Not So Fast

Not So Fast

“The prudent sees danger and hides himself, but the simple go on and suffer for it.”

Proverbs 22:3

 

A story first, and then my soapbox:

 

The Maiden & The Wall

“We are walls of protection that God has lovingly placed around our [children].  We are the eyes that he has given that they might see.”

Paul David Tripp

 

Long ago, outside a bustling village, a young couple welcomed their beloved daughter Elise. Marveling at the treasure they had been entrusted with, Elise’s parents began building a wall for her protection.

As Elise grew, so did the wall.  “How high will it be?” she asked her father. He smiled and said, “My little darling, it must be high enough to keep danger away but not so high that you miss the beauty of the world around you.”

Later Elise wondered aloud, “Father, how far out will the wall go?”  “Well my dear,” he said stroking his chin, “The area inside can’t be so small that you feel cramped, but it can’t be so large that you stumble into danger in dark corners.”  Elise considered his words and grinned at the sturdy wall.

Within the wall’s borders her parents welcomed noble friends, provided new adventures and nurtured all that lay inside to create a place of beauty, grace and delight.  Everything her heart required, Elise found within the safety of the wall.

In time, Elise blossomed from a child into a young maiden. For so long she had been happy with the wall, but the more she looked beyond it, the more her heart grew restless.

One morning, a young man came to see Elise but frowned when he saw the protection around her.  Too much work, he grumbled.  Selfish and lazy, he left to find an unguarded maiden instead.  With a captivating smile he crooned to the girl, “Come with me quietly and no one will know!”  Her cheeks flushed at his flattery.  He seems so charming, Elise thought with a sigh.  What could possibly go wrong with a man like that?

On many afternoons, Elise watched young maidens prance about the village finding amusement in mocking or shocking those passing by.  Elise knew their behavior was rude and unkind but thought Surely I could join their fun without acting like they do?

And at other times, by the light of a distant bonfire, she watched loud gatherings that continued into the dark hours of the night.  Young people of the village would share strong drinks and taste peculiar things.  As they laughed and stumbled about, Elise wondered, How could something that looks so exciting be as dangerous as I’ve been told?

One day, exasperated, Elise planted her hands on her hips and scowled at the wall. “You keep me from so many things!”

Later that starry night, as she sat with her parents by the glow of a fire, Elise muttered, “Why can’t I go beyond the wall?”  Her father took her by the hand and said, “Come with me and I will show you.”

As moonlight spilled across the countryside, Elise and her father made their way to the wall where he offered her a slender, wooden box.  Lifting the lid, Elise ran her fingers over the smooth, pewter finish of her father’s looking glass.  “My dear child,” he explained,

“There are dangers in this world that young eyes can mistake for delight. But if you look through my lens, you can see them for what they are.”

Her father directed her gaze to the maiden being wooed by the dashing but deceptive young man.  Once she brought the looking glass to her eye, it began to glow.  Elise squinted to focus on the scene taking shape.

There stood the girl, much older now, being wounded by the words of her selfish and unkind husband.  The girl’s eyes, once bright with hope had grown dim with hurt and disappointment.  Elise’s father explained, “Since this girl had no wall to protect her, she carelessly married that foolish boy.  The marriage she thought would bring her delight has become a terrible prison she never imagined.”

Elise’s father then turned her gaze to a shy girl approaching the unruly group of maidens in the village square. Though they made their fun being dishonest, rude and cruel, the girl had decided that joining them must be better than being alone.

As Elise brought the lens to her eye, she saw the girl years later, watching wistfully as potential friends, noble suitors and opportunities passed her by.  Her father continued, “The wall built for this maiden was too low to protect so she befriended whomever she wished.  Now each glimpse in the mirror brings regret as she sees the reflection of a girl she never meant to be.”

Once more, her father directed her gaze, this time to a gathering in the woods.  With a twinge of envy, Elise watched a young maiden dance and laugh and taste what the twilight crowd was offering.  Bringing the lens to her eye, her envy dissolved as a troubling image came into focus.

With glistening eyes, her father whispered, “This maiden’s wall was much like your own, but she felt it restricted her freedom.  Trading its safety for reckless thrills, she now lives a life of sorrow, enslaved by the very things she thought would make her free.”

Elise lowered the lens and considered his words.  “If it’s for my good, then why don’t you lock me in?”

