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Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Detox Stinks

Okay, so I have a lot more colorful words to describe it, being a writer and all, but most of them are definitely R-rated.

I have not yet started the colon cleanse because it hasn't arrived yet, but I am already on the restricted diet. I've done the diet before, and I don't remember it being this bad. Maybe because my body wasn't this bad off. I'm finding, though, that as my body withdraws from the starches and sugars, I'm having a rough time.

Yes, friends, detox stinks. I've never been able to relate to people addicted to alcohol, drugs, nicotine, and whatnot. I haven't understood the physical pain of giving it up. For some reason, this go-around on the diet, I am having such horrible physical symptoms of sugar withdrawal, I can relate. I am on day six, and I want to die.

One of the hardest things is that since my husband is not on this diet, except for the fact that he eats the diet-friendly meals I cook, is that we have sooo many sweets in the house. For as long as I've known him, he's enjoyed a pastry every morning on his way to work. Guess what's sitting on my counter? Gooey, scrumptious pastries. Every time I pass the counter, I have to make a choice: grab a handful of almonds, which are on the diet, or have a pastry. So far, the almonds are winning.

Actually, what's winning is this: I am sick and tired of feeling this way. I'm tired of being a reasonably young woman who's too tired to do things people twice my age do with ease. I hate that my kids are used to the fact that mommy can't do this or that with them because she doesn't feel good. I hate my husband's resigned sighs when I tell him I have a headache again and he's on his own with the kids. I can feel awful for the next month, or I can feel awful for the rest of my life.

I can better relate to those with more difficult addictions like drugs, alcohol, and whatnot. But as I take each painful step, and my hands can't stop shaking because my body wants sugar so bad or my stomach is telling me I'm not full yet because there's no starch in it to make it feel that way or I'm dizzy and have a massive headache from my body adjusting to it all, I remind myself why I'm doing this.

I am worth it. My kids are worth it. My husband is worth it. And those of you who are thinking of detoxing from something, you are worth it, too. Yes, detox stinks. But what stinks worse is to be ruled by something that doesn't give you real, lasting joy. We deserve better than what our addictions are telling we deserve.

Friday, September 25, 2009

About time for an update, eh?

I haven't posted anything personal in a while, and I'm sorry. Life is semi kicking me in the butt right now, but the good news is that it's all semi good stuff.

A few weeks ago, I finally got tired of how bad my allergies were getting. For a good part of the summer, I had days where I was barely functioning. Worse, at least in my opinion, they seemed to be the worst at night, so I ended up barely sleeping unless I took sleeping pills. And of course, said pills made me groggy during the day. All this to say, I was miserable.

One of my friends went to see an acupuncturist who did an amazing job helping her allergies, and another said she'd had good results with acupuncture as well. I believe in acupuncture, but I've always had a hard time with it because the people I know who do it are so immersed in oriental religion that they end up trying to push that mumbo jumbo on me and it makes me uncomfortable. However, this person is a Christian, and she started her practice for people like me. :)

I went to see her, and I can't tell you what a miracle it's been for me. Am I cured? Nope. But she did explain what was going on in my body and that a lot of the symptoms I've had in general over the years are all related to my allergies and another issue. I have adrenal burnout. You know how you all comment on my superwoman skills? Well, it came at a price. And even though I cut down on a lot of my commitments, my body never got a chance to heal and catch up.

So we're playing the healing and catch up game now. I'm taking a lot of supplements, going in for treatments, and as soon as it gets in, I'll be doing a massive colon cleanse. Ick. I'm also not thrilled with the dietary changes I've had to make, but she assures me it's temporary. Just until we undo the years of abuse and get my system back to normal.

Smack dab in the middle of all this health stuff, there was this conference. Some of you may have heard of it. I went to the ACFW conference, and it was amazing. Probably the best ever. Mostly because while I'd been working on healing my body, God spent a lot of time healing my heart. I had some really amazing things happen- most of which I can't explain, some I'll share later, and the rest... I'm still in awe of. God is pretty awesome, and I can't even begin to express my gratitude that He'd reach out and touch me in such beautiful ways.

Are you dizzy yet? Because I sure I am. Or maybe that's my body rebelling against this new diet thing I have to do. No gluten, no sugar, no bad for you stuff that tastes so good, no fats, and only certain meats.

So that's my life for right now. I'm still really tired, but feeling better every day. My children, especially the youngest one, are giving me a run for my money right now, but that's an entirely new blog post. Until then, treasure every second of sleep you can get, and be thankful there is a God in Heaven who adores you. Because He does.

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

The Great Christmas Bowl

Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2009)


Susan May Warren is the award-winning author of seventeen novels and novellas with Tyndale, Steeple Hill and Barbour Publishing. Her first book, Happily Ever After won the American Fiction Christian Writers Book of the Year in 2003, and was a 2003 Christy Award finalist. In Sheep’s Clothing, a thriller set in Russia, was a 2006 Christy Award finalist and won the 2006 Inspirational Reader’s Choice award. A former missionary to Russia, Susan May Warren now writes Suspense/Romance and Chick Lit full time from her home in northern Minnesota.

Visit the author's website.


I've been looking forward to reading this book ever since I heard her talk about writing it at one of our local writing groups. I love reading books that the authors are passionate about. This book did not disappoint. Susan's signature voice is charming and fun, and it's always a treat to get to read something she's written.

Product Details:

List Price: $9.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Tyndale House Publishers (August 17, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1414326785
ISBN-13: 978-1414326788


I’ve always been a football fan, the kind of woman who could easily find herself parked on the sofa any given Sunday afternoon, rooting for my favorite team. I’ve never been a gambler, never played fantasy football, never followed my team during the hot summer months. I’m a fall-season-until-Super-Bowl-only fan, but die-hard nonetheless. Something about investing my emotions for three hours in the fate of eleven men dressed in purple tights soothes my busy spirit.

Having given birth to three sons, I dreamed I’d have the makings of a starring offensive lineup. My oldest son, Neil, would play quarterback; Brett would be a running back; and my youngest, Kevin, would be a wide receiver. My daughters and I would lead cheers from the stands. My husband, Mike, who had played in our hometown high school and helped bring them to state in his senior year, would help coach. We’d be a football family, training with weights and running in the off-season. We’d plan our vacations around summer practices, and I’d join the booster club, maybe sell raffle tickets, even host the end-of-the-year potluck.

If girls could have played football in our tiny town, I know that Brianna and Amy would have joined the team. They became my cohorts, huddling under stadium blankets and clapping their mittens together as we cheered our high school team to victory.

Alas, Neil joined chess club, and Brett became a lead in the school plays.

The football gene seemed to have eluded even our youngest son. A boy who would rather sit on the sofa moving his thumbs in furious online game playing as his only form of exercise, Kevin didn’t possess even a hint of interest in football. I knew he’d inherited some athleticism, as evidenced by the discarded sports equipment left in his wake over the years: hockey skates, pads, helmet, basketball shoes, a tennis racket, a baseball glove. All abandoned after one season of hopeful use.

The only sport that seemed to take had been soccer. For three years I entered into the world of soccer mom, investing in my own foldout chair and a cooler. Perhaps it was his boundless energy that allowed him to play nearly the entire game, but Kevin had a knack for getting the ball in the net. Too bad our community soccer program ended at sixth grade, because Big Lake might have had its very own star. I’d hoped his interest would transfer to football, the other fall sport, but the old pigskin seemed as interesting to Kevin as cleaning his room.

Meanwhile, Neil, Brett, Brianna, and Amy graduated and moved out of the house, bound for college—most obtaining scholarships, much to the relief of my overworked, underpaid EMT husband. By the time Kevin moved into Neil’s basement teen hangout room, Neil was married and working as a CPA in Milwaukee, Brett was doing commercials in Chicago, Brianna had started graduate school for psychology, and Amy was studying abroad in London.

I worried for Kevin as he approached his senior year, envisioning him taking on a post–high school job at the local Dairy Queen while he honed his gaming skills, waiting for his future to somehow find him in the dark recesses of our basement amid his piled dirty clothing, his unmade bed, and the debris of pizza cartons. How I longed for him to grow up.

So the day he came home from school clutching a medical release form for football in his hand, I wondered if perhaps he had a high fever and needed immediate hospitalization.

“I’ve been thinking of playing for a while,” he said, shrugging. “It’s my last chance.”

Summertime had begun its slide into fall, the northern nights cooling. In two short months, we’d have our first snowfall. As I stared at my son—his stringy blond hair, his muscles that just needed toning, the way his gaze slid away from me and onto the floor—I wondered if he expected me to say no.

I took the pen and signed the form without reading it.

Teenage sons are often difficult to encourage. Instead of erupting into a wild jig of joy in the middle of the kitchen, I took the subtle route. I purchased football cleats and set them by the door to his room. I filled his water bottle every morning, packing it with ice, then slipping it into his backpack. I started baking pot roasts and cutting him the largest piece. I bought Bengay, put it on his pillow. I set vitamins out for him at breakfast.

And sometimes, yes, I snuck up in my SUV and sat at the edge of the field, behind the goalposts, watching practice.

My son had talent. A lot of talent. And I wasn’t the only one who noticed. Our residence in a small town played to Kevin’s odds, and being bigger and faster than most of his teammates made up for his inability to block. Coach Grant started him at tackle, then moved him to fullback, then, after noting his ability to twist out of a hold (thanks to years of wrestling for the remote control with his brothers), landed him at tailback.

To my silent glee, my son had the moves of Walter Payton and could dance his way up the field, leaping opponents, breaking tackles, and generally restoring my faith in the Wallace family football gene. I couldn’t wait for the season to start. Finally, I had a Big Lake Trout.

I purchased a season pass. A stadium cushion. A foam finger.

I was the first one in the gates on the day of the season opener. Mike stood on the sidelines next to the requisite ambulance, something that I’d always noted but never fully appreciated until now.

He waved to me as I plopped down my cushion, pulled my red and black stadium blanket over my knees, and wrestled out my digital camera, prepared to capture every moment of my son’s magnificent run to victory. Mike had taken Kevin out for dinner the night before for what I hoped would be a pep talk/strategic-planning session. I wasn’t the only one holding tightly to silent hopes.

“You’re here early.”

I looked up from reviewing shots of Brianna’s college graduation to see Bud Finlaysen greeting me from the field. Bundled in orange hunting coveralls as an undergarment, he wore over the top the shiny black and silver costume of the Big Lake Trout team mascot. Bud had served as the Trout since what I assumed was the dawn of time, or at least the game of football, and we needed him like summer needs lemonade. He and his fish costume comprised the entirety of our cheerleading squad. Our cheerleaders had defected three years prior, and despite the efforts of our paltry pep band, we were woefully lacking in sideline team spirit.

Bud held his headpiece under one arm, the gargantuan mouth gaping open. When worn, his face showed through the open mouth, the enormous fishy eyes googling out from atop his head, a spiky dorsal fin running along his back. He’d shove his hands into two front fins that sparkled with shiny silver material. The costume split at the bottom for his black boots, and a tail dragged behind him like a medieval dragon. Once fitted together, the Big Lake Trout towered nearly eight feet tall, although with the tail, it easily measured over ten. Ten feet of aquatic terror.

“I have a son playing tailback,” I said, holding up my camera and taking a shot of Bud. “Gotta get a good seat.”

Bud laughed. I remembered him from the days when I attended Big Lake High. He worked as the school janitor. Even then he seemed ancient, although he must have been only twenty years or so older than I was. Thin, with kind blue eyes and a hunch in his back, he’d drag his yellow mop bucket around the halls singing Christmas carols, even in May.

