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Teen dating and the family of grace (with Amy Auten and Rob Patete)

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WORLD Radio - Teen dating and the family of grace (with Amy Auten and Rob Patete)

It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re joined by fellow God’s WORLD News team members Amy Auten and Rob Patete to tackle a listener question about dating. How should parents think about teenage relationships amid today’s unique challenges?


KELSEY REED: Hello, welcome to Concurrently: The News Coach Podcast from WORLD Radio and God’s WORLD News. At Concurrently, we approach the news through a discipleship perspective. We tackle the challenging topics in culture and current events as learners and fellow laborers with parents, educators, and mentors of kids and teens. We consider the whole person, promoting growth in knowledge, attitudes, and action in the world. I’m Kelsey Reed. I’m here with Jonathan Boes. We welcome you to the conversation. In fact, we’d love to hear from you. Please send in your questions or comments by way of voice recording or email to newscoach@wng.org.

JONATHAN: So Happy Valentine’s Day! This episode is coming out February 14. And we have a question from a listener that we have been sitting on for a long time. So, this one came to us right at like the beginning of our podcast, when we were first kind of setting a foundation for, you know, what are we doing here? And so we didn’t actually get to this question. But at this moment, with it being Valentine’s Day, and also with some of the things that we are seeing in culture right now, it felt like the right time to bring this question to the front. So this comes from Heather. She is a wife, a mother of four. She has teenage children. She’s also the co-founder and head of a school in her area. [She] and her husband have questions about teen dating. She says:

The questions center around the topic of dating. What is the purpose of dating? And according to the definition that one gives, what is an appropriate age for dating to begin? How should Christians approach dating? Does God give us a roadmap for this in His word?

Through much study and prayer, we have made the choice not to allow our teens to “date” but instead have encouraged them to build friendships with their peers of opposite sex. We have asked them to think deeply about the purpose of exclusive relationships and to wait to pursue that type of relationship until they believe they have found the person they can see making a long-term commitment to. They are allowed to go to dances, movies, dinner, etc. with groups of girls and boys. We want them to have opportunities to form friendships without our direct supervision.

Now, she goes on to say this has been both good and a challenge, that her teenage children have expressed thankfulness for being asked not to simply act on emotion, but also that this makes them different from their peers. And you know, even as Christian parents, it’s difficult when they see other Christian parents allowing children to date at ages even like 11 and 13. So that’s the question we got from Heather. We’re finally getting to it.

And we’re also drawing from what we are seeing in the news, in the culture around us. Just recently, we were having a conversation about artificial intelligence with Dr. Michael Finch, who talked about how there’s, nowadays, even an impulse to have relationships with machines. And also, just the growth of social media. Right now in the news, we’ve seen social media CEOs being taken to task in a Senate hearing for the way social media has affected children in their peer relationships, and some of the ways that parents believe their kids have been exploited by social media in that context. So we are seeing this question, and also the ways that technology is impacting relationships, the way, of course, the different ideas about sexuality and gender are impacting relationships. This is one of those topics that intersects with so many news stories. And myself not yet having teenage children, I’m excited to kind of sit back and listen today, because it’s not just Kelsey and I. We actually have two guests here in the studio with us.

KELSEY: And so let me introduce, again, Amy Auten, who is a writer and editor at God’s WORLD News. She has a master of theological studies from Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. She has homeschooled her two sons, who are about to launch into college. And with us for the first time today, we’re welcoming Rob Patete. Rob is the art director for our three God’s WORLD News kids magazines. He’s worked as a graphic designer at WORLD for 26 years now. And Rob and his wife, Christine, have three adult children, and they’ve been married for 30 years.

JONATHAN: And most importantly, he is my office mate.

KELSEY: That’s right. They have this central office together which we like to call the fishbowl and, you know, we like to tap on the glass and make sure they’re behaving. We’re so glad to have you, Rob, and you, Amy.

