Focus on the Family

Being Single and Faithful

by Shana Schutte

When you think of vows, what comes to mind? Is it when a wife commits to stand by her terminally-ill husband? When a husband determines to provide for his family no matter how hard life gets? Or when a man and woman vow to stick together "'til death do us part?"

Vows like these are seen positively, as a God-given privilege, and are something most singles long for. However, not all vows are positive. In fact, some can sabotage romantic love and hinder singles from making it the wedding altar.

I once struck up a conversation with a bubbly, twenty-something waitress who reminded me how devastating some vows can be. After chatting for a few moments, I asked, "Are you married?" She rolled her eyes and dramatically responded, "Oh, no! Been there, done that. Never doing it again!"

I'm sure her smile would have convinced a casual onlooker that she wasn't bothered by her past divorce, but I knew otherwise. Why? Because a heart that is unbroken and healthy has no need to make vows for self-protection.

After speaking with this young woman, I remembered that my story is not so different.

Devastated from a broken relationship that I thought was headed toward the altar, I lay in bed and cried until I hyperventilated. My sobs became a wail that catapulted toward heaven and then seemed to hit the ceiling. "God, do You even hear me?" Then I uttered a phrase that changed my life for the next eight years—"I'm never allowing any man to get close to me again!" Like this young waitress, I didn't think that I could handle another heartbreak, so I made a vow for self-protection.

Many years later, I realized that my vow did in fact guarantee that I wouldn't feel the devastation of a broken heart, but it also guaranteed that I would never experience the joy of God-given love again—because self-protective hearts can't love.

The American Heritage Dictionary defines a vow as an "earnest promise that binds one to a specific mode of behavior." I thought the vow I made protected me when in reality it was binding me. Like a rope that strangles, it tied itself around my heart so I couldn't give or receive love. My heart just felt numb.

Can you relate? Perhaps like me, you've known something is preventing you from experiencing the intimacy you desire, but you haven't been able to identify why. Perhaps a vow is at the root of your romantic woes.

If you can relate to what I've said, you might be wondering, What are the characteristics of an unhealthy vow and how can I overcome it if I've made one?

Unhealthy vows are always rooted in deception

If I could speak with my waitress friend again and ask her why she vowed to never remarry, perhaps she'd tell me that she believes all men are liars, that she couldn't handle another heartbreak or doesn't think she's good marriage material.

Then, if I compared her response to the truth in God's Word, I could prove that each of her statements is a lie that she has embraced. This isn't surprising. Why? Because when we make vows after heartbreak for self-protection, deception is always a part of our story. Broken down into an equation, the recipe for a vow is:

Disappointment and a broken heart + deception=a vow.

If God is showing you that you've made an unhealthy vow after romantic heartbreak, the first step to overcome it is to ask the Holy Spirit to reveal the lies you've believed that led you to make the vow. Once this is accomplished, ask God to show you the truth in His Word to counteract the lie. Then, pray and confess His truth. I often find that speaking the truth out loud is powerful because faith comes through hearing God's Word (Romans 10:17).

Vows are ways we try to protect ourselves and make up for what we believe God won't do for us

My good friend, Kathleen, lived a portion of her young life on the street and in foster families. Without the steady presence of a loving mother and father, orphan mentality became a way of life for her. One day, as we chatted over coffee, she said, "I realized no one was going to take care of me, so I would have to take care of myself."

For Kathleen, making a vow was directly related to feeling like an orphan—and that's exactly how we can feel about God after a romantic breakup. Why? There are several reasons, but one is that we often pray diligently about finding "the one." And when it doesn't happen, we can feel ignored, abandoned or orphaned by God. And, if He doesn't care about our personal lives, then we'll just have to take care of ourselves by making a vow, right?

A second step to overcoming unhealthy vows is to reject the idea that God has abandoned you. Choose to trust that He has never left you, just as He promised (Hebrews 13:5). Acknowledge His love and ask Him if you have believed any lies about His presence in your life. Again, confess the truth and accept it.

Vows can hinder emotional healing.

Making a vow is like slapping a hand over a bloody bullet wound and telling the surgeon, "No, I can take care of it myself." As a result the Great Physician is not allowed into the place that hurts. In order to recover from heartbreak and overcome any vows you have made, vulnerability with God is always necessary.

Some people have a difficult time getting real with God. If you struggle with sharing your true emotions with Him, remember that He knows how you feel anyway, so you might as well tell Him everything. This is the third step in overcoming vows. Take your emotional pain to God and invite Him into it. You can trust Him and He wants you to cast your cares on Him (1 Peter 5:7).

Remember that God wants to set you free

My journey from making a vow to never love again and experiencing the freedom of heart I know now didn't happen overnight. Instead, it was a gradual process as God revealed the lies I'd believed. Like peeling an onion, it happened in layers rather than in an instant. I can't tell you how many times I prayed and asked God to change my heart and to teach me how to love.

