Let me start us off with a disclaimer that I understand not many people my age choose to look at dating and relationships through the eyes of the Christian Bible (heck, the book even talks about it) but, for me, that is exactly what I want to do and I know others like me who could benefit from this book. That being said, let's get into it!
I picked this book up after hearing about it on Instagram sometime before I started my freshman year of college. It has since sat in my TBR collection while, unbeknownst to little old me, freshman-and-sophomore-year Bryana could've really used this wisdom. Nevertheless, I picked it up a few weeks ago and finally cracked the spine (sorry to the book lovers who abhor when the spine of a book gets destroyed).
Ben Stuart, the author of this novel, is also a pastor, husband, and father who actively serves young adults in every capacity he can. He was the executive director of Breakaway Ministries, a weekly bible study held on the college campus of Texas A&M, for many years and has counseled many an engaged and single young person.
The book "Single, Dating, Engaged, Married" is his open letter/advice column to anyone within the four categories (which is literally everyone, but there is an extensive focus on young adults). He explores not only statistics of what young adults today think of dating, courtship, and marriage, but also the advice he's received over the years and Biblical insight into what a Godly relationship and marriage are called to look like, should you want that type of relationship.
Without going too in-depth into my experience with dating relationships, I will say I was what they call a "late bloomer." I didn't start dating until college because, to be quite honest, I was too focused on school and books to ever pay much attention to who showed interest and who didn't. My parents will most certainly tell you they liked it that way because, if I was slacking on my grades, they knew it wasn't because of a boy. That and finding a boy who loved Jesus just as much, if not more than I did was hard in high school and still is sometimes.
I won't go too much into the details of Stuart's book (that would spoil all the fun), but I will point out four concepts, one from each section, that have really stuck with me and that I want to incorporate in my future relationship(s):
1. We must get a relationship with God right before we will ever get a relationship with a guy or girl right.
Does this mean that my relationship with God has to be absolutely perfect and leave no room for error or misunderstandings? No! This simply means that we need to determine our relationship with God (in my case, that I am a child of God first and foremost) before we invite another individual into the mix. Think of how confusing it would be if you entered into a relationship when you're not in the right headspace (it ain't easy, and I'm speaking from experience). It's the same thing when you enter into a dating relationship before you've really understood who God says you are as an individual.
2. Dating should be all about evaluation.
I think this is where our generation has a TON of differing viewpoints. Some want a lifelong partner that they can get married to and live happily ever after, some want a lifelong partner but no marriage, and others aren't interested in the idea of being tied to another person in any kind of romantic way. I fall under the category of wanting to find a lifelong partner and, hopefully, be married with kids eventually. That being said, I don't buy into the idea of "dating for fun." Let me make myself clear, I do think that dating and marriage should be fun and we should be able to enjoy our time with whomever we end up with. However, I don't agree with our generation's seemingly careless way of one-night stands and just dating to date, without caring about the repercussions. After all, that's someone's heart you're toying with and even if both parties are game for it, there are consequences whether we see them or not. Dating should be fun but, for me, there are only two ways a relationship ends: marriage or a breakup. So I'm treating dating with the respect it deserves and, if I don't see a future with someone, I'm not going to waste their time. Especially when there's potential that their actual soulmate could be out there and I'm holding up the line.
3. Engagement is not simply a time to plan the wedding, but also a time to work on the marriage.
While planning a wedding is certainly a very busy time in one's life, you can't get caught up in the "one-day" aspect of the marriage. What I mean by this is that the wedding is simply one day, actually only a few hours, of your future union. It's the starting line while you have the rest of your life to finish the race in front of you. Engagement is the time that you and your future spouse really begin to meld your lives together. Stuart goes into this by exploring four key areas the couple should "become one" in during their engagement: family, future, finances, and faith. If you join these together during the period of your engagement, however long it may be, it'll save a lot of stress from being heaped on your plate once you're married!
4. Marriage should be a mission, a picture, and a pursuit.
God created marriage to be a picture of Jesus and his bride, the Church. Simply put, we are to mirror how Christ loved and treated the people of God. In our marriages, we are called to love our spouse and those around us, who have been placed in our life for a specific reason. Stuart gives many personal accounts of couples he knows who have exemplified what it means to love like Christ in addition to including a couple referenced in the New Testament, Priscilla and Aquila. Priscilla and Aquila were a husband and wife who made tents for a living and were great champions for the Church and Christ's legitimacy as the Son of God. They worked alongside Paul for a time, preaching the Gospel in places such as Rome, Corinth, and Ephesus. They showcased that marriage should be on mission for Christ and a picture of love.
If you're like me and you love to read, I'd really recommend picking up this book if you're interested in how to have a Godly relationship at any stage. And if you don't particularly enjoy reading, you're in luck because Ben Stuart has a series of 10 talks at Texas A&M, where he unpacks the book. I've included the link below!