Lessons on dating and intimacy
Have you ever witnessed a couple’s public display of affection and immediately thought to yourself how they were not handling their relationship well? I’m guilty.
In the past few years, I learnt of a few Christian leaders in my church whose relationships were put into question — holding hands before they were officially together, giving up their first kiss within the span of a few casual dates, and justifying the legitimacy of their partner with “he is a Christian; he goes to church.” Disappointment swelled in me when I heard those instances as I wouldn’t have expected such flights of intimacy from these leaders. I’ve come to see that romantic relationships can slowly eat away at our relationship with God, like the waters’ constant chafing of the cliffs.
In retrospect, I was a hypocrite, because I’ve stood in the same position as these people who allowed their infatuation to engulf their lives. I’ve stood at the shoreline and stumbled, allowing my affections to wade through my heart and resolve. My socks and shoes were soaked to the brim, but I was not ready to get out.
Whenever someone would ask me what kind of person I was looking for in a relationship, I would have rattled off the following: someone who would enjoy the music I listen to; a creative soul who appreciates architecture, design, and culture; spontaneity; someone who would like to live in a different continent at one point of her life. I wouldn’t tell a fellow Christian that I would only date a person who loves Jesus — it was taken as a given.
But I was wrong.
More than a year ago, I met a girl at a party. She was stylish, wore an earnest smile, and had unmistakable dimples. After a mutual friend introduced us to each other, we chatted through the night about numerous topics: emerging local bands, growing into our own skin as we mature, and what we thought life had in store for each of us. I loved the way she listened and made me feel that anything in life was possible. I headed home with a desire to get to know her better. It felt as if my heart had just been touched by the brightest sun.
During this heady period of discovering more about her, I somehow did not seem to mind that her faith was not a priority in her life. My heart tussled with my mind, with the latter raising a point that maybe she was just going through a rough patch. My heart unequivocally chose the possibility of happiness over the emptiness.
As we all strive towards sanctification, our heart is endlessly entranced by a dance between the divine and the carnal. More often than not, when it comes to dating and intimacy, the fragility and deceit of our heart lead to actions that are bound by biological compulsions rather than biblical principles.
Surrounded by a culture that tells us that sexual attraction is most important to sustaining relationships, we can be charmed by the physical. We allow the person’s presentation, personality, and power to make us feel cherished and approved take centre stage. Character and godliness are simply traits that are an afterthought, playing minor roles in the relationship.
Deep down, I knew that God had given me specific words about the person I would eventually marry. In addition, I could expound on how marriage should mirror the relationship between Jesus and His bride. Yet, instead of patiently waiting for God to “open my eyes” to the right person, I tried to conjure things out of my own strength, and allowed my feeble heart to be swayed by physical and emotional attraction. An un-surrendered heart led me to stray from His will.
In the past one-and-a-half years, God has taken me on an enlightening season of correction. He has constantly called out the depravity of my heart and its motivations, reminding me that while man has a tendency to look at the “outward appearance,” He is more concerned with the inside (1 Samuel 16:7). He exposed the superficiality of my criteria in my ideal partner and challenged me to dig beneath the surface of man. His words espoused Proverbs 31:30 (ESV): “Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain…” As part of a reportedly visually-inclined gender, God was intentional in teaching me about the vacuity of charm, flattery, and the vanity of beauty.
Mid-way through this journey of pruning and grafting, I’ve come to realise that we frequently look for intimacy in our lives and not clarity for our lives. Proverbs 19:2 (ESV) warns us, “Desire without knowledge is not good, and whoever makes haste with his feet misses his way.” The race for romance — especially among close friends — might lead us to date only because we’re lonely and long to escape the unhappiness, leaving us to find satisfaction and significance in our better half.
More than finding the “perfect” partner for us, I’ve caught a glimpse of how God is incredibly invested in our destiny. He has so much in mind for our lives than simply picking out someone who can alleviate our forlornness. I believe that He would desire for a couple to ceaselessly spur each other into Christ-likeness and holiness, as iron sharpens iron (Proverbs 27:17). He would be in the business of forming “dream teams,” in which couples collectively impact the world and expand His kingdom more than they ever could alone — in His eyes, the sum is always bigger than the parts.
When looking for a life partner, we need to take into consideration what God has planned for our destiny, and how He intends for this particular person to come alongside us in amplifying and intensifying our life mission — personally and collectively. Clarity emerges when we envisage a possible “gospel partnership” (a term coined by Ps Matt Chandler), whereby this very relationship is synergistically relentless in advancing God’s kingdom. “We” is always chosen over “I.” Our relationships are meant to be an expression of our faith, and never in competition with our faith.
My criteria for a life partner may be much simpler today, but I do not think that I’ve settled for less just because of a shorter, less exhaustive list. Rather, God has guided me to live a much larger life — one that stretches beyond selfish and carnal desire; one that doesn’t separate earthly existence from eternity.
As God awakens your heart to love, I pray that you’ll first be awakened to God’s blueprint for your life. May you wake and spend your days beholding God’s “face in righteousness” and being “satisfied with [His] likeness” (Psalm 17:15), such that your heart and mind can only praise and desire someone who yearns to be just like Him.