One day, He spoke to my spirit and gave me Ezekiel 36:26 as a promise: "I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you. I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh." True to His promises, He has done that very thing. I'm confident that He wants to do the same for you. I encourage you to hang in there with Him, and if you need to, speak with a professional counselor to help you unravel the lies you've believed so that God can give you the desires of your heart.


Are You in an Abusive Relationship?

You may be in danger from an abusive relationship and not even know it.

by Shana Schutte

I once chatted with a 36-year-old man on the Internet who asked if I would like to see his requirements for a mate and marriage. “Sure,” I typed. “Send them over.” His request was curious, but I was amused when I received his list for the perfect wife.

His criteria for marriage were included in approximately eight e-mails with three to four attachments each. He'd also written an essay describing his perfect mate. She must home school their children, be attractive, trim and of average height and weight, debt-free, never married, a virgin, she must never have had any venereal diseases and she must be able to give him "wild sex" whenever he asked. Most of all, she must be submissive like his pastor instructed him.

Within minutes after reading his list, my "abusive man" detector started blinking wildly. But just to make sure that my suspicions were correct, I asked him a few questions.

I discovered that he grew up in a home with an overbearing father who was a perfectionist and a competitive mother who threw things when she was angry and who "was not submissive enough." He said his parents showed him love by teaching him how to succeed (or, in other words, to be perfect). The wild thing was that he saw nothing wrong with his requirements and even stated that he had once struggled with perfectionism, but had overcome it.

I decided to run like the wind.

Why? Because even though some of this man’s standards are godly (he even said he thought a man should save $25,000 before marrying to provide for his family) his rigid rules, with an inability to extend grace, signaled potential control and abuse. His list reminds me of something author Patricia Evans wrote.

In The Verbally Abusive Relationship, Evans says that an abusive man creates an ideal world that does not exist by forming an image of the perfect woman. But when his love interest shows flaws that reveal she is human, he becomes angry because she does not meet his expectations.

Why It’s Not Always Easy to Recognize an Abuser

I wish it were always as easy to recognize a potential abuser like this man. However, it's not always simple because: A) We've not been taught what red abuse flags to look for, B) Emotional and verbal abuses are often more difficult to identify than blatant physical abuse , and C) When you're in an abusive relationship, confusion reigns, so it can be difficult to see if you're date is abusive.

My prayer is that through this article you'll recognize characteristics of an abuser so that you can get help for your current relationship or avoid abuse in the future.

Abuse Doesn't Only Happen to Women

Even though so far I've focused on men, let me say that women can also be abusive. Just yesterday I chatted with a man in his 40s who stated that he is "hiding in an undisclosed location" to get away from an abusive woman. Given the right deadly cocktail of negative family influences and low self-esteem problems, anyone can be abusive, whether they are male or female.

A Quiz to Help You Recognize Abuse

Perhaps you're wondering how you can spot an abuser and may even be concerned that you are involved with one. Here are some questions from Education Wife Assault to ask yourself about your relationship. If you answer yes to any of these questions, I encourage you to speak with a counselor or trusted friend.

What to do if you are convinced that you're in an abusive relationship

If after taking this quiz you're convinced that you're involved with someone who is abusive, the main thing to realize is that regardless of what your significant other has told you, you are not responsible for their behavior. Abusers are skilled at twisting the truth to make you feel like you are the one with the problems and that you are going crazy. Remember, you are not to blame.

Second, recognize that you cannot change your date no matter how good or kind you are.

Third, you'll need to speak with someone about your relationship. Abused victims are often afraid to speak out about their abuser because they feel that they must protect their date or mate even if he or she is in the wrong. However, you must seek help. You can contact Focus on the Family at 1-800-A-FAMILY to speak with a licensed counselor and receive a free counseling referral for your area. Or, you may contact the National Domestic Abuse Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE.

Lastly, remember that you are valuable and God has created you to be honored.


Three Lies About Premarital Sex

Is Scripture becoming outdated and archaic in light of today's cultural views concerning premarital sex?

by Shana Schutte

When Cindy met Rob, she knew that even though he attended church, he didn't share her convictions about premarital sex. Rob thought it was OK—and even good for dating couples to engage in—and Cindy believed it was wrong from a Christian perspective.

As their friendship progressed, Cindy and Rob's opposing viewpoints caused some hot debates. It also forced them both to take a second look at their convictions. As a result, Cindy developed a deeper understanding of truth, and Rob was forced to face the lies he'd always believed.

If you're like Cindy or Rob, and you've taken a stand for (or against) premarital sex, but you're not sure why, here are some things to consider.

Scripture is Outdated, Right?

