It was our first date. I wasn’t even completely sure she knew it was a date. We met at a wedding, and then talked on the phone once a week or so for a couple of months. I asked if I could take her out, and she conceded.
I bought a couple board games, chose a trendy new taco joint, and found a non-chain coffee shop to hang out in after lunch. Coffee said I’m interested and serious, but not desperate. Board games said I know how to laugh and have fun, but that I’m here to win. I don’t know what tacos said, but I like them.
It was a great date. The conversation was a sweet mixture of serious and silly, of storytelling and good follow-up questions, all of it filled with our shared love for Jesus. A few hours went by really fast. Feeling confident, I told her how I felt about her, and asked if she wanted to begin dating.
“I had a great time today, too. I’ve really enjoyed getting to know you. I’ve really enjoyed our conversations, and the way you’ve pointed me to Jesus. . . .” Everything I wanted to hear. “You’re a nice human being . . .” Wait, what does that even mean? “. . . but when I think about a relationship, my heart is cold.”
Long, awkward, uncomfortable pause. “Cold?” “Yeah . . . cold.” “Like ice-cold, or lukewarm?” “Cold.”
What went so wrong? What should I have done differently? It all seemed so comfortable, so exciting, so right, so sure. But when the day was done, she was colder than a Dairy Queen, and I was just “a nice human being.” It had started to feel like this might finally be my last first date. Of course, I guess first dates had felt like that before. Either way, here I was back where I began. Roller-coaster rides like these were enough to make you want to give up on marriage.
Your Last First Date
What was your last first date like?
Did it go well, and lead to more? Or did you leave never wanting to go through that again — thinking, Maybe marriage isn’t worth all of the pain, confusion, and heartache we endure to have it?
“If we want to be married, it should be because we want more of God.”
Many among the not-yet married need the reminder that marriage is spectacular and needed in our society, and that’s because it belongs to God. God may call you to a lifetime of satisfied and fruitful singleness, or your next first date may be the first step of decades of enjoying him with a husband or wife. If we want to be married (and are willing to make ourselves vulnerable again in dating), it should be because we want more of God.
Is Marriage Worth It?
When divorce rates remain high, and the surviving marriages around us seem broken, messy, and unhappy — and when plenty of other good things keep us busy — lots of young men and women in their twenties and thirties are giving up on marriage, or at least discounting it in their plans and dreams.
Some of you have tried dating and been burned — confusion, rejections, sexual failure, breakups, or whatever else plagues our relationships. Others are sons and daughters of divorce. You were ripped apart, and left in pieces to be traded back and forth. With all the pain, failure, and friction, it simply can’t be worth it, can it? I can be known and loved in other ways. Marriage isn’t necessary for my happiness or significance here on earth.
That last sentence is true and important. You do not have to be married to be happy. But are we overlooking some significant things about what marriage really is, and why, at least for many, it’s worth all the time, patience, and even heartache?
What Demons Say About Marriage
Two thousand years ago, people were already questioning whether marriage was worth it. The apostle Paul says, “Some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons” (1 Timothy 4:1). What lies were they believing when they left the faith? What were the demons saying? They “forbid marriage and require abstinence from foods that God created to be received with thanksgiving by those who believe and know the truth” (1 Timothy 4:3).
“Compatibility may make for a good honeymoon, but only love for Jesus will keep a marriage healthy for a lifetime.”
When we forget the goodness and beauty of marriage, we belittle something good and beautiful God is doing. Why? “For everything created by God” — including marriage — “is good, and nothing is to be rejected if it is received with thanksgiving” (1 Timothy 4:4). God made marriage, and he meant for us to enjoy it with thankful hearts. He calls it good, even today.
To say otherwise is to say something about him.
For centuries, marriage was a mystery, until God began unlocking its long-hidden meaning with the gospel. Paul quotes Moses, “A man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh” (Ephesians 5:31). Then Paul says, “This mystery is profound” — it’s been hidden since God gave Eve to Adam — “and I am saying that it refers to Christ and the church” (Ephesians 5:32). The mystery isn’t mysterious anymore. What makes marriage profoundly beautiful, meaningful, desirable, and powerful is that it acts out God’s love for us. We get to relive the greatest love story ever told.
The Beauty of the Best Marriages
What makes marriage worth having? The beauty and joy of Christian marriage is not compatibility. Compatibility may be the rare jewel we’re hunting for in all our dating relationships, but relationships and marriages don’t stand out, thrive, and last because the two of us make sense together. No, the beauty and joy of Christian marriage is Christ, shining in our joyful and unwavering commitment to each other, even when we’re less compatible and least deserving of each other’s love. Passion, infatuation, and compatibility may make for a good honeymoon, but only a mutual love for Jesus will keep a marriage healthy for a lifetime.
The best marriages will be the hardest to explain — not because you are so different (you might be), but because you’re still loving each other so patiently, sacrificially, and passionately after years of inconvenience, conflict, and giving up so much. How do they still love each other so much? Well, because we have been loved like that and more.
“You’re not standing together at the altar to say, ‘I really do love you,’ but to say, ‘I really will love you.’”
Paul says, “While we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly . . . . God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Romans 5:6, 8). He didn’t die for us because he finally found the love of his life. We were not marriage material when he met us. No, he died to make us the love of his life, despite how little we deserved him. A love like his makes a marriage worth wanting, and it makes a marriage worth keeping.
What Are Wedding Vows?
“Wedding vows,” writes Tim Keller, “are not a declaration of present love, but a mutually binding promise of future love.” Marriage is mainly a love declared, not a love discovered.
Have you thought about your wedding day that way? The promises you will make before God, and before all your friends and family, have little to do with what you experienced and enjoyed in your dating relationship — and everything to do with the uncertain and uncontrollable months and years ahead.
You’re not standing there together before God, family, and friends to say, “I really do love you,” but to say instead, “I really will love you” — whatever it takes, however hard it gets, whatever happens, however much I want to leave. That kind of love will stand out in the world, and it will last long after many have given up and walked away.
The Big Goal in Dating
All our desires for dating should spring from a big vision of what marriage is and why it’s worth wanting. In all of your dating, keep your last first date in mind — your first date with your future spouse.
I definitely didn’t know it at the time, but mine was over trendy tacos, coffee, and board games. The Dairy Queen slowly warmed over the next few months. Two years later, she became my wife. In the meantime, we both had a big picture of what God designed marriage to be in front of us. We had no idea if we would get married, and we never assumed we would. In fact, we intentionally dated as if we were going to marry someone else, to keep us from idolizing each other or going too far too soon. But we knew the only thing worth dating for was a marriage — a lifelong, life-on-life love like Jesus’s love for us.
“Marriage is mainly a love declared, not a love discovered.”
God’s idea of marriage is the only vision big enough, strong enough, and worth enough for all the risks we take in dating. Nothing else is worth all the risk we take when we begin to share our hearts with someone else. Nothing else will protect us from diving in too quickly or jumping ship when things get hard. Nothing else will stand out enough from the world around us to say something significant about Jesus.
If you want to date well, keep a big, sacred, breathtaking picture of marriage in front of you.