I want it that way
When I was a teenager, if someone asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up I’d say matter-of-factly, “I want to be a mom.” Getting married and becoming a mother has been a dream of mine for as long as I can remember. To have a family of my own, start new traditions for the holidays, and build a home that’s filled with love…that was my dream. I couldn’t wait to be a real adult and have that kind of life!
It’s easy to get impatient and frustrated when your real life doesn’t line up according to the fantasy timeline you had imagined. I planned to be engaged in my last year of undergrad, get married the summer I graduated, and start having kids a year later. My parents got married in their early twenties, same with my older sister and her husband, so I thought I should follow in their footsteps and be married by then too.
My intensity scared someone off
I never really considered myself to be a patient person. I was often stuck in dwelling on the future, thinking ahead to the more enjoyable thing, the big event, or the next life stage. As a kid I had countdowns for Christmas Day and eagerly awaited the start of summer camp. I almost skipped grade 8 because I wanted to get to high school sooner. I checked my watch constantly those last few weeks of work before I moved away for university. I just wanted to get out of my small hometown and start something new, bigger, and better!
The same thing happened with relationships. I was impatient and often thinking about who might be “the one.” I have kept journals since I was young, and I recently re-discovered one from my pre-teen years. I wrote about boys a lot! I was a lonely kid, just searching for love in all these boys who showed the slightest bit of interest in me. It was an emotional rollercoaster.
I started liking guys more seriously in high school, and had my first boyfriend in grade 11. This was a real relationship, not a middle-school fling. I think I got overly excited about him. I went too deep too fast, and after we graduated high school I continued dreaming about our future together. It ended up pushing him away, because he wasn’t ready to start talking about marriage yet. We were only 19! After we broke up, I saw our relationship more clearly. At that age we were still figuring ourselves out, and we were definitely not mature enough to be considering marriage. Our relationship was actually quite unhealthy, but that’s a whole other story!
Patience in dating
After growing as a person, healing from that past relationship, and working on my relationship with God, I started dating someone else in my second year of university. I and this boyfriend talked about marriage a bit, but knew that we wouldn’t be getting married until after we were finished school. He even wanted to have a steady job and be working for a year or so before he got married. That was respectable, for sure. But it wasn’t matching up with that timeline I had for my life as an adult.
So our dating period was longer than I anticipated. I didn’t know I’d be doing a Masters (which meant 2 more years of school for me), and that the guy I was dating was not ready to get married until he was at least 25. So, we dated for 5 years (3 of them long-distance), were engaged for 14 months, and (finally!) got married when we were 25 years old. In hindsight, this timing was way better for us. But while we were dating and not yet engaged, and when we were setting a date for our wedding, my impatience and anxiety over the situation was definitely there.
The waiting came in different forms throughout my young adult years. I was waiting for more in our dating relationship, wanting that next step. I was often wondering, “When are we going to get engaged?” We felt pressure from others to get married, even in the small jokes and comments people made, or whenever someone asked him when he was planning on popping the question. We both knew we wanted to get married, it was just a matter of time. It was especially difficult when other close friends around me, who were a similar age, started getting engaged and married before me. Comparison quickly discouraged me. A piece of advice: don’t compare your story with someone else’s. Everyone is different. There are so many factors involved, and just because other people are experiencing something or moving on to the next life stage by a certain age, it doesn’t mean you need to as well.
Another kind of waiting in romantic relationships was the physical kind. That was another major challenge for me, which included a lot of conversation, prayer, accountability, forgiveness, and grace. I knew intellectually that God’s design for sexual intimacy was to be reserved for the confines of a committed marriage, but my emotions would sometimes consume me with other ideas. The temptation to experience sex or engage in sexual content before marriage is strong, and it’s something a lot of Christians struggle with in their dating relationships. Honestly, God wants what’s best for us and he knows how to protect us and our hearts. The best things in life are worth waiting for, and this is no exception.