Like many singles, Rob thinks the Scriptures on sexual purity are outdated and archaic. "Those parts of the Bible aren't relevant to today," he told Cindy. "After all, when the Scriptures were written, the people during that time got married when they were teens; so they didn't have to struggle with sexual temptation like we do now."

In response to Rob's argument, Cindy found Scriptures about sexual purity and showed them to him. When Cindy read 1 Corinthians 6:9, 2 Corinthians 12:21, Galatians 5:19, Hebrews 13:4 and Deuteronomy 22:13-28, all which condemn sex before marriage, she asked Rob, "Are these Scriptures relevant to today?" "Nope," Rob responded.

"Do you have a pair of scissors?" Cindy asked.

"Why?

"Because I think we should cut those Scriptures out. After all, if they're not true because people can't control their desires, why not completely eliminate them? After all, we can just pick and choose the parts of Scripture that we want to believe on sexual purity, right? Give me your scissors," she said.

"You're crazy," Rob responded.

Crazy or not, Cindy had made her point—there are holes in Rob's it's-not-true-because-people-can't-control-their-desires theology. Why? Because, if his beliefs were based on truth, they would stand up in every circumstance, but they don't.

For example, if sex before marriage is okay because people supposedly can't control themselves, then it must be okay to engage in pornography, too, right? After all, the temptation to watch and participate in porn abounds like it didn't in Bible times.

Not surprisingly, when Cindy asked Rob if it was OK to engage in pornography, his theology changed. "Pornography isn't okay because it's damaging to the people who are doing it, and it's not very Christian."

Why does Rob have a schizophrenic view of purity and of the Bible's commandments?

Additionally, if scriptures in the Bible became untrue because people can't control their desires, then we'd also have to cut out the commandments on stealing, lying, cheating and having affairs.

Sure enough, there are holes in Rob's sex-before-marriage theology, just like there would be holes in his Bible if Cindy cut it up.

Doesn't Sex Produce Intimacy?

During their discussions about premarital sex, Rob insisted that it was good to engage in sex with a dating partner because "it brings you closer."

Cindy believes that this is true, and not true. On one hand, the Bible says that sex causes "two people to become one." Therefore, it's more than just a physical act, it's also a spiritual encounter (Mark 10:6-9).

Additionally, Dr. Patricia Love, the author of The Truth About Love, writes that a feeling of intimacy is created by a "chemical cocktail" that is produced in the brain during sex and stays with each person for up to 24 hours after intercourse. Perhaps this physiological bonding is what Rob was referring to.

On the flip side, having sex is no guarantee that the deep emotional intimacy that everyone longs for will develop.

Alice Fryling, in an article titled, Why Wait for Sex? writes:

"Genital sex is an expression of intimacy, not the means to intimacy. True intimacy springs from verbal and emotional communion. True intimacy is built on a commitment to honesty, love and freedom. True intimacy is not primarily a sexual encounter. Intimacy, in fact, has almost nothing to do with our sex organs. A prostitute may expose her body, but her relationships are hardly intimate."

Some experts even report that premarital sex short circuits the emotional bonding process. Donald Joy, a writer for Christianity Today, cited a study of 100,000 women that linked "early sexual experience with dissatisfaction in their present marriages, unhappiness with the level of sexual intimacy and the prevalence of low self-esteem."

So what does this mean? If Rob tries to convince Cindy, or any woman, that sex will actually help their relationship, she might want to think again before consenting. While premarital sex does produce a short-lived chemical cocktail in the brain, there is no guarantee that it will produce long-term emotional closeness or relational satisfaction.

Can't Sex Help You Determine Compatibility?

Rob told Cindy he felt it was unreasonable to expect him to abstain from sex before marriage because no one would buy a car without test driving it; so he couldn't imagine committing to marriage without taking a "sex test drive."

When Cindy suggested to Rob that his "test drive" mentality could lead him to compare his wife's sexual performance with his other partners, he denied it. "No, I wouldn't," he adamantly said.

However, his logic is faulty. Here's why: If it was true that Rob wouldn't struggle with comparison, why would he need to "test drive" anything? After all, if he'd never had multiple partners, he would automatically think his wife the best. For example, the man who hasn't ever seen or driven more than one car doesn't know what other cars are like; therefore he would be satisfied with his automobile.

Partners can also feel threatened if they think their mate could be comparing them with previous partners.

When Cindy randomly asked 10 women at work if they would be worried that their husband was comparing them if he'd had intercourse with multiple women before marriage, 80 percent of them said yes.

This provides a strong argument to abstain from sex before marriage to protect the emotional safety that your spouse will need to feel in marriage.

Hope and Restoration After Premarital Sex

Perhaps you're asking, "What if, like Rob, I'm guilty of sexual sin?"