“Maybe this will be the year they go to state,” he said, pulling on his giant head. “They’ve got some good players.” He gave me a little wink, as if to suggest Kevin might be one of them.

I smiled, but inside I longed for his words to be true.

State champions. The Super Bowl of high school sports. I could barely think the words.

Bud moved up the field, where he stood at the gate, waiting for the team to pour out onto the field. I waved to friends as the stands filled. In a town of 1,300, a Friday night football game is the hot ticket. A coolness nipped the air, spiced with the bouquet of decaying leaves and someone grilling their last steaks of the season.

The band, a motley crew that took up four rows of seats, assembled. I hummed along as they warmed up with the school fight song.

Town grocer Gil Anderson manned the booth behind me and announced the team. I leaped to my feet in a display of disbelief and joy as the Trouts surged out of the school and onto the playing field.

Each player’s hand connected with one of Bud’s fins on the way to the field.

I spotted Kevin right off, big number 33. He looked enormous with his pads. As he stretched, I noted how lean and strong he’d become over the past six weeks of training. I held my breath as he took the sidelines, wishing for a start for him. To my shock, he took the field after the kickoff, just behind the offensive line.

I’ve never been one to hold back when it comes to football. I cheered my lungs out, pretty sure the team needed my sideline coaching. And when Kevin got the ball and ran it in for a touchdown, I pounded Gretchen Gilstrap on the shoulders in front of me. “That’s my son!”

She gave me a good-natured thumbs-up.

We won the game by two touchdowns and a field goal. As Kevin pulled off his helmet and looked for me in the stands, his blond hair sweaty and plastered to his face, I heard Bud’s words again: “Maybe this will be the year they go to state.”

What is it they always say? Be careful what you wish for?


“Amazing run on Friday!”

“I didn’t know your son could play football!”

“Kevin has his father’s moves—I remember when Mike took them all the way to state!”

I love my church. I stood in the foyer, receiving accolades for birthing such a stupendous athlete, smiling now and again at Kevin, who was closing up shop at the sound board that he ran every Sunday. Mike had already gone to get the car—his favorite “giddyap and out of church” maneuver. I still had more compliments to gather.

After all, Kevin had been a ten-pound baby. I get some credit.

I worked my way to the fellowship hall to pick up my empty pan. With eighty members, sixty attendees on a good Sunday, we took turns hosting the midmorning coffee break. I had whipped up a batch of my grandmother’s almond coffee cake.

Pastor Backlund stood by the door, and when I finally reached him, he grinned widely. “Great game, Marianne.”

“Thanks. I’ll tell Kevin you said so.”

“Must be strange to have your youngest be a senior this year.”

I was trying not to think about that, but yes, although I was thrilled to see Kevin move off the sofa and onto the playing field, I was dreading the inevitable quiet that would invade our home next year. I smiled tightly.

“I hope that will leave you more time to get involved at church?” His eyebrow quirked up, as if I’d been somehow delinquent over the past twenty-five years. I was mentally doing the math, summing up just how many years in a row I’d taught Sunday school, when he added, “Would you consider taking on the role of hospitality chairperson?”

“Hey, Mom!” Kevin appeared beside me. “Can I head over to Coach’s for lunch? A bunch of guys are getting together to talk about the game.”

I glanced at him, back to the pastor. “Sure.”

“Perfect,” Kevin said, disappearing out the door.

“Wonderful,” Pastor Backlund said, reaching for his next parishioner.

Mike, now spotting me, leaned on his horn.

I’d have to call the pastor later and politely decline his offer to let me take command of the weekly coffee break, the quarterly potluck, and most importantly, the annual Christmas Tea. The hospitality position came staffed with women decades older than I, who could teach even Martha Stewart a few things about stretching a budget and creating centerpieces. I’d rather lead a camping trip for two hundred toddlers through a mosquito-infested jungle.

“Be back by supper!” I hollered to Kevin as he slid into his friend’s sedan. He didn’t even look back.

I climbed into our SUV next to Mike. His thoughts had already moved on, probably to the training he would attend next weekend. Or maybe just to lunch. We rode home in silence. I noticed how the brilliant greens of the poplar trees had turned brown, the maples to red, the oaks to orange. The wind had already stripped some of the trees naked.

I could admit that my leaves had started to turn. But I wasn’t ready to shed them yet.

I pressed my lips together and silently begged the winter winds to tarry.

Excerpted from The Great Christmas Bowl by Susan May Warren. Copyright © 2009 by Susan May Warren. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved.

Monday, September 14, 2009

Becoming a Family that Heals by Drs. Beverly and Tom Rodgers

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Becoming a Family that Heals: How to Resolve Past Issues and Free Your Future

Focus (August 4, 2009)


Drs. Tom and Beverly Rodgers have been Christian counselors for over 30 years. They practice at Rodgers Christian Counseling and the Institute for Soul Healing Love in Charlotte, North Carolina. Dr. Tom also has a master’s degree in human development and Dr. Bev has a master’s degree in marital and family therapy. Together they have written three books: Soul Healing Love, Adult Children of Divorced Parents, and The Singlehood Phenomenon. They have appeared on NBC, NPR, and the BBC. Together they facilitate relationship workshops for couples and singles across the globe. They have been married for over 30 years and have two grown daughters.

Visit the author's website.

Product Details:

List Price: $13.99
Paperback: 176 pages
Publisher: Focus (August 4, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1589975758
ISBN-13: 978-1589975750


I really enjoyed this book. I think it's a much-needed resource for a lot of the wounded families out there. I'm excited to dig deeper into the techniques they talk about in the book. This is definitely not a sit down and read in one sitting, but a take the time to apply these lessons to your life kind of book.



Meet the Smith Family

As the sun set over the trees behind our office, it cast an amber glow over Amy Smith’s face, making her look tired and sad as she poured out her heart. In her expressive, emotional style she shared about her 15-year marriage. Her husband, Bill, sat uncomfortably stiff on the far side of the sofa, his arms crossed in a resistant, nervous posture.

Amy told us that they had two beautiful children, Chloe, age eight, and Billy, six. Amy began to cry as she revealed that she was at her wits’ end with Bill because he would not interact with her and the children.

He spent most of his evenings and weekends parked in front of the television in his room, or “dungeon,” as they called it.

“He won’t talk or relate to us. He just works and comes home and disappears into his room,” she shared through her tears. “Chloe will do anything to get his attention. She even tried to be interested in fishing so she could spend time with him. But he just won’t respond to her. This kills me because I know how she feels. I tried to get my dad’s attention when I was her age, and when I could not reach him, it caused me to rebel and become promiscuous. There’s so much to deal with here,” Amy cried, wiping her tears in embarrassment.

“Our marriage is in trouble,” she continued. “Our son is having behavior problems at school, and poor Chloe has ADHD and has trouble with her school work. She has no friends because her self-esteem is on the floor. The problems in our family seem so big that I just don’t know where to start. I finally told Bill that if he did not come to counseling I might have to leave. I still can’t believe he came today,” she said as she looked at him for some type of reaction. But Bill just stared blankly at Amy, in what appeared to be his typical shutdown response. This just made Amy cry even harder. The hopelessness and despair in the room were palpable.

As Christian marital and family therapists for the past 28 years, we have treated many families like the Smiths. These families are typically desperate and overwhelmed, and they need help on many fronts. It is our job to help them eat the proverbial elephant of healing family dysfunction, one bite at a time.

Often, when people are inundated with problems, they cannot see a way out. But there is hope for this family and many others like them. Tom and I found that same hope for our own wounded family years ago.

Yes, we too have had problems. Just because we’re marriage and family counselors does not mean that we’re immune to trouble. We too came from homes where there was a great deal of pain. My mother was mentally ill. She was abusive to our family, both mentally and physically. As you can imagine, it caused a great deal of stress on my parents’ marriage.

My father finally left my family when I was five years old. This exacerbated my mother’s illness and she became even more angry and abusive. It was difficult growing up without a dad and many times without a mother; mentally ill moms are frequently missing in action. It was not until I started college and studied psychology that I realized the full impact my wounded childhood would have on my life and my marriage.

Tom grew up in a seemingly more “normal” family—at least no one was crazy! Even so, his family had troubles of its own. They were churchgoers and were there every time the doors were open. They were considered pillars of their small community in central California. Everything ran smoothly for them until Tom’s father’s repeated adultery was exposed.

Tom’s whole world came crashing down then, and this started the slow and painful dissolution of his family. They had to move from their community in shame and nothing was the same after that. Tom entered college with a poor ability to trust because everything that he put his trust in had disintegrated. His parents finally buried their dead, dysfunctional marriage when Tom was 25 years old. Though he was an adult when his parents eventually divorced, the hurt was no less painful. Like most Christian children of divorce, he even doubted God. All of this followed him into our marriage.

We were much like Amy and Bill Smith. We had no idea that we brought wounds from our respective families into our marriage. We now believe it was because of these wounds that we became therapists. It was because of our hurt and pain that we eventually developed a model for healing relationships. We call it the Soul-Healing Love Model. You’ll be hearing a lot about how it can work in your life as we follow the Smith family in their healing process. Along with the Smiths, you will learn how your childhood wounds have affected your adult relationships, and how to apply the soul healing balm of the Great Physician to these wounds so that you can have healthy, lasting family relationships.

We never started out to develop a counseling model. If you had known us in college, you would have assumed that we were the least likely candidates to do so. We were so insecure and fearful of trusting one another. We entered our relationship with so many wounds that we spent the first year of our marriage in a counselor’s office. We studied family interaction in school, attended workshops, read as many books as we possibly could, studied Scripture, and prayed often. Still, marriage was hard.

It wasn’t easy to attend classes and seminars by great Christian leaders who seemed to have it all together. We thought our childhood wounds would disqualify us from ever being able to help ourselves, much less anyone else. In the early years of our training it seemed incongruous for us to study about creating healthy families while our own family fell miserably short. We felt hypocritical when we would help a family stop their unhealthy patterns, only to repeat our own later on. It took a while to learn that all leaders feel this struggle in some way or another as they try to live out what they teach.

The Lord was good and heard our cries, and in time gave us ways to heal our wounded marriage and pass this healing on to others. This became the Soul-Healing Love Model. It integrates psychological principles and biblical truths so that couples and families can understand each other better, gain insight into their own and each other’s woundedness, have empathy for one another, move toward forgiveness, and become healing agents to each other. The premise of the model is that God’s unconditional love heals our wounded souls and restores us to wholeness. Jeremiah 30:17 says, “‘But I will restore you to health and heal your wounds,’ declares the Lord.”

As we experience God’s great soul-healing love, we can allow that love to overflow to our family, so that we can be healing agents to them as well. Because loving your family can be harder at times than loving your neighbors, the Lord gave us practical, doable ways to walk out God’s unconditional love. It is nothing short of miraculous how the Lord can take a fearful, fractured family and move it to a healing place. We now use the model in our large counseling clinic in Charlotte, North Carolina, and travel the globe doing workshops and teaching other counselors and pastors how to use it.

As you can see, the Lord used our pain to help us be an example to others, so we now believe that God does not waste pain. He did not waste ours, and we knew He would use the pain of the Smith family for good as well. Now, let’s accompany the Smiths on their healing journey and see how the Soul-Healing Love concepts worked for them, and more importantly, how they can work for you and your family.

