What I've Learned Since I Kissed Dating Goodbye
The clock read 5:05 P.M. Shannon's workday was over. She enjoyed her job at the church, but she was ready to go home and unwind.
She began her familiar end-of-the-day routine: tidied her desk, shut down her computer, straightened a picture on her bookshelf, got her coat from the closet, and said her goodbyes. "Bye, Nicole," she said to the girl in the office beside her. "See you tomorrow, Helen," she called to the receptionist.
She walked through the quiet lobby and pushed open one of the heavy glass doors. The winter wind tugged at her as she made her way across the nearly empty parking lot. She climbed into her worn, navy blue Honda Accord and shut out the cold.
She lifted her keys to the ignition, and then paused. There, alone in the silence, the emotions she had kept at bay during the day came rushing in. Tears welled up in her eyes. She leaned her forehead against the steering wheel and began to cry.
"Why, Lord?" she whispered. "Why is this so hard? What am I supposed to do with these feelings? Take them away if they're not from You."
I used to watch from my window as Shannon walked to her car at the end of each day. My office looked out over the parking lot. What is she thinking about? I wondered. I longed to know more about her-to go beyond our polite conversations as casual friends and coworkers and really get to know her.
But was it the right time? My heart had been wrong so many times before. Could I trust my feelings? Would she return my interest?
From my vantage point, Shannon Hendrickson seemed happy, confident, and oblivious of me. I was sure she liked another guy. As I watched her drive away, I whispered my own prayer. What is Your will God? Is she the one? Help me to be patient. Show me when to act. Help me trust You.
How could I know that the girl in the navy blue Honda was crying as she drove away, or that I was the cause of her tears?
Three months later ...
I was twenty-three years old, but my hands were acting like they'd never dialed a phone number. I gripped my cordless phone as if it were a wild animal trying to escape and tried again.
You can do this, I assured myself.
The phone rang three times before an answering machine picked up. She wasn't home. I gritted my teeth. Should I leave a message? The machine beeped, and I took the plunge.
"Hey, Shannon, this is Josh ... uh, Harris."
I was sure my voice made it obvious how nervous I felt. I'd never called her at home before, and I had no excuse related to work or church for doing so now. "Um ... could you give me a call when you get a chance? Thanks." I hung up, feeling like a complete idiot.
For sixty-four agonizing minutes I analyzed whether or not the message I had left sounded cool and collected. Then the phone rang. I took a deep breath and answered.
It was Shannon.
"Hey, thanks for calling me back. How's it going?"
We chatted for a few minutes about her day and did our best to have a natural conversation, even though we both knew that my calling her was the most unnatural thing in the world. I finally got to the point and asked if she could meet me the next day after work at Einstein's, a local bagel shop. She said she could.
Before we hung up, I offered an ambiguous explanation for the rendezvous. "I need to talk ... about a guy I know who's interested in you."
My phone call to Shannon might not seem like a big deal to most people, but for me it was monumental.
Why? Because five years earlier I had quit dating. I know that sounds strange, so let me explain. I had come to believe that the lifestyle of short-term relationships was a detour from serving God as a single. So while I kept my social life, my female friends, and my desire to get married someday, I stopped dating.
This new perspective was anything but characteristic of me. I had always been a flirt who lived for the buzz of romance. For me, rejecting the dating game was a seismic shift.
My change of perspective began after I broke up with a girl I'd been going out with for two years. Our relationship was an area of my life that I had refused to submit to God. When it ended, He began to show me just how selfish I was. I'd used her to satisfy my own sinful desires. Even though we never went all the way, I'd led her into a sinful physical relationship. I had hurt her. I had broken a lot of promises.
For the first time, I really began to question how my faith as a Christian affected my love life. There had to be more to it than "don't have sex" and "only date Christians." What did it mean to truly love a girl? What did it feel like to really be pure-in my body and my heart? And how did God want me to spend my single years? Was it merely a time to try out different girls romantically?
Slowly and in spite of my resistance, God peeled away layer after layer of wrong thinking, wrong values, and wrong desires. He changed my heart. And as my heart changed, I saw that my lifestyle had to change too.
When I was twenty-one, I wrote about my experience in I Kissed Dating Goodbye. I wanted to challenge other singles to reconsider the way they pursued a romance in light of God's Word. "If we aren't really ready for commitment, what's the point of getting into intimate and romantic relationships?" I asked. "Why not enjoy friendship with the opposite sex but use our energy as singles to serve God?"
