He saw her across the Student Center at Freshmen Orientation. Long dark hair, rich laugh and quick smile – he was smitten. She stood out from all the other freshmen girls and he simply had to get to know her. In the following months, he became friends with her friends, spent time with her in groups and after two months finally worked up the courage to ask her out. She said no. He backed off, but never gave up. He showed up at her dance recitals, brought flowers to every performance, started attending her church, and ate lunch near her as often as he could. Then, one long, lonely summer when all of their mutual friends were out of town, the smitten boy and uninterested girl fell in love. Two years later, she said ‘I do,’ making him feel like the luckiest man alive.*
He first saw her at church. And, as luck would have it, they ended up in the same Small Group. She had glossy blond hair, sparkling blue eyes and was genuinely nice to everyone around her. After meeting her, no other girls existed for him. He friended her on all the social media sites, tracked down her number from Facebook and being actively texting and calling her. He tried numerous times to get her alone after church so they could have deep meaningful conversation. He became friends with all her friends so he could hang out with her on the weekend. Fast-forward eighteen months, she has changed her phone number, stopped attending that church and filed a restraining order against him.*
Both guys were smitten with a girl, both guys pursued the girl, but one guy got a wife and the other got a restraining order… the only difference being that one girl liked him back while the other didn’t return his affection.
Romantic Pursuit or Stalker Behavior?
Hollywood produces romantic comedy after romantic drama telling men that if they make a grand gesture, no matter how inappropriate – crashing her wedding, stealing her planner, showing up unannounced at her place of work – they will get the girl. “The Hollywood formula could be called boy wants girl, girl doesn’t want boy, boy harasses girl, boy gets girl.” (The Gift of Fear, pg. 206) Movies teach girls that crazy, unstoppable pursuit equals true love. But as Gavin de Becker, the nation’s leading expert on violent behavior says, “Persistence only proves persistence – it does not prove love. The fact that a romantic pursuer is relentless doesn’t always mean you are special – sometimes it means he is troubled.” And, I would add, in churches across America it often means that he hasn’t been taught Biblical manhood or godly pursuit. Which also means he doesn’t know how to be a spiritual leader and protector for his future family.It is a sad reality that in the majority of churches across America, there are girls that feel very uncomfortable or even threatened around certain guys that attend the same Sunday School Class, Small Group or Bible Study. Some of the guys are actual predators, while many of them are just ignorant of appropriate pursuit behavior. Either way, they are not being held to the standard of godly behavior in romantic relationships.
I’ll admit, the whole pursuit thing is wildly confusing. It seems, in current society, the only difference between a romantic love story and the plot of a TV crime show is whether or not the girl likes the guy back. And the Christian community really hasn’t taken a strong stand on the issue of godly pursuit – providing clear examples of God-honoring behavior. It’s easy to see why Christian guys are confused. In an effort not to appear creepy or stalkerish, many guys in church college and single’s ministries have given up pursuing girls altogether. But that isn’t the answer!
It is godly and right for men to pursue women
God intentionally designed men to pursue women. A man’s pursuit of woman directly reflects Christ’s pursuit of and provision for his bride, (Eph. 5:25-32). Jesus pursued us, (1 John 4:19) Jesus made the provision for us to have a relationship with him, (Is. 53:5). His love is unconditional and unfailing, (Rom. 8:38-39). That Divine Pursuit is what male/female love and marriage is to be patterned after – because gender is a picture of the gospel to a lost world.
Biblical guidelines for life also apply in romance
- Godly pursuit is honest, founded in integrity.
“Uh, hi, I’m Blake.” The young college guy twisted his hands nervously, but never broke eye contact. “And I am super nervous to talk to you. But I’ve seen you around church and I am really impressed with your servant heart in working with the children’s ministry. And I think you are really pretty. I promised myself that I would come talk to you the next time I saw you, no matter how nervous I was. So here I am. Totally nervous, but I’d still really like to get to know you. So maybe in the next couple of weeks we could get our friends together and go out to eat after church in a non-weird, no-pressure environment?”*
While Blake wasn’t smooth in his delivery, he charmed the heart of the girl by his honest and open declaration of interest. He made his feelings known and faced the possibility of rejection. His courage was rewarded with a date. Sadly, this is not the story I normally hear from girls in single’s and college ministries. More often than not, Christian guys avoid rejection by tricking the girl into spending time with him under false pretenses or manipulating her into a date she never agreed to go on. I can’t tell you how many girls have told me, “he won’t stop texting and facebooking me – but he has never asked me out… so I don’t know what to do.” The current ‘hanging out’ trend is often used by guys to enjoy the personal attention of a girl without putting himself out there, making himself accountable for his actions or protecting her…. because they are “just hanging out.” This is the exact opposite of the godly character that is praised in Proverbs. The young man is encouraged to pursue wisdom and live in integrity in everything he does (Prov. 10:9-10; 11:1-6).
