I’ve always had a very deep respect for the Ten Commandments. First, because God wrote them Himself—freehand. Second, because all this freedom we’ve experienced in the Western world is rooted in these lasting moral guidelines. And third, because they summarize in a few digestible sentences who God is and how He operates, kind of like a very condensed version of God for Dummies.
With this in mind, I, single until the ripe old age of 36, could not help but apply these great commands to the often crazy and confusing world of dating. Once I did, I realized that there’s no better material out there anywhere than what you find in Exodus 20. Check this out:
1. “You shall have no other gods before me.”
Applied to the world of the opposite sex, my single sisters, here’s a paraphrase for you: Don’t make Mr. Potential the center of your universe. Say it out loud. Don’t make Mr. P. the center of your universe.
It doesn’t matter if you have “He’s the one” looping through your psyche every 30 seconds and a wedding date almost set—the man you are seeing is a mere mortal. He is not capable of being the center of anybody’s world, including yours.
So if you are waiting for a Mr. Right to give you meaning and purpose, or if you are sitting there with a heart full of needs and thinking that a two-legged mammal with a deep voice is all you are lacking, memorize this first commandment. There is only one Savior, and maybe it’s time to distinguish Him from the cute guy at Starbucks.
And how is this done?
First, get into a real live relationship with Jesus. Talk to Him, listen to Him, and study His teachings. In case you don’t know, you’re a worshipping creature. If you don’t get to worshipping Jesus, you’ll put something that looks like Him—men were created in His image, after all—on the throne.
Second, get super clear on your mission and your purpose on earth. Marriage works best when there are actually two whole people involved, and the more fully developed they are, the better. There’s a problem if you want him to define you, set your course, and bring purpose to your life. Then you’re not really looking for someone to share life with, but someone to suck life from—and that, by definition, makes you a parasite.
Third, when you go on that first—or fifty-third—date, ask yourself what you have to offer the Adam sitting beside you on that chairlift. Ask yourself why he would be blessed to spend lots of time, maybe even the rest of his life on earth, with you. This is one of the easiest ways to avoid making a savior out of him. It puts the focus on who you are, which is your business. Remember John F. Kennedy’s epitaph in Washington, D.C.? That’s right: Ask not what Mr. Right can do for you, but what you can do for Mr. Right!
And for all of you beautiful sisters with hearts full of needs you don’t know what to do with, stop waiting for the phone to ring! Instead, fall into romance with God Himself. He’s the only one who can ever actually meet your needs to begin with, and it’d probably be a lot less painful (for both you and Mr. Right) to learn this before launching off down the aisle. Who knows? God might have your Mr. Right holed up without your phone number because you’re still looking for a Mr. Savior.
2. “You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below.”
The second commandment becomes very personal when we remind ourselves that worship is about what we “can’t live without.” If having Mr. Right falls under this category, you may want to step back and reevaluate your heart. Things we can’t live without are often things we are using to feel good about ourselves. Yes, using.
Maybe it’s time to search out your motives and uncover what drives your dating choices. What are the payoffs of the date or the relationship? Are they healthy?
Let me unpack a bit of the whole idol reality. God is community and loving relationships. We could say, then, that a false god (or idol) is going to be any form of false community or false relationship that somehow numbs our pain of being alone without changing the fact that we are.
The perfect example for guys is pornography. It’s not a real relationship at all, but it temporarily feels good and numbs their pain of being alone, even though they are exactly that, utterly alone. For girls, a biggie is appearance. We can feel important and loved if we appear beautiful and are admired—even if it’s by strangers and even if we are emotionally isolated and autonomous. Another big feel-good false community can be food. We eat to feel calm and safe—not because we are, but because it numbs our emotions.
So now ask yourself: “Am I seeking to have an honest, accepting relationship with another fumbling human being? Or am I using the guy in my life to numb my pain and make me feel OK because (a) he desperately needs me, (b) he’s very handsome (and thus of great worth, so I must be too), or© he’s all I could find?”
This may seem very complex or confusing. It is not. Love is unselfish and from the heart. Love focuses on the other person’s well-being and draws us toward more love and ultimately God Himself. Deep in our guts we know if it’s real love.
Addiction—the worship of false gods and the practice of false community—makes us feel needy, insecure, and desperate. If you are in an addictive relationship, chances are that you know it’s not a good thing but you’re scared to death of being without your fix because the pain of being alone is just too much.
So which is it? Is it a bit of both? The good news is that about 80 percent of the trip back to healthy is acknowledging the problem. You first have to be honest. God can lead you out of any mess you’re in if you choose to get on the same page as reality.
So please, please, please—don’t flake out on this one. This could be the most significant realization of your life. Why do you date who you date? Is it real honest-to-God unselfish love? You both deserve nothing but the real thing—that’s God’s Word, not mine.
