The Length of Courtship (Zacharias T. Fomum)
There is a time that elapses between that moment when the two parties have made a total commitment to each other to become helpers fit for each other,
and the day when they appear before the legal authorities and the people of God and are declared husband and wife. I call that time the time of courtship.
That time is of such far-reaching importance that it must be handled well, so that the future may be a continued blessing. The fact that things have been well-handled so far should encourage the parties to press on in the fear of the Lord, fully assured that He has the best in store for them.
LENGTH OF COURTSHIP
I suggest from hard-earned experience both from my own life and from very many cases which I have had to counsel in different parts of the world and especially in the Clinic for Spiritual Diseases, that the courtship should be short. A few months are enough. There are many reasons for this.
The first reason for this is that there is temptation to fall into the sins of:
- impure thoughts,
- impure touches,
- impure embraces,
- impure kisses, and the worst could happen,
Because the believer must be pure in thought, word and deed, any impure thoughts and actions are tragic. They ruin the relationship with God and with each other (I shall come back to this point later on). The commitment to each other raises the desire to have the relationship consummated in sexual union. To make the commitment and then wait for years is tempting each other. No one is too strong to fall at least into the sin of impure thoughts, and this ruins the relationship with the Lord of holiness who demands holiness from within.
The second reason why the period of courtship must be brief is that the two people may grow apart. At the moment of mutual commitment to each other they may indeed be compatible, but over the many months and years, they may so grow in very different directions that they become unsuitable for each other, but they are held together by their commitment to each other which honour compels them to keep, even when the relationship has ceased to be a joy.
Take, for example, a young man and a young woman of the same degree of spiritual maturity and commitment to the Lord. They are engaged, but they do not marry. They boy leaves the country and goes to another country where the spiritual climate is different. His spiritual growth rate is greatly reduced. The girl continues to grow steadily in the Lord. Her relationship with the Lord grows deeper and deeper, and she is increasingly delivered from all sin and the love of the world. After three years, they meet again. They are engaged. They have to get married. There is no spiritual compatibility anymore. It is a kind of marriage between the eagle and the chicken. She knows that it will not work, but she had given her word, and as a person of honour she feels that having given her word, she must suffer the consequences by keeping her promise. This is not a blessing.
Take another example. The parties part. At the time of parting as fiancé and fiancée, the boy had ‘A’ levels and the girl had ‘O’ levels. The boy goes abroad. After seven years he comes back with a doctorate’s degree. The girl has not made much progress. She has been a nursing aid in a small hospital. They meet after seven years. They are almost strangers to each other. They are intellectually incompatible. Their social experience is very different. They are incompatible. The boy has met another girl abroad. He loves her deeply. They are totally compatible, but he cannot marry her because he must keep his promise and marry the girl he left back home. They get married, but they will not be fulfilled. There are barriers to spiritual fellowship and social union.
The third reason why I strongly discourage long courtships is that they are time-consuming. The Christian is at war. He is fighting against Satan and his army. He is called upon to redeem the time. Courtship is very costly time-wise and, also to some extent, it is financially costly. Let us take the matter of time first. The time that lovers spend together very often cannot really be justified in the light of all that needs to be done in the Kingdom of God. Even when the parties are disciplined, there will always be time that is spent together which any honest evaluation must describe as wasted. When the parties are separated, there is the time that is wasted in writing so many letters, time that could better have been put into the work of the Kingdom of God. Sometimes there are misunderstandings that take time to make up, and because the lovers feel a fresh touch of love when quarrels have been made up, they tend to be more in love and, therefore, waste more time together. For people who do not see the reality of the battle into which a Christian is born and grows, what I am saying will sound like nonsense, but those who see it know that I am talking about an important issue. So, when you calculate the time put into each other in a week, which may be three visits each lasting two hours, and multiply it by fifty-two weeks, you will find out that 312 hours have been wasted. If this goes on for five years, then that becomes 1,560 hours. Can you imagine the waste? Can you imagine what great things could have been done for God with that time? Apart from the time that is spent together, is the time that is spent alone dreaming of each other, or talking to people about each other. You cannot have abandoned, surrendered your all to purchase Christ, the Pearl of great value, and then waste His time in this way without realizing that you are sinning.
The fourth reason why long courtships must be discouraged is the financial costs involved. Can you imagine the money that is invested by lovers on the art of courting? Can you imagine the money that one person spends on air tickets flying from one continent to the other just to see the beloved? Can you think of all the taxi fares? Can you work out the cost of all the gifts? Can you work out the cost of all the things that a lover has to buy for himself or for herself in order to be especially pleasing to the one he loves? Can these expenditures by a disciple be justified in the light of the great commission of the Lord and the world’s millions who are without the gospel witness, partly because of limited finances?
The fifth reason for which long courtships are not advised is the emotional waste. Courtship is often carried out at a high emotional gear. This emotional energy that is invested on a girl or boy for years could have been better invested on the Lord Jesus and the work of winning the lost.
The last reason why I discourage long courtships is that they limit social development. When a person is engaged, his capacity to interact with people of the opposite sex is necessarily limited. There is a lot that can be learned from wholesome and free interaction with members of the opposite sex. If you are engaged at 20 to be married at 27, you have 7 years in a cage and some of what you would have learnt is lost permanently.
One final thought: What if the whole thing fails after all these years of focusing on one person who never becomes your partner?
In view of these reasons, I strongly recommend that all people who are not thinking of getting married in the near future should refuse to be committed to anybody in particular. They should enjoy the company of the opposite sex in a general way, guard their hearts and invest their all into loving the Lord and doing the work of the Kingdom. They will surely be greatly rewarded for this when the Lord comes, and even in this life, when they get married, they will be more richly blessed