In the next section of “I Kissed Dating Goodbye,” Joshua Harris introduces two concepts which prove foundational to the rest of the book: “Smart love” and “emotional purity” [although he doesn’t use the actual term “emotional purity” in this section, this is the term most often used to refer to JH’s concept of “purity and blamelessness in our motives, our minds, and our emotions” (25)]. It’s my opinion that these two phrases are oxymorons, or self-contradictory statements (such as “pretty ugly” or “an honest lawyer” [jk!]).
Anyways. JH says that, “To truly love someone with smart love, we need to use our heads as well as our hearts” (22). He goes to say that one way smart love can be applied specifically is coming to the realization that “I have no business asking for a girl’s heart and affections if I’m not ready to back up my request with a lifelong commitment” or, more succinctly, “Waiting until I’m ready for commitment before pursuing romance” (23). He gives a few more examples, such as when he “stopped viewing girls as potential girlfriends and started treating them as sisters in Christ” and when he “stopped worrying about who I was going to marry and began to trust God’s timing” (24).
(And just a note. If you hear anyone use the phrase “God’s timing” in regard to relationships, then run. Just run.)
So. What is contradictory about this “smart love” concept? Well, if you look at the examples thereof that JH gives, while some of them are IMO legitimate, like the not sleeping with your girlfriend one (22), a lot of them have at their core the assumption that “love” involves protecting one’s emotions from being hurt or strained, at all cost and above all other considerations. JH evidently believes that ensuring that one lives life in a safe, protected, risk-free emotional bubble should be the goal of every Christian and is the epitome of the abundant life that Jesus came to give us. And here’s the funniest part: he believes that through the courtship system, such a thing is actually possible.
I think “smart love” is an oxymoron because such a thing (true love that loves only as much as it is safe to love) simply cannot exist. I know this verse gets quoted a lot, but think about what it’s really saying in regard to the nature of love:
“If I have the gift of prophecy, and know all mysteries and all knowledge…but do not have love, I am nothing…[love] bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.” (I Corinthians 13:2, 7).
Now. Obviously, if a spouse or boyfriend is abusive to you, you NEED to get out of that situation and not stay in the abuse because it seems like the “loving” thing to do. If your relationship situation involves any sort of abuse, you should get out. But what I and presumably JH also is talking about here is a normal, non-abusive relationship. And I just can’t reconcile the idea of love “believing all things” with the idea that true love means emotional self-protection at all cost.
As much as JH wishes to distinguish himself from American culture, I think one of the key motivations behind his relationship philosophy is in fact a very basic American cultural trait: the tendency to “worship safety” or to believe that safety is the primary goal of life and that it is actually possible to ensure one’s safety at all times (which, of course, it isn’t, because we do not “command the morning” etc. and no one knows what will really happen to them at any given time.)
When I went on this missions trip this summer, we had to read a book called “Crazy Love” by Francis Chan. This book challenged so many of my assumptions about the Christian life, and I felt like one part of it particularly applied to courtship:
“We are consumed by safety. Obsessed with it, actually…I am questioning how we’ve made safety our highest priority. We’ve elevated safety to the neglect of whatever God’s best is, whatever would bring God the most glory, and whatever would accomplish His purposes in our lives and in the world…People who are obsessed with Jesus aren’t consumed with their personal safety and comfort above all else” (133).
Now should you deliberately run out there and put yourself in a relationship you know will fail, just to make a point? Um, no. What I’m trying to say here is that an approach to relationships (which shapes a heck of a lot of stuff about your life) that is based on a fundamental error (the idea that safety is God’s priority and that it’s even possible to attain it) will obviously end up with some erroneous practices.
Now here’s the real shocker. Suppose you disagree with all of the above. Suppose you believe that emotional safety and “smart love” really is the ultimate goal of Christian living. Well, guess what: even if you follow the strictest courtship practices and jump through all the correct hoops, there is absolutely no guarantee that this approach to life will prevent you from experiencing emotional, relationship-related pain. Take me, for instance. All my life I’ve been incredibly sheltered from guys, from knowledge about guys, and from a chance to dress stylishly and attractively. No guy has ever dated me prematurely and broken my heart, but I’ve sure as heck experienced a TON of loneliness, feelings of unworthiness, insecurity, and even fear (because as much as we’d like not too, we all fear the unknown). I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen a romantic movie or a real-life couple in love, and experienced pangs of intense sadness because I’ve never been able to experience that and fear that I may never get to. At times I’ve even questioned my basic identity as a woman because I’ve had to ask myself what is wrong with me, because guys have never seemed attracted to me.
If that doesn’t convince you, consider this: a very close friend of mine was “courted” by this guy for several years. Of course I don’t know all the juicy details but as far as I know, they did everything “right”: spent time at each other’s family’s houses, asked parental permission first, didn’t kiss, etc. They even got officially engaged and were planning the wedding, when, guess what. They ended up breaking the engagement off. Using courtship practices to define their relationship did not give them one bit of protection from the emotional pain they experienced with this break-up. In fact, I would suggest that in some ways, courtship sets a couple up for INCREASED emotional pain if they ever break up, because when you “court-someone-with-the-intention-of-marriage” you practically guarantee the other person that this relationship will end in marriage down the road. Whereas with a dating relationship, you of course don’t want to be aimless and directionless, but there’s not this like official promise that you will marry the other person one day, and so if you decide you need to get out of the relationship, it’s not as traumatizing.
Wow, this post is getting long. I will save the second oxymoron for next time. I’ll close with this quote by C.S. Lewis (again, this gets quoted a lot, but I think it really applies to the irony of “smart love”, and anyways, how can you say no to a little C.S. Lewis?) :)
“To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything, and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the casket or coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket- safe, dark, motionless, airless--it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable” (C.S. Lewis, The Four Loves).