How should you respond if a non-Christian asks you out?

Last week I answered a question from a woman who isn't sure how to turn down a date with an unbeliever. She wrote,

A few weeks ago a non-Christian asked me out. I didn't know he was interested in me, was taken off guard, and didn't know how to respond. I felt very uncomfortable saying, "Sorry, I won't spend time with you because you aren't a Christian." Instead, I made up a lame excuse and left. I'm sure that was not the best way to handle the situation. It certainly wasn't honest. What do you think is the most sensitive and loving way to explain that you only date other Christians?

It's a good question both because it reaffirms the biblical command to only date and marry believers, but also because it reminds us that some ways of saying no are better than others. I replied,

In order to follow through on your desire to date and marry a believer, you must love Christ above all else. He must be more valuable to you than any human relationship — He must be your greatest treasure. Then, rooted in His love and empowered by the Holy Spirit, you will not only have the ability to obey His commands, you will also be able to do so — including saying no to a date with an unbeliever — in ways that testify to your faith.

So what to do in this specific situation you’ve raised? In short, you should reply “No, thank you.” Said with a smile, those three little words are powerful for guarding you from all sorts of undesirable situations. ... sometimes it’s necessary to say more than that. I agree it’s not a good idea to say, “Sorry, I won't spend time with you because you aren't a Christian.” But you can certainly say, “As a Christian, I’m committed to dating only those who share my faith.” A response like this may cause a young man to stop and think, and may open his eyes to the Gospel.

You can read my full answer at Boundless.org.

How can I break up with an unbelieving boyfriend without turning him off to the faith?

Last week I received an email from a woman wondering about the best way to break up with her unbelieving boyfriend. She wrote,

I have decided to break up with my non-Christian boyfriend. Should I tell him that my main reason for doing so is his lack of faith and thereby risk turning him off to Christianity forever? Or should I withhold this information so that he won't associate my faith with the pain of being dumped?

I care a lot about him, and I definitely want him to find God on his own someday. I'm just afraid that I will do or say something to jeopardize his journey. Is there a way to do this kindly and honestly without damaging his view of God?

I love getting questions like this, especially when they're full of faith in the God who convicts us of sin and gives us strength to obey. I replied,

I'm so thankful you're willing to do what's painful in order to obey God's Word (1 Corinthians 7:39, 2 Corinthians 6:14). This is evidence of the Holy Spirit's conviction. You're right that how you do this is important for how he perceives God. I don't think you should tell him your main reason for ending your romantic relationship is his lack of faith, however. Instead, I think you should tell him it's yours. ...

It's not your boyfriend's fault that this is ending so much as it's your responsibility that it began. As the believer in the relationship, you are the one who knows what God requires. If you're trusting in Christ's atoning work on the cross, you have the Spirit of Christ within you to empower you to obey. Rather than telling him it's over because of a faith he doesn't have — and risk a false conversion or, as you fear, a reason for him to be bitter about Christianity — explain that you were wrong to date him once you knew he didn't believe the Gospel. Tell him you're sorry for misleading him about your faith.

You can read my full answer at Boundless.org.

How can I tactfully let people know my desire for marriage?

When I was single, I was embarrassed to admit my desire for marriage because it felt like an admission of defeat. Thankfully God sent an older, wiser woman to help me see the benefits of enlisting help and letting people know that I hoped to marry one day. What does it look like to express the God-given desire for marriage in a way that doesn't come across too strong? Following is my answer to this question from a 26-year-old professional single woman. Q: I am pursuing an exciting career — but one that I would be willing to put aside to get married and start a family. It is my ultimate goal to bring God glory whether married or single, and since I am single right now, I am enjoying pursuing a professional goal.

However, at times I am suspicious that my current career focus may be getting in the way of being able to realize my marriage-and-family dream. Since I've embarked on my professional journey, I have been asked out much less, and my interactions with guys have turned much more professional. I find that the young men in my life show a high respect for me and give me support and affirmation in my professional journey (which I'm thankful for) but not much romantic interest.

How can I balance professional goals but also tactfully make it known that I want to be married?

A: The desire to let eligible men know you're interested in marriage without sounding desperate has long been a dance between grace and wit, but lately, it's gotten even trickier. In earlier times, marriage was the hope and goal of most women. It was the cornerstone for men and women, the foundation upon which adulthood was built.