So I was just thinking, as you were rehearsing the litany of things that are a part of the swirl of relational expression right now, Jonathan, that yes, there are a number of pressures. And we are finding this squeeze between our in-person life and our online life. And we’ve noticed a lot of that, actually, through our themes in January. You touched on that. And we’re recognizing that, as we engage this season, in this world, the place that we have been positioned, the era that we have the honor of living within, that so much of what we keep pushing back to is that need for those ordinary practices, or those practices where we have a foot in the analog or the in-person, even as we shape technology, as we shape digital interactions. So that comes to bear in some of what we’re talking about. Because we’re talking about good, healthy practices, we’re going to talk about maybe some of our mistakes that we’ve made in trying to sort and strive towards those healthy practices. But how we are even seeing that healthy practices extend to those healthy expressions of our humanity and online forums, or with technology? So that’s just something to kind of put a bug in your ear, listener, as you think on these topics with us. What we practice in light is also what we end up practicing in those hidden places that the internet can be, and vice versa. If we practice online, in these places that we could call practicing in the dark, that ends up coming out into the light. So those are just some thoughts that I have as we frame some of our thinking.

So what I really appreciate about our listener question is that I hear so much of that actually coming out in her words, and you didn’t get the full benefit of her letter, listener, but she has so much wisdom in terms of her, “Hey, let’s practice these things of friendship. Let’s think about the pressures that are unduly put on relationship.” I just have so much that I was encouraged by in her letter. Thank you. There’s so much to affirm in that. So as we listen to this question about how do we approach the idea of dating, you know, what do we think about exclusive relationships, I’d love to pass that on to you guys. I have some thoughts, too, that have been formed more and more of late as my children are now 19, 17, and eight. The eight-year-old is not in a relationship, but both the 19-year-old and 17-year-old are now in relationships. So tell me, what do you think about her question? How would you respond to what she saying?

AMY AUTEN: I think it’s a great question. One of the first things that came to mind, when I hear these questions, is what’s the biblical framework? I want to caution us against any instinct that would look for a specific method and formula that would guarantee any outcome. I want to really guard against that, as we’ve seen many dating and romantic guideline books have—it’s almost turned into a prosperity gospel effort, where you follow these methods, you get these outcomes. And that’s just not how the scripture guides us. There’s more general principles given in scripture. And the outcomes belong to the Lord. So we can count up, come up with wise guidelines based on scriptural principles, but I want to guard against any strict rules. I think each individual family looks at their local community and huddles with their children and looks at the circumstances.

So for example, I sat with my son, who’s 17, yesterday over lunch, and I said, “What guidelines would you come up with for dating?” And I really wanted to hear what he said. And his eyes got big and he said, “Well, I would want to meet this young lady!” So I saw his—he wasn’t so much thinking about rules as, I’m going to get to know these people. I want to talk to these people and find out what makes you tick. What are you wired with? What motivates you? I love that. He wants to get in there and find out, who’s my child? Who are they interested in? What’s the nature of the relationship? So I thought that was really encouraging. It has just worked out organically that my son’s peers have waited to jump into the dating realm. I don’t think that’s common. So they have not had the pressure to jump into romantic relationships. One of my sons was in a situation where it was evident that someone had shown some interest. And he said, “She’s too young.” She was 15. He made that call. It was his wisdom, looking into the situation. So I became his sounding board, kind of after the fact, he had processed that.

One thing that I also want to note is, rather than saying, “Let’s name a specific age that our child should date,” let’s look at the child’s maturity level. Let’s look at the child’s opportunities and environment, and let’s huddle. So I would like to think that—I’ve talked about this with another mom, she said, “You know, it feels like an arbitrary rule to say ‘When they’re 18.’ What if they’re not really that emotionally mature?” This really takes discernment and prayer and reflection. So may the Lord give us wisdom in these things. We really are so reliant on Him. And I don’t want to ever do a cookie cutter recommendation. I want to be really in tune to each family’s situation.

ROB PATETE: I think there’s a lot of wisdom in that. Because, at the risk of sounding like I’m advocating for relativism, I think there’s a biblical pattern that God sets up where everything is based on a personal relationship. And so what some parents might flag as—or some kids might complain is—unfairness or inconsistency, it’s actually, what you’re saying is like—okay, you have older sibling you huddle with, like you said, and you come up with a set of guidelines. But then, you know, middle kid, you change that. And then third kid, you might change it another way. And that’s all based on the love that you have, and the knowledge you have of that particular person, in much the same way God relates to us, in that it’s sort of—you know, there’s a billion custom relationships that God has with every one of His people. And so also we’re called to maybe mirror that in this particular case.