Chapter One

In the Beginning: Wounded People Marry Wounded People and Wound Children

In order to deal with Bill and Amy’s obvious pain, we wanted to let them know that they were not alone in their struggles, that many couples have difficulties like theirs, and that their family could be healed. Watching their mixture of relief and skepticism as we shared, we moved on to asking them the all-important question: “What do you two want out of counseling?”

Amy had a list and was ready, almost anxious, to share it. We could tell that she had been preparing for this session for some time. Of course, the list contained everything she wanted to change about Bill, but there was no mention of anything she needed to improve. (We would have to deal with this later.)

“I want Bill to talk to me more, to interact with the kids more, to get involved in their projects, and help around the house.” She was on a roll by now and we could see where this was going, but could not even break in to slow her down. Bill, obviously feeling put down, sat lower and lower on the sofa until the cushions enveloped him. We could tell he was clenching his teeth as he rolled his eyes in utter frustration.

Oblivious to Bill’s mood, Amy continued to lament. “I want Bill to tell me what’s going on in his brain. He shuts me out so much! I want him to be a spiritual leader and care about how our children are doing spiritually.” She finally took a breath long enough for me to get a word in.

We knew we needed to get Bill to talk before he exploded, so I asked, “What about you, Bill? What brought you here today?”

“She did, she made me come,” he said somewhat sarcastically. (We soon learned that this playful sarcasm was Bill’s communication trademark.)

“I hate this sort of thing. I can’t stand sharing feelings anyway, much less with strangers. No offense to you guys, but talking about emotions is like torture for me.”

“Most of us guys have trouble with this,” Tom replied in an effort to comfort and identify with Bill. “In fact, after thirty-two years of marriage, my wife is still teaching me new ways to share feelings, so we hope we can make this as painless as possible for you.”

“Wow, thirty-two years and you seem okay . . . well sort of,” Bill replied with that same hint of sarcastic humor. We all chuckled and it seemed to lighten up the serious mood.

Finally, Tom asked, “So, Bill, why are you really here?”

“Well, if you really want to know, my biggest complaint is about Amy’s nagging. She always tells me what I’m not doing. No matter what I do, it is never enough for her. I finally just quit trying because there is no pleasing her.”

“Bill was not always so shut down,” Amy interrupted. (We were also soon to learn that this was her trademark communication style.)

“He talked all the time when we dated. I think he tricked me into marrying him, and after he finally caught me, his sullen self appeared,” she said resentfully.

“You’d be sullen too if you lived with her constant nagging,” Bill defended himself. “She thinks she’s right about everything. It’s too bad we all can’t be perfect like her,” he added somewhat scornfully.

“I don’t want perfection, I just want someone who is more involved with the family, like I am. Why can’t Bill be more like me?” she asked.

“I have wondered the same thing,” Bill said. “How did I pick a wife who is so different from me?”

Tom and I have been asked this question by couples thousands of times in the last three decades. The problem is that people are typically not attracted to mates who are similar to themselves. As with countless couples we see in our office, Bill and Amy could hardly be more opposite.

Amy was verbal, expressive, and animated, with a great vocabulary and no problem using it. Bill was her opposite: quiet, stoic, and emotionally frozen. We have found that we may date individuals more like ourselves, but when it comes to selecting a mate, we typically pick our opposite. This is because, as the old saying goes, opposites attract. There are actually physiological, psychological, and spiritual reasons for this. So to help them see that their differences could actually be a good thing, we explained to Bill and Amy what we are about to share with you.

Opposites Attract

For years relationship researchers have known that people are attracted to partners who are their opposite, but the issue of opposites attracting really goes back to the Garden of Eden. God, the Creator of the universe, has male and female characteristics, masculine and feminine. God made man in His image (Genesis 1:26). Adam reflected the male aspect of His image. He was put on the earth to do God’s masculine tasks. He was to protect, serve, and have charge over all of God’s creatures (Genesis


In those first days, Adam was busy with his charge. He was responsible for naming all living things. As he did this, he utilized all of his, and God’s, masculine qualities. But it wasn’t long before he realized that something was missing. As God’s male image bearer, Adam permeated and interacted with the creation, but God’s feminine image was noticeably absent. The world needed His feminine characteristics.

Adam needed God’s feminine side too. When God said that it was not good for man to be alone (Genesis 2:18),He wanted Adam to have this part of His likeness to complete His creation. Adam needed his opposite to feel complete and to be able to experience and utilize all of God’s aspects and characteristics, and husbands and wives have been looking for that completeness with each other ever since.

Divine Oneness

When man (God’s male likeness) craves woman (God’s female likeness), they marry and become one. In this oneness, they fulfill a divine destiny. Webster’s gives one definition of destiny as “set apart for a specific purpose.”

Since couples have both parts of God’s nature, they can do so much more together than they could alone to fulfill their special purpose. Together they form what we call the “Divine Us.” This Us is greater than the sum of the two parts.

Now, don’t misunderstand. We are not saying here that we as humans are divine. Far from it! Rather, the Divine Us is a calling that God has for only a specific couple, that man and that woman in all of their uniqueness, with the qualities that only those two people possess. Together they can learn to transcend their differences, even learn from these dissimilarities, and grow to be all that God has called them to be. God has a plan for the Divine Us that can be accomplished only when the two become one.

Tom and I have worked hard over the years to determine and develop our Divine Us. We have often said that without each other there are many things we simply would not, or could not, do. We’re certain that separately we would not have started a counseling, writing, and speaking ministry. Together we gave each other courage to do the things we would not do alone. I am gifted in administration. This is an area where Tom is lacking. Tom has a great sense of direction, both literally (I get lost in every hotel we stay in), and figuratively, in that he often knows the path that we should take in life.

These are not the only areas where Tom and I are opposites. I am very outgoing; he has a shy streak. I’m hyper and can’t sit still. He is far calmer. He’s athletic. I’m uncoordinated! Like our couple Amy and Bill,

I am a talker, and Tom is a man of few words. More than once in our marriage these opposite characteristics have caused us conflict. On more than one occasion, I have wished for a mate who was more like me. Yet, before we met I had dated guys who were more like me, and I found that there wasn’t a great deal of attraction. I even found some to be boring. We just didn’t have chemistry.

Chemistry and Love

Relationship researchers report that the more opposite the couple, the greater the chemistry. In fact, the term chemistry came from the science of alchemy, a forerunner of modern chemistry. It was a mixture of science and philosophy that developed in the Middle Ages when people were attempting to find an elixir of life. Early chemists knew that the more opposite the chemicals were, the greater the explosive reaction when they were mixed! Perhaps these early chemists saw the explosive reaction between opposite men and women as they declared undying love and devotion for each other.

There is also a biological reason for this chemistry. When you first fall in love, hormones and brain chemicals flow throughout your body. Researchers at the University of New York call this “the love cocktail.” These chemicals cause us to feel superhuman, making the “in love” feelings soar. They also alter our thinking so that we see our partner in the most positive light. So while we are dating, we not only overlook the opposite characteristics in our prospective mates, we actually like those very characteristics!

When we dated, I loved that Tom was laid-back and could take breaks when we studied. He loved it that I was driven and could accomplish a great deal in a short time. He got more done when he was with me, and I could relax more in his presence. It was not long after we married that those blessed brain chemicals began to fade, and our differences started to annoy us.

“Can’t you sit still?” he would ask.

“Are you taking another break? We have work to do,” I would bemoan.

The differences that we once celebrated and enjoyed soon became grist for the mill of marital conflict. Take a moment and think about the main thing that you were attracted to in your mate. Do you fight about this issue today? You will understand more about this as you read through the pages of this book. But first, let’s look at another way husbands and wives can be opposites.

Similar Wounds/Opposite Adaptations

Not only do opposite personalities attract, but people with opposite adaptations to similar wounds attract as well. This is the basis for dysfunctional family systems. Harville Hendrix in his book Keeping the Love You Find, says that we are attracted to people who have similar wounds from the past. It is not that we consciously know that people have similar wounds. Of course, we don’t ask about one’s childhood wounds on the first date, but we do find that there is just something about that person that feels familiar. Hendrix calls this “the phenomenon of recognition.”

This causes us to feel at home with people who have had similar experiences. In our counseling we have found that adult children of alcoholics find other adult children of alcoholics. Children of divorce find other children of divorce. Those who are abused as children may find mates who will abuse them. Though it seems crazy to outsiders, it feels familiar and comfortable to the ones inside the relationship.

This “phenomenon of recognition” was the case with us. Tom and I attended a Christian university in the 1970s. Most of the students came from wonderful Christian homes with great Christian heritages.

We were two of only a handful of students who suffered from the divorces of our parents. And yet, among thousands of students, we managed to find each other. The chemistry between us was so potent that all of our friends noticed it immediately. Indeed, people with similar wounds are attracted to one another.

The problem is that though people may have similar wounds, they may also have opposite ways of dealing with those wounds. We call those ways adaptations. Tom adapted to his parents’ painful divorce by withdrawing and isolating, becoming a loner. When my family fell apart I felt abandoned. I adapted to this wound by taking care of everyone and trying to fix things. I became a caretaker.

Here’s how that worked out in our marriage. When we had conflict, I typically fell into my caretaking adaptation. I pestered Tom to respond, often following him from room to room, trying to get him to open up to me so that I could “fix” the situation. This pursuing caused Tom to feel suffocated and pull away even more, which caused him to fall into his adaptation as a loner. The more he would withdraw, the more abandoned I felt. The more abandoned I felt, the more I pursued him and the more he would distance himself. We were in a crazy, vicious cycle and unwittingly became the classic pursuer/distancer dyad that John Gottman talks about in his book The Marriage Clinic.

In the Soul-Healing Love Model we call this phenomenon Marital Pac-Man, where one mate chases the other, and the other runs in fear of being emotionally “chomped up.” This is a common problem in marriage, and fortunately it can be repaired. To do this, though, we needed to stop our unhealthy adaptations. As a distancer, Tom needed to bite the bullet and move closer. As a pursuer, I needed to practice self-control and back off more. We learned to do this for each other by rediscovering and appreciating what we were attracted to in the beginning of our relationship. This enabled us to move toward becoming more like each other.

This was exactly what Bill and Amy Smith needed to do as well. But first we wanted to explore more about their history and how they got trapped in their unhealthy game of Marital Pac-Man.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Life with an evil genius

As many of you know, I often refer to my 5yo as The Terrorist. We've been having a rough go of it with her lately. It's not that she's bad. It's just that she finds herself in a lot of scrapes. If you've ever watched the movie, Dennis the Menace, well... my daughter is the female Dennis. It's not that she means to get into trouble. Like Dennis, she's curious. She likes to explore. She likes to see what things do. And, she's determined to find the answer despite people telling her no.

Recently, as I've dealt with one incident after another, I've found myself thinking of her as an evil genius. Not quite the right description, because I don't think she's evil. But you know, as I look at cartoons with the stereotypical evil genius, I've seen the similarities between the evil genius and my daughter. The truth is, she's a smart kid. She gets into all kinds of trouble and manages to wiggle her way out of it because she bats those beautiful blue eyes and has a plausible enough story to make you wonder. I'm fascinated by the stories of how the evil geniuses began. Because the truth is, none of the evil geniuses I can think of began as evil. So many of them turned evil after being misunderstood in some way. I can't help but wonder if these evil geniuses had found some positive outlet for the wrong done to them, would they have channeled their energy into something good instead?

