I absolutely love the courtship approach to dating for my children, but it isn’t enough. Courtship is the idea that young people should only enter into an exclusive relationship when they are ready to get married. I have discussed in a previous blog post exactly what Dating with Purpose looks like, so go check it out for more details if you wish. In short, Courtship, or Dating with Purpose, establishes a set of guidelines or best practices that should be followed to avoid the near occasion for sin during dating and foster the right environment for two people with noble intentions to discern whether or not God is calling them to marry each other.
Family: Boot Camp for Healthy Relationships
The building blocks for a successful marriage and family life are healthy relationships. Indeed, the fundamental call of Christianity is to engage in healthy relationships with everyone we encounter on our journey through life. When we are young, our relationships are immature, often characterized by extreme selfishness, also known as being childish. If we don’t get our way, we throw a temper tantrum hoping that the person telling us “no” will be too embarrassed, too tired or too weak to stand their ground and thus give in and let us do what we want to do. Most people grow out of this stage somewhere around age 7 or 8. During the next few years leading up to adolescence, our goal is to teach our children, through the use of their new-found reason, to be obedient because it is the right thing to do. We also teach them self mastery and respect for legitimate authority. These basic skills are essential to building healthy relationships later in life as they search for their vocation (marriage or religious life).
We have a large family (nine children), so being selfish is just not a viable option for our children; we don’t have to do much to teach our children that they won’t always be able to get their own way. There is not enough money, space or time to make everyone in our family happy. I was raised in a much smaller family and thus it was easy for me to be selfish, and I was until I got married (and perhaps for even a few years into it). Selfishness and marriage don’t go very well together. Luckily God gave us children and the more children you have the less selfish you will be. It is not impossible to teach selflessness within a small family, but you do have to make a plan and work at it, especially if you are financially blessed.
Desiring the Best for Another
Healthy relationships are not just important for your marriage, but are essential for leading a successful life. It doesn’t matter if you like someone or not, you have to treat them with respect, even if the other person doesn’t try at all and may even be trying to take advantage of your kindness. This is what we call being Christ like. God loves us no matter what. We can be mean to Him, ignore Him, hate Him or love Him, yet He will still love us and desire the best for us and treat us with respect. We are called to do the same in the relationships we have with our brothers and sisters in the human race.
We are called to be honest, truthful and have empathy for others, we are expected to do what we can to help them when they are having difficulties, and to rejoice with them when they have success. We shouldn’t view other people’s success as threats to our own happiness. There is plenty of success to go around for everyone. What a world we would live in if everyone did their best to help other people achieve their full God given potential.
Courtship is Not Enough
So back to my main point: courtship is not sufficient to ensure a successful marriage or family life for our children; we must teach them to be good human beings first, to rejoice in the success of others, and to be confident in their own self worth as a child of God. This may sound like a very tall order, but this is why God gave us the gift of family life. The family is naturally designed to teach us how to have healthy relationships with other people.
The Courtship model can be a way to help the potential spouses our children bring home encounter healthy relationships. Unfortunately not every family seeks to raise well formed children and thus there are some who need to discover what a healthy relationship is when they are far beyond the age at which this should have been learned. It is at this point that the whole family can be an agent of mercy to help the potential brother or sister in law to enter into a Christian way of life. But there is nothing magical about this approach. There will be some suitors who find this way of living too odd or too difficult, but that is part of the beauty of the courtship process. It is not up to your adult child to weed out every bad apple or redeem every lost soul; the rest of the family can help too.
The goal of any dating or courtship relationship is to help your adult children find their spouse for life. A successful marriage is much more than just good feelings and if the family is blessed with children (and perhaps lots of them) a healthy relationship between a husband and wife is even more important. We never stop learning how to be a better person, or a better spouse or a better father or mother, family life ensures that this task of being a better Christian is a life long work in progress. If we provide a good foundation for our children, their marriage and family will be stronger from the start and they will be better prepared to weather the storms of their family life.