The first thing to remember is that no sexual sin is beyond God's forgiveness. Thankfully, He doesn't withhold forgiveness or grace from those who ask for it.
I John 1:9 promises that if you confess your sins, that He is faithful to forgive and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness. Note: This includes all sin, and does not exclude sexual sin. Psalm 103: 12 also promises, "As far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions [sins] from us."

In addition to forgiveness, God wants you to embrace His grace that will help you move forward in life and embrace the promises He has for you with joy. In spite of your choices, God wants to bring you relational fulfillment.


Embracing Romantic Grief

We need to learn to embrace heartbreak and grief in order to be able to love again.

by Shana Schutte

After author C.S. Lewis lost his beloved wife to cancer, he wrote in A Grief Observed, "Grief and pain are the price humans have to pay for the love and total commitment we have for another person. The more we love, the more we hurt when we lose the object of our love. But if we are honest with ourselves, would we have it any other way?"

Perhaps you've experienced romantic heartbreak, and as Lewis suggests, you've asked yourself if you would have it another way. And without hesitation you've answered, "Yes, I would. In fact, I feel so devastated by the grief of lost love that I'm determined to avoid it at all costs in the future."

Certainly, losing a special person can feel unbearable. The good news is that God wants to bring you comfort and help you embrace romantic grief, rather than run from it, so you can love again without fear.

Grief is Always a Part of Love

Some things in life are certain: taxes are due on April 15, everyone will eventually die and all love ends in pain. Think about it. No matter why we experience romantic grief, heartbreak is always the result, sometimes because of divorce, sometimes because of death and others due to breakup. Sound negative? Not really.

When we accept the reality of heartbreak, it can open our hearts to love, rather than keep us from it. Here's why: If we are afraid of getting hurt and insist on arranging our lives to avoid romantic grief, we forfeit the chance to love because, as Lewis stated, grief and pain are always love's price tags. On the flip side, when we accept the inevitability of heartbreak, we are one step closer to developing the courage it takes to love, no matter the cost.

I recently visited a blog written by a man named Tom who lost his wife to breast cancer. While reading his thoughts, I was moved because Tom understands the need for courage to embrace love.

"My love for her will never fade," he writes. "[It] was a love of devotion with no conditional boundaries. I would marry her all over again if I knew we had to face the adversity of breast cancer."

Because Tom knows that God is "near to the brokenhearted, and saves those who are crushed in spirit," (Psalm 34:18) he is willing to travel the difficult road to experience the gift of love, in spite of the cost.

You Can Overcome Any Romantic Grief

I once heard a story of a boy who was getting beat up daily by the school bully. Day after day, the bully attacked him on the playground; and day after day, the boy walked home overcome with self-pity and defeat.

Then one day, his father gave him permission to beat up the bully.

"The next time he comes at you, beat the pulp out of him," the father said.

With new confidence, the boy walked to school the next day, and waited in anticipation until the last school bell rang. Then he ran onto the playground to face his enemy. When the bully came toward him, rather than cower or flee, he fought back.

Not surprisingly, the bully never bothered him again.

I know a woman who often says, "I won't be able to handle it if I get my heart broken one more time." Unfortunately, she believes that grief is like this bully who is going to beat her heart to a pulp, and that she'll be trapped by grief forever. Unfortunately, she has not grasped the truth that her Father has given her permission to beat up the bully of grief.

Granted, facing romantic grief doesn't mean that we beat it up one day and move on the next. Instead, it's a process of healing. But in the end, God has granted us the certainty of winning the war against grief and helping us regain the courage to love. His desire is never that we stay stuck in emotional pain and become paralyzed by relational fears.

God Notices Your Grief

Sometimes when we're in emotional pain, we can feel like God has deserted us and doesn't notice our grief. In his book, Lewis also wrote about his wife's passing:

"Meanwhile, where is God? …A door slammed in your face, and a sound of bolting and double bolting on the inside. After that, silence…There are no lights in the windows….Why is He so present a commander in our time of prosperity and so very absent a help in time of trouble?"

Certainly, we've all felt at times that God seems distant during heartache. However, to face grief successfully and love again, we need to consider God, not in light of our emotions, but in the light of His truth.

In Psalm 10:1, Asaph knew what it was like to live by his feelings when, like Lewis, he asked, "O Lord, why do you stand far off? Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?"

Thankfully, Asaph didn't get stuck in grief through unbelief. Even though he wondered where God was in verse 10:1, by the time he came to verse 14, he embraced the truth when he wrote, "But you, O God do see trouble and grief; you consider it to take it in hand."

The word "grief" in this passage is the word ka'as in Hebrew. The amazing part of this word is that the most nominal forms of it involve the trouble which man causes triggering hurt feelings. Guaranteed, if you're experiencing romantic heartbreak, you're experiencing a whole lot more than just a few hurt feelings! It's comforting to know that according to ka'as, God notices all your heartache, overwhelming or not.