This week, the school called over an incident with my own evil genius. As we sorted out the situation, I started thinking about the path she's on. As her teacher pointed out, she's one of the brightest kids in there. Academically, she's doing great. Socially just as well. People like her. She's charismatic and gets the kids to do whatever she wants. In fact, this rash of trouble surprised her teacher. We dug deeper and realized that my little one could very easily become a truly evil genius. Her teacher and I both agree that she's not a bad kid. But the challenge is keeping her on a path that will channel her powers for good, not evil.

I'm starting to realize that it's a lot easier to chase a child in the direction of becoming an evil genius. It's easier to simply yell, punish, and move on. Certainly with all the stresses of my life, it's more convenient. And yet, it never fixes the problem. Nor does it channel her energy into something positive. I'm finding my creative powers, patience, and ability to understand stretched in every direction as I try to figure out the powers of this uniquely gifted little girl.

I have to admit I'm exhausted. I want this to be a million times easier than it is. But as a mother who loves her daughter, I believe it's worth the effort. And I want to encourage those of you living with an evil genius to keep trying. Figure out how to channel that beautiful brilliance, the curiosity, the desire to master one's universe, and all the other behaviors that make you crazy into something positive. Keep praying. Don't give up.

Today's post is not about having the answers. The truth is, I have no idea if my attempts at channeling my evil genius into something positive will actually work. But I love that little girl, and even though being her mom is very hard, it's also pretty rewarding. She's an amazing kid.

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Abide With Me by John H. Parker and Paul Seawright

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Abide With Me (Includes a CD of 20 wonderful, favorite British hymns.)

New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)


John Parker, Professor of English at Lipscomb University in Nashville, Tennessee, has taught Shakespeare and other literary classes there for twenty-eight years. He holds the M.A. and Ph.D. in English from the University of Tennessee, and also the Master of Arts in Religion from Harding Graduate School of Religion in Memphis. At Lipscomb and previously at Freed-Hardeman University in Henderson, Tennessee, he has also taught classes in the Bible.

Paul Seawright is currently Chair of Photography at the University of Ulster. Previously he was Dean of Art Media and Design at the University of Wales, Newport, and the Director of the Centre for Photographic Research. His photographs have been exhibited worldwide and are held in many museum collections including The Tate London, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Art Institute of Chicago, International Centre of Photography New York, Portland Art Museum, the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Irish Museum of Modern Art.

Paul has a Ph.D. in Photography from the University of Wales and was awarded a personal chair in 2002. He is an honorary Fellow of the Royal Photographic Society, currently chairing their Fellowship panel. He is also a fellow of the Royal Society of the Arts. He has published six books.

Visit the authors' website.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 112 pages
Publisher: New Leaf Publishing Group/New Leaf Press; Har/Com edition (May 1, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0892216905
ISBN-13: 978-0892216901


What a charming book! More importantly, as a history lover, context is sooo important to me. I loved having the context of songs that are such a part of the worship fabric of our faith. And the pictures! Breathtaking! I loved being able to dig deeper. I think that this book will make the worship more meaningful every time I hear one of these songs.


Abide With Me
A Photographic Journey Through Great British Hymns

Text by John H. Parker

Photography by Paul Seawright


The focus of Abide with Me is place—the places in England and Wales where the great Britishhymns were written and where the stories of the men and women who wrote them unfolded: Olney (“Amazing Grace”), Brighton (“Just As I Am”), Stoke Newington (“When I Survey the Wondrous Cross”), Broadhembury (“Rock of Ages”), and many others. This book shows and tells about those places and what you would see if you visited them.

On the north coast of England, silhouetted against the gray sky and the dark sea, stand the ruins of Whitby Abbey. There in the sixth century a common sheep herder named Caedmon wrote the earliest surviving hymn written in English. In the centuries following—Middle Ages, Renaissance, Eighteenth Century, Nineteenth Century—men

and women devoted to Christ and blessed with the gift of poetry composed the words of the English hymns sung in Britain, in America, and across the globe, generation after generation—sung in times of happiness, grief, joy, fear, and wonder. Here are the places those writers lived and their life stories.

Join us now for a stroll through the quaint Cotswolds, the beautiful Lake District, bustling

London, and the glorious poppy-bedecked English countryside as you meet the great minds whose works have inspired, uplifted, and carried us through the tragedies and triumphs of our lives. It’s a journey of the heart and soul—a meandering through your own spirituality.

Speaking to one another in psalms

and hymns and spiritual songs.

Ephesians 5:19

Lost & Found

Olney, on the Ouse River in Northampton, England, not far from Cambridge, was a small farming and crafts village in the late eighteenth century. As we drive into the market square this Sunday afternoon, we find a bustling and cheerful town with two popular claims. One is the annual pancake race on Shrove Tuesday when housewives run 415 yards from the marketplace to the Church of St. Peter and St. Paul, each carrying a pan holding a pancake, which she flips on crossing the finish line. The other is the curate and preacher for that church from 1764–1780, John Newton (1725–1807), and the vicarage, where he wrote perhaps the most popular hymn of all time, “Amazing Grace.”

The church was expanded during those years to accommodate the crowds who came to hear John, and its square tower still rises over the Ouse River. The sanctuary is large and impressive, and a stained-glass window commemorates the preacher and his hymn. Still, time has encroached a bit. His pulpit is now somewhat pushed back into a corner, though John Newton’s Pulpit is proudly displayed along one edge. John’s rather smallish portrait hangs on the stone buttress of one wall, sharing space between a fire extinguisher and a bulletin board where his name promotes a ministry in Sierra Leone. But after 230 years, it’s still John Newton whose story and hymn live on here.

John was born to a master mariner, who was often away at sea, and a mother who taught him Bible lessons and the hymns of Isaac Watts (see pages 38-41). But she died

when he was only six years old. At age eleven, after a few years of living with relatives or attending boarding school, he began sailing with his father.

In time John fell in love with Mary Catlett, daughter of friends of his mother, but in 1744 he was forced to serve on a naval ship. He records that while watching England’s coast fade as the ship sailed away, he would have killed either himself or the captain except for his love of Mary.

Later John managed to join the crew of a slave trade ship, the brutal traffic he so much regretted in later years. This life blotted out his early religious training and led him into bad behavior. Finally, though, when a fierce March storm one night in 1748 threatened to sink his ship, he prayed for the first time in years. And for the rest of his life he regarded every March 21 as the anniversary of his conversion. Relapses occurred, but after a serious illness he committed himself to God, returned to England, and married

Mary in 1750.

John worked for a while in civil service in the region of Yorkshire. But soon he became popular as a lay preacher, developing friendships with George Whitefield and John

Wesley, and began to consider the ministry. Although he studied biblical languages and theology privately, he received ordination in the Church of England only after completing

his autobiography, Authentic Narrative, in 1764, an account that caused influential religious leaders to recognize his spiritual commitment. The book was soon translated into several languages.

John’s principal sponsor for priesthood, Lord William Dartmouth, helped arrange the station for John in Olney, and for the next sixteen years he lived in the vicarage and

preached at St. Peter’s and St. Paul’s and in surrounding parishes. His religious devotion, remarkable personal history, and natural poetic skills gave John the gifts and preparation for writing hymns—especially one great hymn—but he needed a circumstance to prompt him. That came in 1767 when William Cowper moved to Olney.

William was one of England’s fine eighteenth-century poets, producing The Task (1784) and translations of Homer. He received an excellent literary education at Westminster

School in London and, at his father’s wish, studied for the bar. But he lived an often-miserable life. Depression, his distaste for the law, poverty, and an ill-fated romance with his cousin Theadora Cowper ruined any chances of happiness. More than once he attempted suicide.

During this trauma William found relief in the home of friends first made in Huntingdon—Morley and Mary Unwin, a religious and wealthy couple. When Morley died from a fall from his horse in April of 1767, Mary moved to Olney with her daughter Susanna to be near the renowned preacher John Newton. In fact, only an orchard stood between the rear yard of their house, Orchard Side, and John’s vicarage. Soon, William also came to Olney and moved in with them. The two poets became close friends, and by 1771 they were collaborating on what became one of England’s most successful hymnals, The Olney Hymns.

On a bright June afternoon we stroll with Elizabeth Knight in the garden of Orchard Side, now the Cowper & Newton museum, where she has been curator for more than thirty years. Nestled in the rows of flowers is an odd little summerhouse in which William gazed through its side and rear windows. Here he wrote most of the hymns in his part of the collection. After another lapse into depression, he wrote few others, but by that time he had composed his great hymns, “There is a Fountain” and “God Moves in a Mysterious Way.”

Leaving the Orchard Side garden, we walk through the site of the original orchard, to the back of the two-story brick vicarage, and look up to the last dormer window on the top right. Here, in this room, during the last two weeks of December 1772, John Newton wrote “Amazing Grace.”

In his book Amazing Grace: The Story of America’s Most Beloved Hymn (Harper Collins, 2002), music historian Steve Turner records that John routinely wrote hymns to accompany his sermons and composed “Amazing Grace” in preparation for a New Year’s Day sermon on January 1, 1773. He also observes that the words of the hymn evidently paraphrase entries from John’s notebook. For example, the entry “Millions of unseen dangers” is rendered “through many dangers, toils, and snares” in the song. Turner gives these illustrations of Newton’s use of the Scriptures in the hymn:

Newton embroidered biblical phrases

and allusions into all his writing.

The image of being lost and found alludes to the parable

of the prodigal son, where the father

is quoted as saying in Luke 15:24,

“For this my son was dead, and is alive again;

he was lost, and is found.”

His confession of wretchedness may have been drawn

from Paul’s exclamation in Rom. 7:24,

“O wretched man that I am!

Who shall deliver me from the body of this death?”

The contrast of blindness and sight refers directly

to John 9:25, when a man healed by Jesus says,

“One thing I know, that, whereas I was blind,

now I see.”

Newton had used this phrase in his diary

during his seafaring days when he wrote on

August 9, 1752,

“The reason [for God’s mercy] is unknown to

me, but one thing I know, that whereas

I was blind, now I see.”

Turner observes that this day of the introduction of “Amazing Grace,” in Lord Dartmouth’s Great House in Olney, was also the last that the despondent William Cowper came to church.

John and William published The Olney Hymns in 1779. The following year, 1880, William Cowper died, and John accepted a pulpit position at St. Mary Woolnoth Church in London. Audiences continued large here as well. Visitors today can pass through a wrought-iron gate and coffee shop at the entrance, walk through the church doors into the sanctuary, and view the ornate pulpit where the slave-trader turned preacher delivered sermons for the next twenty-seven years, becoming a major figure in the

evangelical portion of the Anglican Church. He died on December 21, 1807, and was buried with Mary at St. Mary Woolchurch in London. They were re-interred at the Church

of St. Peter and St. Paul in Olney in 1893. And he is primarily remembered for these touching words:

Amazing Grace (1772)

Ephesians 2:8-9

Amazing grace! How sweet the sound

That saved a wretch like me!

I once was lost, but now am found;

Was blind, but now I see.

’Twas grace that taught my heart to fear,

And grace my fears relieved;

How precious did that grace appear

The hour I first believed!

The Lord has promised good to me,

His Word my hope secures;

He will my Shield and Portion be,

As long as life endures.

The earth shall soon dissolve like snow,

The sun forbear to shine;

But God, who called me here below,

Will be forever mine.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Religion Saves and Nine Other Misconception by Mark Driscoll

It is time for a FIRST Wild Card Tour book review! If you wish to join the FIRST blog alliance, just click the button. We are a group of reviewers who tour Christian books. A Wild Card post includes a brief bio of the author and a full chapter from each book toured. The reason it is called a FIRST Wild Card Tour is that you never know if the book will be fiction, non~fiction, for young, or for old...or for somewhere in between! Enjoy your free peek into the book!