Increasingly though, marriage researchers say it's the capstone, the final flourish added to the already completed structure. Many in our culture, while not happy about this trend, are willingly following the script that makes it so. Women are excelling in college and grad school, out-earning their male peers, and delaying marriage. The more they're cheered for doing so, the harder it is to prioritize marriage.

But it's not impossible. <Click here to read the full answer.>

Just Friends Limbo

When Steve and I were first becoming friends--and I was hoping it would become something more--he was dating someone else. The "other woman" is part of the high-jinx of our story and it seems to resonate with a lot of women. So today I answer a question from a woman who's wondering if she (or her friend) should do the same. She asks,

In Get Married, you explained how as you and Steve were becoming friends, he dated another woman for a short season. If a woman is growing in friendship and connecting well with a guy to whom she is attracted, but he is dating someone else, what would you advise her to do? Should she continue to develop the friendship? How can she discern if God wants her to forget about the guy and move on, or to continue to hope and pray for a relationship with him?

It's always tricky, and maybe a bit risky, to speak to someone else's situation from your own. This question is a good reminder of that! Here's some of my reply:

This is a perceptive question and a reminder that much of what I share from my own story is descriptive (it tells what did happen) and not necessarily prescriptive (telling what should happen). To know what we should do in any given situation, we have to go to God's Word, the Bible. It's there that we learn who we are, who God is and what He requires of us. We learn of our design — how we were made by God to flourish, and how, because of our sin nature, we often limp along against the grain of that design.

There is no verse in the Bible that says, "Thou shalt not hope a man who's dating someone else will become available for you to marry." Nor is there a verse that says you should. What's needed in situations like this is wisdom (see the book of Proverbs, especially chapters 2, 8 and 9). It may help to ask some questions about the situation.

To read the rest of my answer, and see what those questions are, read "What if the guy I like is dating someone else?"

Understanding Valentine's Day

Growing up, my parents treated Valentine's Day as an opportunity to bless my four siblings and me with sweet reminders that they loved us. A special breakfast before school, a surprise package in the mail at college, and later, a box of chocolates on my desk at the office. I wish I could say I always followed their example. Several years ago I wrote an article about my Valentine's Day state of mind in the years when I didn't have a boyfriend:

I wasn't alone in my dislike of the holiday that reminded me how unattached I was. On my floor at Calvin College, we called Valentine's Day "Black Death Day." It was a mopey holiday for us. And though what we most wanted was a guy to celebrate with, we did little in our depressed, dressed-in-black state to make ourselves attractive.

Valentines_2013Mercifully, God didn't leave me in my state of self-pity. He sent a friend to remind me that my day for romance would come. In the face of that challenge to stop feeling sorry for myself, I started by grieving all the Valentines Days I'd wasted. It was a relief to finally repent for my bitterness and ask God to help me turn my view outward. I made a decision to start with my Dad, Mom, sisters and brothers — the very ones who had gone so far out of their way to make past Valentine's Days special for me.

I wrote that article nine years ago. Back then, it felt like I'd made real progress. Celebrating Valentine's Day by focusing on others, rather than dreading and despising it, was a start. But I wonder what I would have done if I'd never gotten married. If all these years later, I was still limited to sending hearts and flowers to my parents and siblings.

I think my feelings of frustration and despair as a single woman on Valentine's Day came not only with wanting what I didn't have (a husband), but also with misunderstanding love. It's not primarily an emotion. But that's what Valentine's Day is all about as the world we live in celebrates it. It's about feeling wanted, desired, and being wooed, with decadent sweets and indulgent gifts. At root, it's about feeding our appetites. But that's not love at all.

Jesus said,

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:34-35).

That's good news because it removes the pressure to do Valentine's Day the way Victoria's Secret, Target, Dove and Hallmark say you should.

If I'm the source of the love I give, it's a pretty limited supply. But I'm not. Paul tells us in Ephesians 5:1-2 imitate God's love "as dearly loved children." We can love others because we have been intimately, infinitely loved the One who made us and knows our name. As believers, every day should be a day for loving others with the love we've received. I appreciate the extra reminder and opportunity to do it on February 14th. I'm thankful to be able to give to my husband, our children, and the people God has placed in our live. It's one of my favorite days. I still call it Thanksgiving.