(Part 4 of 4)
In some cultures (like mine), you are faced with two extremes as you mature. First, “Don’t date or even look at boys until you’re old enough for marriage.” Second, “Why aren’t you married yet? What are you waiting for?” There was no transition time in between the two. Dating somehow disappeared between you’re interested in someone and asking for the family’s blessing for marriage. Pursuing someone was hush-hush, and you only knew a couple was together when they announced their engagement. Maybe that's because dating was perceived negatively, but there is definitely a healthy and Christian way to date, or court [be involved with romantically, typically with the intention of marrying], as some like to call it.
When I was younger I always imagined my life to play out like this: Finish college, land a great job, make some money and use it to travel the world. Then sometime in my late 20’s I would settle down, get married, and eventually have kids. Boy, was I wrong.
Have you ever heard that saying, “We plan and God laughs.” Well, that's exactly how I felt when my perfect plan got all jumbled up when I started dating a man who later became my husband. I met Mina (who is now Fr. Antony) my freshman year at NJIT. We started dating, or as he likes to call it, courting, after he graduated from NJIT. He was very intentional from day one, and made it very clear that the whole purpose of us getting to know each other was for the purpose of marriage. His frankness was a breath of fresh air in comparison to all the uncertainty that could come with dating.
If you knew Fr. Antony when he was in college you’d know he was a complete introvert, very different from the vibrant extrovert he is now. My friends and I had a nickname for him, behind his back of course, we called him “peaceful Mina.” He had a certain calm demeanor that drew you to him. Whenever we would be sitting down in groups around the campus center he would always start some kind of spiritual conversation. He would share a nice spiritual book he was reading, or talk about church services, overall they were fruitful discussions. Something really attracted me to him, maybe it was his leadership qualities that I wanted in a husband and father to my future kids. His kindness and gentle spirit were great attributes that I admired.
Our timeline wasn’t your typical timeline. We started seeing each other when I was still a senior in college, he had just started a full-time masters degree in theology. Both of us were only working part-time or interning, but that did not matter. After about a year of dating, then a year of engagement, we found ourselves in marriage bliss. I was 22 and he was 23. Two youngins who had no idea what the heck they were doing, but so excited for what God had in store for them. Looking back on it, God sure took us for a wild ride those first couple of years of marriage (and He still is).
What are you looking for in a partner? Good looks that are fading? A sense of humor that might grow dull? Or wealth and status that can be gone in a split second? Look for a man that can help lead you and your children to the kingdom.
Put God in the center of your marriage. In a country where the divorce rate is very high you have a difficult time making it if you do not invite God to be the pivotal point of your relationship. Understand what St. Paul preaches in 1 Corinthians 13 and you’ll be on the right track.
Many people asked us how we were so sure of this big commitment we were taking at such a young age. As much as I would like to just say, “when you know, you know.” The answer is a much more elaborate one.
First, we prayed about it, a lot. We sought guidance from our fathers of confession, people who knew us sometimes better than we knew ourselves. We were open with our parents and family and had their blessing along the way. We talked to our mentors who had way more years of experience under their belt. We listened to every Orthodox talk you could find on dating and marriage, and even took an engagement class offered by the church. Most importantly, we put God in the center of our relationship and watched Him do wonders with us. St. John Chrysostom says, “When husband and wife are united in marriage they no longer seem like something earthly, but rather like the image of God Himself.” Don’t forget that marriage is a wonderful sacrament, full of mystery, and ultimately should reflect God’s image. St. John also says, “Marriage is the sacrament of love.”
From the moment we got together to the moment we walked down the aisle to the altar of our holy matrimony, I had one constant prayer. I always pleaded, “God if this is not your will please take it away.” By asking for “God’s will” I was asking for the best partner I could have in my journey that would lead me to Him (I do believe there could be more than one person that could fulfill this, but that’s besides the point). As hard as that ultimatum would have been, it would have been much worse if I stayed in a relationship that was not meant for me.
Whatever stage you are in right now. Whether you are seeing someone, about to get married, or praying for the right person to come along. First and foremost, you have to truly seek Him.
“For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope. Then you will call upon Me and go and pray to Me, and I will listen to you. And you will seek Me and find Me, when you search for Me with all your heart.” (Jeremiah 29: 11-13)
The way God answers everyone’s prayer is different. To some, He will close doors, and place obstacles not meant to be overcome. To some, He will make the journey easy to navigate. He speaks to us in many different ways, and this is where a strong relationship with Him is crucial, so you can identify His voice when He speaks.
“My sheep hear My voice, and I know them, and they follow Me.” (John 10:27)
Know Him. Trust Him. Trust in His perfect timing. Put Him as the center of your relationship, and everything will beautifully unfold as He meant it to.
To wrap up this four-part series, remember that whether you’re a virgin, or have slept with someone and have repented, you can still have a great sex life. Whether you are single for years or decades, you can still end up in a beautiful relationship. Whether you’ve never dated before, or if you’ve dated plenty of guys and were in sinful relationships and have repented, you can still have a great marriage. By God’s grace anything is possible.
“Delight yourself also in the Lord,
And He shall give you the desires of your heart.” (Psalm 37:4)
Here are a few resources that might interest you about this topic:
This is the fourth post in a four part series about purity & relationships.
Part 2 - Purity Isn't Just Virginity
Part 3 - Embracing Singleness