1 Corinthians 13 – the love chapter – is frequently read at weddings, and while it applies to love between a man and wife, it also applies to platonic love between two believers. A guy pursuing a girl should demonstrate the love of Christ through patience (not pushing her into anything before she is ready), kindness (being considerate to her needs), not in jealousy or boasting (not acting like you have a claim on her when you don’t), not arrogance or rudeness (if she says no or after things end), by not insisting on his own way (take charge, but listen to her), by not being irritable or resentful (if she says no or not now), and not rejoicing in wrongdoing (by using deceit or manipulation to spend time with her). Honestly and integrity will not always get the girl, but it will always honor God and in His perfect timing, the right girl will respond to such an open display of godly character.
- Godly pursuit cherishes the girl, primarily by protecting her.
“I have a favor to ask.” I looked up from studying as a fellow RA walked into the corner of the library where I had set up camp. He and I had been friends for over a year, but he’d never asked for a favor before. I was intrigued. “I really, really like one of the girls on your hall. But I know she is young and hasn’t really dated before. I am impressed with everything about her and think this could be serious. But she is so innocent – I want to guard that, even from my feelings and desires. Would you and your boyfriend be…chaperon’s for our first date? And maybe for the first few dates – until she is comfortable and she is ready for me to talk to her parents? Having you two there would make things less intense at the beginning and hold me accountable so I don’t move too fast. I’m not going to ask her out until I have accountability in place. What do you say?”*
Not only did I say yes, but my respect for him deepened greatly. He set a powerful example of cherishing a girl by protecting her reputation, her innocence and her heart. When we hear “protect” in regards to relationships, most people immediately think of the muscle-bound, stereotypical bodyguard. But godly protection has very little to do with physical strength, and everything to do with spiritual maturity. God calls his men to something far greater than just a bodyguard: he calls men to be the protector of her mind, body and emotions from slander, misinterpretation, himself, and even her own desires. This will look different for each couple (or potential couple), but it can always be summed up by Ephesians 5:3, “Let there be no sexual immorality, impurity, or greed among you. Such sins have no place among God’s people.” This may mean setting a curfew, limiting time alone, establishing accountability, not talking about marriage too soon, or keeping phone calls short until some type of commitment has been determined.
The time of pursuit is laying the foundation for future marriage, either with this person or someone else. The standard of cherishing and protection in marriage is Christ himself. “Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her, that he might sanctify her, having cleansed her by the washing of water with the word… in the same way husbands should love their wives as their own bodies. He who loves his wife loves himself. For no one ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and cherishes it, just as Christ does the church.” (Eph. 5: 25-33) There is no magic married man switch, that transforms an immature boy into a godly man on his wedding day. The guy should be cultivating godly character before he meets the girl, during his pursuit of her and throughout their relationship. And the church should be doing everything possible to mentor these immature and untaught guys in godly pursuit behavior. After all, these are the future families that will make up our churches.
Biblical guidelines for romance should be enforced by all believers
Single Females: Decide now to accept nothing less than godly pursuit. Choose to send clear signals to Christian guys, drawing an obvious line between appropriate godly pursuit and inappropriate behavior – even if you like the guy. (And hopefully, allow his lack of character in this area to change your opinion of him).
Single Males: Choose today to be a man of integrity and a protector of girl’s hearts. This means practicing godly pursuit when a girl catches your interest and not encouraging girls that don’t. It also means holding your peers accountable in how they treat your sisters in Christ.
Married Females: There are a shocking number of girls in the church who have no one to offer a voice of wisdom about relationships. Please step up! Be a mentor to the girls in your church, so that another generation of females don’t walk out the church doors saying, “if only someone had told me…”
Married Males: There are some predatory men, even in our churches, who will take advantage of innocent girls – please, please step up and protect the girls! But there are also a great deal of ignorant boys, without a godly father figure who have simply never been taught God’s plan for romance and marriage. They need mentors, teachers and examples to step into their lives and challenge them to become godly men.
As Christians, let us take a stand in how romance is pursued in the church, that there would be a marked difference between those who call Christ Lord and those who don’t. Let us stun the world with a breathtaking picture of Christ and his church, depicted in our godly relationships.
* All stories used with permission, names changed to protect privacy.