KELSEY: I love that. I love that what I’m hearing from both of you is that it is a relational process, that it’s grace-filled. It’s just saturated, in fact, with grace. It reminds me, of course, of the posture that the Father has towards us, that relational, gracious posture. He has allowed us to be in a learning process for our entire lives. And that applies to relationship probably foremost. I don’t want to say it also applies to relationship. No, it foremost applies to relationship. We’re learning how to live into Him, how to be identified by Him, how to read even recognize His delight in us. This is a huge learning process for us before the Lord that extends to what we are doing with our children. We’re learning how to parent. They’re learning how to relate to us as parents. They’re learning how to ultimately be adults. And it does require work and discernment. There’s not a pat answer. There’s not a law that’s going to fix outcomes. There’s not, you know, these guidelines that are going to work for every diverse individual in front of us or out there in the world.

JONATHAN: I said I was going to just sit back and listen, but there’s an anecdote that I have to share, because it’s tying in just so well with the theme that is coming up. This theme, you guys are bringing it out, of really knowing someone, and the idea of this individual person more than broad guidelines. And one thing that stuck out to me, in this question from our listener, was this idea of not committing to an exclusive relationship unless you think it’s somebody you’d want to have this long-term commitment to. I don’t know exactly how that plays out in this person’s situation. But I can speak to my own background. I was growing up in the homeschool movement at the time—you know, whenever you’re talking about Christian dating, the elephant in the room is Josh Harris’ I Kissed Dating Goodbye. This idea that you should really not commit to a relationship unless it’s, like, this is marriage material—a lot of Christian homeschool kids in my circle grew up in that context. And I went to Patrick Henry College. A lot of homeschool students go to that school. So there’s a huge homeschool male population at Patrick Henry College. And so, if you listen to WORLD Radio shows, you might know Les Sillars, who contributes to our radio programs here at WORLD. He was also a journalism professor, is a journalism professor at Patrick Henry College. And while I was there, he gathered all the guys and sat us down in one of the dorm common areas and basically gave us a talk, like, “Look, all those ideas about like courting and stuff were written into this context of serial dating culture. You guys just got to step up and ask someone out.” But here’s his idea, and this is where it ties back into the theme. The idea that he brought out, and something that has stuck with me since then is—you’re not going to know if somebody is long-term relationship material until you have one-on-one interaction with them and see them in that context. And so there’s obviously, you know, a good idea of not wanting to date until you are ready for something long-term. But also, there can be a paralyzing fear, like, is this the right person to date? Because I don’t know if I want to marry them yet. Where it’s—you can’t know that until you know a person, an individual person. But I just share that anecdote of him sitting us down and given us a talking to. Thank you, Dr. Sillars.

KELSEY: And you’re bridging into that topic of the pressures, you know, that there are these pressures that come from all sides regarding just getting to know somebody. That is a pressure-filled situation. But we can arbitrarily layer on further pressures. We can borrow from the institution of marriage and plaster that into our expectations of the person that we’re dating, or of ourselves, or of the benefits within the dating relationship. And there is some need to just go back down to this brass tacks level of, hey, I’m getting to know somebody and I’m letting myself be known. Now, it does not wipe away all those pressures. And I think we need to grapple with them a little bit as a panel. We cannot just say, pat answer, get to know somebody and you’re going to be good. I mean, that is the wholesome, you know, the ideal, and the way to found a relationship. And we’ll tease out more of how that can be done. But it’s good to talk about that other elephant, of all those pressures, and the, you know, what do we even do with this institution? Is dating an institution? What factors into your understanding of the idea of dating? Is it even an institution? That’s what I want to say.

ROB: I mean, I don’t want to sidetrack us too much, but the reality, like the biological reality, the way we are made versus the way our society is set up, is going to create a tension. Someone needs to correct me on this, or check me on this, but it’s my understanding that, for most of human history, people were getting married at ages much younger than we are in the last 100, 150 years or so. And I’m certainly not advocating that we, you know, for teen marriage. Don’t get me wrong. I’m just saying, we live, we currently live in a situation where there’s tension, where you’ve got a biological reality with a societal reality. And because of that tension, we have dating. That’s an oversimplification. But, you know, something like that has put us in a situation where you have dating. And so just like in the Old Testament, where you say polygamy was almost the norm, and you see that in God’s people even, it doesn’t necessarily mean—just because a societal situation is the way that it is doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s a good thing. But it also doesn’t mean that God can’t bring glory to Himself through things like that. And so I guess I just bring that up only to say that, you know, dating—your original question, is dating a good thing? We could answer that. But whether we say yes or no, it’s just sort of the way that it is, and we have to navigate it and try to redeem it. I would say that would be my response to it, is to try to. And that sounds like that’s what most Christians are trying to do.

