In light of Valentine’s Day approaching, I thought it would be good to intentionally talk a bit about dating and romance. I have a lot to say about this (especially because today’s romantic scene is quite complicated), but I think I’ll only talk about one aspect of the subject right now…
I’d be willing to bet that dating’s major selling point is not the glitz and glamour of “serving another person.” In fact, I would be really surprised if that were one of the top ten reasons for anyone to enter into a dating relationship. One doesn’t intrinsically think, “It would be really great to date that person so I could serve them sacrificially.” We simply aren’t wired that way because the undercurrent in every human heart is selfishness. Our sinful nature makes it nearly impossible to push “service” to the front of the line when it comes to main motivations for dating.
We view dating through the lens of “what can this relationship do for me?” Of course, we don’t actually ask ourselves that question when we’re single, but the truth is it’s probably the main reason any and everyone jumps into the dating pool head-first.
Think about it. When you look back on your motivations for getting into a relationship in the past, what were they? If you’re having trouble, let me help you along with a few of mine from the past…
* Man, she’s so hot. I would love to date her.
* I would feel so much better about myself if I had someone in my life to tell me they loved me.
* People would respect me more if I could get a girl like her to be my girlfriend.
I could go on with other horrifying revelations from my past about why I chose to date someone, but I won’t. Now, reading these, you might have judged me for my deep-seeded selfishness, but the truth is, these were my major motivations when I was single. And if we’re honest, we all know these are universal reasons. When it comes down to it, the underlying motivator for dating is that it’s “all about me.”
What will that person do for me? How will they make me feel? What will they do to serve me? How will they help improve my reputation? In what ways will they satisfy me and my cravings? Me. Me. Me. When it comes to dating, we are takers.
But this shouldn’t be so. Dating should not be about taking and focusing on what another person can do for me…it should be about how I can serve the one who I am privileged enough to date.
TICKS AND DEMENTORS
When I was younger, I remember being terrified of blood-sucking ticks. So much so, that one time, when my grandparents were showing us a plot of land they were interested in buying, I would not get out of the car. The land was in an extremely wooded area, and I remember thinking that ticks were likely waiting to jump from the tree limbs and onto my head so they could burrow into my scalp and suck my blood. I hated ticks more than any other creature, I think.
Now, this is the nature of a tick. Its whole purpose in life is to take. For example, a tick will attach itself to a deer or dog or some other animal, and suck blood. It gives nothing back to the animal it is attached to, except maybe a disease. It simply latches on and takes.
Similarly, a Dementor from the world of Harry Potter has kind of the same motivation. The Harry Potter Wiki (yes, there is such a thing) defines a Dementor as a creature that feeds off of human happiness, and thus causes depression and despair to anyone near them. They can also consume a person’s soul, leaving their victims in a permanent vegetative state, and thus are often referred to as “soul-sucking fiends” and are known to leave a person as an ‘empty-shell.’1
Both a Dementor and a tick are takers, and you can probably think of a few people in dating relationships who share similar qualities with the fictional Harry Potter character and the very real evil insect. They latch on to another person and take from them on every occasion possible. They look to fulfill their own needs and desires, yet give nothing back, leaving the other person as an ‘empty-shell.’
Alright, maybe I’m being a bit melodramatic, but I want and need to drive this point home. You never see a tick attaching itself to another tick, do you? A Dementor never attacks another Dementor and tries to suck out its soul. Why? Because two takers in a relationship makes no natural sense. The relationship sucks. (Sorry, I just couldn’t help myself.) The reality in relationships, however, is that a lot of ticks are dating ticks, and a lot of Dementors are dating Dementors.
A DIFFERENT PERSPECTIVE
Of course, when it’s all written out like this, my guess is that most any decent person would recoil at this notion of being a “blood-sucking life taker,” but it sadly is the cultural norm.
We look to culture to tell us how to have a relationship, and we get TikTok reels, tabloid postings in our news feed, and reality TV that scream at us, “This is the right way to do it!” And most of the time, we buy it. We see an article headline that promises to help us get the most pleasure out of sex, so we tap on it. We binge-watch every episode of The Bachelor and see a man claim to be in love with the final woman contestant who made it to the end, when just yesterday he was making out in a hot tub with the other two finalists he didn’t pick. Celebrity couples marry, and they get divorced…and this feels like the norm.