3. “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God.”
This third command is all about taking responsibility for your choices and owning your life. It’s all about being honest with yourself and those you date instead of hiding behind excuses—especially God excuses.
So if you feel God leading you to date someone, hey, explore the hard evidence and your Bible. Use your head. You don’t ever want to say “God led me” based on a few fuzzy-wuzzy feelings. Not ever. You are responsible for your choices, and feelings can deceive, romantic feelings especially. Do your homework. Don’t use the God-excuse to substantiate your dating choices.
4. “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy [and resting].”
I have way too many girlfriends who are working their tails off trying to “land a man.” All this stressing and striving is completely unnecessary. God has us resting the last day of every week, Saturday—Sabbath—so we can remember that He’s the creator, the one who makes stuff happen.
Applied to dating? Clearly, the finding and marrying of Mr. Right is not your deal to broker. It’s God’s. He created you. He created your future husband. And He also created everything else. So chill out and trust up. The gift of love will be given to you just like the gift of life was.
Now, if you find the above tough to swallow, let me unpack one more passage that will get you in line fast. Ephesians 5 spells out how the man is to be the leader in the marital relationship. Go read it. Now, this doesn’t mean that he barks orders and you do dishes; it simply means that in a deeply spiritual, emotional, and physical way, he is the pursuer, the initiator, and the protector.
So here’s the deal. If you get married by being the pursuer, the initiator, and the wannabe protector of your man, you will start the whole thing out on the wrong foot. This can be disastrous. Most marital issues I faced as a pastoral counselor had their roots in how the relationship got off the ground. Looking back from their present crisis, many guys referred to feeling roped into the deal in the first place, even hoodwinked, and now controlled.
“But my boyfriend loves to be led about!” you argue.
Really? Rest assured that if you’ve found a guy who’s willing to play the submissive damsel role, it’s probably not a good thing. There’s a really good chance that the brother has issues, maybe a domineering mother, too. What is certain is that he has in some way been shut down or emasculated, and sooner or later he’ll resent you (however unfairly) for it.
The bottom line here is not whether or not men are capable of finding you—they are. The question on the table is whether or not you are willing to trust God and the man of your dreams to do his part in hunting you down and winning your heart. Hey, be willing. You deserve to be worked for.
5. “Honor your father and your mother.”
There are a million believable reasons for why you may want to skip this fifth commandment. Maybe your parents are overpowering, controlling, harsh, or even mean. Even so, don’t. We honor our parents (or anyone) by respectfully listening to their side of things.
Yes, ultimately the choice of who you marry is yours. But if you are unable to listen to a possibly differing opinion on the subject, something is wrong on your end of things. Are you not mature enough to listen and consider contradictory evidence? Do you have something to hide? Maybe you need to ask yourself what you’re afraid of. Is it possibly the truth?
I highly recommend doing this whole dating thing with your parents close at hand. And if they are not safe people, then I recommend praying for a godly couple to stand in for them. There’s just no getting around the fact that the seasoned adult been-there-done-that perspective is absolutely essential. It’s no accident that the phrase “Love is blind” keeps making the rounds. Solomon may have said it best: People make better decisions when they get honest feedback from more than one source. Check out Proverbs 11:14; 12:15; 15:22; and 19:20 if you’re still not sure. Believe me, this is one decision you don’t want to botch up.
6. “You shall not murder.”
One of the craziest of human impulses is the one that drives us to want to “fix and change” someone else. In the arena of love, this practice is alive and kicking. Instead of allowing those who jive best with us to naturally find their way into our lives, we often strive and posture to “win” a man’s heart, only to then try recreating him into someone he isn’t to suit who we actually are.
This is very disrespectful, not to mention hurtful. It’s full-blown rejection. Do you love him as he is? Yes? Great. No? Then it’s probably time to say goodbye. Unconditional love is essential for any relationship and easiest to practice when you’re with someone who resembles what you naturally value. Besides, to try to shape someone according to your image is to play God and to kill what God has made. Not a good idea at all.
Most likely we get sucked into this unhealthy cycle because we make so many initial dating decisions based on appearance. Marriage is a melding of hearts, personalities, hobbies, cultures, and values, and none of these things can be read on the face or body of someone from the opposite side of the gender fence. So why all the getup? Do we want to be mismatched that badly?
The truth is always so simple. If you want a man who actually gets you and really jives with your passions and rituals, then you’re going to need to live you and be you—the real you—as much as possible. In other words, stop killing off the person God created you to be and fully embrace yourself. Practice unconditionally accepting yourself, and when Mr. Right comes along, unconditional acceptance will be something you’re good at.
7. “You shall not commit adultery.”
I’m sure you’d agree that the married me kissing some other Mr. is outrageously wrong. Well, what about me kissing an alternate guy before my wedding? Better? And what about me kissing an alternate guy before meeting my husband? Just fine?
