It gives me great pleasure to write on the subject of “A Godly Alternative to Courtship.” I’m thankful for several reasons, but primarily because I have been seeing a huge propensity for our wonderful fellowship as sisters… a fellowship purchased by the blood of Christ… to be unnecessarily impeded because of the courtship/dating debate. I believe both dating and courting can be done in a way that produces happy Christian homes and brings glory to God. I believe His word allows us liberty to choose which, if either, process of spouse selection works best for our families.
Just so we’re clear, in case you haven’t been reading the articles posted during “courtship week” at Come Fill Your Cup: Just what is courting–in the modern sense– exactly? I have spoken to several families who have adopted this practice, and, as I understand it, the parents are heavily involved in the selection of eligible spouses for their children. After some kind of agreement is made with the parents of the girl, then she and the boy can spend certain amounts of time together only in the presence of family. This is all done with the formal understanding that the purpose of these meetings is to lead to a potential marriage. Just like dating, this procedure, of course has its variants, but you get the idea.
As a disclaimer, let me just make sure everyone’s aware that I greatly admire the motives of all the godly, conscientious parents who have chosen this marriage-planning path for their children. I have no doubts that their intentions are loving, unselfish, and genuine. My husband and I, however, are prayerfully preparing to offer our children another option that, while different in name and a few semantics, has the same sentiments at heart. Those sentiments include desperately wanting our children to make it through the teen/college years in total purity of body and mind and to one day enter into a beautiful, God-approved marriage with a special person who will make all their dreams come true and ultimately, lead them to the pearly gates.
That being said, we’ve decided our children will be given the freedom to date, but while they’re under our roof, there will be some very specific and widely understood rules. Allow me to share a short list of guidelines my husband and I plan to implement once our kids are ready to date (incidentally, these are the same rules we were given as soon as we began dating— several years before we met each other as upper class students at Freed Hardeman University).
- No dating until age 16—perhaps later depending on the maturity level of our son/daughter. Let’s be honest—it’s pointless to date when you can’t even drive. Dating at this age should be fun, not serious. It’s a great time to explore different options as you try to figure out exactly what you’re looking for in a future spouse.
- No alone-alone time. I don’t mean they can’t ride in a car together unless someone else is in the car, but, for example, the house is off-limits if Mom or Dad isn’t home. I remember lots of times when I was dating, my date and I would watch a movie in the living room while my mom would be in the kitchen baking cookies for us or my dad would be winding a clock nearby. It was a very strict rule, so strict that if a guy and I got home from our date before Mom and Dad, we’d have to sit outside in the summer heat until they finally pulled in the driveway. It doesn’t mean you don’t trust your kids. It means you’re protecting them from there ever being a temptation you could have avoided. And incidentally, you’re not only protecting purity by doing that; you’re also protecting a precious reputation.
- Virginity is not a bad word. In fact, nothing pertaining to sexual purity will be withheld from open, honest, blunt, necessary conversation in our home. It’s time parents stopped being embarrassed about discussing the big bad “S” word with their kids and realize that it’s a jungle out there and you can bet that, whether or not they’re hearing about it from you, they’re hearing about it from their friends and even their teachers, and the information they’re getting is likely not what you would prefer to have planted in their sponge-like, curious minds. Our children desperately need specific language in reference to kissing, hugging, areas okay and not okay for touching, and other appropriate dating behavior. Decide what the limits are and teach your children from a young age about how desperately important it is that they decide ahead of time that they will not compromise those principles (Daniel 1:8). Don’t be afraid to ask your children from time to time how they’re doing on the commitment they’ve made to remain pure.
- Mom and Dad always have the right to say no. Until our children leave home, we will reserve the right with our children to say no when we believe they are pursuing/being pursued by someone whom we know will hurt them either emotionally, or, more importantly, spiritually. I remember a time at age 17 when my parents asked me to cancel a first date with a Christian boy they knew was struggling with a pornography addiction. My reaction may not have been, in my heart, all that it should have been at the time, but I’m so thankful that they were brave enough as parents to shield me from certain future heartache. I remember telling them that, while I did not understand fully their decision (since they did not reveal to me all the reasons), that I would comply out of respect for them. This takes practicing discipline from early ages in the home and building a rapport of trust toward the parents on the part of the teen.
- We will always know and approve of the location of the date before you’re allowed to go. Our children will know long before the dating years the kinds of places they will never go on dates. Off-limit locations will include movies containing sexual impurity/profanity, dances, and parties where alcoholic beverages are being served. Until we completely trust the boy dating our daughter (if God gives us a daughter one day), we will always know exactly where they’re going and what time they’ll be back home.
These are only 5 simple rules about which I, a perhaps naive newlywed 24-year-old, am confident. I believe dating can be a wonderful time of self-discovery and scary, yet necessary, growing-up. I don’t agree with the sentiment that dating is practice for divorce. I believe, rather, that dating is a way to learn about yourself and about finding exactly what you want in a spouse. It’s about taking your time, not rushing marriage. It’s about prayer and learning to trust and laugh and about butterflies in my stomach that I’ll never forget. Given, at times it’s about heartache, but as for myself, I know I wouldn’t appreciate what I have now had I never experienced the loss and betrayal that made me strong. I truly believe I was better equipped to recognize the godly man that I wanted to marry from the moment I met him because of the dating experience. I had not sacrificed my purity, but, along the way I had learned some important questions to ask my now-husband, Ben. We laid out some physical boundaries from the very beginning and, because spiritual matters were important to us, we spent hours upon hours discussing things of the Word. We loved getting to spend time with both sets of godly parents, but, because we were at the University and they lived in other towns, we didn’t have the blessing of doing it even weekly. When we were with our parents, we did share with them our spiritual goals and often, our questions about the future and eventually our dreams about marriage. I look forward to my children being given the opportunity to experience it all, and I look forward to being there to, with the help of my God who is faithful, guide and support them every step of the way.
By Hannah Colley Giselbach
Hannah and her husband, Ben, live in Dalton, Georgia, where they work with the Riverbend Church of Christ. They have been married 10 months and plan to have children and home school them one day. Hannah currently works with high school Special Education students and travels frequently to speak to ladies’ groups about spiritual topics. She teaches children’s Bible classes and is very active with her husband’s work as an outreach minister. Hannah is the published author of GIFTS and co-author of Pure on Purpose and Girl to Girl.