To my astonishment God provided a publisher willing to print my oddly titled book. To everyone's astonishment the book actually sold. It turned out that many people besides me were rethinking romance. I have received thousands of e-mails, postcards, and letters from singles of all ages from all over the world who want to share their stories, ask questions, and get advice.
As the letters poured in, I realized that while God had graciously used my book to help some people, it had also raised a lot of questions. For example, if you don't date, how exactly do you end up married? One girl wrote: "I want to avoid the pitfalls of our culture's approach to romance, but how do I get close enough to a guy to decide whether I want to marry him? What comes between friendship and marriage?"
The main point of I Kissed Dating Goodbye was: "If you're not ready for marriage, wait on romance." But now my fellow singles were asking, "How can you know when you are ready for marriage? And once you're ready, what should you do?"
To be honest, I hadn't figured that out yet. I never meant to become an expert on relationships. The questions my readers were asking were the same ones weighing on my heart.
This is why my phone call to Shannon was such a big deal. I'd reached a point where I felt ready to pursue marriage, and I was deeply attracted to her. What now? For five years I'd experienced God's faithfulness as I waited on romance; now I was stepping into the unknown believing that He would continue to be faithful as I pursued romance.
The guy who had "kissed dating goodbye" was about to "say hello to courtship." Corner Table The next evening I arrived early for my meeting with Shannon. Einstein Bagels is a favorite lunch spot in Gaithersburg, but at night it's all but empty. I chose a lonely table in the far left corner of the restaurant. It was slightly dirty, so I asked the server to wipe it off. Everything needed to be just right. I went to the bathroom and checked my hair. "Oh, whatever," I finally said to the mirror.
Back at the table I waited and fidgeted in my seat. I worried about whether I should prop my feet up on a chair. Would it make me look more relaxed? No, it's too casual. How about one foot? No, that looks like I'm wounded. I finally decided to leave both feet on the floor.
Nervous energy washed over me every time I thought about the conversation I was about to have. I couldn't believe that I was doing this-that in only a few minutes she would be sitting across from me.
Shannon Hendrickson and I had been friends for about a year. We worked in the same office. She was a secretary and I was an intern. The first thing I noticed about Shannon was her eyes-they were a bluish, greenish, gray color, and they sparkled when she smiled. The second thing was how tiny she was. Exactly five feet tall, Shannon defines the word petite. I liked that. At only five feet six inches myself, a girl who actually looked up into my eyes was a rare find.
I caught my first glimpse of her on the Sunday she got up in church and shared the story of how she'd become a Christian. Two and a half years earlier she'd had no interest in God. At the time she'd just returned to Maryland from college in New Hampshire, where she'd lived the typical party life. It was an empty life lived for herself-a life ruled by sin. Back home, she threw all her energy into her dream of becoming a professional singer. Soon a move to Nashville seemed the next sensible step up the ladder of stardom. That's just the kind of person she was. Her parents had gotten divorced when she was nine, and her dad had raised her to be self-reliant. She would set her sights on a goal, and then do whatever was needed to get there.
Before heading to Nashville, she wanted to take a few guitar lessons. She asked around about a teacher, and a friend referred her to a guitarist named Brian Chesemore, who was looking for students. What Shannon didn't know was that Brian was a Christian and was looking for opportunities to share his faith. Her guitar lessons would turn out to be soul saving.
After a few weeks of lessons, Brian told Shannon how Jesus had changed his life. She listened politely but said she could never live like he did. "I respect you, but that's not for me."
"Do you think you're going to heaven?" Brian asked gently.
"I think I'm basically a good person," she responded. But her confident rejection was an act. She couldn't get Brian's questions out of her head. What if there was a God? If He existed, would she be willing to live for Him?
Shannon secretly began to study Christianity. She read the book of Romans, which described her not as a "good person," but as a sinner in need of a savior. She visited a Christian bookstore and asked for something that would help a person explore the claims of Christianity. "It's for a friend," she explained. She left with Josh McDowell's More Than a Carpenter, which gave historical proof for Christ's life, death, and resurrection.
God was drawing Shannon. He was whittling away at her pride and independence and awakening within her a longing for Himself. One night, alone in her room, she repented for her sinful and self-centered life and believed on the Savior she now knew had died for her. Something Better
Growing up, I always hoped that when I saw the girl I was going to marry, it would be love at first sight. As it turned out, my chance for a "love at first sight moment" went right over my head.