“My precious child,” her father replied, “At any point you have the freedom to leave these walls and the time will come when that is right. Until that time, know that you are not a prisoner to be held captive, but a treasure to be guarded.”

Elise thought of his words as the months passed, but she still didn’t like the wall.  After another young man turned from her wall in disgust, Elise snatched the looking glass and hurled it far into the fields outside.  As she spent her days staring beyond the wall, she grew blind to the beauty that was hers within its protection.

One moonlit evening sounds of a gathering in the woods drifted through Elise’s window.  A frightening and powerful desire took hold of her heart and drew her to the wall’s opening.  Elise opened the gate with trembling hands, slipped quietly through and then dashed toward the woods.  The strange thrill driving her farther into the darkness, she crested the hill but then slipped and sprawled to a halt.

Searching back through the grass for the cause of her tumble, Elise cringed as her fingers clutched the cool metal of the looking glass.  Irritated by its interruption she sank to her knees and gazed longingly into the woods.  Not wishing to be reminded of the dangers, Elise hesitated but eventually brought the lens to her eye.  Its glow revealed the future images she expected to see, but the face filled with hurt and regret… was her own.

Lost in the battle between her head and her heart, Elise was startled by a voice behind her and spun to meet her father’s gentle gaze.  “My dear, you seem a bit lost.  Perhaps you should look over there.”  He suggested, pointing in the direction of her wall.  Embarrassed by the direction she was heading, Elise managed a weak smile, turned toward home and lifted the lens.

Her frustration melted into amazement as its glow revealed future images, not of pain and regret, but sweet images filled with joy, purpose and beauty.  Elise shook her head in wonder, smiled and took her father’s outstretched hand to return home.  As they passed through the gate, she turned to her father and whispered, “Thank you for the wall and for helping me to see.”

“I was so busy looking at what the wall was keeping me from, I almost missed what it’s saving me for!”

 


 

When my girls were tiny, I wrote The Maiden & The Wall to accomplish two things.  The first was to help them see their immense value to us and to God.  The second and harder task was to help them appreciate the logic for our protection when it might look, how shall we say … heartier… than what their peers are afforded.  I share this story with you, hopeful that it may help you articulate the same truths to the young people in your life and to set up my rationale for talking about today’s subject.

You see, our family is entering an exciting season of life when the years ahead may bring manly additions to our family that, thankfully for me, don’t require stretch marks, hemorrhoids or weight gain.  As our daughters embark on the adventure of finding an excellent life partner, if that’s God’s best for them, we want to help them and the young men who pursue them, to navigate those turbulent waters with care.  Unfortunately, that’s not a priority on enough parental radars.

We are a culture that protects its investments but hands its daughters off to the first yahoo who thinks he has a right to isolated and unaccountable access to her.  This expectation is not unlike a toddler requesting the use of a parent’s wedding ring for their backyard game of treasure hunt.  Unless one is particularly unsentimental or independently wealthy, the answer would be “no”.  Due to the absurdity of this relational expectation among today’s youth, we’ve opted for a more discriminating approach.

Why?

Because the more valuable the treasure, the less likely we should be to hand it over to someone whose ability to steward it is lacking or unknown.

As a result, we have instituted what we are affectionately calling a “Date the Family” season for our daughters and any young man that would desire to pursue a closer relationship with them.  This is a season during which they get to nurture their relationship and evaluate its long-term wisdom and viability, all within the welcoming and protective presence of family and wise friends.  Then, when they have mutually exhibited maturity that gives confidence in their ability to mange their relationship wisely, they have our blessing to move “beyond the wall”.

This season accomplishes a number of things:

  1. It weeds out lazy guys with deficient character because it is only the rare and wonderful young men who understand the exceptional worth of our daughters, who would agree to such a culturally peculiar thing.
  2. It allows us to get to know these young men and determine their ability to honour, protect and nurture our daughters in our absence. Because of the life-long impact a young man’s actions could have on our daughters, this is not an aptitude we choose to discern by trial and error.
  3. It allows both sets of parents to give informed input at a future time regarding their suitability as life partners because all parents have had opportunity to know both parties. Much of the marital carnage we have encountered over the decades stems from one of the parties being a relatively unknown and untried entity at the time of marriage.  This season helps eliminate that insidious variable.