If you feel that you're swimming in a sea romantic grief, remember that no matter how insignificant you think your pain is to God, He notices. Not only that, but He has considered it to do something about it.

A Sign That You Are Ready to Love Again

You might be wondering how you can tell if you've moved through grief to embrace love again. One sign is gratitude. When we're grateful for the good that was given to us from God in our past relationship, we can be confident that emotional healing has happened. And when our desire to embrace the future overshadows our desire to hold onto the past, we know that we have said good-bye with grace. When we believe that God can fill our hands and heart with mutual love again, we know we have grieved well and that we have entrusted our heartache to Him. When we can thank God for the part others have played in our lives, we can be confident we have been enhanced by knowing them—and we're ready to embrace love again.


Dealing With Romantic Regret

Romantic regret can haunt some people for their entire lives.

by Shana Schutte

Have you ever wondered how romantic regret can haunt some people their entire lives?

I recently thought about this when I watched a film about an elderly woman who was on her death bed. While her daughters stood nearby, she talked in her sleep, dreamt of her youth and murmured about a young man named Harris. She later confessed to her children that he was the only man she ever loved, which is why she believed it was her life's most tragic mistake when she lost him.

After almost 90 minutes of bouncing between scenes from the past and the present, the woman finally made peace with her romantic choices. She accepted that perhaps she hadn't made a mistake after all, and that all things had worked out well, even though she had loved and lost.

I wish all stories of romantic regret ended so happily. Unfortunately, not everyone comes to grip with their past. Like the woman in the film, we can experience regret because we feel we missed an opportunity with someone special, or because we dated someone for the wrong reasons, communicated poorly, were unfaithful to our mate or a host of other reasons.

Unfortunately, like the woman in the film, some people carry romantic regret far too long, but God wants to give us freedom in our emotions from the pain of the past, no matter the reason.

So if romantic regret haunts you, what should you do?

Practice Taking "What If" Thoughts Captive

In my past, at Point A of a potential relationship, (he had called me once and we scheduled to meet for the first time for coffee), in my mind I was already at Point Z (I'd met his mother, birthed his babies and started folding his underwear). And in 3.5 seconds flat, I discovered numerous reasons why the relationship wouldn't work. I would begin to panic. What if we don't get along because I'm right-brained and he's left? What if he doesn't like the way I do laundry or what if thinks I need to earn more money? Like my mother says, I "made mountains out of molehills," and reacted based on information I didn't even have, and I let my "what ifs" carry me to the edge of insanity. In Scripture, Paul describes my response as a "vain imagination" (2 Corinthians 10:5).The word vain means "empty," because these thoughts are not based in truth.

Not only can we experience vain imaginations and ask too many "what if" questions about a potential mate or date, but also about our romantic past. In fact, we can hypothesize so much about what might have been that we can become depressed and filled with regret.

So, what's the answer for fighting thoughts like these that "raise themselves up against the knowledge of God?" (2 Corinthians 10:5). We have to take them captive (stop them dead in their tracks) then redirect our minds to embrace God's truth—that He loves us, has always been in control of our lives and that He has good plans for our future (Jeremiah 29:11). This means that we have to toss aside any hypothetical possibilities that we have no answers for and keep our eyes on Christ, trust in His sovereignty and embrace His forgiveness.

Recognize and Surrender to the Sovereignty of God

Last Christmas, I traveled home to visit my family. A few days after I arrived, Mom told me that she had seen my old boyfriend and his wife at church with their children. The next day, she invited me to attend a candlelight service at the same church. As I held my burning candle and sang "Silent Night," fresh grief of romantic regret unexpectedly filled my heart and tears filled my eyes. I thought I had put those old memories behind me, but knowing my mother had seen him there, and still being single during yet another Christmas ushered in new emotional pain.

The next day, I questioned my decision to end the relationship with a man I loved that could have led to marriage. Once again, I doubted God's involvement during that troubling time in college. But then I remembered how I had prayed to make the right choice. I prayed and prayed and prayed if I should break up with him. I asked for God's guidance over and over. I desperately wanted to do His will, I thought.

When I remembered how much I had prayed, I decided that I had to believe He was with me during that time even if I didn't handle the situation perfectly. God doesn't ignore those He loves when they ask for help.

These thoughts led me to my Bible where I studied about His sovereignty and control over all things. I found Proverbs 16:1 which says, "The plans of the heart belong to the man [or woman], But the answer of the tongue is from the LORD."

I discovered that the Hebrew verb "plans" also means "to prepare or arrange." I had tried to arrange and plan my life the best I could by ending a relationship I wasn't certain about. Later, when I felt I'd made a mistake, regret consumed me. During Christmas when I considered this Scripture, I realized that no matter what my plans were, God had to sign off on them. Therefore, the outcome could have been different. My boyfriend could have chosen to renew a relationship with me, and God could have prevented him from meeting his wife—but He didn't. I chose once again to trust that God was intimately involved in my life in college, and that He also has good things planned for my future (1 Corinthians 2:9).