KELSEY: I think that’s a good posture. So thinking about an institution, because I think we would say, you know, dating has become an institution in society. And so the question there, what does redemptive engagement of this institution look like? And Amy, I’ve really enjoyed your thinking as we’ve done our preparation for this episode on this.

AMY: I’m thinking about how we mentioned technology. Again, I’m huddling with my kids. And I asked my 18-year-old, who’s almost 19, I said, “How does technology affect the way you interact with people?” And he said, “If I’m only texting someone, it’s really easier to festoon them like a Christmas tree. I’m putting ornaments on them them of attributes, meaning, ‘I don’t really know who you are, but I’m going to assume you’re witty and brilliant and theologically wise,’” because texting only allows this small screen snapshot of a person’s full humanity. You don’t get to see how they’re responding in traffic, or to the waitress who’s slow, or just, you’re not quite getting the full picture of who this person is. So it’s easy to festoon them with attributes that may not be real. And so the advantage of face-to-face is obvious. And we would say we’ve been blessed, because our kids work in circles where group dynamics have been profoundly encouraged. We just, by God’s providence, we landed in a crowd of people who really love these young people to hang out in groups. They foster it. The parents foster it, the parents will invite the kids over for Bible studies or music jams. Not everybody has that. Maybe we can encourage our children to be the leader who instigates via text, “Hey, let’s all hang out.” So maybe that’s a tactic we can encourage. But if all their peers are going on dates, again, I would say on a case-by-case situation, you examine it, you talk to the parents, you get input, and then you move forward based on prayer and knowing your children well.

One thing that’s been—I’ve been really chewing on—I talked to Jonathan’s wife, Chelsea, yesterday. And I talked to a co-worker and writer and editor, Anna. And they both said that, in their circles, in their church circles, there was a pressure to look for a man who’s a strong leader, instead of looking for a man who’s kind, who will be your best friend. And I want to really stress the importance of that, that the number one attribute that we need to be encouraging our children to look for is kindness. And there’s a fantastic article in The Atlantic called “Masters of Love.” That was kind of a game changer for our family. We read it together, about what does kindness in marriage look like? And it’s a reciprocal interest. The psychologist is called John Gottman, but he discusses, how you watch people engage each other is very telling in terms of their long-term chances of having a healthy relationship. I cannot go into all the details of Gottman. Look him up. He has incredible resources. He’s Jewish. He’s very astute. And just the language of bids. Just a brief, a brief snapshot of what I mean when I say “bids.” Couples all day long, and even you and I as friends and co-workers, will do this. We give each other daily bids. So yesterday, I was in the office and I heard bagpipes out the window. And I looked at Jonathan’s wife, Chelsea, I said, “Do you hear that?” Within seconds, she had the window open leaning forward to listen with me. She met my bid. All I said was, “Do you hear that?” Couples and friends who are healthy lean in towards each other immediately. “How are you doing?” “Well. How are you?” The question gets bounced back. But it goes deeper than that. All day long, we’re giving each other bids. Did you see that bird out the window? My friend’s upset today. What are we having for dinner? Just all day long. And we can lean into each other or we can be dismissive of each other. And that can also be signs of abusive personalities. If we don’t coach our kids on this, if all we say is, “Don’t date till you’re 18 and make sure he’s a strong leader,” we have profoundly failed them, in terms of understanding what healthy relationship looks like.

KELSEY: So we’re giving different categories. Like when you give the category through Gottman’s language, you’re providing a different way of thinking. So that, for example, when we’re in the middle of community, we’re able to look with that reframed lens, whatever we’re seeing: “Okay, I see that person responding with kindness.” You know, looking at the interplays between relationships, seeing how the image-bearer is honored. You know, the bid made by that image-bearer is honored.

I’m thinking of another David Wilcox song. So I bring up David Wilcox from time to time, and I think I’ve repeated one song twice. So it’s time for me to diversify. And there’s a song that relates to this idea of, how do you come to understand and know somebody else, to see if it’s not just that they’re a strong leader and that, you know, you waited until 18 to find out, and you didn’t do any—you know, what are some good categories? Well, he talks, he stresses this idea of kindness as well, or the reverse. And the lyric goes: If he’s rude to the waiter, and it makes your heart confused, this is lesson number one: Run.

