Have you ever randomly been confronted about something you’ve been saying wrong for a long time but had no idea you were saying it wrong? Whether it’s adding an extra letter, pronouncing a word incorrectly, or getting an expression wrong altogether, you would be surprised at how frequently we use phrases incorrectly without a second thought. The reason we don’t notice it is because everyone is saying it wrong so we can’t know what’s right. For example, many people say “I could care less” when what they should be saying is “I couldn’t care less” because the former denotes that you at least care a tad while the latter implies that you don’t care at all, which is the intended point of the expression. Many aren’t aware of their inaccurate usage of the phrase, which signifies that they don’t really know what they are saying in the first place.
In a similar way, Christian dating culture contains several popular phrases and mindsets that we use that don’t make sense. Distorted, unbiblical, or just plain foolish phrases are normal to hear. We assume that since everyone is saying it or sharing it on social media then it must be true, which is not always the case. These expressions I am referring to muddy the waters of dating cultures, hurt people, and sometimes go so far as to blaspheme.
One of the biggest disservices you can do to a person in regard to dating is blame God for things not working out. When you use the dreaded “God told me…” excuse you run the risk of harming another person’s faith as they begin to wonder why God articulated something so clearly to you but completely left them out of the message. Even beyond that, you are providing no clarity to a person.
Chances are, you could articulate to your friends the exact reasons why you wanted to end things. But instead of properly communicating those reasons like a mature person, you used your apparent superior connection to God that you somehow possess as a scapegoat to avoid awkward conversations and confrontation.
Over spiritualization as a means to avoid conflict is an immature disservice that exhibits bad theology. Placing the blame on God to avoid responsibility and confrontational conversations is a practice I call “scapegoding” and it is venomous because it provides little to no clarity. It’s scapegoating but shifting the blame onto God. Communicate in gentleness and love what your actual reasonings for not wanting to get into something or for wanting to end things. The clarity may hurt but its sting lasts significantly shorter than an over spiritualized, confusing cop-out. In regards to breaking tough news, some ways are better than others, which is why word choice and tone should be carefully thought through. Perhaps not every reason ever needs to be listed, but rather just the major points; use discernment on what to include and how to include it.
The bold proclamation that the God who created the universe took the time to whisper into your ear that you should end things with somebody is a powerful claim and puts that person you are breaking up with in a really awkward position. Even if God does verbally instruct you to break up with someone – which is a possibility I suppose, even if I personally have never experienced it – it still is best to confess your reasons outside of God and be honest instead of misleading. Taking personal responsibility instead of blaming God shows maturity.
Realistically, there is a good chance you are interpreting your emotions and your uneasiness as being God talking to you. We become so confident in our emotions that we sometimes elevate the message we think our gut is telling us to a level reserved for God’s word, and that’s not okay. God’s Word is unwavering, unchanging, and infallible. Your feelings and emotions are the exact opposite. The best example of this is our self-diagnosis after an internet search on WebMD. I’ve been mentally convinced that my feelings and body were telling me my appendix ruptured when what they were actually telling me was that I had a little indigestion.
In scripture, God spoke personally with people like He did with Moses and Abraham, and He also spoke through prophets such as Malachi and Isaiah. God also spoke in unclear ways to guide people, like He did in Acts 13:2:
While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’
I describe this as “unclear” because it is unclear to us. Scripture doesn’t say how He said all that, it just says that He said it. To give a beyond the shadow of a doubt answer to the question of how He said that is unwise because we just don’t know because scripture does not spell it out for us.
I’ve never had God say something directly to me. When people say “God told me” I always want to ask them what kind of accent God has just because I’ve never heard an articulated voice to be able to know. I don’t want to limit God by saying it’s not possible but throughout scripture there really wasn’t a lot of examples of God getting down into the tiny details of the day saying “break up with Brad.” What we do see is people walking in obedience to the wisdom of what God has already said and God guiding them as they go.
The church in Acts adhered to scripture and walked in obedience. Hold your conclusions loosely and check them against scripture. When we hold our conclusions with the utmost confidence that God is the one explicitly communicating them, we run the risk of putting words in God’s mouth. In Deuteronomy 18:20-22 Moses lays out the Lord’s policy on false prophets:
But the prophet who presumes to speak a word in my name that I have not commanded him to speak, or who speaks in the name of other gods, that same prophet shall die.’ And if you say in your heart, ‘How may we know the word that the Lord has not spoken?’— when a prophet speaks in the name of the Lord, if the word does not come to pass or come true, that is a word that the Lord has not spoken; the prophet has spoken it presumptuously. You need not be afraid of him.
