I didn’t read EVERY book on the “Christian Dating” shelf at the local Christian bookstore where I worked in high school; but I knew enough about every book to be the resident “Christian Dating Shelf” expert during my shifts.
As I approached my later teens, my parents wanted to do the parent-y thing and prepare me for boyfriend, romance, marriage, etc. Knowing I was an avid (seriously, there are not enough letters in the word “avid” to describe the avidness with which I was avid) reader, they directed me to books.
I, like all good teen Christian girls in the late 90’s, started with “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” by Joshua Harris; bought an advance copy of the sequel “Boy Meets Girl”; delved into real-life love stories like “When God Writes Your Love Story” by Eric and Leslie Ludy. From mass-published to self-published, the books couldn’t fly through my hands fast enough, and I supplemented my literary life with more Christian romance novels than I care to admit now.
I got super frustrated with “I Kissed Dating Goodbye” because it didn’t answer the one question I wanted it to: “How do I explain my dad’s idea of courtship in a way that doesn’t make people look at me like I’m an alien?”
“When God Writes Your Love Story” made me equal parts unrealistically hopeful and unnecessarily critical. I mean, the woman in the autobiographical story gets married when she is 18. 18! Seriously?! Half of me wanted to cling to the hope that my story would be the same; the other half of me, as I hit 19 with no prospects in sight, became resentful that God hadn’t written my love story like He’d written Leslie Ludy’s. She had never known what it was like to be single, at all – ever. And she was trying to speak into MY life?
I pulled book after book off the shelf, desperate to find the answers to my young adult questions: How do I get a boyfriend? Once I do, how do I get him to the altar in the fewest steps possible? Can I make sure he wants the same things I do in life (specifically, at the time, 13 kids named in alphabetical order)?
Thinking that maybe I had missed something in high school, I re-read a few of the books in college. I tried to be more mature about it this time around. I told myself I wasn’t reading them to figure out how to get a man; rather, I was trying to get myself ready for whenever he would show up. At the end of the shelf, I was still as single as ever.
Since college, I’ve continued to read books about singleness and marriage and the in-between. “Captivating” by John and Stasi Eldridge is the first one that comes to mind. I’ve read mainstream secular books about singleness and sexuality; novels about strong, independent women who don’t need a man to get by in life; articles and blogs by church people and secular people. There’s no end of advice about “how to land your man,” “how spend your time while waiting,” “why it’s okay to be single,” etc. Heck, I’ve even thrown my two cents into the blogosphere.
And I’m still single.
Fourteen years after picking up, “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” I still have never even had the chance to kiss it hello. Who am I kidding – I’ve never even been near enough to wave at it from a distance.
I don’t believe those were the wrong books to be reading, but I think I was asking the wrong questions. I’d been devouring literature, wanting to know things like:
- How do I please my selfish desires?
- How do I put myself at the center of the universe?
- How do I ease my despair at not getting what I want?
- How do I ignore my despair and be happy with the relationship consolation prizes of great women friends, body pillows, and the freedom to travel?
Not only had I been asking the wrong questions, I’d been looking in the wrong places. It occurred to me only just recently that the Bible is the book that tells me the right questions to ask, and it even – gasp –provides the answers to those questions. Questions like:
- How do I please God and make Him known outside the church?
- How do I put my church people before my own needs and serve them selflessly?
- How do I find freedom from despair?
- How do I realize that my “consolation prizes” are actually God’s perfect, loving will for me – and a grace I absolutely do not deserve?
The Bible offers an answer to all those questions in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus.
Jesus lived single (never married) on this earth, died for my selfishness (I Cor. 15:3), rose from the dead to abolish my despair (I Cor. 15:4), and went to heaven to prepare a wedding feast for me (Rev. 19:19). (For me! Take THAT, consolation prizes.)
My Jesus loved me before I first wondered about my future man (I was 3 years old), read my first book (I was 4), or married my first teddy bear in an elaborate ceremony involving a pillow case veil and my dad’s black Scofield Reference Bible (I was 5). Jesus started planning the wedding party for His bride before He had even created the earth.
The Bible says that the church (everyone who has trusted in Jesus as their Savior) is the Bride of Jesus Christ (Rev. 19:7-8). I’m part of the Bride of Christ, and my Groom is waiting for me! Not just waiting for, but actively pursuing and wooing, getting a home ready for, and planning the party of the ages for.
Jesus, the Son of God, never kissed dating “hello” or “goodbye” or anything; He simply did the will of His Father during His time on earth (Matt. 26:42).
With that answer in mind, the questions of “should I court or date?”, “how do I get a date?”, and “how much longer am I going to be single?” seem so, so petty and kind of irrelevant. And so does that shelf full of “Christian Dating” books I used to be so proud of reading.
Don’t get me wrong: I’d still like to kiss dating – or my future husband – hello. But my hope is no longer in a book or another person’s story or a hypothetical man; it’s in the One Who already actively loves me, and has planned the answers to my questions since before time began (John 1:1-5).