Embrace God's Forgiveness

Sometimes we can become stuck in relational regret because we sinned against someone and we wonder if God will forgive us. Or perhaps we were unfaithful to someone who loved us, we committed adultery or have been promiscuous. Thankfully, God is not stingy with forgiveness.

God's tender forgiveness and grace is shown in the story of Peter's betrayal of Christ (Matthew 26:69-75). After Peter denied Christ, and Jesus was raised from the dead, two angels appeared to Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary, the mother of Jesus. Thankfully, the angels didn't just instruct the women to tell the disciples the good news. Instead, they told them to "go tell the disciples and Peter" (Mark 16:7).

God knew Peter was suffering from regret so he sent a special invite to him. It was as if God was saying, "Peter, it doesn't matter what you've done. Even if you've denied me, you're forgiven."

God extends the same grace and forgiveness to us if we've made poor decisions in romantic relationships. Even if we have not obeyed Him, He wants us to know the freedom that comes from forgiveness and grace so we can move forward in hope like Peter.

Can you imagine how Peter's life would have turned out if he hadn't embraced the forgiveness of Christ? He would not have become a writer of the New Testament. And rather than being a bold witness for God, he would have wallowed in self-pity and regret. In short, he would have missed his calling.

Accepting forgiveness for any sin we've committed is necessary to move into the future with hope. Remember that Satan wants to keep you chained to the past in regret to prevent you from fulfilling God's plan for your life.


Reentering the Dating Scene After Divorce

When reentering the dating scene after divorce, it must be according to God's standards.

by Shana Schutte

Jennifer is a single woman who recently divorced. Even though she has decided to wait a few years until her daughter is grown to reenter the dating scene, she's confused about how to proceed. "When Madaline is out of the house I want to date, but I don't know how."

Samantha has been divorced for only a year, but would like to start dating again even though her two boys are still in elementary school. Like Jennifer, she needs some advice but is concerned about how she can make the transition into dating easy on her children.

John is separated from his wife. He'd like to date again, and some of his friends say he should start looking for a woman now – after all, he's getting divorced soon. But John knows better because he's still married, and dating now would go against God's desires.

Jennifer's, Samantha's and John's concerns are common, because according to the U.S. Census Bureau, 19.3 million Americans get divorced each year, and many of them date and eventually remarry.

Perhaps you share their concerns, as you're also wondering how you can reenter the dating world after divorce – and do so according to God's standards. Here are four practical ideas.

Heal First, Date Later

Divorce is the death of the dreams you had when you committed yourself "for better or for worse." As a Christian, you can't simply separate from your spouse one day and hit the dating field the next. And as with any loss, big or small, time is needed to grieve and to reassess who you are, where you've been and where God wants you to go. Healing is also necessary to follow God's command to" do unto others what you would have them do unto you," (Matthew 7:12). If you start dating prematurely, you could be hurting – rather than honoring – those you date.

When Becky was invited to lunch by a man she met at a bookstore, she was excited. She was ready to date and had taken time to seek God and heal after her divorce three years earlier. She thought her lunch date had done the same, but she quickly discovered otherwise. Instead, he was still drowning in grief. During their lunch, his eyes filled with tears and anguish. When Becky asked him how long he'd been divorced, he admitted that it wasn't final yet, that he was living in the basement of the home that he and his wife shared, and that they'd only been separated for three weeks.

Becky gently told her date that he needed to first pursue emotional and spiritual healing. She suggested that he develop relationships with other Christian men for support, rather than seek out women for emotional comfort.

Perhaps you know someone like this man. Understandably, he is lonely. But dating so soon will almost inevitably lead to heartache, since he's neither emotionally nor legally available. And, until he heals, he won't be able to relax and commit his entire heart to his new partner the way God intends.

To begin healing, you'll want to seek counsel from committed Christians who are willing to walk through the grief process with you. This may mean seeking out your pastor for support, joining a Divorce Recovery group or visiting a Christian counselor.

Guard Your Sexual Integrity

Some divorced church-goers try to convince themselves that God's command to abstain from sex doesn't apply to them – that it's for the never-married crowd. However, Scripture is clear that it doesn't matter if someone has been married or not, sex with someone other than your spouse is still fornication (I Thessalonians 4:3, I Corinthians 6:9).

Don't wait to put some practical boundaries in place, such as not staying at your date's home overnight. You can also establish an accountability group made up of those who know and love you. That way, when you feel tempted, you can call on them for prayer and support.

