Courtship does not equal arranged marriages!
For some people, the image of arranged marriages is what first comes to mind when they hear the word courtship. This is a sure indication of how far our culture has regressed in its understanding of relationships.
Unfortunately the twentieth century phenomenon of dating has so entrenched our thinking that we often see dating as the norm. This couldn't be further from the truth. Dating was a practice that only came into play after the introduction of the automobile. Until then, the cultural standard for young couples interested in marriage was courtship.
Courtship can take a variety of forms but there are essential elements that need to be considered in establishing guidelines for a young couple.
Upholding the virtue of chastity is a real challenge in today's society. Young people are bombarded by images of impure and sinful relationships. The notion of chastity would seem to some to be one that is outdated. But virtues do not lose their value, even if they do go out of style in some cultures.
Chastity forms us to love our neighbor as Christ loved us - purely, selflessly. Pursuing physical intimacy outside of marriage is done for self-gratifying reasons. The opposite of love is not hate, it is selfishness. How can a relationship that is called "love" be dictated and dominated by selfish motives? It can't. We must examine our understanding of love, as Christ modeled it for us, and live it out accordingly.
Chastity is the way to put love into practice in our relationships both before marriage and after marriage. And courtship provides the framework for living out chastity.
We are mistaken when we think that purity is a line, and as long as we don't cross it, we remain pure. If we feel that we are pure as long as we don't cross "the line" then we could assume any physical intimacy leading up to "that line" is fine . . . as long as we don't cross that line. This is a completely false notion and it often leads to the question that young people dating ask: "How far can we go?"
The answer to that question comes from a correct understanding of purity. Purity is not a line - it is a direction. As long as you are on a path that is leading you to "that line", then you are on the path of impurity and need to get off that path, turn around and aim your heart and actions toward purity.
The end goal of purity is none other than to see the face of God. "Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8) So "how far can we go?" Go "all the way" in the direction of purity! (Who doesn't want to see God at the end of their life here on earth?) But don't even step on the path that leads toward impurity (because we all know what the alternative is to seeing God!)
In short, reserve your affection and guard physical intimacy so that you are not igniting passions that are intended to be reserved for marriage. If you value marriage and chastity, then do yourself a favor and avoid anything that would derail you from living out that value.
Save yourself in all ways for marriage so that you can someday reap the manifold blessings of a truly holy and passionate marriage . . . the way it was designed to be, by God.
It is human nature for us to strive harder to achieve a goal when we know someone will be checking up on our progress. If we have to answer to someone else, we tend to be more focused.
In a courtship relationship a couple turns to their parents, when at all possible, to be their mentors. Sometimes this is not achievable, due to distance from home or perhaps strained relationships. In that case a couple should seek out at least one mentoring couple who they trust. This older couple should know well the Church's teachings on marriage and be able to guide the courting couple in Christian morality. (Some people choose to have a few mentoring couples - including their parents.)
There are many exciting new emotions that come into play when a couple enters a courting relationship, but there are also many challenges. A good mentoring couple will guide the younger couple, helping to keep them on track while sharing with them the joys and struggles that they face.
When a couple courts they are saying that they are exploring marriage as a possibility for themselves. It is an exclusive relationship, in that one chooses to enter into courtship with only one person at a time. If a couple discerns that marriage is not their calling, they end the courtship relationship. (If they have respected and honored each other's purity, they often remain as friends.) If they discern a call to marriage, they continue to grow in preparation for that wonderful vocation.
The stakes are high in a courtship because a couple is exploring marriage from the very outset of their romantic relationship, but it is also makes them more honest. There are no mind games - trying to figure out if the other person is serious or just playing with your emotions. Therefore, you should not enter into a courtship until you are of an age and stage in life when marriage is a realistic possibility for you.
There is something very gratifying in being identified as someone's boyfriend or girlfriend. There is a sense of identity there. Yet that is a false identity, founded on a false sense of security and rooted in insecurity in your own worth as a person. Your value as a person comes from your dignity as a child of God!
A distinction between dating and courtship is this: a person would never enter into a courtship with someone whom they would not consider marrying. Yet a person will often enter a dating relationship with someone to whom they are attracted to, while knowing in their gut that they would never want to marry that person. The reason this happens is because dating does not imply responsibility for the other person. The problem arises when emotional commitment and often physical intimacy leads a couple who are dating to consider marriage and even pursue it, only later to decide that it was the wrong decision.
In courtship, both the man and woman are aware of the importance of the decision they are making, regarding marriage. They are responsible to be honest and open with each other. They choose to guard carefully emotional and physical intimacy for the sake of the other, protecting themselves each from unnecessary heartache and pain if the relationship does in fact break off. If the relationship continues to lead toward marriage they will also discover the great joy of being faithful and self-sacrificing to one another. Their marriage will be blessed with untold joys because they will share in each other's physical affection in total self-giving and pure love. And the wait will only make the expression of physical intimacy that much more exciting and wonderful.
As much as possible, a courtship should take place in the heart of the home. The family plays a critical role in helping a young man or woman to identify things in a potential partner that are important to know before deciding to get married. Family will continue to play a critical role in your married relationship, and the support of family throughout the years is an indispensable gift for a marriage.
Get involved in family functions. Go to each other's homes and do things with parents and siblings. Make the effort, even if family lives far away, for your potential future spouse and your family to get to know each other. It will often increase the respect that your parents have for you and that you have for your parents.
Involvement with family is also an ideal way to spend time together without the temptation to compromise your decision to reserve physical intimacy!
Do a Variety of Activities Together
Discovering each other's strengths and weaknesses is easiest when doing many things together. The temptation for young couples to go off alone and spend countless hours "talking" can often lead to premature emotional attachments. And all that time spent alone serves as a temptation to experiment with physical intimacy. The danger is that once you are on the path of impurity you might someday cross "that line". Don't even go there!
There is no reason to be all alone in isolation. Get out there and have fun. Get involved with like-minded friends and enjoy group activities. When taking time to be alone, guard that time is spent wisely. Play sports together. Go out for dinner. Whatever you do - stay visible.
Dangers for couples come when they feel invisible. If no one can see us, then no one will know that we are not upholding an honorable relationship. That's where accountability comes in. Furthermore, you can fool many people, even yourselves. But you can not fool God, who sees all. "Be sure your sin will find you out!" (Numbers 32:23)
Don't place yourself in a position that would tempt you to compromise your moral standards. Regrets over failures are harder to live with than the satisfaction of knowing that you did not fall into sin.
Get Involved in Ministry Together
This is a wonderful way for a young couple to grow together in their faith and to share those convictions that will help them grow together as a couple. Doing the work of the Lord together will have many blessings for a couple while courting and after they are married.
Check out my Resource section at the back of the novel, Arms of Love or go to the links I have set up on this website www.courtshipnow.com. There is much information out there that will help support you in your pursuit of holy, honorable Christian courtship!
Reprinted with permission from Carmen's website www.courtshipnow.com.