On the Sunday I heard Shannon tell her story, I happened to be interested in a girl named Rachel. In fact, I was sitting next to Rachel's mother that morning. When Shannon finished speaking, Rachel's mom leaned over and noted what a "cute girl" Shannon was, a remark that I now find very ironic.
God had set me up. As I sat there next to the mother of my plan for my future, God was parading His plan for my future right in front of my eyes. He had mapped a course for me that was more wonderful than anything I could come up with on my own, and He was making sure that in the days to come I would never question that this good plan had originated in His mind.
Three months later Shannon and I wound up working together at the church office. We hit it off right away, but I wasn't thinking about anything beyond friendship. When someone asked me if I was interested in her, I thought the question was silly. Shannon was a terrific girl, I said, but not the kind of person I envisioned marrying. Besides, our backgrounds were too different. She was a new Christian from a broken home. I'd probably marry someone who had been home-schooled and raised in the church like I had-someone like Rachel.
But over the next six months my plans for a future with Rachel began to unravel like a cheap sweater. I remember the afternoon I found out that she liked another guy. Rachel and I had only been friends, and she hadn't led me on, but it still hurt. I needed to talk to God. I shut my office door; but that didn't seem private enough, so I squeezed myself into my small office closet and pulled the door shut.
There in the darkness I started to cry. I wasn't mad at Rachel; I wasn't bitter. I cried because I knew God was behind it all. He was the one who had closed the door on a relationship with Rachel, and He'd done it for my good. I was over-whelmed by the thought that the God of the universe was willing to be involved in the details of my life-that He'd be willing to reach down and shut a door that He didn't want me to walk through.
Still crying, I began to thank Him. "I don't understand, but I thank You," I said. "I don't understand, but I know You are good. I don't understand, but I know You're taking this away because You have something better."
That day was a turning point. I stopped trusting in my own carefully laid plans and asked God to show me His. Change of Heart
Around that time I began to see Shannon in a new light. Her kindness to others and me caught my attention. She had a passion for God and a maturity that belied her short time as a believer. How can I explain it? She just began to pop up in my thoughts and prayers. I looked forward to the chance to see her and talk. What I learned about her through our interaction and from what I heard from others impressed me. I saw that all the reasons I had for why I wouldn't be interested in her were shallow. God was changing my heart.
All this had made the months leading up to my phone call torturous. I went through the "I shouldn't be distracted by this" phase. Then the "I am distracted by this" phase. And finally, the "I'm going to fight this" phase, in which I swore to stop journaling about her and mapped a new course around the office so that I wouldn't walk past her desk ten times every hour-something I found myself doing "unintentionally."
I was living with my pastor, C. J. Mahaney, at the time. Since my mom and dad lived far away in Oregon, C. J. and his wife, Carolyn, had become like a second set of parents to me. I told them about my interest in Shannon. Their counsel helped keep me on track: "Don't let impatience get the upper hand. Be her friend but don't communicate your interest until you're ready to start a relationship that has a clear purpose and direction. You don't want to play with her heart."
It wasn't easy. I would swing between the conviction that I needed to conceal my feelings and the urge to send her signals just to find out if there was any mutual interest. I could trust God better if I knew she liked me, I argued. But deep down I knew this wasn't true. I needed to be a man - a noncommittal testing of the waters wouldn't be fair to her
I started seeking the advice of the most trusted people in my life - my parents, my pastor, and people from our church who knew shannon and me well. Was I prepared spiritually and emotionally for marriage? could I provide for a wife and family? Was this God's time for me to pursue a relationship? My prayers kicked into high gear
Instead of subsuding, my feelings grew. My circle of counselors gave me nothing but encouragement to pursue a relationship. I didn't know if Shannon and I were supposed to be married, but I felt God was directing me to take the next step
"you may have already figured this out," I began. "That guy I wanted to talk to you about - you know, the one who's interested in you? Well ... it's me."
What I did tell her was that through our friendship I'd grown to respect her. I couldn't know at that point if we were right for eachother, but I wanted to find out. I asked her to take a step with me into courtship, a new season friendship. The purpose of this time would be to deepen our relationship so that we could prayerfully and purposefully explore the possibility of marriage. I wanted more than anything else to please God and find out if marriage was his plan for us
Think about the questions Christian singles wrestle with: How do you get close enough to someone to make a decision about marriage without stealing theh privileges of marriage? How do you find the love of your life without leaving a trail of broken hearts and broken promises behind you on the way to altar?