You never know when I might play a wild card on you!

Today's Wild Card author is:

and the book:

Religion Saves: And Nine Other Misconceptions

Crossway Books (June 30, 2009)


Mark Driscoll is the founding pastor of Mars Hill Church in Seattle, one of the fastest-growing churches in America. He is president of the Acts 29 Church Planting Network and is the author of several books, including Vintage Jesus.

Pastor Mark preaches on Sunday, trains pastors, and writes curriculum. Mark is married to his high school sweetheart, Grace, and they enjoy raising their three sons and two daughters.

Visit the author's blog and church website.

If you wish to view any of the sermons that Mark has done on the subjects of Religion Saves, go HERE.

Product Details:

List Price: $19.99
Hardcover: 288 pages
Publisher: Crossway Books (June 30, 2009)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1433506165
ISBN-13: 978-1433506161


I reviewed this book back in July, and I hope you'll check it out here!

AND NOW...An Excerpt:


How does a Christian date righteously, and what are the physical, emotional, and mentally connecting boundaries a Christian must set while developing an intimate relationship prior to marriage?

The past one hundred years have seen an incredible upheaval in male/female dating relationships.1 In 1896 the word dating was introduced as lower-class slang in reference to prostitution. “Going on a date” was a euphemism for paying for sex. By the early 1900s, “calling” was the primary means of marrying. Calling involved a young man, a potential suitor, scheduling a time to meet a young lady in the parlor of her parents’ home in the presence of her parents. These meetings were carefully overseen by the parents.

Expectations for everything from formality of dress to food served and length of the meeting were spelled out in various books that defined proper courting. Such a process protected young people from danger (e.g., abuse, rape), ensured the involvement of the entire family in the courtship of a young woman, allowed her father to keep away the wrong kinds of young men, minimized opportunity for fornication, and kept marriage as the goal of such relationships rather than such things as cohabitation.

The major downside of calling was the expense, which made it impossible for many people in the middle and lower classes. They simply could not afford a sitting room or parlor designated for calling, complete with a piano, along with formal attire to wear and specific food to eat. In the early 1900s young women were discouraged from going out alone with any male, even relatives, for fear of getting a bad reputation.

That kind of cultural conservatism began to wane as women’s magazines hit the shelf (e.g., Ladies’ Home Journal had over 1 million subscribers by 1900). These women’s magazines began to inform women about men, and an entire industry of beauty products, clothing styles, and social norms was birthed, thereby weakening the influence of parents over young women.

By the 1920s, urbanization provided social outlets for meeting outside the home. Rather than calling at the woman’s home, singles were now able to go out together at places such as restaurants, movie theaters, and dance halls. This began to create new social networks for single people away from their homes and parents and opened up mgreater opportunities for such things as casual dating and inappropriate sexual contact.

Everything changed dramatically in the 1930s. At that time the automobile became widely available, thereby providing a new freedom for younger people to gather away from their parents’ home. This transition took the woman out of the home of her parents and into the world, where she was driven around by the man to places where temptations to msin from drunkenness to fornication were stronger than ever. Not surprisingly, by the 1930s dating overtook calling in prevalence, and money became the means by which a man could pursue a woman, taking her out on expensive dates. This altered the nature of male-female pursuit so that the best men were those with the most money (symbolized by which kind of car they drove) and therefore the most able to afford the nicest dates, and the most prized women were the most outwardly beautiful and sexual who could serve as the best trophy.

By the 1940s the prevalence of dating caused an economic view of male and female dating relationships that was, in principle, akin to prostitution in some ways. Since men were required to make good

money, purchase a car, and treat a woman for a date, men began expecting sexual favors in return for spending money on her. Men often pressured women for sexual favors in exchange for an expensive date. Those women who refused such requests were often no longer asked out on dates, and looser women became more popular dates. The 1960s saw one of the greatest social upheavals in the history of singleness in the Western world. The feminist and sexual revolutions of the day pushed for sexual anarchy of every kind (e.g., orgies, casual sex, homosexuality, lesbianism, bisexuality) in conjunction with a widespread

drug culture that only fueled recklessness, resulting in increased perversion and disease. In the 1960s Playboy was the first pornographic magazine widely published and was kept behind the counter at select

stores. Also in the 1960s the birth control pill was made widely available, thereby encouraging even more sexual sin without the same levels of fear about out-of-wedlock pregnancy.

By the 1970s Playboy was taken from behind the counter at selected stores and displayed on the shelf alongside Penthouse, which was an even harder version of pornography. In 1973, abortion was legalized

so that those not wanting to assume the responsibility that came with their sexual activity could legally murder their child. In 1974, no-fault divorce was legalized so that some of the legal difficulties and social stigmas associated with divorce were diminished. The result? A cataclysmic alteration of sex, dating, marriage, and children. No longer were these seen as connected, or even related, issues.


The sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s radically altered the sexual landscape of our nation: One of the most important consequences of this revolution in sexual behavior and beliefs is that the institution of marriage is much less likely to govern and guide the expression of sexual intimacy between adolescents and adults. More specifically, abstinence before marriage is now the exception to the behavioral and attitudinal norm when it comes to sex.2 For the first time in America’s history, there are more single adults than married adults, and the number is expected only to rise. Still, more than nine out of ten people will eventually marry. In our culture of hook up, shack up, and break up, the expectation is that they will cohabit prior to marriage. From 1978 to 2008, the number of cohabitors in the U.S. rose from 1 million couples to 5 million couples. By simple definition, living together—or unmarried cohabitation—is the status of couples who are sexual partners, not married to each other, and sharing a household.3 Others who are not cohabiting by definition because they have two residences still sleep over enough to qualify, even if the statistics do not count them. It is estimated that about a quarter of unmarried women between the ages of 25 and 39 are currently living with a partner, and about half have lived at some time with an unmarried partner (the data are typically reported for women but not for men).4 Over half of all first marriages are now preceded by cohabitation, compared to virtually none earlier in the century. The most likely to cohabit are people aged 20 to 24.5

However, the evidence actually challenges the popular idea that cohabiting ensures greater marital compatibility and thereby promotes stronger and more enduring marriages: “Cohabitation does not reduce the likelihood of eventual divorce; in fact, it is associated with a higher divorce risk.”6 Virtually all research on the topic has determined that the chances of divorce ending a marriage that was preceded by cohabitation are significantly greater than for a marriage that was not preceded by cohabitation.7 Studies almost always find that cohabitation is associated with an increased divorce risk, with estimates ranging from as low as a 33 percent increased divorce risk to a 151 percent increased risk of dissolution.8

In addition to missing out on many of the benefits of marriage, cohabitors may face more serious difficulties.9 Annual rates of depression among cohabiting couples are more than three times what they are among married couples.10 Women in cohabiting relationships are twice as likely as married women to suffer physical abuse.11 Two studies found that women in cohabiting relationships are about nine times

more likely to be killed by their partner than are women in marital relationships.12

Furthermore, couples who have sex before marriage, especially couples who cohabit, are more likely to experience difficulties in their marriage.13 For instance, a study of 2,034 married adults found that those who had cohabited prior to marriage reported less marital happiness and more marital conflict, compared to similar couples who did not cohabit.14 Conversely, abstinence before marriage is linked to greater marital

stability.15 Studies indicate that men and women who marry as virgins are significantly less likely to divorce.16 For instance, men who marry as virgins are 37 percent less likely to divorce than other men, and women who marry as virgins are 24 percent less likely to divorce than other women.17 Thus, adults who remain abstinent until marriage are more likely to enjoy a satisfying and stable marriage.18

Adults who waited to have sex until they married, and who have remained faithful to their spouses since they married, report higher levels of life satisfaction, compared to adults who engaged in premarital sex or adulterous sex.19 Furthermore, “Those [adults] who have ever had sex outside their marriage also report notably low happiness scores.”20 The reason why all of this is important is that people are prone to think their experience is normative. Singles today were born into a world that is unlike any other time in history, and it is peculiarly perverted. It seems normal to them because it is all they have ever

known, but it must be evaluated in light of history and Scripture for perspective.

The bottom line? Satan is still a liar, and God’s plan is still the best. That plan is chastity before marriage and fidelity in marriage.

I pastor a church where about half the people are single, and most of them are walking as Christians with Jesus for the first time in theirlives. I am deeply sympathetic to the pressures and temptations that single Christians face. In a culture where people have “friends with benefits,” where men are into scoring and not marrying, where the entire singles’ scene from clubs to bars is built to oppose a life modeled after Jesus’ singleness, and where Craig’s List and other online portals in cities like mine have fifteen hundred people posting daily for a “casual encounter” (which is code for free sex), those wanting to honor Jesus in their singleness have nothing short of a war on their hands. Add to this the fact that both men and women are waiting later than ever to marry (men around twenty-six to twenty-seven and women around twentyfour to twenty-five), and the opportunities for sexual sin multiply. When you consider that there are between eleven and thirteen million more women in church than men and acknowledge that the average man wants to attract the youngest and hottest wife he can afford, then Christian women—particularly older singles, divorcĂ©es, widows, and single moms—are at a distinct disadvantage and are tempted to settle and sin. My wife, Grace, has a particular heart for women in these situations and, as a result, a quiet aspect of our ministry is trying to help serve these women. I will spend the rest of this chapter sharing with

you what my wife and I tell single men and women whom we love and minister to.


First, there must be a biblical understanding of marriage. Biblically, singleness is not ideal,1 marriage should be honored by all,2 and it is demonic to teach against marriage.3 Practically, however, there are seasons and reasons that provide exceptions to the rule of marriage for some people, as Paul explains in 1 Corinthians 7. This section of Scripture is widely misunderstood and has been throughout the history

of the church. Indeed, singleness is not bad, as exemplified by Jeremiah, Jesus, and Paul.

Still, singleness is neither normative nor superior to marriage. The too-often popular misconception that singleness is ideal and superior to marriage is in fact rooted in worldly wisdom and not in Scripture.

Ancient non-Christian Greek philosophers such as Plato and the Stoics taught that the physical part of existence is innately evil so our immaterial spirit is purer. The result was a disdain for the body and its pleasures, along with a bizarre asceticism, so that sex was seen as only for procreation, and celibacy was preferred. The early church fathers and mothers were greatly steeped in this kind of thinking. Examples include Tertullian and Ambrose, who preferred extinction of the human race to ongoing sexual intercourse. Origen not only allegorized the Song of Solomon but also castrated himself. Chrysostom taught that Adam and Eve had no sexual relations until sin entered the world. Gregory of Nyssa taught that until sin entered the world, Adam and Eve did not have sex; rather, she was able to conceive through a special kind of vegetation that grew in Eden.

By the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church forbade priests to marry and regulated not only the sexual positions of married couples but also the days on which they could be intimate; eventually half of the year was forbidden for married sex. In the Victorian age, modesty became so extreme that long tablecloths were put over tables to hide the table legs for fear that men would see them and think of women’s legs and

then lust.

My point? In our day of sinful sexuality, there are still many Christians overly influenced by pagan Greek thought who somehow think that only less holy Christians capitulate to marriage and sex rather than live a varsity life as a celibate single. To justify themselves and their viewpoint, such thinkers often take Paul’s words in 1 Corinthians 7 out of context.