We have the opportunity to see relationships played out in community, where we’re not the one directly across from the rudeness or the unkindness. You know, we can see, how does this person interact with a younger peer? How do they respond to their teachers, or to the adults who are hosting their group? So when we talk about the joy, and the depressurized situation that comes with meeting in groups, and we’re talking about it in juxtaposition, with the pressures that come from the exclusive nature of one-on-one dating, there’s actually a lot more richness to be discerned in this, that we have the great opportunity of seeing how those relationships., when multiplied, they give us a multifaceted view of the individual that we might, you know, be a little bit intrigued by.

ROB: I wanted to circle back to that anecdote you had about Les Sillars. I think one of the things that can come from trying to help our kids dating, and the good intention behind Josh Harris’ book—you know, there’s good intention in writing a book like that, but there’s also trying to control. And I think there’s a, like a humbleness in trying to step forward in faith. You know, it’s a balance that we as Christians have to have in a lot of areas. But you step forward into a relationship and, you know, you don’t just hope for the best, but there is hoping for the best mixed in with watching how they treat their mother, watching how they treat the waiters and waitstaff, et cetera. I don’t want to—at the same time, you don’t want to throw out the quote unquote “pat” answers. Because there is some wisdom in those things. There is some wisdom still in Josh Harris’ book. But if you just rely on that, you would be making a mistake. And if you just rely on sort of this blind faith, for lack of a better term, that that too would be a mistake. And so God calls us to join those together, I think, in some degree.

KELSEY: And there’s really no promise that we’re not going to make a mistake. And no matter what we’re leaning into—and I think this is where, at least for me, I can be somewhat transparent on some of the stories in our family. We have discerned that even if we have a commitment to our younger teen girls—because it was when they were younger—to them not having exclusive one-on-one relationships, we experienced our girls being kind of singled off, you know, almost kind of herded into a corner by a couple young men, that when we found out about the situation, my husband and I stepped in as quickly and as calmly as we could. I mean, we were, our anxiety was up. You know, they had gotten singled out, kind of moved out of the group situation in both of these situations. One, for my older daughter, who was I think 15 or 16 at the time, and my younger daughter, who at the time was 13 or 14. And, you know, thankfully, talk about relational impact, that because we had poured so much into the girls, we heard about these situations pretty early on. One of them, you know, she was like, “Hey, this guy made me uncomfortable. I need you to protect me, I need you to step in. I don’t know what to say. I never expected to be pursued. You know, I was just hanging out.” My husband was able to get on the phone with the young man and pursue him for a one-on-one conversation, and gently even mentor and instruct him in the one case. But like what I was saying about the mistake—in another situation, we didn’t realize what was going on. We weren’t present in a group situation until after some mistakes had been made in a relationship. And that was partly our not being present, that put one of our children in a not-great situation for her heart, for her perspective on even this young man that she was having an interaction with that, you know, there was interest displayed. That was exciting. It comes crashing down when you see that it was more about serving self than it was about, “Let me get to know you. I want to know the unique person that you are and delight in you, but also care for you because you may not be the person that I’m with for the rest of my life. I’m not owed the benefit of the intimate, relational, just blessings.” So I want to tease that out just a little bit further, in that my daughter now has wisdom that was born of those mistakes, our mistakes, her mistakes. And those failures, they are not things that we can protect from, and they often have greater fruit than we expect, again, by God’s grace that covers this. So I want to be transparent, to say, we have seen His goodness working in the midst of our brokenness and our failures. I’d love if there are places that you can push into some of that. I’d love for you guys to share as well, because I think, in those places, we have hope. Because it’s not about our “I pulled myself completely together, and now I did it right, and we’ve always only ever protected our children, and they’ve never felt pain, they’ve never made mistakes, they’ve never experienced suffering.”

ROB: I’ve got one example. Well, I guess two examples. Two of my children have expressed to me that they—they’re adults now—but looking back in their high school years—I wouldn’t say they accused me—but they said, “Hey, you should have encouraged me to date more.” And they didn’t date very much in high school. And they, you know, have regrets about that. And so I just found that interesting, just in the last couple of years, to have adult children come back and sort of say that to me. I don’t know if I would—I’m not sure if I consider that a failure, if that was a combination of just sort of being kind of laissez-faire and waiting to see what would happen. You know, parents don’t necessarily—did they want me to go and ask boys to ask them out? I don’t know what they were—but I don’t want to discount their feelings. But at the same time, I don’t know how much responsibility that we have in that role. But that was one thing that I look back on, and wonder if I could have done a better job of somehow encouraging them to date.