I would propose to you that deep bonding with someone other than your husband—even if he is still in the future—is having an affair, even cheating on the man of your dreams. Think about it. We have only one heart and one body to give in marriage. Give that to someone else, and you’ve ripped off your future relationship.
I’ve heard every excuse in the book on this one. I’ve tried many of my own, too. The bottom line is that God says we sin against Him when we act out sexually when not married. (Start by reading 1 Thessalonians 4:1-8 in a few different translations, and you’ll get the picture.) Not only is smoochy-smoochy meant to glue those involved—thus ripping painfully when used for the short-term—but outside of marriage it is extreme defiance of who God is and very, very, very selfish.
Now, I could stop right here, but since we’re all women reading this, I need to say something about the stupidity of letting a man into your body, emotions, and soul when there is no vow to go with it. You are the only you that you will ever have, and what happens to and in you will continue to shape your life forever. My point? Keep the strangers and the friendlies out of your castle until the lifetime warranty and everything else that goes with it has been signed for.
Respect your marriage before it happens, and love your husband before you meet him. You deserve to have a truly exclusive relationship with your dashing prince—and he with you—and that choice is now yours to make.
8. “You shall not steal.”
Honoring this commandment means cutting off a relationship when you realize that the person you are seeing cannot possibly be Mr. Right. Sometimes this means doing so before the relationship even gets off the ground. Carrying on with someone you have no intentions of marrying someday is stealing from him the two things he can never get back: his time and his emotional investment in you.
I cannot stress how wrong this is, especially since his feelings for you make him a willing accomplice in your thievery. It’s up to you and you alone to be honest and respectful. It’s your integrity that is on the line. Not only are you stealing his time and emotions, but you’re also keeping him from meeting the Ms. Right who’s out there somewhere waiting for him.
So if you’re reading this and feeling every word down in your gut, you probably have some letting go to do. What I recommend is to get yourself an accountability partner. Severing emotional ties is painfully hard. I know this firsthand. But look at the alternative. If he is not the one and you don’t get honest about that soon, you may just settle—a decision that could really hurt both of you and your posterity in the long run.
You might also want to refer back to the second commandment as you seek to make things right. Sometimes we can’t see past a relationship’s end because of our own emotional dependency on the person. Our heart says that he’s not the one, but our desperate need to not be alone says that he is. The good news is that breaking it off will make room for God and give you another shot at being dependent on Him, as you’re meant to be in the first place. Letting go can be a great catalyst for growing up.
9. “You shall not give false testimony.”
Commandment number nine is all about acknowledging and acting on the warning signals going off in your head. Does he get really angry really fast? Does he blame everyone else for his mistakes? Is he overly friendly with your girlfriends?
Sometimes we are so eager to fall in love that we repress the truth about the other party involved. This is called lying. And what could be worse than betraying your own heart with your own lies? Don’t compromise your conscience. Those red flags are your very good friends.
I have two kinds of girlfriends who struggle with being honest in this way. The first are my friends who were emotionally, spiritually, or physically abused as kids. They grew up being shamed and demeaned for their shortcomings and thus feel that being treated poorly is par for the course. Oftentimes they don’t know better.
The second are my friends who were abandoned by their dads as kids. When Dad split, he left a gaping hole, and they have been forever trying to fill it up with somebody else. This means that if Mr. Boyfriend has lots of rough edges but is willing to fill that hole, my friends will hang in there and put up with all kinds of craziness.
Ultimately, if we’ve been abused, we’re going to have to relearn what is OK and what is not. There is no excuse big enough to choose a relationship that is abusive. There comes a time in our lives when who we are and what kind of relationship we’re in is ours to choose. This would be that time.
Yes, and for those of us who were abandoned, the truth is that only Dad and God can fill that hole. Even if you married one perfect Adam before the fall, he’d not be able to fill that hole meant for somebody else. This means that you have work to do, relationships to forgive and repair, and alternatives to contemplate.
10. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s [husband].”
Interestingly enough, affairs don’t happen in the bedroom. They actually happen in the heart and mind. This means that you can cheat on your Mr. Right without lifting a finger. It also means that drooling over Brad Pitt or fantasizing about that cute guy at work are both acts of unfaithfulness.
If you don’t agree, tell your boyfriend about your thoughts and see how he feels about them. Exactly. You were meant to deeply love and cherish one Mr. Right, and focusing on the rest of the Mr.‘s in a gaga sort of way only hurts you and yours. It is the exclusivity of marriage that makes it so intimate and meaningful. I say guard it with your life.
Clar Worley Sproul lives out in the woods of Oregon with her wonderful (rather new) husband and her wonderful (rather new) last name. Contact her via http://www.clar.cc