God takes His words seriously. In the same way that you don’t want someone saying that you said something when you didn’t, God commands for us to not say He said something if He didn’t. The consequence for doing so was historically severe in scripture.
If you believe God is trying to communicate to you through your feelings, perhaps change your phrasing when saying so.
A friend of mine went on a date with a girl that he had liked for a while. Things seemed to have gone great on their first date, only for him to tell me a week later that she did not have peace from God about the relationship, so things ended. In his mind, that was a good enough reason to end things, and since he couldn’t really be upset with God about it, he moved on without it really affecting him all that much. Months later, I heard the girl discussing with her friends about him, not in a gossiping way, but in an honest way, talking about some stuff from their date. She described some of the things he did as being weird, but from my understanding, she never articulated that to him. Her conclusion that she “just didn’t have peace about the relationship” was a vague cover up for the fact that she had actual reasons for not wanting to continue things, but instead of providing that clarity she provided a politician response.
Much like “God told me”, saying I just don’t have peace from God about this is oftentimes a “scapegod” term used to spare someone’s feelings and shift the blame onto their apparent deeper communicating connection with God (and God Himself) to avoid uncomfortable conversations and confrontations. If you truly are uneasy about a relationship, why don’t you just say that to the other person and vocalize your disinterest rather than concluding that if God wanted you to make this decision He would steady your heartbeat and regulate your breathing?
There very well could have been an uneasiness in a person’s stomach about the relationship. But who is to say an uneasiness is the basis for something being wrong? Roller coasters are a prime example. At King’s Dominion in Virginia there is a Dale Earnhardt-themed ride called Intimidator 305, which could not be more appropriately named. You can hear the screams. You hear the stories of people blacking out as they go down. To say the least, you’re intimidated. After riding it for the first time, my brother Alden had a paralyzing stare and just kept saying “305-foot drop” repeatedly as we walked back to the car. The nerves we felt beforehand and the uneasiness in our stomach were natural. Nerves are not necessarily a sign from God that something should not happen.
A bride and groom are nervous on their wedding day but that doesn’t mean the groom should leave the bride hanging at the altar. If that feeling of uneasiness is prolonged for an extensive period of time then there may be some legitimacy to that claim, but you should look to the root of why there is excessive uneasiness. I’m not entirely discrediting the telling nature of uneasiness, as I have ended relationships in the past because of that uneasiness I just could not shake, but usually there is something to point to for the cause of that uneasiness.
If you don’t like somebody, just tell them that. No matter what your reasoning is. If there just isn’t a click between the two of you, even if it is just one-sided, then you need to articulate that to them in person. It may sting to be told that someone does not like you back for whatever reason or maybe even for a reason you actually can’t articulate, but that’s a lot better than blaming the subjective butterflies in your stomach and your lack of sleep on God. If it’s a genuine fault in their character, by telling them what it is you give them something to work on
A Bible abiding believer would wisely raise an eyebrow of concern at the sight of this section’s title. We are constantly encouraged from the pulpit, from mentors, songs, and scripture itself to pray, which I totally agree with. Prayer, much like sleep, is constantly the thing we always attest to feeling the vibrant need for but can never seem to fully get enough of. Praying can become problematic if we start to use the fact that we prayed as God’s stamp of approval on how we feel post-prayer. I feel as though a fair deal of manipulation can come from brandishing the fact that you prayed about something in order to get your way. We pray and pray over a decision and then have the nerve to put the authority of God on the conclusion we come to.
Every now and then you’ll encounter someone who insists on praying about whether to continue going out with someone or to go out with them in the first place. At first glance, this seems like a sign of spiritual maturity, which it surely can be. But what happens when they had a great time yet went back to their room, prayed about things and overthought every little detail only to come the conclusion that since they don’t have peace – that saying chimes up yet again – then God must be answering their prayers by not having something miraculous happen to say contrary to their feelings? We can overthink and overanalyze ourselves out of even the best things for us.
This is not to say that we should not pray about relationships. Part of the careful consideration of a person is bringing this person before the Lord in prayer and asking for His will to be done in their life and yours, all while begging for wisdom and eyes to notice things that are amiss. What I am not for is confusing our overthinking for being God’s articulation and weaponizing prayer for the purpose of turning down someone.
My disdain for this phrase is rooted primarily in four separate factors: the frequency for someone to seemingly change their stance soon after, a mistrust in the phrase’s sincerity due to overuse and inaction, a fundamental misunderstanding of where growth can occur, and a delusional expectancy to fully arrive at readiness at any point.