KELSEY: I want to push into that a little bit and just ask if they—you talked about their hoped-for outcomes of knowing more people, because I’m going to approach this through the lens that we spend time with people in this weird relationship that we call dating because of the societal institution that it is, but that the crux of it, for so many of us, it is not to get all those, you know, good feelings that make us all feel Valentinesy. But in actually, it’s for knowing and learning relationally. Like, I’m going to say that that’s the framework that each of us, I believe, is holding, when we talk about this idea of when we spend some time with somebody who is not our spouse yet. There’s the potential that they’re a spouse, but we have to get to know them. So pressing into, you know, what were they saying that they missed in that.

ROB: I can’t remember exactly what they said, but I think what they were missing was sort of that, just to put it plainly, sort of practice, almost like the experience. Not speaking about physical, of course, but just like trying relationships on and sort of finding out who they are, what it is that they respond well to, what it is that they recoil from, and just wanting to have that in a safe environment. They grew up going to a Christian school, in a relatively safe environment, I should say—and wanting to just have a couple of those things sort of under their belt when they went off to college, and they were a little bit more on their own. And then, when they graduated college, and I think that was what they missed.

KELSEY: It brings to mind some of the arguments that we’ve had from Dr. Finch, about what it means to practice using AI, you know, that we learn how something works, we learn how we interact with it, we learn something about our own minds, when we are engaging in a relationship. As an educator, I know that one of the key places that we learn is within relationship. We’re wired to learn through relationship. And we even relate to technology—and let me let me say—in a relational way. So there’s something about this drive to learn. And I’m hearing, in the things that you’re saying, that they were talking about the need for those good structures and for good support to keep that in a healthy place. So there’s a high challenge in this idea of human interaction, in that one-on-one type of setting. And in that high challenge, we need to have good structure and support to walk through what’s probably going to be chock full of mistakes, that’s going to be learning more about ourselves as sinners. You know, this is the nature and reality of who we are as human beings, that the presence of sin is still very real in our lives. And yet we learn, as we are in relationship before the Lord, with those coming around us, support, healthy structures. I love some of the things that you have also said more about some of those healthy structures.

AMY: I didn’t realize how much I had been raised to be a pleaser. And I didn’t realize how much I coached my sons to be pleasers. I’m pulling that term from two therapists who are married, formed a website called “How We Love,” and that has been huge for our family. There’s a section on that website, How We Love, that says “core patterns.” And it is not reductionistic. But we do—most people function in certain frameworks. And if you’ve raised a pleaser, what will happen is what happened to me in college. I scamper off to college; a guy sees me in a play, because I was a theater minor, and says, “Hey, let’s go out.” I don’t know him. I’m a pleaser. So I say, “Yes.” No one has coached me on, “Hey, Amy, you have the opportunity to get a group of people together to find out what makes this person tick.” No one coached me. So I ended up on a date that’s an hour from campus, in a car with a person I don’t know. We go to a hockey game. He drinks three beers. I say, “You know, I’ll drive us home.” But I start to realize I’m in a really dangerous position. And at the close of the date—he’s about 6’3” and probably weighs 200 pounds—and he pulls me to him in a very hard, tight hug. And I didn’t respond very well. I just froze. And thankfully, he released me. And that was the end of the date. And I never went on a date with him again. That could have ended very different—all because I was trained to be compliant. Gracious. The framework of the gospel is very much like: give people a chance. Be gracious. Lean into people.

I just listened to a podcast by Nancy Pearcey, where she addresses that the most dangerous abusers are people in the church who are not obviously grasping the fullness of the gospel, but have the gospel language in their armor to manipulate. So they can say, “I apologize; you have to forgive 70 times seven.” So what this inspires is the drastic necessity to coach our children on, if you have a pleaser instinct, here’s how you can protect yourself. Go out in groups. Get to know people first. Here’s what safety looks like. Here’s some red flags. If a person is a little bit controlling, or is putting pressure on you that’s making you squirm, if there’s any sense of discomfort and you suppress that because you’re a pleaser, that’s extremely dangerous. And so I would encourage people to go to the How We Love website to learn the categories of how we often function, to learn how different personalities cope with conflict, and just gain tremendous awareness. Coach your kids. I would actually say, I feel like these things are more important than naming times to date and these other structures that we want to say will guarantee healthy outcomes. We need to give people some basic psychology of what wires people. And I’ll say this—I’ve made the error of thinking, “Okay if a person is in my community, they come from a family that looks like mine, they have some similar church backgrounds.” They could be an abuser, if I don’t know the right things to look for. And so that’s humbling.

