Concerns Raised During a Courtship
by David Crank
(From Volume 2 Issue 1 of Unless the Lord ... Magazine)
[For those unfamiliar with Christian courtship, this article pertains to a Christian alternative to dating for finding a marriage partner. When the young people are mature and ready for marriage, then, under the direction of their parents, they get to know one another and consider whether God would have them marry. See Vol. 1 Issues 1 & 3 of this magazine for details.]
Before a courtship is proposed and agreed to there should be a careful assessment by both sets of parents concerning the suitability of their young people for each other and of the Lordís leading in this matter. Their assessment should be shared with their son or daughter for his or her consideration and prayer before deciding to begin a courtship.
If the parents do not already know a lot about the other young person and his or her family, they should seek further information about his or her Christian walk, character, beliefs, convictions, etc. This information might be obtained from his or her parents and/or mutual friends and acquaintances. The young people may also already have some first hand knowledge of each other to contribute.
When the courtship begins, opportunities are provided for the young man to join the young lady and her family on various occasions. There should also be some opportunities for the young lady to interact with the young man's family. It is during this time that the young man and young woman have the opportunity to really get to know each other. They do so by seeing each other in a variety of settings, seeing how they interact with family and others, learning about each other through other family members, and most importantly, by talking with each other. This is their opportunity to observe each otherís character, learn about each other's past, and to explore each othersí beliefs, convictions, opinions, preferences, and aspirations.
During this time it is to be expected that a few concerns will arise. Some of these may be the result of initial misimpressions or misunderstandings. Conclusions about the other person may be inferred from too little or flawed information, leading to a distorted picture. Other concerns may be based on accurate conclusions, but be given either too little or too much weight by the young man or woman.
During this time the parents have an important role as advisors to their children. Parents can help correct misimpressions and aid in more accurate understanding. Parents can provide wisdom concerning what sort of differences within a marriage are really important, leading to potential problems, verses those that are usually of little consequence. Our children are neither personally experienced in marriage, nor do they usually know much about the marriages of others. They need the perspective of parents to help interpret the significance of what they are learning about the other person.
To illustrate this by examples:
EXAMPLE #1: Your son may express some concerns about the young lady's personality, which seem at variance with what you have observed or heard about her previously. You might caution your son to not judge too quickly and to investigate more carefully. You might also advise him to discuss this with the girl's father. The girl's parents can usually validate or correct his impressions, helping him to more accurately understand their daughter. In some situations both sets of parents may decide to discuss the issue directly to either head off a serious problem or to consider whether the courtship should be ended. If this courtship is a mistake, for all concerned it is best to end it early, before there is opportunity for much emotional attachment to develop.
EXAMPLE #2: Your daughter may have concerns about a certain characteristic or habit she has observed in the young man. The parents' role may be to point out evidence that she is perhaps misjudging the young man and to advise her on how to get a more sure and accurate picture. Her parents may also decide to probe this issue further themselves with the young man or his parents. Or her parents may decide they need to help her put the young man's possible shortcoming in context. Is it really a matter of importance or not? Just how concerned should she be?
Some Areas of Concern That May Arise
Many concerns may prove to be minor and insignificant. However, some concerns may arise which indicate the need to proceed with caution or perhaps even to end the courtship.
1. Maturity or Preparedness. Though both sets of parents believed their children were ready, there may be indications that they were mistaken. There may be excessive anxiety on the young lady's part and an inability to become comfortable in the presence of the young man. This may be an indicator that she is not yet emotionally ready, or it may be the hand of God showing that these two, how ever fine both may be, were not meant to be husband and wife. If there is a persistent indication of this sort, it is probably best to call off the courtship and wait on God's further direction.
2. Character. Though we would hope there would be no character issues to arise within a courtship, it is still possible. There may be false character issues arising from misunderstandings, which the parents can help clear up. Or there may be true character issues that escaped earlier notice. There is a good example of this in a fictional story, Jeff McLean: His Courtship, by Mr. & Mrs. Stephen Castleberry. In the story, prior to a courtship decision, the young lady visits the family for a few weeks. When she does, certain character issues show up that make it clear that she would not be a good match for Jeff, and may need to mature more before contemplating any marriage.
