Read an Excerpt
Beyond What Feels Good, Back
to What Is Good
It was finally hereAnna's wedding day, the day she had dreamed about and planned for months. The small, picturesque church was crowded with friends and family. Sunlight poured through the stained-glass windows, and the gentle music of a stringed quartet filled the air. Anna walked down the aisle toward David. Joy surged within her. This was the moment for which she had waited so long. He gently took her hand, and they turned toward the altar.
But as the minister began to lead Anna and David through their vows, the unthinkable happened. A girl stood up in the middle of the congregation, walked quietly to the altar, and took David's other hand. Another girl approached and stood next to the first, followed by another. Soon, a chain of six girls stood by him as he repeated his vows to Anna.
Anna felt her lip beginning to quiver as tears welled up in her eyes. "Is this some kind of joke?" she whispered to David.
"I'm ... I'm sorry, Anna," he said, staring at the floor.
"Who are these girls, David? What is going on?" she gasped.
"They're girls from my past," he answered sadly "Anna, they don't mean anything to me now ... but I've given part of my heart to each of them."
"I thought your heart was mine," she said.
"It is, it is," he pleaded. "Everything that's left is yours."
A tear rolled down Anna's cheek.Then she woke up.
Anna told me about her dream in a letter. "When I awoke I felt so betrayed," she wrote. "But then I was struck with this sickening thought: How many men could line up next to me on my wedding day? How many times have I given my heart away in short-term relationships? Will I have anything left to give my husband?"
I often think of Anna's dream. The jarring image haunts me. There are girls from my past, too. What if they showed up on my wedding day? What could they say in the receiving line?
"Hello, Joshua. Those were some pretty lofty promises you made at the altar today. I hope you're better at keeping promises now than you were when I knew you."
"My, don't you look nice in that tuxedo. And what a beautiful bride. Does she know about me? Have you told her all the sweet things you used to whisper in my ear?"
There are relationships that I can only look back on with regret. I do my best to forget. I laugh them off as part of the game of love that everyone plays. I know God has forgiven me because I've asked Him to. I know the various girls have forgiven me because I've asked them to.
But I still feel the ache of having given away my heart to too many girls in my past.
That's Just the Way It Is
Growing up, I considered dating an essential part of the complete teenage experience. If I wasn't dating a girl, I had a crush on one.
This started in junior high when my peers and I treated dating as a game, a chance to play at love and experiment with relationships. Having a girlfriend meant little more than saying you were "going out." No big deal. My friends and I would go out with girls and break up with them at a frightening pace. The only worry was being dumpedyou never wanted to get dumped, you wanted to do the dumping. One girl I knew had the fastest breakup routine ever: When she was ready to end a relationship, she'd say, "Skippy-bop, you just got dropped."
But soon, just saying you were going out with someone wasn't enough. Instead, we began experimenting with the physical side of relationships. Going out with someone came to mean you made out with that person, too. I remember standing by as a girl I liked called her boyfriend and broke up with him over the phone. As soon as she hung up, she kissed me. That meant we were an "official couple." Looking back, I can only shake my head at how immature we were. The physical intimacy of those junior high relationships had nothing to do with love or real affection. We just mimicked what we saw older kids do and what we watched in the movies. It seemed grown up, but in reality it was lust.
I'm thankful that junior high didn't last forever. In high school, I got serious about my walk with God and became actively involved in the church youth group. I put an I'm Worth Waiting For" sticker on my NIV Student Bible and promised to stay a virgin until I got married. Unfortunately, youth group did little to improve my immature notions about relationships. Even in church we played the dating game with passionmore passion, I regret to say, than we gave to worshiping or listening to sermons. During Sunday morning services we passed notes about who liked whom, who was going out with whom, and who had broken up with whom. Wednesday night youth group meetings served as our own opportunities to play "Love Connection," a game that resulted in broken hearts littering the foyer.
In my sophomore year, my involvement in the dating game took a more serious turn. That summer, I met Kelly. She was beautiful, blonde, and two inches taller than I. I didn't mind. Kelly was popular, and all the guys liked her. Since I was the only one in the youth group who had the nerve to talk to her, she wound up liking me. I asked her to be my girlfriend on the youth group's water ski retreat.
Kelly was my first serious girlfriend. Everyone in our youth group recognized us as a couple. We celebrated our "anniversary" every month. And Kelly knew me better than anyone else. After my folks were asleep, Kelly and I would spend hours on the phone, often late into the night, talking about everything and nothing in particular. We thought God had made us for each other. We talked about getting married someday. I promised her that I would love her forever.