While the word courtship isn't in the Bible, the principles that comprise courtship are timeless, and rooted in God's word. In God's plan the personal benefits of an intimte relationship are always inseparably linked to a commitment to the other person's long-term good inside the covenant of marriage. To put it simply, the joy of intimacy is the reward of commitment. Courtship is simply a relationship guided by this principle
Courtship is a relationship betweeb a man and a woman who are actively and intentionally together to consider marriage
The season of our courtship was a wonderful time in our relationship in which we refrained from physical intimacy, deepened our friendship, learned about each other's values and goals, and interacted on a spiritual level. We asked a lot of questions. We went on dates. We grew closer to each other and ultimately grew to love one another deeply. They key was that everything we did in our relationship was for the very clearly stated purpose of finding out if God would have us marry
The difference from my past realtionships was that now our activities and the time we spent together had a purpose beyond mere recreation, and that purpose was clearly defined. We weren't simply trying to get swept up in our emotions. Instead, we were letting our feelings grow naturally out of our deepening respect, friendship, and commitment to one another
Eventhough courtship has a serious intent, it can be low-pressure and casual when it begins. The path starts with "I'd like to get to know you" and ends - if the outcome is a desire for a life together - with "I'd like to marry you". But there's a lot of space in between
We shouldn't make courtship a bigger deal than it really is. It is a time for the couple to get to know each other without outside pressure or overly high expectations. The only pressure the couple should feel when then begin a courtship is teh good pressure God's Word places on them to honor Him and treat each other with purity and integrity
Courtship is a commitment - it's a promise not to play games with another person's heart. In that sense it's serious
God doesn't have a one-size-fits-all plan for relationships. We all have very different lives - we vary in age, cultural background, and circumstances. Some of us can have our parents involved in our courtships; others cannot. Some of us can develop a friendship with another person naturally in a group sitting at church or school. Others don't have the luxury of those settings and have to be more obvious about their interest. SOme of us approach the possibility of marriage fo rthe first time, while others have journeyed through the nightmare of divorce and are hesitantly moving toward a second commitment.
You might be asking, "How am i supposed to follow God's principles for courtship when my circumstances are so different from those of other people?"
It's good to be inspired by couples who have set a godly example. Still, God isn't asking us to copy each other but to fix our eyes on our Lord and Master Jesus Christ and pursue courtship in a way that's faithful to His character. We can each rest in the knowledge that God is sovereign over our life's situation. No matter where we are today or what mistakes we've made in the past, He has given us everything we need to glorify Him right now
The motivating purpose of christians should be to obey God. The concept of courtship is only helpful so far as it helps us to better honor and glorify God. That should be the ultimate purpose in any relationship. Making Him our greatest delight and joy is the best thing we can do for our relationships and future marriages
Romance and woisdom: Why you need more than just intense feelings
Falling in love was God's idea. He was the one who made us capable of experiencing romantic feelings. He was the one who gave us the ability to appreciate beauty and experience attraction. And he was the one who invented marriage so that the blazing fire of romantic love could become something even more beautiful
Romance is a very good thing. But just because it's good doesn't mean that we can enjoy it whenever and however we please. Like all other good gifts God has made, romantic love can be misused
Matchng romance with wisdom doesn't necessarily mean that you do the opposite of what you want. What it does mean is that you learn to do what's best. Wisdom is simply the ownership of insight. It's the "Oh i get it!" that means we understand how one thing relates to another...and that we're willing to change our attitudes and behavior accordingly. It's the art of living successfully in whatever actual conditions we find ourselves. when we guide romance with wisdom, we have skillful romance - romance that is directed by what is true about God and about the world He has made
Romance without wisdom becomes selfish, indulgent, and even idolatrous. Long-lasting romance needs practical, common-sense, wisdom that knows when to let the wind of feelings carry us higher and when to pull back. When to express our emotions and when to keep quiet. When to open our hearts and when to rein them in
Here are three ways that wisdom leand and guides us into skillful romantic relationships
1. Romance says, "I want it now!" Wisdom urges patience
It takes patience to wait to start a relatonship until you're truly ready to court with purpose. Then after you've started a purposeful relationship, you'll need patience to make sure it unfolds at a healthy pace. Impatience rushes everything. It urges us to skip the time and attention a healthy friendship requires and to jump right into emotional and physical intimacy
Time is God's way of keeping everything from happening all at once. Don't let impatience cause you to rush. Take your time. Enjoy where God has the two of you rush. Take your time. Enjoy where God has the two of you right now. Savor each course. Don't settle for mishmash
2. Romance says, "This is what I want and it's good for me." Wisdom leads us to consider what's best for the other person
Listen to the kinds of questions we ask when we're guided by a selfless desire to do what's best for another
- Is starting this relationship now what's best for hi,?