Be aware that when you commit to remain celibate until you remarry, there may be some people who will try to convince you that you are being unreasonable. If a date pressures you, don't compromise. Instead, run the other direction and resolve to date only fellow believers who share your convictions. The Bible is clear about this: Maintaining your sexual integrity is not optional; neither is getting romantically involved with someone who doesn't share your faith (2 Cor. 6:14). Above all, God wants to come first in all you do (Matthew 6:33).

Think Before Involving Your Kids

Sharon has been single for many years. During that time, several men have come and gone from her life. And each new boyfriend has developed a relationship with Sharon's son, Branden. Unfortunately, Branden's father abandoned him, so it's understandable that he longs for a relationship with a father figure. Whenever Sharon meets someone new, she hopes that "this is the one," and Branden does, too. Sadly, when Sharon's relationships don't work out, not only is her heart broken, but so is her son's.

Scripture warns believers to "guard your heart" (Proverbs 4:23). For the single parent, this means that you will have to do some "guarding" for your children by not involving them with your suitors too soon in a relationship. Some people hold off until engagement before introducing their significant other to their kids. (Granted, this can create other complications because you want to know how your children will respond to a potential mate prior to engagement.)

Bryan, a single father of three, always meets his dates on neutral ground with his children, such as at a church picnic or at movie theatre with friends. He never introduces his date as his girlfriend, but a friend. This spares his children from the complicated emotions that will inevitably come with adjusting to a new stepparent prematurely.

Stick With God's Plan

After experiencing the comforts of marriage, it can be tempting to settle for less than God's best. You may believe the lie that you'll never find a godly man or woman, that you'll have to accept whoever comes along. One way to avoid the temptation of settling is to know what's acceptable and what's not, to both you and God, before you start looking for love.

This is where slowing down before getting into a serious relationship helps. Not only does going slow give you time to heal, but it also helps you better assess those you date. If you have taken the time to understand yourself and the dynamics that contributed to your divorce, you are more likely to make a godly choice in choosing the second time.

Shortly after Sam divorced, he was desperate to meet a woman and start over. When Ashley showed a strong interest in him, he started spending time with her. She was kind and enjoyed her company – but she didn't share his faith, which was also a problem with his first wife. Unfortunately, Sam ignored God's clear directive in this area, and only after they had dated for several months did he decide to end the relationship. As a result, Ashley's heart was broken, and his was, too. If Sam had taken time to seriously commit his personal life to God, he could have made the choice not to get involved with Ashley in the first place.

If you're contemplating dating someone new, take your time in getting to know them, and if they fall short in one of your major criteria such as faith, children or sex before marriage, make the wise choice early on by saying no to the relationship. Remember, too, that navigating the dating jungle is not easy. But, if you seek God and put Him first, He will make your paths straight (Proverbs 3:5).

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The issue of remarriage after divorce arouses even more controversy, and not all theologians agree. Focus on the Family holds that there are three sets of circumstances under which remarriage appears to be scripturally justified:

1. When the first marriage and divorce occurred prior to salvation. God's promise in 2 Corinthians 5:17 – "If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come" (NASB) – applies to divorce as well as all other sins committed in the believer's past.

2. When one's mate is guilty of sexual immorality and is unwilling to repent and live faithfully with the marriage partner. However, we must be careful to not make Jesus' statement to this effect (Matt. 19:9) into a broad, sweeping, simplistic formula. Instead, we must evaluate each case independently, bearing in mind that "immorality" here refers to persistent, unrepentant behavior, and that divorce and remarriage is only an option for the faithful partner – not a command.

3. When an unbelieving mate willfully and permanently deserts a believing partner (I Corinthians 7:15). This does not refer to a temporary departure, but to a permanent abandonment, where there is little or no hope of reviving former commitments and salvaging the relationship.


Fishing For Men (and Women) Online

Here are a few things to keep in mind as you travel the ocean of online dating.

by Shana Schutte

I've heard many times that there are a lot of fish in the sea, or numerous men to date in the world. Certainly, there are innumerable "fish" in cyberspace, where millions of singles converge to meet daily.

Have you ever wondered if there are rules for catching "fish" online? There certainly are. And, I like to think they are similar to the rules for fishing with a worm and a pole. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you travel the ocean of online dating and start fishing for men—or women—online.

Don't Use Bad Bait

"There are six things the Lord hates, seven that are detestable to him: haughty eyes, a lying tongue…" (Proverbs 6:17)

Last summer as I boarded my girlfriend's SUV, she announced, "You have to listen to this song. It will make you laugh." She popped in a country music CD and I giggled my way through Cooler Online, a song about a guy who works at Pizza Hut, drives a Hyundai, lives with his mom and dad and is 5'3".

But when he's dating online, his life is another story.

Behind the computer, he's smooth, cool, works in Hollywood, drives a Maserati, has a black belt in karate and probably earns at least six figures.

From a fiction standpoint, this song is hilarious, but from a nonfiction view, it's not funny at all. How many men—or women—have fallen prey to someone on the Internet who has lied about their identity?

