If you’re reading this letter, it means that you’ve filled my heart and soul with joy; it means that you exist. If you’re reading this letter, it means that God has blessed me with the privileged responsibility of raising you, cherishing you, training you, preparing you. If you’re reading this letter, it means that you’re facing your first relationship, it probably means that you’re tearfully facing your first conflict in that first relationship, and it means that you’ve come let me cry with you.
I remember, my darling daughter. I remember the soul-wrenching questions of tottering through a relationship, wondering “is this it?” and “is this right?” and “is this the one?”. I remember sobbing into the phone, begging my mom to just tell me what to do and who to marry. I remember the jolting crash of angst-filled conflict after the soaring glory of a blissful date. I remember the agony of breaking up because it wasn’t right. I remember the startling joy of knowing it was right. I remember. I remember all too vividly. All too painfully. All too joyfully.
My mom was right, though, and I’m going to echo her words: I can’t tell you what to do. Yes, as annoying as it was when she said it, she was right. “It’s your life, your decision; you must make up your own mind.” (Yup. You can be annoyed at me for saying that, too: it seems only fair to let it come full circle!)
Relationships weren’t easy for me. There was the college classmate who fell in love with me before our first date (let’s just say that date never did happen). There was the guy I scared away after our second date (I never did fully figure out why he disappeared so fast). There was the guy who broke my heart when he found a new girlfriend and tossed me aside (I can’t describe the agony). And then? Then came your dad. He stood in such stark contrast to all the duds, I knew he was the right dude. (Poor word-play, you say? Okay, okay. But come on and admit it: you giggled!)
We’ve been married less than three years as I write this, but we’ve already walked an international move, two years of depression, a six week hospitalization, and all the “big” events have been compounded by the everyday challenges in between. But you know what, daughter? I’m glad I married him.
So how does all this help you, as you walk your first relationship? I challenge you, dear one, to ask yourself six questions. Maybe it’ll help? At least a little?
Is he a man worth marrying?
1. Listen: Does he listen to you — not just hear your words, but listen to your heart?
I dated a guy once who loved to hear himself talk and didn’t take the time to really hear what I had to say. Your dad, though? He has the uncanny ability to hear what I am saying, filter it through everything I’ve said before, and come to a conclusion before I finish my monologue! And the crazy part? He’s usually right! Dear one, I pray that you find a man who listens to your heart, fills in the gaps of your words with his extensive knowledge of you, and loves hearing you share your heart.
2. Respect: Does your opinion matter?
The guy I thought I was going to marry liked to contradict me, minimize my opinion, and move forward despite my hesitation. Oh, darling, that was so unhealthy! I see that now though I definitely didn’t see it then. My husband, though? He values me, esteems my opinion, and respects who I am as a person, as his wife, as his helper.
3. God: Is God someone he talks about or someone he talks to? Is Scripture what he reads or a truth that he lives?
All too often, humans in Christian circles like to walk the walk and talk the talk, but fail to live the Truth. I distinctly remember the moment that I heard my John muse on the application of Scripture to life in a way that was real, vibrant, and very — VERY! — practical. He wasn’t just going through the motions, he was actively living in a Christ-like way.
4. Family: When family questions the relationship, does he rationalize away their concerns or respectfully back away?
Let’s face it, darling girl: you’re a very treasured jewel in our family crown. The guy you marry should be Gilbert Blythe, Mr. Darcy, Mr. Knightly, and Paul the Apostle all rolled into one perfectly packaged man. But, since such a level of perfection does not exist on this side of fairy tales, he will at least need to fill the very large shoes your parents have set out for him.
The day that my John stopped talking to me (for three months!) because my parents had expressed a concern about our relationship was the day that I knew he was a man I could someday marry. In deference to the authority God had placed in my life, my now-husband decided honoring God by honoring my parents was more important than the fun of pursuing a relationship. Oh, darling, those three months were agony, but God used that season to solder my respect for John, my understanding of relationships, and my relationship with my parents.
5. Learn: Can he learn? Will he change as necessary?
A beautiful and painful reality of marriage (and life and earth) is the inherent sinfulness we battle every single day. Coupled with the unique challenges of each new phase of life, sin’s presence in marriage is an unavoidable reality. But when faced with Truth, will this man learn and grow and change as necessary?
6. Sickness: When you’re sick, does he run away or stick close?
I literally remember a time when I got sick, was sniffling on the couch at my parent’s house, and my then-boyfriend refused to come see me. My darling, can I tell you how your dad reacted when I landed in the hospital for six weeks? He held my hair while I vomited, held me close while I writhed in pain, waited long hours in my hospital room during surgery after surgery, and helped me in the bathroom when I couldn’t even take care of basic necessities. Wedding vows are for sickness and health for a reason: it ain’t pretty, but it’s absolutely beautiful to rely fully on another human who loves you despite it all.
One more question, my daughter: how would your man answer these questions about you? He might be the right man, but are you ready to be the right woman for him?
I love you, darling daughter-who-doesn’t-yet-exist.