There were some tearful conversations and frustrating seasons over these past few years when it came to my relationship with my now husband, but God has brought us through it. Instead of wanting to control the situation and get things my way, I started entrusting my future into God’s hands, and that included my timeline of if/when I would get married and have kids. Right now it’s just the two of us. We don’t have kids yet, and we’re taking some time to adjust to married life. But our ideas of the timeline for that are different too (I bet you can guess who wants kids earlier!).
Just because other people are experiencing something or moving on to the next life stage by a certain age, it doesn’t mean you need to as well.
Partnering with the Holy Spirit: A practice in patience with sexual purity
If you want to grow in your patience when it comes to dating, romance, or sex, you can use the model of partnering with the Holy Spirit. The 3 Rs (Recognize, Remember, and Respond) can help guide you into recognizing how God is working in your life, remembering the gospel, and responding in faith and obedience.
Who is the Holy Spirit? The Holy Spirit is one person of the Trinity, along with God the Father and the Son, Jesus. He works in many (mysterious) ways and has many functions. In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is referred to as a counselor or helper (John 14:16-19), who intercedes on our behalf (Romans 8:26). He convicts us of sin (John 16:8-11), guides us (John 16:13), gives us new life (Romans 8:10-11), empowers us (Acts 1:8) and gives us gifts to serve God and others (1 Corinthians 12:4-7). By partnering with the Holy Spirit, you are being molded into someone who looks more like Jesus.
Let’s apply partnering with the Holy Spirit in romantic relationships in the context of sexual purity.
First, I recognize how the Holy Spirit is working. This often is reflected in feeling convicted that something isn’t quite right about my physical boundaries with my boyfriend. I may recognize that I feel increasing temptation to be physically intimate or move closer to sex when we’re home alone. The simple fact of recognizing this is evidence of God’s Spirit working in me. I could just ignore and shrug off those feelings when they come, or wallow in guilt from them. Or I can agree with what God is trying to speak to me, and recognize that as I willfully enter tempting environments, I sin when I pursue sexual intimacy before marriage and live outside the boundaries of purity and righteousness that God calls me to.
Second, I remember the gospel. I think about how God is good and gracious, and that he loves me. I remember that although my flesh is weak and I do things that dishonour him, Jesus has taken on the punishment that I deserve when he died on the cross, and that I am now forgiven of my sin. My relationship with God is now made right! I could choose to distrust or not believe in this. Or I can trust in Jesus and the work he has accomplished that sets me free from sin, one that isn’t defined by guilt and shame.
Third, I ask myself how will I respond to the gospel, and the Holy Spirit’s conviction in love and obedience. There could be a number of things that I am led to do. It might mean setting clear boundaries, including when and where my boyfriend and I spend time together. Perhaps it involves getting more accountability from my roommates, family, or friends in our Christian community. Maybe the next step is to pray together as a couple about this issue. Whatever it is, come up with an action step of how you will respond. At this stage, you could think of some great potential action points, but then not do anything. Or you could truly obey what the Holy Spirit is prompting you to do. That’s repentance – turning away from sin and turning to Jesus. There is great joy in a life dedicated to following him!
Being patient isn’t easy. It actually takes a lot of work. It’s much more about an attitude and heart orientation, which then influences your actions and behaviours. If you have a solid understanding of who you are in God’s eyes, his child whom he loves, it is easier to trust him and his plans for your good. At the time, I had no idea what God was up to in my failed flings, painful breakup, and impatient heart to get married. I believe was brought through these trials so I would rely on him more, and to see that his plans and timeline for me are far greater than the one I had.
At the time, I had no idea what God was up to in my failed flings, painful breakup, and impatient heart to get married.
Practicing patience in romantic relationships is a fruit of the Spirit. Patience is sometimes referred to as a virtue. As you are living a life of faith in step with the Spirit – recognizing his work in your life, remembering the gospel, and responding in obedience – patience is going to be produced. It will show up in your life. You’ll see pieces of it in your everyday conversations, in your prayers to God, and in your relationships.