Lisa Anderson is Director of Young Adults for Focus on the Family. She manages Boundless, Focus’ ministry for young adults, helping 20- and 30-somethings grow up, own their faith, date with purpose, and prepare for marriage and family. She is also the author of The Dating Manifesto: A Drama-Free Plan for Pursuing Marriage with Purpose.
Today, we talk with Lisa about the current Christian dating culture, the role of the church toward singles, and the steps single men and women can take to date well.
The Bible lays out very few parameters for marriage. As far as I read, we ought to date someone who is a) single; b) of the opposite sex; and c) “equally yoked” (a fellow Christian). It sounds so simple. What are the factors that have made dating toward marriage so complicated among single young adults today?
I think there are a couple simple ones. First, there is no longer a standard script or timeline for the pursuit of marriage. In previous generations, there was a natural progression toward marriage that had everyone moving in the same general direction and on the same timeline. You matured early, did some schooling or started a career, maybe served in a war, then found an eligible partner among your acquaintances and settled down. Nowadays, the life choices for young adults are seemingly endless. Many young adults dawdle their way into their 20s, taking longer to complete college and settle into a career. Marriage is considered something to “tack on” to your life after you’ve accomplished other goals. As a result, we have a generation with myriad options but little motivation to choose marriage as the primary option. Second, I think selfishness has become much more acceptable in our culture and generation. What’s best for me? What do I want? Will this person complete me? We’re looking to meet or exceed our list of expectations in a partner rather than thinking how marriage will refine us and give us the opportunity to serve others, and ultimately Jesus Christ. This “me first” mentality is keeping many people single and/or leaving people disappointed when they marry and find that their “perfect” person disappoints them in record time.
How do you encourage young adults to actively pursue marriage, instead of passively assuming that it will just happen “someday” or “eventually”?
I believe marriage is an intentional pursuit. It begins by praying boldly for marriage and your future spouse. It involves preparation and growing into mature adulthood so you’re in a position to marry. And finally, it’s an active search. For men, this means literally finding women of character (Prov. 18:22) and asking them out. For women, it means being open to marriage, talking about our desire for it, and accepting offers of dates from eligible, godly men. For both sexes, this means getting out of our comfort zones, managing expectations while still holding high standards for the things that matter (walk with Jesus, maturity, emotional health), and building a community around us that will help us through the process.
My favorite chapter in The Dating Manifesto is entitled “It’s Okay to Grieve.” You write about shame, the pain of rejection, and the reality that “no one else is responsible for me.” There are true losses in prolonged unwanted singleness. Can you share a story or example that speaks to the challenge of singleness in your own life? How has God provided for you in this season?
In my book I talk about my latest singleness pain point, which is the fear of growing old alone. Who will take care of me when I can’t take care of myself? Satan has really tried to steal my joy by allowing me to dwell on this from time to time. Another area that exhausts me is when people assume that if I’m not husband-hunting 24/7, I’m not “trying hard enough.” If I join a women’s Bible study, it’s “why don’t you find a co-ed study?” If I go on a trip with my girlfriends, it’s “don’t you all hang out together a little too much?” Constantly having my motives and efforts questioned makes me feel like I’m not valued for who I am and how I’m currently living my life. Yes, I’m certainly open to marriage, but I’m also maximizing my singleness right now, so let me live my life boldly and with purpose while trusting God for the rest!
The Dating Manifesto ends on a hopeful note that “…God meets us right where we are. He gives us grace for our current situations,” is sovereign over our lives, and is faithful toward us, even in this tough dating world. God often meets our needs through His people, including the church community. How should the church come alongside and support singles?
The church should value the contribution of its single members, and just like anyone else, challenge them to invest in the life and health of the church. It should enfold them into its families, loving them and supporting them in their own walks with Jesus and in the challenges of daily life. Finally, wise and caring members of the church should help move singles toward marriage and family if that’s what they desire and are called to. Too often the church remains silent on this, not wanting to “meddle” in the love lives of its single members. But most single people want to be married, so why not help them get there with confidence?
Do you have any final dating tips for our single Start Marriage Right readers? Any in particular for men? For women?
Men and women, get mentors to help you realistically look at yourself and identify any areas of your life that could use growth and refinement. Realize that you’re a sinner who will marry another sinner. Find someone humble and teachable who loves Jesus more than anything in the world; everything else is negotiable. Men, stop making excuses for your current situation, whether it’s your stalled-out career, lack of dates or inability to connect with members of the opposite sex. Make sure you have solid male friendships; don’t be a loner. Take ownership of your life and start leading right where you are. Ladies, stop griping about the single men in your church. Encourage them and tell them what they’re doing right. Don’t look at marriage as a way to solve all your problems. Go about the business of serving God as a single girl while still holding marriage in high esteem. Give guys of good character a chance; don’t write them off because they’re not your hyper-spiritualized ideal. Remember that a date is just a date, while marriage is forever. Know the difference.
What has been your experience with singleness and dating? What’s your best dating advice? Post a comment below to be entered to win a author signed copy of The Dating Manifesto! Contest ends on Friday, November 30, 2015. One random winner will be chosen. The contest is open to U.S. residents only.