ for His Church, and the faith and love of the Church for Him, that teach and equip husbands and wives to love and serve each other. The true love that makes for a good marriage is chiefly the love of self-sacrifice and free forgiveness, for Jesus' sake. It is a commitment to do the right thing, even on those days when you don't feel like it. Often as not, the romantic love of a husband and wife will wax and wane over the course of time, as the years go by. Fireworks come and go, like holidays, but there grows and develops the satisfying substance and stability of a shared life, a home and family.

When it comes down to it, matchmaking our children with the children of our friends may be a playful kind of silliness, which nevertheless offers a significant sort of wisdom. I expect there is a happy medium between arranged marriages and the romantic attraction that leads to dating. My oldest daughter always said that she'd be content to have her Mom and me pick out a husband for her. Perhaps that was an exaggeration, but it appears that things may work out not so very differently. The truth of the matter is that we do know our daughter, and we want only the best for her. When LaRena and I each sensed that the right man had come along for her, we pointed and suggested and prayed, and then we let things develop as they would. I'm not counting on things to happen so smoothly with all of my children, but I do hope that each of them will listen to my wife and me when the time comes. My oldest son, for example, not only knows that he has our blessing and approval upon his relationship with his girlfriend, but he has consistently sought our counsel and advice in that regard. He still does, and I thank God for it.


Nat said...

So, one question, which probably has a simpler or more complex question depending on which direction you approach it from: it's been mentioned several times (by you, comments on this blog and on other blogs mentioning this post) that the period of courtship, or boyfriend-girlfriend-ship, is only a transition and should not be dwelt upon or made too long. Does this mean that one should not enter into courtship at all if they would not be ready to get married for years to come? This of course is nothing uncommon, as the onset of attraction to the opposite sex long precedes independence (as a rule, that is). It seems that in this situation, you either get a very long period of courtship (which we've already determined is undesirable), or somewhat meaningless casual relationships without any intention of going further; which is basically selfish indulgence (or am I wrong? is there a value to this sort of relationship that I'm missing?).

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Thanks for your comments and questions, Nat.

Let me say, first of all, that the specific answer to almost any such question pertaining to the particulars of dating, is "Honor your father and your mother." I don't say that as a cop out, but because it is especially through fathers and mothers that God deals with young people and directs them in the way that they should go.

What constitutes "too long" is going to be different from one situation to another. It's less a factor of how much time is involved, and more the way that time is being spent, and where the relationship is going (or not going). Certainly, some amount of time is needed, in any case, to determine whether a friendship has the potential for marriage, and, if so, to make that transition.

Given the dynamics of our society, most younger teenagers are still years away from being ready for marriage. Maybe that suggests there ought not to be much "dating" or "courtship" early on. (The origins of the term "courtship" have made me less excited about using it. But I'm not going to get into that here.)

By the nature of the case, transitions don't happen all at once; nor do they need to. In the case of younger teenagers, I would suggest that the testing and transition can begin with the deepening of a good friendship, and with shared activities in the company of other friends.

Prolonging a "meaningless casual relationship" is wrong, I think, no matter how long it has been going on. That may be happening already on the first or second date. Again, it's not the amount of time that is the main problem, although that is a factor, certainly. It's the motivation and intention of the situation. Selfish indulgence is at the heart of our sinfulness, and ought to be guarded against, repented and confessed, wherever it emerges, in any and all of our relationships.

Sloppy Classical said...

This discussion is much more helpful than the mysterious social "flailing about" young people are given to endure. It seems as though discussions of dating or creating a marital relationship are rare, awkward and difficult in families.

Genuine Lustre said...

I am trying to hammer into my children ( here goes Mom with another lecture again....) that you marry the family , not the person. Our extended family has seen 3 divorces in the last two years. In each case, I silently predicted the outcome. Long periods of living together, one devout person and one off-the-cuff person, one person growing up in a divorced home with no role model of a good marriage, etc.

Sloppy Classical said...

Could this thread be made into an article for "Higher Things"....or a little "series" of articles even?

Sloppy Classical said...

In connection to "Fav Apron's" comment: our mutual friend and I have had a "ha-ha, but true" discussion of how a gal should look at a future father-in-law, because sooner or later, our husbands become their fathers, in lots of ways.
When dating it's easy to think you can "avoid" or "cope with" the future inlaws, but the truth is, when children are born, it's not that simple! Life is just more pleasant when the couple and both sets of parents have some kind of harmony going on!

amiga said...

Great Advice. Would you say anything differently to young adults in the following situations?

1. They have parents who have had a not so loving marriage (as God intended- maybe an abusive marriage, adulterous marriage, etc), a divorce, or several marriages?

2. When in honoring their mother and father, their parents may give relationship advice that is contrary to Scripture (ie-why don't you live together to save on bills, etc)

I do encourage young adults to look to examples of good marriages in their congregations, as well as to remain in Word and Sacrament

Rev. Rick Stuckwisch said...

Amiga has posed a couple of good questions, to which I'd like to respond briefly.

Parents are not perfect, and they do not always follow their own good advice. They are honored for the sake of God's Word, and not because they've done everything right. They may not even be the sharpest tools in the shed, either, but their authority is that of the Fourth Commandment. And as I've said before, children can trust the Lord who gave them their father and mother in love.

Where parents have made mistakes, fallen short and failed in their own lives, and thereby given bad examples, children ought to guard themselves against those errors. Not by dishonoring or disobeying father and mother, but by doing as they say, not as they do. Jesus gives similar advice concerning the scribes and pharisees, who sit in Moses' seat, even though they do not live according to the very Law they are given to teach.

In cases where father and mother give advice or direction that is contrary to the Word of God, then the standing rule applies: We must obey God rather than man. The authority of father and mother is itself given by the Word of God; it is not an authority to disregard or contradict His Word.

I'm sad to say that I have encountered situations in which Christian parents have urged their children to live together prior to marriage. This is not only wrong and sinful; it significantly reduces the likelihood of a good marriage! In such cases, I have urged the young people in question to continue honoring their parents, but to recognize that this advice, however well-intended, should not be followed.

It is an exceptional situation when parents tell their children to do something that is clearly wrong, that is, contrary to God's Word. Otherwise, father and mother are to be honored and obeyed on account of God's Word. It is no exception to that rule when a young person believes that he or she knows better than Mom and Dad. Even if parents are foolish, eccentric and senile, they are still to be honored and served, loved and cherished, under the authority of the Lord Himself.