I believe it was in a Tom Clancy book I read many, many years ago where I found a statement that daughters are given by God to punish men for what they did, said and thought when they were young men. Obviously I know that is purely the imagined theology of a writer, yet I do think that having a daughter causes a man to take a look deep within himself. Every man instinctively feels the need to protect his daughters. For some reason men do not feel as deep a desire to protect their sons. Just yesterday I received a Christmas Newsletter from a family friend. He wrote about a young man who has shown interest in his daughter and will soon be coming to spend time with the family. “[He] is quite a gentleman but just in case, when he comes I intend to be cleaning my .45-caliber pistol. I also told him that if he ever touches my daughter I have no problem at all with going back to prison.”
Sure he is writing tongue-in-cheek but there is a definite truth behind the humor: men desire to protect their daughters and are probably far more protective of the purity of their daughters than they were of women with whom they related in their younger days.
As with all parents, Aileen and I have sometimes paused to think about our daughter’s future. We truly hope that in due time she meets a godly young man who will treat her like the princess she is. When we consider her future we simply cannot picture her, at age sixteen, heading off for an evening out with a young gentleman caller and just expecting him to bring her back sometime long after we have gone to bed. How could I let her out of my sight with a guy who, well, may just have motives for her that are consistent with the motives of most young men? At the same time, I don’t feel that every good dad involves the parents!
And so, when I gaze into the future, I wonder how my children will begin a relationship with a member of the opposite sex. In Christian circles there is no end of controversy about the best way of doing this. While most believers agree on the necessity of maintaining sexual purity and of every young person submitting his or her life to the Lord, opinions differ on whether kids should date, court or even be betrothed. 5 Paths To The Love Of Your Life, edited by Alex Chediak, addresses five of these philosophies. Five authors contribute a chapter outlining what they feel is a biblical method of finding a potential spouse.
Chapter 1 – The Countercultural Path: Lauren Winner begins by tracing the evolution of dating and relationships in American culture. She shows how dating changed from being centered around the woman’s home and family to heading outside the home to theatres and restaurants. In this transition the “power” in relationships passed from the woman to the man. In modern times dating has returned to the home in the form of casual sexual encounters. She proposes that Christians adopt a countercultural path which emphasizes chastity, love and marriage. She emphasizes the importance of community in relationships. She feels that dating should be done with a view to marriage but that breaking up is not necessarily improper.
Chapter 2 – The Courtship Path: Douglas Wilson, in a very funny essay, proposes that courtship is the most biblical solution. He stresses the importance of parental responsibility and guidance and defines courtship as “the active, involved authority of the young woman’s father (or head of the household) in the formation of her romantic attachments leading to marriage.” When parents are unavailable or unsuited for the task, the couple should appeal to the church authorities for guidance. During the early stages of a relationship there should be no physical contact and contact after engagement should be limited to minor physical contact. Wilson emphasizes the importance of a lifelong committment of a father to his daughter so that he has credibility in her eyes when he has to make difficult decisions regarding her potential marriage partner. He distances his model from the type espoused by fathers who are overbearing and care more for rules and control than for the well-being of their daughters. It seemed to me that this view presents courtship at its best and at its least-offensive.
Chapter 3 – The Guided Path: Rick Holland suggests a guided path in which couples are guided by ten principles of a God-centered relationship. He feels that young couples should be guided by their parents and ultimately by the Scriptures as they seek to honor God in their relationships. The principles he lays out are more important than the methodology a couple adopts. While this allows either courtship or dating, he is sure to emphasize that casual dating is not acceptable, and neither is dating done before a couple is old enough to actually think about marriage.
Chapter 4 – The Betrothal Path: – Jonathan Lindvall proposes what is easily the least-familiar path. Betrothal, he feels, is a biblical mandate given by God and mirrored in Christ’s relationship to the church. He feels that an irrevocable covenant union must be established that defines the process between singleness and marriage. I found that his method relies quite heavily on the leading, guiding and confirming of the Lord wherein we have to ask direction from the Lord and so on. Most people will immediately reject his proposal and perhaps for good reason as I am not sure he proves that the betrothal’s of biblical times were more than a cultural mandate. Having said that, it does provide some valuable fruit for thought.
Chapter 5 – The Purposeful Path: – Jeramy and Jerusha Clark argue for a purposeful path which is far less-structured than any of the others. They refer often to other books they have written on this subject and propose that young couples ensure that, while they are not turning down opportunities to enjoy the company of the opposite sex, they are also not engaging in practices that Scripture forbids. As with the other authors, they emphasize the important of parental involvement and support.
Having read these five approaches I feel that my preference for my children would lie somewhere in the first three chapters. I am already seeking to build a strong, vibrant relationship with my children so that I will have some measure of credibility in their eyes if and when I am forced to make difficult decisions on their behalf. I don’t know that there is a “one size fits all” approach to relationships that will work with every couple and I am open to allowing and even encouraging flexibility in how they engage in romantic relationships.
I was surprised to discover how much I enjoyed reading this book. It is too late for me to apply the collective wisdom in this book to my own life, but I trust it will give me much material for reflection as my children get to the age where they begin to believe the opposite sex to be something a little less than yucky. Just the other day my daughter confided in me that she would like to get married some day, but doesn’t feel she can because she would have to kiss a boy on the lips. I know that, before too long, she will have a change of heart.
I recommend this book to parents and young people alike and trust that it will benefit all who read it.