My best friend and her mom used to get so frustrated with me and my open-book, share everything, “policy.” With each person I dated, (or even those I only talked to briefly), I overshared about my life. I did not possess nuclear codes or Julia Child’s secret recipes (and still don’t), but the contents of my heart were more valuable than I believed at the time, and I tossed them carelessly at many handsome faces.
We are not always careful to keep boundaries around our hearts, our story, and our personal information when getting to know a new and exciting person. Late night phone calls (before texting) were my kryptonite. If you wanted to know anything, call me late at night and speak sweetly.
Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life. (Proverbs 4:23, ESV)
God created us to connect, and we are not meant to be alone (cf. Genesis 2:18). It is natural and good that we seek to know and be known by someone else. And connection is good… but as with many “good” things, we need to proceed with wisdom and context is important. A fire in a fireplace is warm and cozy. A fire outside of a fireplace can burn a home to the ground. Remaining balanced and keeping a clear mind is important (cf. I Peter 4:7, Romans 12:2) And, listening to the Holy Spirit is important (cf. Romans 8:14, John 14:26).
Trust me, I remember how difficult it was to keep my wits about me when a potential suitor was nearby. My mouth just wanted to runaway with me. I was young, naïve, and ready to be in love like all my Disney Princess friends – Ariel was my favorite… and I even married Eric, so…. But, instead of finding the love of my life at sixteen and living happily ever after, I kept giving away pieces of myself to other young people who were just as immature as I was. I knew Proverbs 4:23 (the “guard your heart” verse) as concerned adults often quoted it to me, but I treated it as a nice idea and convinced myself the results of my cavalier attitude towards dating would not be “that bad.”
But, I was wrong. It was that bad.
By the time I was eighteen, I was bitter. I felt used (as I allowed myself to be used) and had nothing to show for my “relationships” but a lot of scars. Finally, my godmother sat me down in a Sunday School room at church and said, “We need to talk about your attitude.” Everyone could see it. My smile was gone. My eyes no longer glowed. I was angry and I was empty. Why? Because I was determined to do it my way. I was going to have fun in my relationships and throw caution to the wind and I paid for it (and my loved ones did too… sorry, Mom!)
Now, writing this after our 17th anniversary, I have turned the corner from young person to older person. Now I am the one begging young people to avoid the pain I jumped into headfirst. Be wise. Guard your heart. Listen and take heed (cf. John 14:15, John 16:13-14).
- Remember, you are not married yet. It is important to marry someone you trust. Someone with whom you can share the deepest parts of your heart. During the dating phase, you are learning about your potential partner’s character traits. You are noticing how he or she interacts with family, friends, and strangers. No one can keep their guard up persistently; so, if you pay attention, you will eventually see flaws and strengths subtly emerge. It is natural to relax and open up to a boyfriend or girlfriend but remember at which stage of the relationship you are in. The person you are dating is not your spouse (even if you believe he or she will be soon) and since you are not yet in a covenant relationship, it is wise to keep some boundaries between you two as you would guard a treasure for a king.
- You owe only God your heart. Our culture has programmed many of us to believe that a romantic partner is automatically granted access to our most sacred emotional spaces. Once a couple is married, however, they do need to let each other in and be vulnerable. But, your casual boyfriend of three months who may be moving to the west coast after college? No, he is not owed a backstage pass to your heart. God is both your heart’s creator and protector, and the only one to whom you owe access. (He even has access when we try to hide our hearts from Him.)
- Discuss timelines. Hopefully, you are dating someone who is wise (you’re not? strongly consider looking elsewhere). Talk about when you believe it is best to discuss certain topics. What will you discuss now while dating (or courting) as you are getting to know each other (e.g., worldview, political beliefs, faith, life goals, etc.), and then topics when you believe engagement is likely (e.g., preferred demographics, family dynamics, children, expectations, basic financial situation, etc.), and then topics once you are engaged (e.g., sexual questions, wedding planning, past relationships, financial specifics, etc.)?
- Do not get lazy about temptation. “We are not even going to kiss until we get married, and if we break any of our purity rules, we cannot see each other anymore.” Have you ever had a friend tell you something like this? Early in the relationship, they are gung-ho about keeping sexual temptation at bay… but, over time, doing so feels like less of a mission and more like a chore. We get tired of fighting our baser instincts. Plus, we tend to date people we find attractive (and that is part of God’s plan!). So, find effective and realistic ways to avoid temptation. If you are normal, you are probably going to kiss your significant other before marriage. So, instead of pretending you will not, find a way to keep your kiss from catching fire (cf. I Corinthians 7:9).
- Be cautious of too much spiritual intimacy too soon. Whoa, is this not where a couple should start? Should I even consider marrying someone with whom I have not intimately prayed and studied Scripture? This caution is not as obvious as cautioning against sexual temptation, but it is important because spiritual intimacy is still If a couple bonds too quickly, they may become convinced they should be together when they are not a good match. When we meet someone new, we typically start with a head nod or a handshake. As we become closer, we may gently touch an arm and then later move onto a hug. Kissing comes (or should come) after trust is built through a series of connections. The same is recommended for spiritual intimacy. Praying together over a meal is about as intimate as a handshake, but delving into Scripture and praying together an hour at a time is profoundly more bonding.
As I reflect today on our last seventeen years, I remember how frustrating it felt to wait. Waiting to meet the man I was going to marry. Waiting to kiss the man I was going to marry. Waiting to marry the man I was going to marry. I got so sick of waiting. Then, when the waiting for Eric was over, the years started flying by. Some days, I dream of going back to those days of waiting aggravation and living fully. Trusting God to bring what I needed at the right time and enjoying who I was and what I had at the time (and diligently guarding my heart).
There is something to enjoy at every stage of a relationship. It is tough to avoid rushing the process. But think of a growing flower… as it just begins to bud, do you rip it open because you want to see the petals? No… it takes time to cultivate and grow.
Ask friends to help keep you grounded and ask the Lord to guide you with His wisdom. Placing boundaries around yourself is not a means to keep your true self hidden from potential partners, but to maintain safety until the time is right to let one trusted person into your sacred space.
Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make straight your paths. (Proverbs 3:5-6, ESV)
Are you carefully guarding your heart and mind in your relationship?