This is the first rule for online fishing: Don't use bad bait. Bad bait is anything that fish don't like or goes against God's principles of integrity.

The first type of bad bait is lying, about your age, height, marital status or anything else. Think about it. Would you want to date someone who is dishonest?

A second kind of bad bait is posting pictures that are immodest or using a distasteful screen name. Remember, if you want to catch a date with high morals, you've got to exemplify what you want.

A third type is communicating poorly. Following the ABCs of good grammar and spelling will get you everywhere.

Make Sure You Have a License to Fish

"You shall not commit adultery." (Exodus 20:14)

As a kid, my dad took me to the sporting goods store to purchase my fishing license. I had no idea that I needed permission to put my pole in the water, even if I didn't catch anything. Dad told me that if I fished without a license, he could receive a fine.

Fishing online is much the same—you need permission. And, if you're married or separated, you don't have a license from God. Some people believe that if they are separated, that they are free to date. But if they're not divorced, guess what? They're still married. Some others may think, Well, I'll just get online and look. Remember, that's the way many affairs start—with just one look.

Make Sure Your Tackle Box is in Order

"But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." (Matthew 6:33)

My sister, who loves to fish, has spent considerable time organizing her fishing gear. Why? Because she knows that if her box is a mess, she won't have what she needs to fish well.

In the same way, before you head out to the open ocean of online dating, make sure your emotional and spiritual "toolbox" is in order. If you've had problems with rage, seek counseling before you look for a date or mate. If you have struggled with an addiction that has caused problems in past relationships, ask God and a professional for help. Get healthy, then get serious about dating. It's the best thing for you and for others.

When You Catch a Fish You Don't Want, Throw it Back

"My dear brothers, as believers in the Lord Jesus Christ, don't show favoritism." (James 2:1)

During a fishing trip to Texas with my father years ago, we caught more than 100 fish. There was only one problem—only a few of them met the required length for keeping, so we had to throw most of them back.

When you're fishing for men or women online, you obviously won't want to keep every fish because some won't interest you. Your job is to maintain a Christ-like attitude and treat everyone who approaches you with respect. If you don't share their enthusiasm to connect, simply write back and say, "I appreciate your note, but you live too far away," "I'd like to meet someone closer to my age," or "I already have children and I noticed that you don't want to be a stepparent." Short, but polite responses while you're "throwing someone back" are often appreciated.

One of my male friends has made it a goal to respond to everyone who writes him, even if it's just to say, "No thanks." At first he was uncomfortable telling women that he didn't want to correspond, but now he is amazed at how many appreciate his thoughtfulness. After all, everyone who has dated online has been ignored and no one likes it.

When You Throw a Fish Back, Be Gentle

"Do unto others as you would have others do unto you." (Luke 6:31)

When I was fishing with my dad, he was as gentle as possible when he removed the hook from the fish's mouth so that it wouldn't be permanently injured after he threw it back.

In the online dating ocean, use courtesy when you're telling someone you're not interested. After all, you don't want to wrongfully wound them or cause them to have problems in future relationships. That means that it's not OK to insult them or to treat them unkindly. Remember, there is a real person, with real emotions on the other side of the screen.

Don't Run Into the Water, and Don't Go Too Deep

"…for He guards the course of the just and protects the way of the faithful ones." (Proverbs 2:8)

My friend, Tim, loves to fly fish. He's a wise fisherman because he knows not to run into the water when he first steps into a stream, or go too deep because he could drown.

Again, these rules apply to fishing online. It's unwise to rush into a relationship with someone you don't know or to share too much too soon. How many young women have fallen prey to predators who have lured them into a dangerous sexual situation?

Additionally, the secret to turning any relationship (including an Internet one) into one that lasts, is to take your time. Unfortunately, dating sites can create an environment in which it's easy to become emotionally intimate too fast, which can cause you to drown in relational waters later.

One day while I visited a Christian dating site, a man wrote me and said "Hello," then immediately typed, "Give me your phone number. I'll call you." Because I didn't know anything about him other than what he'd written in his profile, I responded, "I'm sorry, I don't give my phone number out to people I don't know." Immediately, he became angry and retorted, "Fine! Forget it! Why would I want to date someone who doesn't trust me?" Rather than being shocked, I was humored. Didn't his mother tell him that wise girls use discernment in making companions? Of course, I was thankful that I hadn't shared too much too soon. His explosive response and pushy demeanor revealed that he could be a shark in the sea of online dating.

Remember That God is in Control

"I know that you can do all things; no plan of yours can be thwarted." (Job 42:2)

Most of all, remember that God is ultimately in control of bringing you a mate. This means that you don't need to panic or become obsessed with dating online. Keep your eyes on Him and determine to trust Him with your personal life, no matter what.


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