The other thing that I want to throw out there—this is also humbling—is I have a girlfriend whose daughter is engaged to get married. And we huddled and we said, you know—the psychology, that we’re drawn to people who mirror the ways our families function, because it’s familiar, and it’s normative to our brains. But what if your family of origin is unhealthy? And this calls for really gripping self-reflection. So she noticed her oldest daughter was being attracted to a man who had a lot of the same characteristics as her father. But her father has some serious problems, emotionally, in addiction. And so the mom grabbed her daughter and said, “I love you. I want you to thrive. You know our family has some serious dysfunction, right?” They had to sit down and have that conversation and process. Let’s look at the whole picture of who this person is. Is this person healthy? That’s huge.

JONATHAN: Sorry, just a moment, because so much wisdom in everything you said, and there’s a lot to process on there. But the one thing that stood out to me is, you’re talking about this idea of being a pleaser, even when it feels uncomfortable, and people using theological language. And I think something worth noting is, that’s even sometimes explicitly taught to young women. I confess, again, being a parent of young children, I don’t know as much of what’s in the culture, Christian culture now. But when my wife and I were in our teenage years—you know, the writings of Debi Pearl, who explicitly in her “Christian” book encourages young women that if the husband is being essentially emotionally abusive—or even, in some cases, a boyfriend—that it’s probably because you’re not serving them well enough. And it’s all couched in theological language. And it’s attempted to tie it into this idea of men being either like a shepherd or a king, and like the kingly man is going to be more, you know, demanding.

You’ve got to find somebody who is Christlike in every capacity. That theological language can be so twisted to make people feel pressured in situations where, again, they’re looking for a strong leader, even without kindness. But that is not the image we have of Christ. Christ was a strong leader, but He was kind, and He was a shepherd. And so, you know, sometimes people try to break out these attributes of Christ into, “Well, some people are just more of a shepherd, and some people are king.” Maybe that’s true. But we should be striving to be like Christ, not like one third of Christ. So I’ve seen that abuse of theological language, not just informally, but even explicitly taught to young women in really damaging ways.

KELSEY: I am so thankful that you brought that out. And I see its touchpoints in culture, and again, we’re returning to the idea of our online relationships, that when we teach compliance, and when we teach submissiveness in an inappropriate way to those with whom we don’t have our final relationship—because the word talks about that each woman should submit to her own husband, not to every man in the world, not to her boyfriend, not to this online person who’s initiating relationship, but to her husband, and she takes vows like this is an expression of herself after recognizing that this person knows her, loves her, is choosing her. She is choosing to be in that role with that man. There’s that opportunity to say, by my troth, I’m going to enter into this unique relationship that is a picture of the Lord’s love for His people. I’m going to enter into this with you, because you are the one who I have learned that is—broken, yes—but trustworthy enough for me to submit my heart to you, and to learn how to continue to submit my heart to you. Because that’s a learning process too, right? But I want to back up to the ways that we can quote unquote “inoculate” our children from those places where they can be victimized, if we have that healthy understanding that is derived from that biblical, scriptural picture of who Christ is, of what a husband and wife relationship is supposed to be, and the fact that that is a unique relationship, not something that belongs to every other person with whom you have a chance to go out on a date, have an interaction with online.

ROB: I wanted to circle back to what you were saying, Amy, about what Nancy Pearcey pointed out about the abusers in the church. Certainly not to contradict that—that’s a horrible reality—but I do want to mix that with this idea that the church is a gift that God gives us to help with this particular dating question. There’s a lot of practical realities of the church, but it’s another example of God teaching us the importance of relationship and then that, you know—hey, you could just sit at home and engage with church through technology, you could just sit home and watch sermons on YouTube. No, I want you to get up, I want you to go and be in physical presence, sit next to people, sit behind the people who aren’t controlling their kids, and their kids are staring at you and annoying you, and then there’s that other kid that’s kind of creeping out your kids.

KELSEY: And they’re gonna get married someday.

ROB: And there’s all sorts of problems in it, so it’s a mess. And God says, “Hey, come on, you know, this is my bride. And I died for her.” And so there’s a beautiful—you know, I mean, you’ve got the book of Hosea, where God calls his bride “unfaithful,” to say the least. And so it’s not like the Bible’s unaware of the reality of how horrible the church can be. And yet God calls us to it. And so we live, again, that’s like that tension—we talked earlier about the societal versus the biological tension. We’ve got another tension here in the Christian life that has to be handled with care and balance.

