When I was dating I was always instructed not to date men who weren’t Christians.
At first, I listened.
My first crush was on a boy who played in the band at my youth group. Then, in high school I had my first boyfriend. He wasn’t from my church but he went to church. He was a Christian. We talked about faith with each other, went to church together on occasion, even prayed together at times. Especially after pushing the physical boundaries.
You know, prayed to appease the guilt we were feeling, that sort of thing.
Then college happened. I met a guy I liked who had grown up Christian, but decided he didn’t really want to be a Christian anymore, and neither did I, I guess, so we started dating.
Fast-forward to after college.
I went on lots of dates with guys who were “Christians” and lots of dates with guys who weren’t “Christians” and learned really fast that, just because a guy called himself a Christian didn’t make him a good boyfriend. I had some of my worst dating experiences with guys who said they were “Christians.”
To top it all off, I dated a guy who I was sure was “the guy” except for one important thing — he wasn’t a Christian. I had all kinds of ways to justify it. I won’t give you the list, I’m sure you can imagine. But I’ll tell you this: I’m so glad that, at a time I wasn’t able to take this advice at face value, God saved me from myself. The relationship ended, without my input.
The point is: I’ve done my fair share of dating Christians and non-Christians.
Why was the advice so hard for me to take?
When I was single, the advice about dating non-Christians was really hard for me to swallow because dating was hard enough, dang it! Meeting a guy who I found interesting and attractive, and who felt the same way about me, felt virtually impossible — without the added pressure of figuring out what his spiritual life was like. And the older I became, the more impossible it felt.
Did Christian men get married right out of high school or something? I wondered to myself.
It felt like every Christian man I knew was already taken.
Also, I didn’t see what the big deal was about just dating a guy who wasn’t a Christian, especially when I was younger. Just because I dated him didn’t mean I had to marry him, did it? I mean, I was only 18 (or 19, 20) Couldn’t I go on a few dates with a guy, enjoy his company, learn things, and then decide to go our separate ways?
Finally, I had a really 21st century, Western view of relationships. Independence. Autonomy. Those were my highest values.
My life was my life, and his life was his life. Sure, we would influence one another, but not too much. His decisions didn’t have to impact mine, and mine didn’t have to impact his. Even if we did have different opinions about faith, we could be totally ourselves, living our lives autonomous, but alongside one another.
And who knows, maybe he would even decide to come to church with me on Sundays!?
What was I missing?
First, like my friend Emily says on her column over at Prodigal Magazine today, I was missing that dating from a place of panic is never a good idea. She’s right. I can’t think of a time that I made an important decision out of desperation and looked back, years later, and thought, “Wow, I’m so glad I made that choice.”
Secondly, I was missing that dating is never just dating.
Dating, even when it doesn’t lead to marriage, leads to attachment to another person. Attachments are formed around proximity, shared interest, experiences, secrets, and physical touch. That pretty much sums up dating.
If you date someone “casually” for a little bit, think it’s not that big of a deal and then, one day, without much warning, wake up and realize you’re attached to that person . . . Good. You’re human. It’s supposed to be that way.
The problem is attachments are hard and painful to break.
Finally, and maybe most importantly, I was missing that, like it or not, relationships influence us, no matter how independent and autonomous we think we are. The people we choose to surround ourselves with will impact the decisions we make, and the life that is created out of those decisions. No relationship will infiltrate and impact your life more than your marriage relationship.
And our faith, if we’re doing it right, is more than just an invitation to church on Sundays. It impacts every part of the way we think and live.
What makes the advice so important?
This advice will not save you from all pain. I just feel like I should get that out of the way.
It’s not like every time I dated a non-Christian things turned out poorly, and every time I dated Christians it turned out great. If you’re looking for freedom from pain, don’t vow not to date non-Christians, vow to date no one.
Freedom from pain is not the point of choosing to date only Christians. Being equally yoked is.
This analogy comes from Paul’s teaching in 2 Corinthians and I know it’s overused and under-explained in the church today. Basically, the picture is of two oxen “yoked” to a plow. The idea is that if one ox is stronger than the other ox, the plow will pull crooked. What this doesn’t mean is that Christians are “stronger” than non-Christians.
In fact, just the opposite.
I love what Jesus says about our “yoke” as Christians in Matthew 11:28. He says, “Come to me, all who are weary and heavy burdened, and I will give you rest for your souls. My yoke is easy, my burden is light . . .”
The point is that, when we submit our lives to God, we don’t have to pull the yoke by ourselves. Think about it. Even the weakest person in the world, when submitted to God, can pull a yoke that no human could ever hope to pull on his/her own. In fact, His (God’s) strength has a chance to be proven in our weakness.
That’s why being “equally yoked” is so important.
What do you think about dating a non-Christian? Have you dated Christians or non-Christians? What has been your experience?
This blog was originally posted at: http://www.allisonvesterfelt.com/dating-a-non-christian/