It may come as a surprise to some, but Eric and I don’t recommend couples dive into deep Bible study and prayer together at the beginning of their budding relationship. Because of the emotional and spiritual bonding which happens when a couple seeks the Lord together, we think the amount of spiritual intimacy shared should slowly grow as the relationship grows.
When we read the Bible with someone, we don’t necessarily feel any closer to him or her. But, when we study the Bible with someone, we begin to verbalize questions, ideas, convictions, and personal experiences (e.g., “Wow, I always thought this passage was talking about…”). When we have Bible studies with friends, we grow closer to those friends; so, it only stands to reason that couples would grow closer at an accelerated rate through personal times of Scripture study and prayer.
Stages of Spiritual Connection
As we grow, our needs, desires, and experiences grow with us. As babies, we need love, attention, nourishment, and even some visits from the tickle monster. As children, we need education, discipline, and love. As teenagers, we need understanding, grace, and guidance. Each stage we enter requires new opportunities for growth and, after going through multiple stages, we usually have a deep connection to the ones who walked with us through them (e.g., parents, siblings, close friends, etc.).
Parents teach their children about godly living in stages. Babies may fall asleep to scripture lullaby CDs; however, they won’t yet be able to grasp words like propitiation and justification. But as babies grow, their understanding increases, and they are able to take in more truth and instruction.
If we try to teach our children everything they need to know for their lives in their first week of life, we would be sorely disappointed with how effective that is. Most would consider us crazy. They are not ready for such heavy stuff yet! Let them grow naturally! The same can be said for young relationships – they need to grow naturally and bonding spiritually too quickly rushes the relationship’s growth and makes it feel like there is a deeper level of emotional intimacy between the couple than is truly there.
Stage One – The Surface
Years ago, when I was an undergraduate student, I remember a couple sitting at a table in front of the prayer chapel, hands intertwined, appearing to be deep in prayer together. For all I know, they could have been engaged and less than a month from their wedding; but, my guess is they were just dating and either trying to get off on the right foot, or using the excuse of “praying together” to allow for some physical closeness.
I will never know what was going on in their hearts; yet, something about the picture did not set right with me. As a student at a Christian college, I was surrounded with happy couples, Christian clichés, and a lot of desperate people seeking God’s will (as if He was dangling His answers just out of reach). Perhaps that is why I looked at this praying couple in such a way. Perhaps, I was just craving some genuine talk from some genuine people.
Yes, we love God and are each seeking Him. No, we don’t believe we have to have a three-hour Bible study on every date to prove this point to Him, to ourselves, and to others. We are seeking to obey Him and we are trusting in the Holy Spirit to lead us. We talk about our spiritual journey often, but we also play sports, eat ice cream, and laugh together. We’re not spending all our time in prayer and Bible study and hoping that by doing so, God will somehow approve more of our relationship. He knows our hearts. We desire to please Him and if He does not want us to marry each other, He is mighty and He can show us beyond the shadow of any doubt.
Stage one is where couples are just getting to know each other. There is an attraction, but no commitment has been made. We are friends who are exploring the possibility of growing to love each other. At this stage, I recommend doing a lot of observing. He may talk about God a lot, but how does he talk to his friends? She may say she loves Jesus, but how does she act in private when there is no one around to witness her actions but you? Pay close attention to the details in how your friend lives out the faith he or she claims to hold.
Talking about favorite scripture passages during this phase is fine. Talking about parts of your walk with Christ (what He is teaching you, etc.) during this time is probably okay. A good rule of thumb is this: If you would not share it with an acquaintance you barely know, don’t share it now. Depth is reserved for deeper commitment.
Stage Two – Getting Under My Skin
Now, you and your friend have been relationally running alongside each other for a while and you both believe you would like to move from friendship (dating) into courtship (seriously considering/preparing for marriage). In this stage, there is still not yet a commitment to get married, but there is a commitment to get to know each other more deeply, to treat each other lovingly, to build trust, and to honestly seek direction for the future.
As you seek to discover if someone is a good match for you, you will need to open up a bit more about your walk with Christ. At this point, it is good to share your testimony with each other (yes… the long version ~smile~). Start praying for each other earnestly. Ask God to guide your relationship and to give wisdom to your sweetheart. Discuss what you are studying with each other and what you are learning. You may even want to become Bible memorization partners. That is, study certain passages of scripture and recite them to each other weekly. During this stage, you will also want to discuss theology. You both may agree on the basic tenets of your faith, but are you agreed on other aspects of your theology (e.g., speaking in tongues, free will vs. doctrines of grace, tithing, etc.)?
It is also at this second stage where we strongly recommend good pre-engagement counseling. Investing time and money to go through a quality program in order to get to know each other better, yourself better, and your future dynamics as an individual couple is extremely wise. Eric and I would love to serve you and your sweetheart in this stage and it is our expertise and passion in doing so. We aim to glorify God by helping couples prepare well for marriage – and a large part of that is making sure he or she is the one with whom you should get engaged!
As you continue in stage two, you should begin seeing the real him or her emerge. We recommend staying in stage two until the newness of the relationship has worn off and both people are truly comfortable being themselves. This is when you see what someone is really like. There are some convincing fakers out there. They claim to love God so they can get close to an attractive guy or girl, but the charade does not usually last too long – especially when maintaining purity is put to the test.
Stage Three – Touching my Heart
The time has come. You have come to know each other well, you have been continuously impressed by each other’s characters, and you have grown to love each other. You both want to settle down together and build a life together. You’re engaged!
You have already shared a lot of your spiritual journey together, but now you want to prepare for spiritual connection in married life. Now is a great time to begin a good couple’s devotional together. Or, if you’d rather, you and your fiancée can build your own study. However you go about doing it, as an engaged couple, it is time to start studying God’s word together in depth. Pray together, in person or over the phone (or over internet video such as Skype/Google Hangouts if you are in a long-distance relationship). Have a shared prayer list. Discuss how you want to honor God in your home and with your future family.
Still spend time with the Lord on your own. Even after marriage, you will want to maintain a personal relationship with Him. He should always be first in our lives whether we’re married or single.
For temptation purposes, I would refrain from spending time completely alone together, even if you are studying the Bible and praying. Doing so builds deep intimacy quickly – and, as hormonal human beings, we naturally desire to share our feelings sexually when we have tender moments with someone we love romantically. Don’t assume you won’t be tempted.
Stage Four – Our Two Hearts Have Become One
You’re married! You are one! Now you can dive head over heels into God’s word together each day. I’d start doing so on the honeymoon – even on your wedding night (for a bit ~smile~). Create the routine early and enjoy refreshing times in God’s word throughout your life together! What a blessing it will be to share a spiritual bond with your spouse!
Enjoy each stage of your relationship. Never be in too big of a rush. Savor it all!
What stage of spiritual connection are you in with your sweetie?