We think that relationships are all about us and what the other person can do for us, but Jesus Christ taught something radically different…
But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many. (Matthew 20:26b-28)
Christians are called not to be takers in a dating relationship, but givers. Servants who model ourselves after Christ Himself instead of the predominant opinion of modern culture, begging us to fulfill our own needs and desires. Jesus came not to be served but to serve, and this should be our primary goal as we look toward dating. Before sin entered the picture, humanity was designed to give, serve, and love. Jesus lived this out as the perfect example, and the cool thing is we can do that now…even in our modern approach to dating.
When both people in a dating relationship are looking to give and serve one another, they are a beautiful model of what a healthy relationship should be, and they set an incredible example for others to emulate. They also set themselves up well for the possibility of marriage, because any married couple can tell you that being married should be about serving the other person and dying to yourself, not selfishly taking. That’s right—the primary reason for getting married is to give to the other person, not be in it for yourself.
I’ve seen a number of people live out this mindset of service within a dating relationship, and it has been extremely encouraging for me to witness what a godly couple looks like when serving the other person is the priority. Let me give you a few practical examples of what I mean:
1. I know a guy who would do a monthly “favorites” date with his girlfriend. He’d put the time and forethought into planning a series of things to do during a day or evening that were his girlfriend’s favorite things. She loved the outdoors, so they would do things like go for a walk, go on a bike ride, enjoy a picnic outside, etc. She also loved ice cream, so he would intentionally plan to visit every local ice cream place in the area, checking them off one by one. Nothing too over-the-top or crazy, but their monthly favorites date communicated to her that she was special and her interests were his priority.
2. My wife’s roommate back in college had a boyfriend who knew how much she loved Disney, so he planned a surprise trip to Orlando. He showed up at her place at 4:00AM and flashed her the tickets he had to Disney World. They drove to the airport, flew to Florida, and spent the day together at the “most magical place on earth.” I was floored when I heard about what he did (mostly because I was thinking about how much money it must have cost), but I was also super impressed with his desire to serve and care for his girlfriend in a fun, surprising way.
3. Okay, here’s a personal one that I did for the woman who would become my bride. After my wife, Rachael, and I had been dating for only about 3 months or so, we were forced to spend the summer apart because I was heading to Daytona Beach, Florida for a summer missions project, and she was flying to the other side of earth to study abroad in Florence, Italy. I wanted her to enjoy her trip and feel encouraged, so I created “Rachael’s Travel Survival Kit” for her to do on the plane to Europe. I made puzzles for her to solve, I wrote up quizzes for her to take, I drew black and white pictures for her to color, and I included a bunch of encouraging Scripture verses for her to read through as she flew. Yes, it was cheesy, but she liked that sort of thing, and I certainly loved making it for her.
4. One of the guys in my Bible study had a girlfriend who would routinely surprise him throughout their relationship with small, but fun little delightful moments that communicated, “I’m thinking about you and I care about you” to him. She’d do things like leave notes for him in places he would later find them, including fake parking tickets on his car that read, “This isn’t a parking fine, but you’re certainly fine!” Ugh, I know, I know…but he really loved it. In the fall, she would also buy him a t-shirt or jersey of his favorite football team, place it in his room, along with a note that communicated to him she couldn’t wait to watch the game with him come Sunday afternoon (even though she hated football). She would also do things like sneak into his place and clean up his room and bathroom. She’d do his laundry when he was really busy with school (not all the time, of course—she made it clear to him that she wasn’t his mother), and bake him dessert-type treats when he needed to pull an all-nighter before a big test the next day. She was the picture of someone who cared about serving the guy she dated…and I loved being in their wedding when they both graduated from college.
All of these examples require discipline and a certain mindset, because our default is to think solely about ourselves. The repercussions of serving someone you care about, however, are quite delightful.
I heard a friend once say, “It took me 10 years to figure out that the biggest problem in my marriage was me.”
This implies, of course, that if you become comfortable in your own selfishness, you’re going to have some major problems. There’s no better way to prepare for a great marriage of giving than to start practicing the art of giving when you date.
Let’s look to Jesus Christ, the ultimate servant, as the trailblazer on how we should do relationships and serve one another. This will not only bolster great dating relationships, but will also shine brightly in the darkness of cultural dating, drawing others to the redeeming power of Christ’s love and sacrifice.
1. Dementor, Harry Potter Wiki, (http://harrypotter.wikia.com/wiki/Dementor), accessed March 21, 2018.