3. Addictions. Current or even past addictions such as to alcohol or drugs should be taken very seriously. Hopefully these would have come to light before the decision for a courtship. Though the addiction may have been conquered some years past, it remains a threat to be watched very closely. It is all too common for even solid growing Christians to encounter an adverse circumstance or tempting influence and be pulled back into a prior addiction. This danger needs to be well understood and the cost counted before proceeding to engagement. Signs that the addiction is not thoroughly broken and strongly guarded against, are warnings not to be taken lightly. Much heartache and suffering can come from ignoring these indications.
4. Past immorality. This is a major curse of our age. So many young people, even Christian young people, have been tarnished by sexual immorality. We would all prefer for our young people to be entirely pure and only marry others who were as well. But there are many very fine young people who have fallen into sin in the past, but have thoroughly repented and changed their ways. If past immorality has occurred, the concerns are whether it truly has been entirely repented of and what may be the extent of further consequences within a marriage. Will there be serious problems to be overcome in physical relations within marriage because of the impact of these past experiences? Will there be added temptations to infidelity? Is each fully prepared to forgive the other of such sins and sharing such intimacies with others? Proceed carefully and with much caution if past immorality is an issue.
5. Doctrinal differences. There are a great many minor differences in interpretation and application that make little difference to a marriage. However there are also quite a few that when both hold strongly to opposite positions, could result in a lot of conflict within marriage. Even among Christians who hold to the same fundamental doctrines and unashamedly accept one another to be Christian brethren, there remain many flash points of possible disagreement. There may be doctrinal differences concerning spiritual gifts, baptism, eternal security, the end times, forms of worship, etc. Though one may attend a church with a strong belief in one of these areas, yet the individual may differ with the church or be in a more undecided position. What may be a very serious difference for one couple can be a very insignificant one for another. Parents can help bring these considerations to light before a courtship is agreed to and can also help with wisdom when they come to light later.
It may help to ask the following questions: Can these two easily agree on the type of church to raise their family in? Will the wife be able to whole-heartedly support what her husband is teaching to their children and to others in the church? Can the future wife in good conscience teach the children what their father believes to be true? Caution - remember that what is at primary issue is the seriousness of the difference between the young people. Yes, serious disagreements with future in-laws are a consideration, but not as great a one as disagreements within the marriage.
6. Differences in convictions. The more strongly held the conviction is by one, the more potential for conflict when it is not shared by the other. Many areas of convictions should be carefully explored. Parents can sometimes be a big help in perceiving just how important certain differences are likely to be after marriage. One of particular concern to marriage is the use of birth control. If the two go into marriage disagreeing on this issue, this could really get their physical relationship off to a bad start.
7. Personality and male/female differences. Some issues may arise which are mostly problems of understanding. The young people may not adequately appreciate the normal differences between the way men and women think and react. Likewise they may not understand some of their personality or temperament differences. Often more explanation and increased efforts to understand will resolve these differences. However, it is always possible that certain differences in personality will create enough conflict or be viewed so negatively by one of the parties as to indicate that marriage is unwise.
8. Calling in Life. This is another area that you try to check out before a courtship, but there may still be surprises. For example, the young man may be fully settled upon being a farmer. All of his training, preparations and desires are focused that way and he believes this is God's call for his life. A young lady may think being a farmer's wife would be fine, but with no experience of living on a farm or knowing what it is really like. This may not be what God has prepared her for and she may be absolutely miserable. Or a young man may be convinced of God's call for him to be a missionary in foreign lands. He may have trained and confirmed this by a trial period of living overseas assisting other missionaries. A young lady who is otherwise very interested in him as a husband may tell him (and herself) that she too would like to be a missionary. But is she really suited to the service? Is this what God has been preparing her for?
There will likely be some issues of concern to arise in any courtship. They may all be small and short lived concerns. Parents can play a role in helping to put concerns in proper perspective. Parents should not make much of those that really don't amount to much, while seeing that adequate attention is paid to more serious concerns which may have a real impact on a marriage. Of course parents also need to pray for wisdom and be careful not to go overboard in seeking perfection in their childís mate. Consider your own child's imperfections when you find yourself looking for the "perfect" spouse.