Deepening Relationships and Dying to Self: A Dating Interview with PJ and Mel

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(photo credit: John In)

I am woefully behind my one-post a week pace, but here’s a post to bring me closer to the quota. I recently spoke for a college and young adult retreat, and the pastor followed up with some interview questions for me and Mel for their monthly newsletter. Below are the questions, with our answers. I should say that these answers are stream-of-consciousness, and I’m sure other things could be emphasized given additional time for reflection. In any case, here’s the interview:

Q: Top qualities to work on in yourself?

Justin: First, walk with God. There is simply no substitute for this. The two most important things to learn in a relationship are how to repent and how to forgive, and the best place to learn them is at the foot of the Cross.

Second, develop trustworthy character. Character counts. Are you the kind of person who can be trusted to care for another person? Remember the fruit of the spirit from Gal 5. This is fruit (as opposed to works), but it doesn’t mean that you can’t cultivate it; grace is opposed to earning, not effort. Work on your character! Become a person of integrity, who is the same person on Sunday and throughout the rest of the week.

Third, get emotionally healthy. I recommend that everyone read the book Emotionally Healthy Church by Peter Scazzero. I like how he cuts through a lot of the over-spiritualized glosses that we give to our sinful tendencies. Few people have given serious thought to their emotional health; they are not used to looking beneath the surface of their behavior to their heart, they haven’t understood the way that their family has shaped them, they have not learned how to grieve, they have not received the gift of limits, they have not learned to love well. Read the book! Read it together!

Melissa: Relationships and marriage take huge amount of selflessness and hard work. If you are lazy, take time to evaluate this in your life and make some changes.

You should also be at a point where your relationship with God is deeply fulfilling and you do not need someone else to complete any part of you. If you find yourself thinking, “If I only had a boyfriend/girlfriend then…” spend time reflecting on aspects of your life where you don’t see Christ as enough.

Q: Top qualities to look for in a significant other?

Justin: I’d say it’s the same three things: look for someone who walks with God, has trustworthy character and is emotionally healthy.

Melissa: This may sound strange but look for someone who doesn’t need you. What I mean by this is someone who is motivated in career, calling, relationship with God, etc. and is moving forward. Self-motivation will go far as you know you are marrying someone that does not depend on you in unhealthy ways. If you feel like the primary motivator in the relationship, it probably isn’t healthy.

Q: Top qualities of a healthy relationship?

Justin: First, covenantal commitment. Is your commitment covenantal, or merely romantic? Romance is about emotion, desire, feeling; covenant is about commitment, limiting your freedom to make room for another. They are not opposed to one another; but if you look to romance to do for your relationship what covenant is meant to do, it will not sustain. Rather covenant is the context in which romance can be deepened, reawakened again and again.

Second, self-sacrificial love. From the time you get together, you do everything in your power to make sure that the other person is being unleashed, that they are coming alive as much as possible. According to Eph. 5, this will mean submission and sacrifice, lots of dying to yourself. Dying to yourself sounds sexy in a way, like it’s this really romantic throw-yourself-in-front-of-a-train thing. But it really is a lot more ordinary and difficult than that. It’s doing the dishes when you don’t feel like it. It’s biting your tongue when you want to say something bitter. It’s limiting your own freedom to serve the other person, day by day by day.

Third, friendship. Your spouse should be the kind of person who you can be friends with for the rest of your life. You may be very attracted to them, but there’s no matter how passionate your relationship, there is going to be a lot more friendship than sex.

Melissa: I don’t want to sound cliche, but 1 Corinthians 13:4-8 outlines pretty clearly what a healthy relationship should embody:

“Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.”

Q: Top things to deepen a relationship?

Justin: Covenantal commitment (obviously), serve together, and friendship-based shared experiences (where the focus is not on the relationship but on enjoying an experience together).

Melissa: The best thing you can do to deepen a relationship is to have a deep, personal relationship with Christ. Oftentimes praying together or spending time in God’s word together prior to marriage can become unhealthy very quickly. In a sense, things become over spiritualized too quickly. It is important to enter a marriage relationship with a strong relationship with Christ that is NOT dependent on your future spouse.

In addition, I think it’s a good idea to serve together in some capacity in the church. Make sure that you are compatible for ministry and look for someone who works incredibly hard for the kingdom of God. If someone is lazy before you marry them, their laziness will become incredibly frustrating after you are married.

Q: Top ways to glorify God through each other?

Justin: Serve each other sacrificially, and invite others in (if a third person can’t hang out with you without feeling like a third wheel, something is wrong)

Melissa: Serve others outside of your relationship! Do not become isolated and so obsessed with each other that you forget to reach out to others. If your relationship makes either of you feel isolated from friends that need to know Christ, then it’s time to serious evaluate whether or not your relationship is glorifying to God.

I believe sexual purity is still incredibly glorifying to God. I am concerned at the laid back approach that so many young people have to this aspect of their dating relationship. It is incredibly freeing to have the only sexual partner in your life be your spouse. There is a sense of security and commitment that this will always bring into a marriage. If your partner is encouraging you to do more sexually than you desire, end the relationship.

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