- Will expressing all my feelings now serve her?
- Are my actions encouraging him to love God more?
- Am I communicating clearly and in a way that helps her?
- Does the wau I dress encourage him to have a pure thought life?
- Will kissing her be what's best for her in the long run?
A selfless desire to do what's best for the other person can guide us in the big and small decisions of a relationship
3. Romance says, "Enjpy the fantasy" Wisdom calls us to base our emotions and perceptions in reality
What is an emotion? It's a physical expression of how we perceive the status of something we value. Anger, gladness, fear, sadness, joy, jealousy, and hatred are all combinations of our perception and our values
Wisdom calls us to base feelings on accurate information, not on distortions, wishful thinking or rationalization
When are you ready for courtship? when you positively answer these questions:
- Are you able to be patient?
- Can you set a clear course for the relationship?
- Are your emotions based in reality?
The right time and age to start pursuing marriage will be different for each of us. But the one thing we should all have in common is waiting until romance can be guided by wisdom. then we can experience the season of courtship at the right time and the right pace witha clear purpose and a clear head. This is romance at its best.
anyone can have passionate feelings, but only those who seek God's purpose and timing can know the true joy of romantic love fulfilled
Our True Condition
What will you do if the wrong guy starts pursuing you? Or the right guy doesn't?
The question of when and with whom we pursue a relationship – or when and whom we allow to pursue us – can be confusing and uncomfortable. Most of us would prefer not to face them. Walking by faith isn't our idea of fun. We want the discomfort and risk removed. Before we make a move we want God to make the situation crystal clear. The problem is that our mindset is "God, tell me who, tell me how, tell me when – and then I'll trust you." What God wants us to see is that if He did this, our trust wouldn't be real. It's only when we realize that we're vulnerable, weak and dependent on Him that God can demonstrate His strength and love on our behalf.
Here is a list of questions to help a guy determine whether it is the right time to think of marriage
Am I prepared to lead my wife spiritually and serve her in every way?
Do I have proven character, and am I growing in godliness?
To whom and for what am I accountable?
How am I involved in the church? What are my gifts and ministry areas? What are hers?
Are my motives for pursuing marriage selfish and worldly, or are they to honor God?
Can I provide financially?
What do my pastors and parents have to say?
"The evil in our desire typically does not lie in what we want, but in that we want it too much." Don't place your hope for happiness in starting a courtship and getting married instead of trusting God for your ultimate satisfaction
God is changing you. Even though you're not always aware of it, even though you sometimes feel like your life is on hold, God is steadily doing an important work in your heart to know how to trust God more than your own meticulous planning. So don't long for marriage, bring your requests to God with joy and thankfulness instead of desperation or complaining.
"Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ" Philippians 4:6-7
Learning as we go
1. Remember, God is interested in the journey, not just the destination
God's interest in all this is not limited to getting us married – He wants to use the process, and all the questions and uncertainties it involves, to refine us, sanctify us, and increase our faith
2. Don't over spiritualize decision making
God knows all things. He knows whom we'll marry before we meet him or her. But that doesn't mean our task is to discover what He already knows or to worry that we might miss His perfect plan. Our responsibility is to love Him, study His word, deepen our relationship with Him, and learn to evaluate our choices in light of biblical wisdom
I'd like to offer one caution to men: I'm not saying that initiative is not required or that sitting around waiting for the Lord to drop a wife into your lap is somehow godly. Neither should you mistake lack of courage for wisdom
3. Our romanticized ideal of what we want in a spouse is often different from what God says matters
We should very carefully examine out criteria for a spouse to see if they are in line with God's. God says that virtue and character matter most because those who choose a spouse based on external and fleeting concerns experience much grief. We need to make sure that we don't let our own romanticized and foolish notions lead us into marrying a person who lacks godly character
A Second Yes
Courtship is a season for two people to grow in friendship to get to know each other's character, and to see how they interact as a couple. Courtship isn't a form of pre-engagement. It's a time to consider the possibility of marriage and to seek to make a wise choice. Some courtships end with two people deciding that they should remain friends