But again, circling back to the dating thing—I know for me, in my life, and a lot of our children’s lives, church is also a place where, you know, it’s kind of a dating pool. It can be. And that’s something that a lot of people don’t have. You know, people outside the church don’t have that. It’s a relatively—I don’t want to, again, not contradicting Dr. Pearcey—but it’s a relatively safer environment, as dating pools go. You know, you could have the local playground, or the public school, or the football game on Friday night. There’s lots of other situations that can be wrought. So anyway, I just wanted to throw that in there, that there’s some real fears. And, you know, again, we’re called to be wise and gentle. And we can apply a similar dynamic to the church, like, let’s be thankful for this. But let’s keep an eye on things.

AMY: That’s good. I love that you said that, because I heard someone say, “The worst argument for Christianity is Christians. And the best argument for Christianity is Christians.” What we need to do is to unpack that—it’s authentic Christians who really understand Jesus Christ. Those are my kids’ role models for relationship health. Those people are my kids’ heroes. Those marriages are what give us deep encouragement. It’s the people who—let me be clear, that podcast says it’s nominal—which we may as well say—it’s a professing Christian who’s not bearing the fruit. Those are the people who abuse. So that’s a very important clarification to make.

KELSEY: I’m thankful where you went, Rob, because this is exactly where I think I want us to leave these thoughts in the minds of our listeners. You are drawing out not only the duty, the call of the church in terms of towards her people—and let me just be really careful here. The church is us. And so it’s our duty to one another. You’re drawing out our duty to one another as those who are marked, distinguished as the bride of Christ. But there’s also this calling that is so vitally important that I’m going to—yeah, I want to I want to phrase this as a question. How can we be community-minded, missional even, in our dating expression? How can we draw other lonely teens in, church, for the sake of transformation, and for the ultimate relationship that transforms all other relationships? This is not for us to answer, because I think we’ve pointed to a lot of that through our work here today, through our conversation. But I want to propose and suggest there is a missional aspect to this. We talked about something very similar in our episode on school shootings and safe places, that the church has a calling to be that relational hub for those who are desperate for something greater—the longing, the ache on their heart for relationship that—they may be trying to stuff something in there. It’s not going to be filled. How can we be Christ to them?

I loved the verse that you brought out earlier, Rob, and I want to ask you if you would read that verse to go hand-in-hand with a verse that I’m pulling out of—you guessed it—Song of Songs. I’m going to start, and I’d love for you to finish us before I tag us out. The verse that I’ve got is one that I’ve mentioned often to my children. It’s from chapter two, verse seven: “I adjure you, O daughters of Jerusalem, by the gazelles or the does of the field, that you not stir up or awaken love until it pleases.”

There is a time and a season for everything, as Ecclesiastes reminds us. And it may be that they are in a season where they need to wait—wait for love to awaken in the Spirit’s timing, not to try to force it to happen. Those are where my thoughts are thinking—but to receive it also when it comes. And for us, parents, listener, teacher, mentor of these kids and teens, to surround them when that season comes.

ROB: This is 2 Timothy chapter one, verse seven: “God gave us a spirit not of fear but of power and love and self-control.” That, to me, is a real beautiful picture of what dating could be. Not fear. Love and self-control. Those three things mixed together probably make a good dating guideline.

KELSEY: And it’s from Timothy that we derive our tagout. His Spirit is in us. He has equipped you for the work.

 


 

Show Notes

It’s Valentine’s Day, and we’re joined by fellow God’s WORLD News team members Amy Auten and Rob Patete to tackle a listener question about dating. How should parents think about teenage relationships amid today’s unique challenges?

Check out The Concurrently Companion for this week’s downloadable episode guide including discussion questions and scripture for further study. Sign up for the News Coach Newsletter at gwnews.com/newsletters.

We would love to hear from you. You can send us a message at newscoach@wng.org. What current events or cultural issues are you wrestling through with your kids and teens? Let us know. We want to work through it with you.

See more from the News Coach, including episode transcripts.

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Concurrently is produced by God’s WORLD News. We provide current events materials for kids and teens that show how God is working in the world. To learn more about God’s WORLD News and browse sample magazines, visit gwnews.com.


WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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