Be Holy

“To the unmarried and the widows I say that it is good for them to remain single as I am. But if they cannot exercise self-control, they should marry. For it is better to marry than to burn with passion.”4 Here Paul speaks to singles who were already in sexual sin. Besides, Paul urges them to marry rather than burn in their lust and burn in hell. Today, the consequences of the sexual revolution can be seen in changes in sexual behavior and beliefs about sexual behavior among adults and teens. We have seen almost a complete reversal in sexual behavior and morals.

Therefore, Paul’s words are as true and timely as ever. For those called to singleness for a season, or for a lifetime (desires can and do change), their calling will be accompanied by a diminished sexual appetite so that remaining pure and chaste is not as difficult for them as for the person not called to singleness. Further, since most people are failing to remain chaste and holy in their singleness, most people should put their energies toward the goal of one day being married. I was one of these people, which explains why I married at the age of twenty-one, between my junior and senior years of college.

Be Wise

Now concerning the betrothed [virgins], I have no command from the Lord, but I give my judgment as one who by the Lord’s mercy is trustworthy. I think that in view of the present distress it is good for a person to remain as he is. Are you bound to a wife? Do not seek to be free. Are you free from a wife? Do not seek a wife. But if you do marry, you have not sinned, and if a betrothed woman marries, she has not sinned. Yet those who marry will have worldly troubles, and I would spare you that. This is what I mean, brothers: the appointed time has grown very short. From now on, let those who have wives live as though they had none, and those who mourn as though they were not mourning, and those who rejoice as though they were not rejoicing, and those who buy as though they had no goods, and those who deal with the world as though they had no dealings with it. For the present form of this world is passing away.5

Chaste, single virgins were encouraged to remain single because of the “present distress,” which may have included the coming bloody persecution at the hands of Nero and/or a deadly famine that had been prophesied in Acts 11:28. Singleness is often preferable in some seasons (e.g., persecution, famine, grave illness, war). Those who are able to refrain from marriage until a crisis has ended will save themselves and any children they might have birthed many heartaches and hardships. But if someone is married, Paul says, such a crisis is no excuse for a divorce, and if someone is married, he or she has not sinned. It is important to remember that Paul is not elevating singleness as generally preferable, but preferable only for some people and some circumstances. In this way, some people are called to remain single to serve Jesus in ministry; still others are called to be married, and their marriage is their ministry for Jesus. Anyone who is married will tell you that while it does restrict some ministry opportunities, it is in itself among the most difficult and important ministries.

Good reasons for remaining single in our day include living in a season of life when pursuing a potential spouse is unwise, such as experiencing personal illness, unemployment or underemployment, suffering through a traumatic life event such as the death of a parent, or undertaking education, work, or ministry in which the demands upon one’s time are so severe that a relationship is not practically possible.

Be Devoted

I want you to be free from anxieties. The unmarried man is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to please the Lord. But the married man is anxious about worldly things, how to please his wife, and his interests are divided. And the unmarried or betrothed woman is anxious about the things of the Lord, how to be holy in body and spirit. But the married woman is anxious about worldly things, how to please her husband. I say this for your own benefit, not to lay any restraint upon you, but to promote good order and to secure your undivided devotion to the Lord.6

In typical times, when there is not a major crisis, many of the issues in a church are best dealt with by married leaders.7 This is because many of people’s issues are related to marriage and parenting, and people with experience in those areas are generally best suited to serve as models and mentors. But in times of crisis or when ministry results in danger, single people are able to do more ministry work because their time and possessions are more easily freed up. Ministry is, in comparison, more complicating for, say, a pregnant woman or a man who is the sole provider for a large family. Therefore, in the circumstances Paul is addressing, singles are being called upon for vital ministry, though this call is not a restriction.

Obviously, Jesus Christ is the perfect example of someone who remained single for the purposes of living in poverty and suffering for the cause of ministry in a way that he could not have if he were a husband and father. In this way, those gifted with singleness, like Paul and Jesus, also often have a particular ministry calling that requires poverty or danger. A friend of mine who is working as a quiet evangelist in a closed Muslim country believes he will die for his faith and has not married as a result. Those who are simply selfish or irresponsible and therefore choose not to marry are not whom Paul is speaking of in the

context of his words and life’s example.

Be Considerate

If anyone thinks that he is not behaving properly toward his betrothed, if his passions are strong, and it has to be, let him do as he wishes: let them marry—it is no sin. But whoever is firmly established in his heart, being under no necessity but having his desire under control, and has determined this in his heart, to keep her as his betrothed, he will do well. So then he who marries his betrothed does well, and he who refrains from marriage will do even better.8

With the “distress” of that day, men who were engaged to older virgins were considering backing out of their wedding. Paul counseled that men are free to do as they wish but must consider all the theological and practical variables surrounding their potential marriage.


Having now cleared up some of the confusion around Paul’s words, we can establish a biblical foundation for marriage. The first thing God called “not good,” even before sin entered the world, was Adam’s solitary state.9 God’s answer was to create Eve as his wife, lover, fellow worshiper, helper, and friend. In so doing, God established that a marriage is one man and one woman10 in a covenant11 that is sexually consummated12 and is intended to last a lifetime.13 There are two opposite errors about marriage into which a Christian single can fall. Idols that serve as functional saviors underlie these errors.

The first idol is independence. When the idol of independence is worshiped, committed relationships, in general, and marriage, in particular, are dismissed or even disdained. Underlying this idol can be fear from a past hurt, the unhealed trauma of suffering through a parental divorce, or simply good old-fashioned selfishness, whereby someone does not want to make any life adjustments to accommodate another person. When heaven is conceived of as independence, and hell is conceived of as interdependence, then singleness is worshiped as a functional savior.

The second idol is dependence. When the idol of dependence is worshiped, then having someone to date is essential, being single is a crisis to be averted, and marriage is worshiped as the central guiding principle of life in which the longings for identity, joy, and relationship are to be satisfied. Underlying this idol can be a fear of being alone, a codependence that needs someone to lean on to an unhealthy degree, or a weak relationship with God so that it is not the primary defining and satisfying relationship in one’s life. When heaven is conceived of as a couple, and hell is conceived of as being single, then a dating partner or spouse invariably becomes the functional savior that is worshiped to get us out of our hell and into our heaven.


Before we discuss the various ways in which a Christian can date, it is important for us first to repent of any sins and idols that are guiding our desires. In this way we can then be open to what God has for us, which is always best. Therefore, a few questions are worthy of pondering here.

First, how is your relationship with Jesus? Is that relationship strong, maturing, and growing, and is it your first priority above all other relationships? Do you need to wait to date someone until a time when your relationship with Jesus is stronger? Is your goal to meet someone with whom you can grow in your relationship with Jesus?

Second, are you believing cultural lies? Are you taking your cues not from Scripture, the Holy Spirit, and godly friends but from magazines, talk shows, the media, pornography, and godless acquaintances? Are you feeding sinful thoughts and desires that need to be repented of fully before you are fit for any serious Christian relationship?

Third, do you accept that marriage is for holiness before happiness? People who believe that marriage is meant to complete them or make them happy are invariably depressed in marriage. Why? Because when

two sinners marry there will be struggles and pain. Those who rightly understand that marriage does have happiness but is first for our sanctification and holiness are in a much better theological frame of mind to marry and be able to lovingly serve their spouse and think more about we than me.

Once our relationship with Jesus is healthy and our view of marriage is biblical, we are ready to consider principles that are intended to guide Christian dating relationships.


1) Maximize your singleness for God.

While you are single, accept that you are in a season of life that affords some freedoms and benefits you will not have if and when you marry. It is a good season to finish your education, increase your theological knowledge, travel to serve in missions, give time to your church, work long hours to establish your career, and pay off any debt you may have accrued. In short, invest your single years in a way that they later pay a

great return. Do not waste them.

2) Do not pursue a serious relationship until you are ready to marry.

There are many reasons why people should, for a season, devote their energies to something other than finding a spouse. Getting biblical counseling to overcome a habitual sin such as pornography or substance abuse, maturing as a Christian if they are a new or immature convert, or simply moving out of their parents’ home and taking on adult responsibilities are all good reasons to delay a serious relationship until a better season of life. Basically, until people are mature enough to marry, they should not be in a serious romantic relationship but should use their energies to mature.

3) Be reasonable.

Do not set your expectations too high or too low. If you set your expectations too low, you may marry and be miserable, having made the biggest mistake of your life. If you set your expectations too high, you may never marry, or you may marry the person you think you want but who may not be the one God would consider best for you. As a practical matter, I discourage Christian singles from having too long a list of what they are looking for in a spouse. The truth is that most of these lists are simply idolatrous because they are comprised of the seekers’ resume and what they like and do, as if the goal of marriage is to find someone just like them rather than someone different from them so that together they can learn to love and serve one another.

Few men are looking for a widowed, broke, and homeless gal from a family noted for incest who is a recent convert with a bitter mother-in-law in tow. But her name is Ruth, and Boaz was blessed to marry her, and through her came Jesus.

4) Do not be legalistic about dating.

There is a difference between a date and dating. A date can be two people spending time together, going out for a meal or coffee after church to get to know one another in a non-sexual manner. Dating as is practiced by non-Christians is not acceptable for Christians. Still, the word dating is not worth quibbling over, as Paul tells us not to quarrel over words.14

Whether we call it “a date” or something else, time together does not need to be considered a dating relationship. In 1 Timothy 5:1–2, Paul tells Christian single men to treat Christian single women like sisters. Thus, since adult brothers and sisters talk to one another, enjoy one another’s company, and occasionally enjoy a meal together, it is not a sin for two single Christians to enjoy time together, getting to know one another, so that they can see if there is the possibility of a more serious relationship that leads to courtship and marriage.

5) Do not have any romantic relationship with someone who is a non-Christian.15

The reasons here are almost limitless. Since you cannot marry a non- Christian, getting emotionally involved is pointless and only leads to sin and/or heartache. Since Jesus is at the center of your life, a non- Christian will not even understand who you are. Because you submit to Scripture and unbelievers do not, your relationship with one has no court of arbitration in which to resolve your differences. An unbeliever is not in covenant with Jesus, so he or she has no covenantal framework for any relationship with you. If he or she is not a Christian, you have no means of dealing with sin that will come between the two of you, because you do not both believe in the gospel of Jesus’ death for sin.

Indeed, you can have non-romantic evangelistic relationships with non-Christians, but if the parties involved are single, the odds of attraction are high, and it is usually best to introduce the non-Christians to

your Christian friends of the opposite gender so that an evangelistic relationship can form.

6) You should be in a romantic relationship with only one person at a time.

Ultimately, the goal of a Christian not called to singleness is not to have a boyfriend or girlfriend but to have a spouse. It is cruel to date multiple people at one time, having them compete for your affections.

Furthermore, it is better preparation for adultery than it is for covenant marriage.

7) He should initiate and she should respond.

Because the Bible repeatedly states that the husband is to be the loving and leading head of the family,16 any romantic relationship should begin with the man taking initiative to kindly and respectfully request

an opportunity to get to know the woman better. Too many Christian men are too timid and need to have more courage to risk rejection in their pursuit of a wife. Any woman who is not interested in, say, a group outing or a cup of coffee need simply say no, and the man should respect that answer.

8) You need to look at who God puts in front of you.