Other than getting into dangerous substances, there is no decision more apt to alter the trajectory of our children’s lives, for good or for ill, than the choice of who their spouse will be.  So, while the execution of this pivotal hand-off may look different for each of our families, my aim is to garner support for the position that parents ought to take great care in assessing a young person’s capacity for stewarding the hearts of our daughters or sons, before casually handing them off.

We know that this is not a common approach, but then, we’ve not raised our girls to be common.

 


 

Feel free to borrow and edit if you find our “Date the Family” Guidelines helpful:

 

SURETTE FAMILY GUIDELINES FOR DATING

Phase I: Date the Family – For Him

As God-appointed stewards of our daughter’s life and spirit, and as older Christians interested in your well-being, we desire to help you carefully and wisely navigate this next life season to protect you both from the potentially damaging pitfalls of dating and to position you both for greatest relational health.  This all works for your good, your future family’s good and for God’s glory.

Before we can confidently release our daughter to you in an exclusive and unaccompanied dating relationship, we need to see the following qualities during the “Date the Family” season in an increasing and sustained manner so that we can be confident that you possess the wisdom and maturity needed to protect yourself and our daughter:

  1. Respect exhibited by willingly and eagerly living within the boundaries set by both parents. This will be manifested in your abiding by our boundaries even if we or others are not present to enforce them.
  2. Discretion in communication, eliminating excessive, intimate or late-night conversation via technology but instead nurturing healthy, face-to-face communication skills. Discretion as also manifested by showing regard for others, ensuring that your public interactions do not make peers feel uncomfortable or excluded.
  3. Discipline to invest the necessary time to excel in your academics and any other extracurricular and ministry commitments your parents require of you, while also ensuring that our daughter is not distracted from hers. Your futures may not include each other, and we would be remiss to allow either of you to compromise your future opportunities for what may be a temporary relationship.  As well, the man we will release our daughter to in marriage one day must display that he is able to financially provide for her in a way that doesn’t cause unnecessary hardship and in a way that enables her to be a professional mother if she so chooses.  Though that can’t be fully determined at this stage of life, academic excellence and a strong work ethic are good indicators of that future reality.
  4. Responsibility to be faithful to whatever family and home obligations your parents require of you. If your family is frustrated because small things or relational courtesies get missed for the dating relationship, it will indicate that more maturity is required before a more formal dating relationship can be successfully added to your schedule.
  5. Accountability in the form of the establishment of a relationship with an older man who can help ensure you are continuing to grow spiritually and protect both your, and our daughter’s purity.
  6. Self-control in the physical dimension of the relationship, engaging in only the most innocent displays of affection while not venturing into physical interactions that escalate passion. If you would not be comfortable engaging in a certain physical interaction in front of the youth that you minister to, we would expect that this would not be part of your relationship.
  7. Biblical understanding of the purpose of marriage which needs to shape the dating relationship. Since the relationship between a man and woman was divinely designed to be a winsome picture of Christ and the Church which would draw people to the Gospel, the resultant priorities must be personal holiness and relational excellence, not selfish enjoyment.  You are not too young to view your relationship through the lens of those governing principles.  This relationship, even in its early stages, needs to be viewed as an opportunity for you to learn how to care for and serve someone in a God-honouring way.
  8. Compassion, if at some point you decide that our daughter is not God’s best for you as a life partner. If that occurs, and it is understandable that it may, considering how many years lie between today and marriage, we expect you to communicate that news face-to-face with compassion and utmost regard for her well-being.

 

SURETTE FAMILY GUIDELINES FOR DATING

Phase I: Date the Family – For Her

As God-appointed stewards of your life and spirit, we desire to help you carefully and wisely navigate this next life season to protect you from the potentially damaging pitfalls of dating and to position you for greatest relational health.  This all works for your good, your future family’s good and for God’s glory.

