Setting the Bar Higher

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness? What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever? What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God

2 Corinthians 6:14-16, ESV

To say that I was arrogant in college would be to put it mildly. In my mind, I was the total package: smart, funny, handsome and respectable. By my junior year, I knew that I was headed for some kind of ministry. To me, all I needed to complete the package was the right partner—someone who would challenge me in my faith and stand beside me as we served the Lord together. Believe it or not, I thought I had found her.

As I was wrapping up my English degree at Alabama, this young woman was in her second or third year at the University of Arkansas. I met her through a mutual friend who thought we would be perfect together. The main thing was that we had similar senses of humor and both wanted to go into ministry. Anyone who’s ever been a single Christian looking for their Proverbs 31 woman (or 1 Timothy 3:1-7 man) may know what I’m talking about when I say just this little amount of personal information meant the stars were aligning for our future romance.

And I had a plan that couldn’t lose. I had written a very flattering letter that she was to receive on her birthday, which would mark the end of her year-long dating sabbatical (which is still one of the dorkiest things I’ve ever heard of). In my mind, she’d get the letter, blush with excitement and eagerly respond, pledging to join me in some sort of Victorian Era, romantic correspondence. For a guy like me (funny, smart, good hair, etc.), it seemed like a slam dunk… until it wasn’t.

I opened her response letter in my dorm room. Much to my surprise, she didn’t answer with a yes or no. Instead, she sent back questions. She stated no direct opposition to the idea, but she needed to make sure I met certain criteria. Rather than swoon over the romantic gesture of a Byronic suitor, she held to her standards and made sure that I met them.

Long before this girl ever received a letter from me, she had decided that there were certain characteristics her future husband would have, certain things he would want out of life and certain priorities he would seek above all others. In short (which is only fair, because her letter was itself rather short), she wanted three things: to be convinced of my relationship with Jesus Christ, to know the name of the man who was actively discipling me to become more like Jesus Christ and to know that I was open to the idea of serving Jesus Christ full time in a foreign, missionary context.

Shocked.

Our written correspondence did not last much longer than a few months. Still though, her challenge to twenty-year-old me took my relationship with Jesus to a greater depth. This girl knew the call of God on her life to be a missionary, and to pursue Christ above all other things. This wasn’t some childish, I-kissed-dating-goodbye kind of stunt—she really wanted to make sure that I was worth her time, because if I wasn’t headed where she knew she was headed, I would inevitably be the one to lead her astray.

So, when I opened that letter, I knew I had to step it up. I quickly found a man to disciple me and started to think long and hard about the seriousness of my future in ministry. Ultimately, the Lord had separate plans for each of us. I now see in my wife someone whom the Lord knit together with certain strengths and passions that bring out the better parts of me, and vice versa. I’m delighted with the plan God had for me.

This sticks out to me because, living in the context of a college campus, I get to witness lots of terrible reasons why people date other people. Usually, it has to do with all of the things twenty-year-old me thought he had going for him—looks, humor, income potential. And that’s what I find so awesome about her response to me way back then. What if more Christian men and women held their crushes to the same standard? What if they quit asking questions like, “How does he make me feel?” and started asking questions like, “How is this person going to help me accomplish the mission God has for my life?”

I admire the awkward, somewhat-painful and humbling letter I received that day all those years ago. Not only did it lead me to meet one of the greatest influences on my Christian life, my mentor, but it also prepared me to be more the man my wife deserved when we started dating. Brothers and sisters, seek to honor God first with your relationships, and if the people you are seeking aren’t going to challenge you to love Jesus more, then set the bar higher.

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