Too many singles are looking over people in their church and life who do love God in pursuit of a mythical person, who does not exist. Yet, in God’s providence, good potential spouses are right in front of them. Furthermore, while a woman should not chase a man, she can wisely put herself in front of him. This is precisely what happened in the story of Ruth and Boaz. Although God providentially put Ruth at work gleaning for food in the field of Boaz, Boaz did not consider her a potential wife until Ruth took the counsel of the older woman Naomi and got dressed up and went to the same big party as Boaz, where she did not chase him but did get in his way. The result? One of the greatest love stories in the Bible.

9) Feel free to use technology wisely.

While a Christian single should be careful not to troll Web sites and chat rooms where sexual sin is encouraged, there is nothing wrong with using online dating services. In the world of social networking, it

is simply a new way for God’s providence to bring people together. Some Christians retain a stigma about compatibility surveys and Internet Christian-dating sites, but they should not. Many singles attend churches where there are few possible spouses, and with the confusion and perversion that persists in the greater culture, they should not feel bad for using technology to find someone who loves Jesus and with whom they are compatible. As a pastor, I could tell you of dozens and dozens of wonderful marriages that began online at a Christian dating Web site.

10) Invest in a romantic relationship only with someone you are entirely attracted to.

This means more than the usual goal of finding someone rich and hot; attraction must be to the whole person. Are you sufficiently physically attracted to envision marriage to that person? Are you mentally attracted to him and enjoy talking with and learning from him? Are you spiritually attracted to her and her love for Jesus? Are you financially attracted to him so that you both agree on what lifestyle you will have? Are you “integrity attracted” to her and can see the Holy Spirit at work through her character? Are you “ministry attracted” to him and appreciate how he serves God in his ministry?

11) Only date someone who agrees with you on primary theological issues.

It is not enough simply to marry a Christian; for the sake of peace and unity in your home, you need to have the same theological convictions on primary issues. For Grace and me, this means we agree on the Bible as God’s Word and our highest authority; we agree that God is Trinity and that Jesus died as our sinless God in our place for our sins; we agree on a Reformed Protestant view of the gospel. Our agreement extends to gender and family roles, and without this we would have an acrimonious marriage. We both believe that the husband is called to lovingly and sacrificially lead the family, that children are a blessing, that the wife should stay home with the children when they are young, and that solely qualified male elders should govern a church. If we disagreed on these things, even though we are Christians, we would not be able to build a life together, because we would disagree on the blueprint and spend our time fighting over which one of us is right. As it is, there is great peace, unity, and cooperation in our home because we agree on primary and secondary theological issues, and as a result we are allies, not enemies.

12) Guard your heart.17

Getting to know someone takes time. If you give your heart away too quickly, you will find yourself either pushing to make the relationship work or being heartbroken when it falls apart. It is good to want to give your whole heart away. However, you must wait until you are in the covenant of marriage to do so, or you risk lots of heartache and trouble.

13) Be careful of legalism and libertinism.

Legalists love to make lots of rules in addition to what’s found in Scripture to govern male-female relationships, but they are simply man-made and unnecessary. I know a dating legalist, a woman, who

would date only in groups, and as a result no man ever got to speak with her one-on-one, which explains, in part, why she is still single. I know a man who considers the purpose of every conversation with every Christian woman to be courtship, so that he comes off way too strong way too early and likewise remains single.

Libertines love to make themselves the exception to God’s rules that govern male-female relationships, and in so doing act like their own god. Examples of dating libertines include those who cross physical

boundaries, those who will date anyone who believes in some nebulous “god,” those who fail to care about finding evidences of spiritual maturity, such as regular church attendance and Bible study participation, in a potential mate, and those who have snuggle sleepovers that they swear include no sexual activity but are beyond the scriptural bounds of the Song of Solomon, which repeatedly tells us not to arouse or awaken love until the time of marriage.

14) Marry someone who will be a fit for every season of the life that awaits you together.

As I’ve mentioned before, Grace and I met in high school, married in college, and then graduated to start Mars Hill Church together a few years later. She then quit work to stay at home and be a mother to our now five children, and we recently celebrated our sixteenth wedding anniversary and a total of over twenty years together including dating.

So far, together we have been through high school, college, ministry, and parenting. One day our five children will be grown, and we will grow old together. Grace does not get to travel with me often, but when she does, we talk frequently about how great our current season of life is but also how fun it will be when the kids are grown and we can travel together for ministry and also enjoy our grandkids. Marriage is about getting old and serving one another in every season of life. So marry someone with every season in mind.

Too often, Christians marry only with children in mind and do not consider that one day the kids will be gone, but the couple will be together all the time; as a result, when the kids leave home, crisis hits the marriage because the kids were the glue that held things together. We love our children, but we also love being together and growing old together.

15) Pursue only someone you love.

The Bible says that husbands should love their wives18 and that wives should love their husbands.19 It is grievous when people marry who are not truly in love or willing to work on safeguarding and growing their

love. Proverbs 30:21–23 says that the world cannot hold up under the weight of despair that is wrought by a married woman who is unloved. If a man and woman do not love one another and are not radically devoted to that love lasting a lifetime, then they should not marry.

16) Do not have any sexual contact until marriage.

As noted earlier, single Christians are prone to ask where the line is. That question is sinful because it is asking how to get closer to sin rather than closer to Jesus. The Bible says, “Among you there must not be even a hint of sexual immorality.”20 Paul says elsewhere that a single man should not touch any woman in any sexual way.21 The issue is not where the line is, but, as Song of Solomon often says, when the time is. That time is the covenant of marriage. Until then, the New Testament repeatedly says to avoid porneia, that junk-drawer term for all kinds of sexual sin. As my friend John Piper often says, by God’s grace and the Spirit’s power, “theology can conquer biology.” A marriage must be built on the worship of God so that spiritual intimacy can enable all other intimacy, such as mental, emotional, physical, and sexual, without shame and without sin.


1) Are you overlooking good women?

Examples include single mothers, widows, shy women, and those divorced on biblical grounds. Sometimes a woman’s character is so sanctified and shaped through hardship that she is, in fact, more prepared than the average woman to be a devoted, faithful, resilient, and thankful wife.

2) Do you enjoy her?

Ecclesiastes 9:9 says, “Enjoy life with the wife whom you love, all the days of your vain life that he has given you under the sun.” Much of your life will be spent working your job, cutting your grass, paying your bills, and dealing with sin and the curse. But if you have a wife you enjoy, life is better. I praise God that I enjoy my wife. I enjoy being at home with her, I enjoy traveling with her, and more than anyone else she is the friend with whom I enjoy having fun. This one fact has made my life satisfying.

3) Is she modest? 22

An immodest woman may be fun to look at, but do you really want awife who dresses immodestly so that everyone else can lust after her? Do you really want your daughters to grow up and be immodest?

Sometimes a single man is attracted to a woman because she is immodest; meanwhile, more godly and modest women do not catch his eye as readily. A wise man knows that there is a difference between a good time and a good life with a good wife and patiently waits for the latter.

4) Will she follow your leadership?

Since the Bible calls you to lovingly and sacrificially lead your family, you need to have a wife who follows your leadership. This means she agrees with your theology, trusts your decision-making, appreciates the other men you surround yourself with for counsel, and also respects the way you seek her input and invite her counsel as you make decisions. If she does not naturally follow your leadership, you can be sure that if you marry, there will be frequent conflict.

5) Does she have noble character? 23

Is she a woman whom you want your daughters to be like (because they will be)? Is she the kind of woman you want your sons to marry (because they will)? Would you consider yourself honored to be with her because of how she speaks, carries herself, prays, worships God, makes decisions, serves others, works, and interacts with other men?

6) Can you provide for the lifestyle she expects? 24

If you meet a woman who will not be satisfied with the level of income and lifestyle that you can provide, then she is not the woman for you. Since it is your responsibility to provide for the material and financial needs of your family, you must have a woman who will not grudgingly live at the level of provision you can give. So long as you work hard, tithe well, invest smartly, and save prudently, you need not feel guilty for not making a great deal of money. You will want a wife who appreciates how you can provide rather than one who is continually dissatisfied and, therefore, discouraging.

7) As you stand back and objectively consider her, is she like any of the women that Proverbs warns against?

Is she a nagging woman, likened to a dripping faucet?25 Is she a loud and overbearing woman who would be exhausting at home and embarrassing in public?26 Is she the kind of temperamental and quarrelsome

woman that makes it better for you to camp on the roof alone than share a home with her?27 Is she a gossip?28 Is she an unfaithful woman prone to flirt with other men and likely to be an adulteress?29 Is she disgraceful?30 If so, quickly but graciously extricate yourself from any relationship with her.


1) Do you want to help him and join his course of life? 31

Since you are made to be the equal and complementing helper to your husband, you must share the direction in life he is going and be willing to join it if he is to be your husband. If he wants a career in sales or the military, where he is gone much or most of the time, and you are not okay with that, then he needs another career or you need another man to marry. Any woman who marries a man hoping to fix him, change him, or redirect his life course is with the wrong man. If she likes who he is and where he is going and wants to be a good life partner helping him to be and do what God has for him, then she may have found a man she is suited for.

2) Is he tough enough to remain strong in tough times? 32

I am talking about a man who is tender with you, but tough for you. If you marry him and have children, will he be the kind of steady rock the family needs when times are tough? If hard economic times come, will he, for example, work two jobs to care for his family? If you have a hard pregnancy and find yourself bedridden, will he step up to do what is needed to care for his family? Too many men wilt under pressure or cave under crisis, and if you marry a man and entrust yourself and your children to him, you need to be certain that he will be there to lovingly lead the family in God’s purposes, no matter what.

3) Will he take responsibility for you and your children? 33

As the head of the home, a man must take responsibility for his family. This is what Jesus does by involving himself to help us in our life and with our sin. Any man who does not want to take responsibility to ensure that his wife and children are well loved, encouraged, and served is not going to be a good husband and father. In particular, if you are dating a man and you have to push him to take responsibility for himself nor look after him as if you were his mother, he is nowhere near ready for marriage, and you should move on from being serious with him.

4) Is he considerate and gentle with you? 34

Any man who does not consult with you, make decisions with you, ask what you think, and inquire how you feel is a selfish and inconsiderate man. Furthermore, any man who is harsh or in any way abusive (verbally, emotionally, sexually, physically), will only get worse once you are married. Do not kid yourself—when you are dating a man, he is on his best behavior, and if he is inconsiderate or harsh with you then, any future with him will be very painful.

5) Will he be a good father? 35

A man might look at you as more than just a baby machine, but does he love children? Does he consider children a blessing, as Scripture says? The only way a man can be a good father is by being unselfish.

If he is into his buddies, his hobbies, his activities, and the like, he will be a terrible father. Why? Because once a man decides to walk with Jesus as a faithful church member, to love his wife as Christ loves the church, to raise his kids as pastor-dad, and to work his job wholeheartedly unto the Lord, he will have little time for much of anything else. Yet he will be happy if the deepest desires of his heart are the things that are taking his time and energy. If you want to be a mom who stays home with the children, then you must have a man who will be a great daddy and longs for that role. Further, since your daughters will marry men like their daddy, and your sons will grow up to be men like their daddy, make sure to marry a man whom you want imitated for generations.

6) Is he a one-woman man? 36

Church elders are to set the pattern as one-woman men for all God’s men. Therefore, he should not be the porn guy, the flirt guy, the haslots- of-female-friends-he-calls-buddies guy, the cheats-on-you-when-

you-are-dating guy, the dates-multiple-women-at-a-time guy, or the compares-you-to-other-women guy. If he is to be your husband, his heart, hands, mind, eyes, wallet, and life need to be solely devoted to you. If you have to keep trying to make him faithful or if you question his loyalty, he is not fit for marriage.