Before we can release you into an exclusive and unaccompanied dating relationship, we need to see the following qualities during the “Date the Family” season in an increasing and sustained manner so that we can be confident that you possess the wisdom and maturity needed to protect your heart and the heart of a young man:

  1. Respect exhibited by willingly and eagerly living within the boundaries set by both parents. This will be manifested in your abiding by our boundaries even if we or others are not present to enforce them.
  2. Discretion in communication, eliminating excessive, intimate or late-night conversation via technology but instead nurturing healthy, face-to-face communication skills. Discretion as also manifested by showing regard for others, ensuring that your public interactions do not make peers feel uncomfortable or excluded.
  3. Discipline to invest the necessary time to excel in your academics, extracurricular activities and ministry commitments while also ensuring that you do not distract this young man from his. Your futures may not include each other, and we would be remiss to allow either of you to compromise your future opportunities for what may be a temporary relationship.
  4. Responsibility to be faithful in daily household and family obligations. Part of your growth in womanhood is learning to prioritize and balance the varied responsibilities of life.  If the small things get missed for the relationship (chores, management of personal space, family courtesies), it will indicate that more maturity is required before a more formal dating relationship can be successfully added to your schedule.
  5. Accountability in the form of the establishment of a relationship with an older woman who can help ensure you are continuing to grow spiritually and protect both your, and his, purity.
  6. Self-control in the physical dimension of the relationship, engaging in only the most innocent displays of affection while not venturing into physical interactions that escalate passion. If you would not be comfortable engaging in a certain physical interaction in front of the youth that you minister to, we would expect that this would not be part of your relationship.
  7. Biblical understanding of the purpose of marriage which needs to shape the dating relationship. Since the relationship between a man and woman was divinely designed to be a winsome picture of Christ and the Church which would draw people to the Gospel, the resultant priorities must be personal holiness and relational excellence, not selfish enjoyment.  You are not too young to view your relationship through the lens of those governing philosophies.  This relationship, even in its early stages, needs to be viewed as an opportunity for you to learn how to care for and serve someone in a God-honouring way.
  8. Compassion, if at some point you decide that this young man is not God’s best for you as a life partner. If that occurs, and it is understandable that it may considering how many years lie between today and marriage, we expect you to communicate that news face-to-face, with compassion and utmost regard for his well-being.

 

9 Comments

  1. Glen

    And if all this fails – I’m not afraid to go to prison

    Reply
  2. Hannah Hall

    Please write a book. Immediately. I’m going to need it soon. You could call it “I Kissed Dating Goodbye Goodbye and Did Something Counter-Culture but Still Super Amazing, Wise, and Incredibly Intentional Instead” or something equally catchy. 😉 I’ve always been good at titles.

    Reply
    • Janet

      Indeed – so good at titles! Well, it feels like we’re building the runway as the plane is landing sometimes, figuring some things out as we go along. But the girls are simply too precious for us to frustrate by entirely locking away, or squander by indiscriminately giving away. Thanks for your steady support friend – looking forward to our Monday chat. 🙂

      Reply
  3. Lesa

    I have tears dripping down my face as I read this, wishing I had this kind of wisdom and foresight when my two older children were younger. I am thankful though for it now. I read this to my 13 and 14 year old boys and my husband came to listen. I am definitely a work in progress but am a far better parent than ever before. No more living in fear of man. My decisions are based now on biblical understanding of the topic at hand. As always Janet, utmost respect and heartfelt thanks for permission to follow your lead.

    Reply
    • Janet

      Thank you Lesa – It thrills me to think that the time I put into getting my thoughts down can be of help to someone. I appreciate your encouragement! I agree with you on the fear of man. I figure, as we hit this new season, that we haven’t parented by popular opinion yet, so there’s no point in starting now! May God bless your efforts richly and your sweet desire to love your kids well! 🙂

      Reply
  4. Anne

    How do you do that? Those thoughts! Those words! So good Janet. You need to give parenting/dating seminars. You’re right, it’s an under discussed topic with big consequences when things go wrong! This is so well written!

    Reply
    • Janet

      Thank you friend! You are very kind to me. We may need to get to the other side of this adventure before we start telling folks what works (In the meantime, thank God for the likes of Betsy Corning and Paul David Tripp), but we will enjoy the season and hope to gain more wisdom as we go. Looking forward to our next family get-together!

      Reply
  5. Amanda

    We appreciate this, Janet! Thanks for using your gifts to share and provide clarity.

    Also, Todd would be along side you in prison, Glen! 😄

    Reply
  6. Heather Huebner

    Beautifully written as usual Janet. Having 3 boys, it is so nice to see parents that treasure their girls by building walls for them. We have spent time building the walls around our boys as well, using different materials of course, but for the same purpose. God bless your family, and all the families of girls who do likewise. Our prayer is that our boys will become the men that your daughters will be proud to marry one day.

    Reply

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