But, like many high school relationships, our romance was prematuretoo much, too soon. We began to struggle with the physical side of our relationship. We knew we couldn't be as close physically as we were emotionally. As a result, we experienced ongoing tension, and it wore on us. Eventually, things turned sour.
"We have to break up," I said to her one night after a movie. We both knew this was coming.
"Is there any chance we can have something in the future?" she asked.
"No," I said, trying to add resolve to my voice. "No, it's over."
We broke up two years after we'd met. Not quite "forever," as I had promised.
I was seventeen years old when my relationship with Kelly ended. My dreams of romance had ended in compromise, bitterness, and regret. I walked away asking, "Is this how it has to be?" I felt discouraged, confused, and desperate for an alternative to the cycle of short-term relationships in which I found myself. "God," I cried, "I want your best for my life! Give me something better than this!"
God answered that plea, but not in the way I had expected. I thought He'd bring me the ideal girlfriend or totally remove my desire for romance. Instead, He revealed through His Word what it meant to submit my love life to His Willsomething I'd never truly done. I wanted God's best but hadn't been willing to play by His rules.
Over the past four years, I've come to understand that God's lordship doesn't merely tinker with my approach to romanceit completely transforms it. God not only wants me to act differently, He wants me to think differentlyto view love, purity, and singleness from His perspective, to have a new lifestyle and attitude.
The basis of this new attitude is what I call "smart love." Paul describes this kind of love in Philippians 1:9-10:
And this is my prayer: that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ.
Smart love constantly grows and deepens in its practical knowledge and insight; it opens our eyes to see God's best for our lives, enabling us to be pure and blameless in His sight.
The Message paraphrases Philippians 1:9-10 this way: "Learn to love appropriately. You need to use your head and test your feelings so that your love is sincere and intelligent, not sentimental gush."
Have you ever been guilty of "sentimental gush," allowing your emotions to dictate the course of a dating relationship? Many people do this. Instead of acting on what they know is right, couples let their feelings carry them away.
I've engaged in my share of sentimental gush. While dating, I made many decisions based on superficiality and ignorance. I could so easily say "I love you" to a girl, feigning selfless devotion, but in truth, selfishness and insincerity motivated me. I was primarily interested in what I could get, such as the popularity a girlfriend could give me or the comfort and pleasure I could gain physically or emotionally from a relationship. I didn't practice smart love. I lived "dumb love"choosing what felt good for me instead of what was good for others and what pleased God.
To truly love someone with smart love, we need to use our heads as well as our hearts. As Paul describes it, love abounds in knowledge and insight. To "know" something is to understand or grasp it clearly and with certainty. "Insight" is an instance of understanding the true nature of something, the ability to see the motivation behind thoughts and actions.
With this definition in mind, let me ask you a few questions. Does love motivate the guy who sleeps with his girlfriend when it will scar her emotionally and damage her relationship with God? Does sincerity motivate the girl who leads a guy along then breaks up with him when she finds someone better? No! Both people exemplify selfish motivation. They need to "get smart" and realize how their actions affect others.
In recent years, I've tried to let sincere and intelligent love guide me, and as I've done this, I've come to some pretty intense conclusions for my life. I've come to realize that I have no business asking for a girl's heart and affections if I'm not ready to back up my request with a lifelong commitment. Until I can do that, I'd only be using that woman to meet my short-term needs, not seeking to bless her for the long term. Would I enjoy having a girlfriend right now? You bet! But with what I've learned as I've sought God's will for my life, I know that a relationship right now wouldn't be best for me or for the one I'd date. Instead, by avoiding romance before God tells me I'm ready for it, I can better serve girls as a friend, and I can remain free to keep my focus on the Lord.
Knowing What Is Best
Waiting until I'm ready for commitment before pursuing romance is just one example of smart love in action. When our love grows in knowledge we can more readily "discern what is best" for our lives. Don't we all desperately need that discernment?
After all, when we engage in guy-girl relationships, we face some pretty hazy issues. Don't get me wrongI believe in absolutes. But in dating, we don't only have to make wise choices between absolute wrong and absolute right. We also have to evaluate all parts of our dating relationships to make sure we don't go too far, allowing ourselves to get pulled into something we should avoid.
Here's an example. Let's say that someone at school asks you out. How do you seek guidance about what kind of person you can go out with? Try looking up "dating" in your Bible's concordance. You won't get far. Or maybe you've gone out on a few dates with someone, and you just kissed for the first time. It was exciting. You feel as if you're in love. But is it right?