7) How valuable are you to him?

As a pastor I often see men who want to marry called to overcome some obstacle that, in God’s providence, separates them from union with the woman they love. I believe God does this to test the man’s devotion and to reveal to the woman how devoted he is to her. Too many women make it too easy for a man to catch them and, while not playing hard-to-get, a woman should not go out of her way to make it easy for a man to have her; he needs to earn her hand. I had to work two jobs from 5 pm to 9 am nearly every day for the entire summer before I married Grace. I often slept in my truck just to make enough money so that we could finish college without her having to work and go to school at the same time. One friend of mine had to wait a few years for his wife to be able to move legally to the U.S., and he faithfully waited for her because he treasured her. In Genesis 29:20 we read that Jacob worked fourteen long years (seven for Leah and another seven for Rachel) for the cruel and crooked Laban for the right to marry Rachel, “and they seemed to him but a few days because of the love he had for her.” A woman needs to know that she is valuable, cherished, and treasured, and if a man does not labor to marry her, it is doubtless he will labor to keep her.


In this final section, we will examine two dating methods that Scripture permits for Christians. Some people will find it curious that I speak of methods instead of a method. There is quite a conflict between various Christians on this issue, and I find that each position has biblical merit for certain people. There is simply no one correct way for people to work toward marriage, although, as I have tried to explain in this chapter, there are principles that guide all Christians in their romantic relationships prior to marriage.

1) Prearranged Marriage

Many of the marriages in the Old Testament were prearranged by the parents. It was not uncommon in Old Testament times for women to marry in their early to mid teens. This process is described but never prescribed in the Old Testament as the way all God’s people for all time in all cultures should be married.

Today in the Western world this form of marriage is not likely to catch on for a multitude of reasons. However, in some parts of the world it remains a common means of marriage. To be honest, I was incredibly skeptical of this method until I developed a close friendship with a very godly pastor from India. He and his wife were in a prearranged marriage that had been established by their parents with their approval.

Having spent time in their home in India and knowing them for over a decade, I can attest to the fact that they are one of the most loving and beautiful Christian couples I have ever known. When I asked my friend

why his prearranged marriage worked, he said that in our culture we choose our love, but in his culture they love their choice. Admittedly, I am not arguing for a movement of prearranged marriages. Still, with the devastating statistics in our own culture regarding adultery, abuse, and divorce, we certainly have no moral high ground to criticize parents in other cultures who know and love their children well and, as a result, help to direct their spousal choice.

2) Courtship

Courtship is similar to calling in that a man pursues a woman under the oversight of her family. Biblically, the repeated refrain is that a man takes a wife, and a woman is given in marriage.37 This principle of a man pursuing a wife under the loving oversight of the woman’s father and family is illustrated in the traditional marriage custom where a father walks his daughter down the aisle and gives her in marriage. This is illustrated in the Old Testament. One example is given in Deuteronomy 22:13–21 where a father is held legally responsible for the chastity of his daughter until marriage. If she was found guilty of being sexually active prior to marriage and lying to her husband about it, she was to be put to death on the doorsteps of her father’s home because he was held legally responsible for her virginity. While this was rarely practiced,

it illustrates the importance of a daddy taking responsibility for the life of his single daughter in that culture. Another example is given in Numbers 30:3–5. There we see that if a young woman tells her suitor that she will marry him but her father does not approve, the father has the legal right to nullify the engagement and protect his daughter from a marriage he does not believe is good for her.

In addition to the oversight of the father and mother, the Old Testament also speaks of the role of other family members in overseeing the courtship of a young woman. In the Song of Solomon the woman’s

father is never mentioned, which might indicate that she was raised by a single mother.

In Song of Solomon 8:8–10 we discover that there are two kinds of young women. Some are “doors” that welcome boys in, and others are “walls” that keep them away. The woman in that book was a wall, and her brothers said that because she was a wall, they would help to preserve her chastity, but had she been a door they would have stepped in to be proverbial walls and keep the wrong guys away from her. The principle is that even brothers can be helpful in looking out for their sister(s) and should help ensure she is not romantically ensnared with the wrong guy. Similarly, there is an extreme example in Genesis 34 in which Dinah is raped by her boyfriend, and in response her brothers murder not only him but also the entire city of men of which he is a part and plunder everything.

Fathers and Daughters

I am the very happy father of two beautiful daughters and three sons. In our home there will be courtship. Any male wanting to spend time pursuing my daughters will do so only with my approval, under my

oversight, by my rules, and most often in my home. I adore my daughters and, as the pastor of maybe a few thousand women who were sexually abused, I want to do all I can to ensure the safety and sanctity of my lovely daughters.

I began taking my daughters on daddy dates when they were little. I get lots of time one-on-one to love and cherish them. I snuggle with them. I read the Bible with them. I pray with them. I escort them to the car. I open doors for them. I treat them as priceless treasures because they are. Grace and I often talk with them about boys, men, marriage, and what we and Jesus want for their future.

As I write this chapter, God brings to mind two memorable experiences with my oldest daughter, Ashley. The first happened when she was perhaps three or four years old. We were at Disney World, and although it was her bedtime she wanted me to take her swimming in the Mickey Mouse pool. So we went swimming. When we returned to our hotel room, I stood her up on the bed to dry her hair with a white towel. She took the ends of the towel in her tiny hands and held it like a white veil, looked me in the eye, and asked me if I would marry her. I lost it and started tearing up at the thought of the day when I would officiate the wedding of my little girl. I vowed to her that day that one day she would marry a man who loves Jesus and her, and I prayed over her and her future husband.

The second memory concerns an event that occurred some years later when I was in another pool during a summer vacation having fun with my five children. A teenage girl showed up at the pool with two boys. She jumped in the pool and shared a passionate kiss with one of the boys, and then swam to the other end of the pool where she passionately kissed the other boy. Ashley was perhaps ten years old, and Alexie

was perhaps three years old, and they both saw what happened, made eye contact with me, and swam over to discuss it with me. Ashley asked me, “Daddy, did you see that girl kiss two boys?” I said, “Yes. What do

you think of that?” She said, “I think she has a very bad daddy.”

Too many daddies take too little responsibility to lovingly remain connected to their daughters as they mature into women. Too many ill-intentioned young men have access to such young women because daddies, as well as mommies, are not doing all they can to lovingly walk with their children through the rough waters of hormones, dating, and marriage.

So at our home my daughters will be courted. My sons will court by respectfully pursuing their future wives in the context of honoring their families, particularly the women’s fathers.

I have seen some families become extreme and legalistic in their application of this principle. I am not advocating that kind of abusive application, where a father rules over his daughter at a distance rather than lovingly leading her through a close relationship built over years in which she trusts him and speaks to him from her heart because he has won her affection by being what my girls call a “poppa-daddy.”

Of course, this kind of arrangement works only when both the courting man and woman are from godly Christian homes that agree on how marriage should be pursued. In my church, where there are a few thousand singles, very few have Christian families with any wisdom to offer. Tragically, I have often seen women who desire godly oversight of their dating relationships be counseled by their so-called Christian father to just live with the guy and not be so worried about getting married.

There is hope for those couples in which one or both lack godly families. They can lean on biblical wisdom for counsel and support. First, in a practical way, the church is a sort of additional family by new birth in

which older men are to be like fathers and older women like mothers. This means that a healthy and biblical church should have godly older Christians, including pastors and their wives, who can lovingly help younger couples wisely make the important decision of whether to marry. For example, we now have a thorough premarital process for the few hundred couples who marry each year at Mars Hill Church, and our goal is to help ensure people are marrying the right person in the right way at the right time for the right reasons and then help them keep their covenant vows after the marriage.

I need to stress that courtship becomes abusive and legalistic when it is imposed on people apart from loving relationship, such as when some system is put in place so that spiritual mothers and fathers are forcibly assigned over adult couples. Grace and I have served many young couples at their request simply by giving them ongoing, specific counsel regarding their courtship and have greatly enjoyed serving in this way. In the end, this is all I’m advocating.

Second, throughout the Song of Solomon the woman’s friends repeatedly give their opinion of her relationship.38 Likewise, in the book of Ruth it is Ruth’s older godly friend, Naomi, who gives her counsel regarding her relationship with Boaz and also gives her approval of their love. Therefore, godly friends should be involved in the courtship process. Any time a dating relationship causes one of the two involved to disappear from godly fellowship, there is reason for concern. If a dating person has godly friends, those friends have every right to get to know the person their friend is dating and give their opinion of him or her out of love for their friend. Too many Christians say too little until it’s too late.


The first two methods of Christian dating are generally designed to serve younger women. What about a godly older woman, established in her career, who has lived on her own for many years and has family that lives far away or is not Christian or is deceased? Does she need to be courted in her father’s home or in the home of some man assigned to her in a fatherly role? No.

Speaking of an older single woman, 1 Corinthians 7:39 says, “She is free to be married to whom she wishes, only in the Lord.” The principle here is that the circumstances of some older women are exceptions to the guidelines given to younger women. The basic requirement is that if a man who loves Jesus also loves a woman and wants to marry her, she can marry him if she wants to; the decision is hers to make.

One of my wife’s dear friends, a godly virgin woman in her forties, was successful in her career. She served others in ministry and deeply loved Jesus, and she had always wanted to be married but was never

pursued by a godly man. Then she met a godly man through a Christian Internet dating service. Wisely, she had him meet her friends and family and sought counsel, but in the end she chose to marry him, and they are doing great, by God’s grace.

Ultimately, it is the heart and the principles that matter. The methods are important, but without hearts that are devoted to Jesus above all and lives that follow the principles of Scripture, it does not matter which method is used for dating; things will not go as well as God would desire.

1Gen. 2:18; Matt. 19:4–6.

2Heb. 13:4.

31 Tim. 4:1–3.

41 Cor. 7:8–9.

51 Cor. 7:25–31

61 Cor. 7:32–35.

71 Tim. 3:4–5; Titus 1:6; 2:3–5.

81 Cor. 7:36–38.

9Gen. 2:18.

10Matt. 19:4–6.

11Prov. 2:17.

12Gen. 2:24–25; 1 Cor. 7:3–4.

13Mal. 2:16a.

141 Tim. 6:4.

152 Cor. 6:14.

16Eph. 5:22–32; Col. 3:18–21; 1 Pet. 3:1–7.

17Prov. 4:23.

18Eph. 5:25.

19Titus 2:3–4.

20Eph. 5:3 (niv).

211 Cor. 7:1.

221 Tim. 2:9.

23Prov. 31:10–31.

241 Tim. 5:8.

25Prov. 27:15.

26Prov. 7:11; 9:13.

27Prov. 21:9; 25:24.

28Prov. 11:13; 16:28.

29Prov. 2:16–19; 5; 7; 11:22.

30Prov. 12:4.

31Gen. 2:18; 1 Cor. 11:9.

322 Tim. 2:3.

331 Cor. 11:3.

37Num. 10:30; 13:25; Judg. 21:1, 2, 7; 1 Sam. 18:17, 20, 27; 25:44; 1 Chron. 2:34–35; Ezra 9:2, 12;

Ps. 78:63; Prov. 18:22; Jer. 16:2; 29:6; Dan. 11:17; Matt. 24:38; Luke 20:34.

341 Pet. 3:7.

35Ps. 127:3–5; Eph. 6:4.

361 Tim. 3:2.

38Song 1:4b, 8; 5:1a, 9; 6:1, 13; 8:5, 8–9.