Few things cut right to the core more than when someone tells you that they wanted to work on their relationship with the Lord and then seeing them going out with someone very soon after. By very soon I’m not talking three months or a year, I’m talking about later in the same month or the very next week. If all it takes for you to miraculously grow in your relationship with the Lord is a week, I am almost positive that most reasonable people are willing to wait that long. Look, just be honest with someone if you are not interested in them. Don’t try to dodge the awkwardness of actually saying you’re not interested by cloaking it in Christian lingo. They are not entitled to a date but the decent human thing to do would be not to pretend like you have a righteous reason and instead just tell them the real reason. “Honesty is the best policy” is definitely a cliché, but it’s always the best route to go.
Second, while it may be a legitimate reason for some, I have found through conversations and surveys that many people will say that they want to work on their relationship with God, but then will do nothing to promote growth. There’s no additional time devoted to prayer or reading scripture, no fasting, or anything of the sort. They simply misled you by telling you that they previously valued another relationship but with their actions they communicated that they only value it on paper and not in practicality. This dishonesty turns a legitimate reason into an insincere way to spare feelings. If anything, telling someone that you want to work on your relationship with the Lord only to not actually work on that relationship shows that you actually do need work. Too bad no work is actually being done.
Third, the notion that the only place where a person can grow is in singleness or isolation is silly because it is not as if growth becomes stagnant once a person starts dating or gets married. Singleness is not the sole arena that someone can grow in their walk with God in. as Those in a relationship, married or otherwise, can grow as well. Part of the reason the Bible carries such a strong emphasis on community is because of the way being around godly influences molds and transforms you. If someone were to say to a congregation “sorry guys, I can’t go to church anymore because I’m trying to grow closer in my walk with Christ” we would all give them puzzled looks because God wants you to grow both individually and in community. We were not meant to be islands and growth does not only occur in isolation.
Paul doesn’t shy away from acknowledging that married people have divided interests (1 Cor 7:34). Those who are not built on a firm foundation may find themselves neglecting their God-interest because of their concern for their spousal-interest. Individuals in relationships are tasked with more responsibility to which they must attend, all the while prioritizing God and honoring Him for His glorification with those responsibilities. They may not be as free from the anxieties of worldly things as a single person is, but that does not mean that they cannot still grow in or glorify God while in their relationship.
Lastly, my opposition to this phrase comes from people’s assumption that by working on one’s foundation with the Lord in their singleness that somehow that will completely ready them for relationships. On one hand, it is extremely wise to build up a strong foundation on the Lord before dating, and I would advise doing so. God is to be the priority no matter what state of life you are in; both your singleness and your relationships should be leveraged towards honoring and glorifying Him.
But on the other hand you need to realize that it’s not like the microwave beeper is going to go off and suddenly you are fully prepared for everything a relationship is going to throw at you. You will never reach the full, perfect capacity of what you need to be as a part of a relationship. No one has ever reached that elusive peak. Married people aren’t even fully ready for marriage. But relationships themselves have the potential to grow you closer towards being what you should be, even though you will never fully arrive. As I elaborated on earlier, growth is not limited to singleness. Some lessons are only learned from experience.
In the last few years, I have grown in my appreciation for mixed martial arts. These fighters are some of the most disciplined, athletic, and poised wrecking machines in the world, who could knock or tap me out before I even knew the bell had rung. Over years of training and studying, mixed martial artists learn how and where to kick, the proper application of submissions, how to grapple, and all the complexities of fighting but there are some things that they simply cannot discover or learn how to do properly without getting in the octagon or on the grappling mat themselves. Through diligent studying and learning from those who have trained before them, they build up a good foundation for what they need to do before they ever put on the gloves, but there is opportunity to learn and grow inside the octagon just like there is outside of it.
My advice to you is to build a solid foundation before getting into relationships. God is to be the priority, which stands as truth regardless of where you go or what you are doing. But realize that relationships offer the possibility for growth just like singleness does, and you will never fully get to a place of being fully ready for a relationship, even with all of the foundation building in the world. I would hate to see you continuously not pursue a godly woman or not say yes to a godly man because you feel as though you need to reach some magical place that you can never actually reach.
Landen Swain is a writer, playwright, lyrist, poet, and aspiring author who is currently trying to get a book on Christian Dating Culture published. Since October of 2020, Swain has been building up a platform on TikTok and Instagram (@detoxchristiandating) in an effort to spread the word about the book and start conversations about Christian Dating Culture. You can contact him through the DMs of either one of those platforms.