How do we find answers to these questions? This is where "smart love" comes in. God wants us to seek guidance from scriptural truth, not feeling. Smart love looks beyond personal desires and the gratification of the moment. It looks at the big picture: serving others and glorifying God.
"What about me?" you might be asking. "What about my needs?" This is the awesome part: When we make God's glory and other people's needs our priority, we position ourselves to receive God's best in our lives as well. Let me explain.
In the past I made the starting point of my relationships what I wanted instead of what God wanted. I looked out for my needs and fit others into my agenda. Did I find fulfillment? No, I only found compromise and heartache. I not only hurt others, I hurt myself, and, most seriously, I sinned against God.
But when I reversed my attitude and made my main priority in relationships pleasing God and blessing others, I found true peace and joy. Smart love unlocks God's best for our lives. When I stopped viewing girls as potential girlfriends and started treating them as sisters in Christ, I discovered the richness of true friendship. When I stopped worrying about who I was going to marry and began to trust God's timing, I uncovered the incredible potential of serving God as a single. And when I stopped flirting with temptation in one-on-one dating relationships and started pursuing righteousness, I uncovered the peace and power that come from purity. I kissed dating goodbye because I found out that God has something better in store!
Pure and Blameless
The final benefit of seeking smart love is purity and blamelessness before God. This purity goes beyond sexual purity. While physical purity is very important, God also wants us to pursue purity and blamelessness in our motives, our minds, and our emotions.
Does this mean we'll never mess up? Of course not! We can only stand before God because of His grace and the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus. And yet this grace doesn't give us license to be lax in our pursuit of righteousness. Instead, it should urge us to desire purity and blamelessness even more.
Ben started dating Alyssa during his senior year in college. For quite some time, he had planned to marry the summer after he graduated. Since he and Alyssa were both deeply attracted to each other, he thought she was "the one."
In a letter, Ben told me how he had grown up with very high standards in his dating relationships. Alyssa was another story. While Ben had never so much as kissed a girl, kissing was practically a sport for her. Unfortunately, Alyssa's values won out. "When she looked at me with those big brown eyes like I was depriving her of something, I caved in," Ben wrote. Their relationship soon became almost entirely physical. They maintained their virginity but only in the technical sense of the word.
A few months later, Alyssa began to be tutored in chemistry by another Christian guy whom Ben had never met. "That was a mistake," Ben wrote angrily. "They were studying chemistry all rightbody chemistry!" Alyssa broke up with Ben and the next day was hanging on the arm of her new boyfriend.
"I was crushed," Ben told me. "I had violated my own standards, and more important, God's standards, and it turned out that this wasn't the woman I was to marry." For several months Ben wrestled with guilt but finally laid it at the foot of the cross and moved on, determined not to make the same mistake twice. But what about Alyssa? Yes, God can forgive her, too. But I wonder if she ever realized she needs that forgiveness. When she passes Ben in the hall at school or sees him in the cafeteria, what goes through her mind? Does she realize she played a part in tearing down his purity? Does she feel pangs of guilt for breaking his heart? Does she even care?
I've shared with you how God has changed my perspective on dating. I've described how I've chosen to live my life and to interact with women until God shows me I'm ready for marriage. But why write a book about this perspective? What would make me think that anyone would want to hear what I have to say? Because I think God would like to challenge you, too.
I believe the time has come for Christians, male and female, to own up to the mess we've left behind in our selfish pursuit of short-term romance. Dating may seem an innocent game, but as I see it, we are sinning against each other. What excuse will we have when God asks us to account for our actions and attitudes in relationships? If God sees a sparrow fall (Matthew 10:29), do you think He could possibly overlook the broken hearts and scarred emotions we cause in relationships based on selfishness?
Everyone around us may be playing the dating game. But at the end of our lives, we won't answer to everyone. We'll answer to God. No one in my youth group knew how I compromised in my relationships. I was a leader and considered a good kid. But Christ says, "There is nothing concealed that will not be disclosed, or hidden that will not be made known" (Luke 12:2).
Our actions in relationships haven't escaped God's notice. But here's the good news: The God who sees all our sin is also ready to forgive all our sins if we repent and turn from them. He calls us to a new way of life. I know God has forgiven me for the sins I've committed against him and against the girlfriends I've had. I also know He wants me to spend the rest of my life living a lifestyle of smart love. The grace he has shown motivates me to make purity and blamelessness my passion.
I'm committed to practicing smart love, and I invite you along. Let's make purity and blamelessness our priority before our all-seeing, all-knowing God.